Warnings: violence, sex, het, some disturbing content
Summary: There's no such thing as destiny--there's only action and inaction, who takes the first step and who sits waiting, check and checkmate. Sometimes the worst part of the fight is the bracing breath before the first step.
Notes: When I first read the original Big Bang, Baby challenge fics, I loved them, and the concept behind them. I feel honored to have been able to participate this round, and despite the troubles I encountered and the lost sleep, hundreds of hours spent writing and stress over deadlines, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. This fic was beta read by the absolutely wonderful Rowena.
When they find him, cold corpse curled on the autumn leaves, no one is surprised. With lips peeled back and twisted into a snarl-smirk, black staring eyes filmed over milky white, vivid bruises like dusky shadows lurking in the hollows of his sallow and impossibly pale skin, he looks every bit the hunted criminal he is. The leaves beneath him are soggy but crisp, spattered with rusty drops in a radius of about ten feet, as if he were a rag doll that someone has shaken so violently the stuffing has come out. He is curled on his side, hands clawing at the air in a feral, desperate clutch, knees tucked to his chin to hold in a warmth that is no longer there. There is a puddle of black around his head that is matted with crushed foliage and greasy oils, not all of it natural. The corpse smells of unnatural things, dark things, and the sour, dusty smell of spoiled dried asphodel wafts over the clearing, covering an even sourer, brutal smell. Severus Snape has been dead for approximately four days.
There is a barrier surrounding him, keeping the bugs out, and the leaves beneath him are untouched by the seemingly torrential rains around him. Mad-Eye Moody throws his coffee cup at the corpse, and the other Aurors watch it bounce off of the air.
“Damn it,” he growls, pacing next to the body.
His eye is rapidly scanning the forest around them for movement as they stare disbelieving at the corpse for signs of movement. The grove is silent—not even the birds twitter—except for the shuffling sound of Moody kicking the wet leaves.
“I think,” says Nymphadora Tonks, her face a peculiar shade of green that both clashes with and compliments her shocking pink hair, “I’m going to be sick.”
And she is.
Ronald Weasley has very few things in his life that he notices outright, much less notices enough to feel thankful for, but right now, sitting on a blanket under the wide night sky listening to the bonfire talk to him as he watches the light dance on Hermione’s face when he thinks she isn’t looking, he’s thankful. He’s glad that he’s here, and that she’s here, and that they’d been able to go to Bill’s wedding earlier that day. His mum is sitting on another blanket nearby, sobbing into his father’s shoulder about “babies” and “tarts”. The atmosphere is cozy, despite the two elephants at the party: neither Harry nor Percy bothered showing up. Percy, he can understand. Percy is a prat, has always been a prat, will always be a self-absorbed prat. Percy can go hang for all he cares. Ron is seventeen and is dating the prettiest girl at Hogwarts, and he can’t bring himself to care whether or not Percy feels like doing a bit of growing-up, himself.
What confuses him is Harry—Harry, who, Ron had thought, had managed to work through that hero complex and should have been here, dammit. Harry should have been here to ogle Fleur in her off-the-shoulder perfectly formed French silk gown with him, should have been there to cheer with Ginny after she caught the bouquet, should have been here to look sympathetic and suitably embarrassed when Molly threw her arms around Bill and cried, keeping him from leaving with Fleur until it was almost too late to catch their international portkey. Instead, Harry was off somewhere doing who knows what. It wasn’t even that those horrible Muggles he lived with were stopping him—he just didn’t want to come. Well, Ron thinks as Hermione reaches warm fingers to him and covers his hand with hers, if that’s what he wants to do, so be it. But he should at least be here for Ginny, though, if he isn’t for us.
The grasshoppers chirp happily in the grasses surrounding them, and Ron sinks back onto the blanket, staring up at the night sky and twining his fingers loosely between Hermione’s. As she leans back on him, her weight is comfortable and warm, and they stare into the smoke rising from the bonfire as though they are divining the secrets of the universe. The grasshoppers are getting louder as the smoke thickens, and Ron ponders whether the wood on the fire is green. It smells odd, as if there were a small bundle of cedar or pine hidden beneath the stacked fire, and the grasshoppers get louder and louder. Sitting up and peering into the smoke in the east, Ron realizes that Ottery St. Catchpole is on fire.
Harry Potter is not quite seventeen yet. It’s close enough that he can taste the freedom, but he still has a few weeks to go. He’s in his room, the floor littered with old and slightly yellowing copies of the Prophet, and he isn’t sure why he bothers anymore. Someone is intercepting his mail, cutting out articles and interviews and sometimes even pictures, seemingly at random and certainly without his permission. They do a sloppy job, and sometimes he can read “De…Convic…Brutal…9 Mu….” If he plays this morbid guessing game, he can tell there’s been a significant death toll over the summer. If it were only his newspapers, he would still be annoyed, but sometimes he finds whole sections of his letters magically erased, leaving nothing but blank paper behind. Yesterday he received a lovely sheet of blank stationary from Ginny, postmarked where she had been visiting the twins, he presumes.
He plans daily what he will do when he has gained his freedom. There’s number twelve, Grimmauld Place, of course, a run-down house that’s fabulously close to King’s Cross, but Harry isn’t sure he wants to base his choice on his return to Hogwarts—it isn’t home anymore. He feels sometimes, especially in the mornings as he looks over the bleak landscape of ticky-tack houses shrouded in dew and mist, like some secret, hidden part of him has been hollowed out and all of the important bits thrown away. He wants to find these pieces, but he has no idea where to start looking. He thinks he’ll try in Godric’s Hollow, but he has a sneaking suspicion they’ll be in Little Whinging.
In retrospect, it is obvious that he was not supposed to succeed. He doesn’t know why this information shocked him when he first realized it, but now it is understood—common knowledge—like the fact that Aunt Bellatrix has murdered members of her own family before and that his mother isn’t really mourning his father’s recent Kiss but rather the knowledge that she damned them all. He thinks remotely that the world would, in fact, be a better place without him, because his being alive right now is the thorn in both sides. Somewhere in the back of his mind he realizes that Snape probably knew this, and wonders how he could let himself be manipulated the way he was, even if it was Narcissa Black Malfoy who did the manipulating.
He thinks vaguely about what he will do this autumn when his friends have gone to school. Once—it seems many years ago—he could see the whole timeline of his life laid out before him. He knew exactly what would happen: graduation, marriage to Pansy Parkinson, a child—an heir, his mind supplies. He has no idea when this changed. Now the future swirls before him formless and fluid as smoke, and some days when he peers into its depths he thinks he can see those images, distorted and twisted, misshapen into grotesqueries of happiness. Sometimes he looks into the mists and sees himself bloodied and battered, spread across a stone slab a sacrifice to the snake lord. Sometimes he sees himself dead in his bed in the morning and believes wholeheartedly—he knows—that he’s seeing tomorrow morning and part of him is so glad he can barely keep his joy in. He’s always so horribly disappointed when he wakes up, staring blindly at the ceiling. He wakes before dawn and watches the darkness through his eyelids as it fades slowly and suddenly sharper until the bright shell-pink light forces him to acknowledge that he is still alive.
The moment he turns seventeen, Harry can’t immediately pack his things and leave the Dursleys. This isn’t any sort of reluctance, affection, emotional connection; he can’t leave a place he hasn’t been at for weeks. He’s living in a room at the Leaky Cauldron, third room on the left on the fourth floor. It’s got a great view of the Alley, but there isn’t really anything to look at. Over half of the shops are boarded up—Florean Fortescue still hasn’t been seen in over a year. The few people around scurry from shop to shop like beetles escaping a bright light. Of course, that’s only the people that actually come to Diagon Alley for what they need—most simply send away for it. It’s depressing to watch the Alley during the day, and he has nothing to do, no ties to the world around him. He finds himself drifting into a nocturnal pattern. By the last week before school is supposed to start, he finds his eyelids habitually drooping at eight in the morning and unable to close at midnight. He thinks perhaps he should worry about the effect it will have on his studies, but as he doesn’t even think the school will open this year he isn’t terribly concerned.
When Remus Lupin suddenly shows up outside his door looking harried and much, much older than he had the last time Harry had seen him, Harry is so unused to the presence of another human being that it takes him a minute to remember to invite him in. Remus looks tired, his already graying hair seems more sparse and thin, and he moves so stiffly that Harry could imagine he’s an inferati. He gratefully accepts the cup Harry offers, but despite the warm liquid some part of him still looked remote and cold. Sitting on Harry’s bed, he looks so small and alone that Harry is suddenly struck by the image of himself as an adult and Remus as the child. He finds the words he wants to say won’t come out; they’re caught in his throat, stuck.
“I assume you know why I’m here,” Remus begins after a long pause, “It was only the front page of the Prophet for a month.”
“I don’t get the Prophet anymore,” Harry interrupts, shrugging. “I got tired of getting more holes than paper.”
Remus’s mouth folds oddly, and Harry realizes it’s a sheepish grin. “Sorry about that, Harry. You know we were—”
“—Only doing it for my good, right?” Harry finishes wryly. “Yeah. So what did I miss?”
There is a tense silence as Remus tries to work out what to say. “Well, you know…” he trails off. He stares at his hands in thought before looking Harry in the eye. “We found him.”
“Snape. We found Snape.”
When Tonks picks up the report, her hands impulsively go slack. She can barely focus her eyes on the folder because she’s so tired. This is the third night in a row she has been sitting here at her desk in the Ministry office past one in the morning, always analyzing the Snape case. Her hands are shaking and she knows that if she has to look at those pictures again, she will just fall apart. She will shudder to pieces and cry for days. She’s seen death before, even deaths of those she loves—Dumbledore, a voice in the back of her mind whispers. She shoves it away brusquely. The point is, she reminds herself sharply, that she has never seen so obviously violent a death quite so close up. Even…even that death was clean, somehow. Ugly, cruel, and horrifying, but clean. And even though she believes with all her heart that the bastard deserves whatever it is he got, she doesn’t like being the one in charge of figuring out what that was.
The photos are the hardest part. There are photos of Sn--…the victim, she reminds herself, curled up in the barrier. Her first deduction is that whoever placed him there wanted him to be found. There was enough respect—respect? She could never respect the man who killed one of the greatest wizards ever born—that the killer had wanted to protect him from nature, but beyond that…. The milky eyes glare up at her in nothing more than righteous anger. It’s obvious that he knew the killer, probably felt superior to him—considering, of course that Sn—he has always felt superior to whomever he was speaking. She remembers those eyes, unwillingly, staring at her in potions with an unreadable look as she sat on her stool. A Gryffindor, especially one who should have been a Slytherin…he had obviously wanted to fail her. His contempt for her and all her family stood for sizzled in the air as he tried to pin her to her seat with his gaze and force her to fail. Once, near the last month of her seventh year, she fancied she finally saw understanding in his eyes—he said she was stubborn and pig-headed, but would probably make an exemplary Auror—and she fancied herself with a crush on him for all of two days, until she heard him congratulating a Slytherin on “beating the Mudblood scum” on their recent coughing draught. She thinks she might have seen a bit of self-recrimination in his eyes as he saw her, but it is gone quickly, dismissed as a trick of the memory.
Back in the photos, the Squad of Impenetrable Defenses, SQUID, is drifting in and out of the frame nervously. Tonks flips through the pictures, shuddering as the scene reveals itself: SQUID, taking the complex spell off of the corpse; various Aurors looking on in horror as the body begins to decompose…rapidly; the bridge of Snape’s nose sinking in; the corpse putrefying; the flesh liquefying; the insects blooming out of the body cavities to spill in writhing, wet puddles next to the corpse; even Moody looks disturbed as the body dissolves into the ground. It is apparent that although beneath the spell the body seemed fresh, Severus Snape had been lying in the woods for far longer than initially thought.
I don’t care where you go but you can’t stay here, Draco thinks to himself, eyes hardening as he looks at the little house on Spinner’s End. The Ministry hasn’t declared the corpse found yet, but he knows it is only a matter of time and he wants to move on before the lot of them is caught. His mother is still sick with grief—yes, grief, he says sharply to the voice that taunts him in the back of his mind. The voice sounds startlingly like Aunt Bellatrix, and it whispers rude things to him whenever he thinks of his mother in the house on Spinner’s End—she cannot move. Some mornings he finds her curled up in a ball next to the fireplace, her face wild and her hair pale, eyes rimmed in red like kohl and fingernails bitten to the quick. She reminds him of the bean sidhe, and the sound of her mournful wails at night chill his blood. He knows the power in names, and imagines that this is why she never calls out for his father. It’s not, the voice says silkily.
Bellatrix has taken over the house. She complains daily that it’s no place for the last hope of the “most ancient and noble House of Black.” She sleeps in his bed, she eats his food, and most insultingly, she uses his ingredients. Boomslang Skin, bicorn horn, leeches, he watches her take them all out of the carefully ordered cupboard. She has been doing this every day for a week, and though he prefers to pretend he doesn’t know what she’s doing, he finds himself compulsively cleaning up after himself—he leaves no hair or fingernail behind himself, not even an eyelash, for fear that someday he’ll wake up not himself.
As he stands outside the house in the cold early morning, he feels as if he’s been bewitched. There is a distinctly unreal feeling about what he is doing. Other children may have been tempted to run away, but he was always too…good. Loyal. Something. Maybe, he realizes, he was just too stupid to think of it, or too unimaginative. He squarely ignores the thought of what his leaving might do to his mother, already near-mad with the loss of the other man—men, Aunt Bellatrix whispers in his head—in her life. Perhaps if he doesn’t think about it it won’t be true. All he knows is that it doesn’t matter where he goes; he can’t stay here.
Standing here, on the top of Stoatshead Hill overlooking the remnants of Ottery St. Catchpole, Hermione feels as if she’s drowning in place. She’s never in her life been so horrified, never seen anything so dreadful or bloody. An entire village is completely destroyed—both Muggles and Wizards alike. She wonders sometimes if what saved the Weasleys wasn’t perhaps the bonfire that made the house look to be on fire already, or maybe it was just the invitations to the wedding, which stated that they would all be in Ireland. Her back feels stiff and cold at the thought that they might have been saved by the assailant’s desire to kill them all in one go.
Ginny hasn’t stopped crying since the mark appeared, and Molly is so tense she’s snapping at everyone, even the twins who’ve been kind enough to put them up for a while. Hermione knows that perhaps she had best go home, stop taking up so much bloody room, but she’s afraid—deathly afraid—that she will be followed. She has not told her family where she is despite the knowledge that the aftermath of the event was televised. She doesn’t want an owl marked to her to be the clue that causes the killer—or is it killers?—to find her. There’s so much Gryffindor courage running through her veins right now that she muses she may very well be Hufflepuff. After all, she’s showing stunning loyalty, isn’t she?
Some people deal with trauma by getting angry, some sad. Hermione’s own mother baked sweets for a week when she heard about Voldemort’s return, which is quite out of place for a dentist. Hermione, though, studies. She studies daily, for all of the day and a good bit of the night, often straight through meals. She’s already finished memorizing the first seven chapters of her advanced ancient runes book, and is wondering if she mightn’t be able to ask to test out when school begins. Though she’s promised Ron and Harry that she would hunt horcruxes with them, she imagines that without Harry around, the point is probably moot. She also cringes to herself when she remembers Professor Dumbledore’s withered, blackened arm and that it was the result of horcrux hunting. I could never take my NEWTs like that, she thinks, and is immediately abashed that she would be so petty.
Ron doesn’t understand her at all. The past few weeks have been an enormous strain on their tender new relationship. She feels as if all of the spider-threads holding them together—Harry, her mind supplies—are slipping away, leaving her awash in emotions that books can’t explain. She’s losing it, she thinks, and “it” is any number of things: Harry, Ron, her childhood. Ron is so angry right now. He thinks that everything’s Harry’s fault, as if Harry were responsible for all of the destruction. Hermione knows that he thinks that Harry could have stopped them; he puts entirely too much stock in Harry, and far more responsibility on his shoulders. Ron expects that Ottery St. Catchpole might not have been destroyed had Harry been there. Hermione tells him this is rubbish, and he slams doors for an hour, shouting about how she doesn’t understand. She knows he thinks she can’t because she’s Muggle born, and she tells him so once. His face turns sour and he storms away looking more like a pureblood Wizard than she has ever seen him.
“It’s not close to your home, Hermione!” he shouts at her later.
“It is, though!” she replies. She wants to tell him, “I’m afraid to read the Prophet because my parents might be dead! I haven’t talked to them in weeks!”
Instead, she says, “You are my home, and your family, and when it’s close to you, it’s close to me.” That’s Hermione Granger, always showing her kind side. Ron hugs her close to him, sobbing in her hair and she lets him touch her later, as if the fight had never happened.
London in the summer—it’s so humid and warm that Hermione feels she might misstep and swim off into the sky.
It’s one of his kind, Vernon Dursley thinks, watching the fat little man scurry down the street. Potter’s sort. The man is squat and his hair is tatty. His clothes are long and mud-colored and he looks as if he’s never seen a good dentist in his life. He’s carrying some sort of tin can, the metallic sheen of it glinting in the light of the fading sun. Figures, he muses, that their sort would be reduced to begging. He reads his newspaper in his favorite chair, waiting for Petunia to finish the pasta and sausages that she’s making for supper. She’s got the recipe off of her favorite show, and Vernon wanted a roast with oniony bits and lentils, but Dudley needs to bulk up for the coming season, so carbs and protein it is. There’s a ghastly bit in the paper about some tacky little town somewhere going up in flames, terrorists or something like that, and Vernon skims it quickly so he can make the required, “Oh, read about that in the papers. Yeah, how terrible. Great loss of life, that,” sentiments at the water cooler tomorrow. He glances over the edge of his paper to see the grotty man staring at him through the window, his hand cupped around a leering face. Vernon jumps slightly, but puffs his shoulders up and stares back evenly. With a calm exterior, he folds his paper and rests it on the table next to the lamp.
Standing, Vernon turns to the kitchen to see if Petunia’s got dinner ready yet. As he passes the boot cupboard, the door creaks open slowly, and he grabs the handle to close it again. The grate is open, and as he slams it closed, Vernon is sure he can see that boy’s eyes inside. It’s that awful article, he thinks, shrugging his collar against the hairs prickling on the back of his neck. Got everyone in a tizzy. It’s that crazy man standing on the front lawn got him all upset. As he steps into the kitchen, he hears the comforting sound of Petunia giving Dudley his pre-dinner snack, and the dark fuzzing in at the corners of his mind recedes a bit.
“What do you mean, you found him?” Harry had asked. He has been sitting on the edge of his bed for three hours now, trying to answer himself. Snape, the bastard. The murderer, murdered. Just the thought makes Harry’s insides shake with righteous rage, and he feels ill with regret that he wasn’t the one to do it. No, he wasn’t, but he suspects he knows who did.
He’s been a coward, he suspects. All he’s done this summer is think about himself. He lied, lied straight to Ron’s face, and Hermione and Molly, Arthur, Bill, Fleur and Ginny. He’s lied more these past three months than he suspects he ever has before in his life. He’s hidden himself away and pretended that the world could just keep spinning around him. Apparently they couldn’t manage even that.
Remus told him about the catastrophes in Oxford, Devon, Wiltshire. Ottery St. Catchpole in flames. Something sharp rolls in his stomach at this, and he presses a fist against it to make it stop. The Weasleys—all of them, including new and almost-Weasleys—were put in hiding, and Remus refused to tell him where. It’s for his own good, of course.
For their own good, too, Harry muses. If anyone knows, he does: the anti-Midas is Harry’s curse. All that glimmers turns to ash in his hand. The weight of his touch crushes hopes, the fog of his breath tarnishes gold. The most casual flick of his eyes causes whole buildings to combust. This is a curse that no finite could end.
Harry is tired. Hopelessly tired of the world and war and Voldemort, that serpentine motherfucker who can’t just do his job and kill a teenage boy. He wonders aimlessly what he would do if that bogeyman were to walk into his room right now.
“I’d tell him to fuck off,” Harry’s voice is clear and slightly startling in the room where no voices have been heard in days. He smirks, closing his eyes against the candle light. One hand drifts down and he finds his fingers tugging sharply at the curls at the base of his cock. This, he sighs and burrows deeper into the pillows beneath him, is really why he left the Dursleys. Fuck them and their slave labor, he ran away so he could wank in peace.
He shoves his hand into his pants, sliding his fingers under his cock and feeling his pulse dance on his fingertips. “I’d…fuck—” his breath catches as he grips slightly, “Maybe I’d tell him to suck me. Can’t die a virgin, can I?” His hand moves faster, slipping slightly in the precome pooling in his belly button. “I’ll,” he moans, long and slow, “I’ll make you put it in your mouth. I’ll hold your head so you can’t get away. I’ll,” a gasp, frenzied panting for air through clenched teeth, “I’ll make you fucking choke on it! And when it’s over, I’ll paint you with my come.” Harry’s eyes fly open with the force of the vision that this statement brings. His back arches and his calves cramp, knees locking and toes splaying, then curling, rhythmically. “Oh, fuck, Malfoy!” his scream is torn so violently from him that it sounds more like a sob.
Where to go when you’ve got nowhere else, Draco muses, is one of life’s greatest conundrums. He knows most people will never have to worry about this sort of thing. People like Weasley, they’ll never have to wonder where they’ll put their hat next. There will always be some hovel, some hole in the wall labeled clearly “home.” Hell, Draco admits after brief consideration, there are probably Weasleys scattered to the four winds, and just as many “homes.”
Potter likely won’t ever have to search for a safe place to sleep, either, he thinks. Between the Weasels and the werewolf, various and sundry professors to hole up with, not to mention the vast array of Aurors seemingly at his beck and call, Draco doubts there’s a house in Britain that Potter couldn’t sleep comfortably in. Not like Draco, who stands under a disillusionment cloak, staring up at the sign for the Leaky Cauldron with wide, nervous eyes.
Right now, Draco thinks he would give just about anything to not be standing in the mud with rain pelting down on him. He is soaked to the skin, his messy hair dripping fat drops of water on his nose. There is mud slimed halfway up his tall dragon hide boots from walking in the filthy streets and his pants and shirt cling to his skin uncomfortably. The glamour on his hair is poorly done without a mirror and streaks of silver blond show through the mousy, greasy mess on his forehead, making him look almost as greyed as a younger Professor Lupin, he imagines. He feels disgusting, anyway, and cannot help but hope that he will be allowed to bathe at the inn.
The check in goes better than he dared to dream and Draco carefully counts out four of his last seven galleons. It’s only enough for room and board for a month, but just this minute, he isn’t terribly certain what will happen in the next minute. He is led up to a small room on the fourth floor and left there alone, a key in hand and his cloak bundled under his arm. There is the satisfying snick of the lock unbolting and the door swings open to reveal the most beautiful thing that Draco has ever seen: a bed, with real pillows, blankets, towels, and a bathrobe. Barely suppressing a whoop of joy, it is all he can do not to hurl himself at the bed and bury himself inside.
A friend in need and all that, Ron thinks to himself as he sprawls on the cot he’s been loaned by the twins, is complete bullshit. It is his last day at the shop; soon he’ll be packing up and heading to Order headquarters. He really hates number twelve, Grimmauld Place, he thinks, because of the doxies. And Harry. And Kreacher. And Harry. And that portrait of Mrs. Black. And Harry. Honestly, right now Ron thinks that he could open today’s edition of the Daily Prophet to an article detailing Harry’s death at the beaks of enraged hippogriffs and he wouldn’t care. Well, maybe not much. He’d be concerned at least a little for the poor hippogriffs. Hermione seems altogether too worried about Harry, really. The prat deliberately skipped Bill and Fleur’s wedding, after all, and then to top things off hasn’t even bothered coming back to comfort Ginny. He wasn’t there to calm Hermione down, or help get Mum to bed after she sat in the chair and sobbed all day.
He hadn’t been there when no one could find Bill and Fleur, or when their hotel said they’d never arrived, or when their bodies were found three days later by a pair of Muggle hikers. The bodies had been in such terrible shape, the pain of the fire too sharp and fresh, that Fred isn’t planning on telling everyone until things have calmed down. The only reason Ron knows is he was there when the solicitor called and Fred swooned. He’d caught his brother and clung to him as they both shook and cried.
The solicitor said that the bodies had been flayed alive. Layers of muscle were shaved back to expose raw nerves, little bundles of string so delicate that breath caused agony. They’d been burned over and over again with hot needles stuck in them. Bill’s scars had bled fresh where they’d been traced with a knife and Fleur’s pretty blue eyes had been decimated by a fine tipped tool. According to reports, there had been more blood on the ground around them than in their veins.
Of course he can’t tell his mum. How do you tell someone their baby, the one you’d just seen get married, the one that was supposed to live happily ever is now so much destroyed, spoiled meat? How can he tell Ginny that the closest thing she’s ever had to a sister was blinded and vivisected while her husband of two hours was forced to watch? It’s a hard secret to keep, though. When Ginny and Hermione talk about happy times—like the wedding—and they gush over Fleur’s pretty silk dress, Ron feels like it’s his own nerves that have been exposed to the harsh sun. He’s snapped at Ginny and made her cry four times in as many days, and he’s stormed out of three discussions with Hermione, all of them about Harry. When his mum goes watery about how at least, wherever they are, Bill and Fleur missed the carnage at Ottery St. Catchpole, his gorge rises and it’s all he can do not to vomit. Rom has never felt as ill in his life as he did at dinner the night before, between Mum reminiscing on their childhoods and how Ron had always seemed to take after Bill and Dad assuring her that they were fine, surely, and perhaps they’d had to change hotels but were too busy to call? The slightly forced wolfish wink at the “men-folk” at the word busy had made Ron retch. When Hermione started talking about how gorgeous Ireland must be at this time of year, with all that green, and how she would ask Fleur how it looked—mightn’t she and Ron take their honeymoon in Wicklow, too? She asked, a pretty blush tinting her cheeks—Ron had to leave. He was violently ill and felt weak as a newborn when he finally stood up. His knees shook and knocked so hard that he’d have fallen if Fred hadn’t been there to catch him.
“I know it’s hard, Ron,” Fred had muttered under his breath, “but you were always off in your own world. You didn’t even really know them. Imagine how hard this would be for Mum or Ginny.” Ron still doesn’t know if it was the statement or the sentiment, but Fred is still trying to get the vomit stains out of his shirt.
It takes Harry a week, because of his odd sleeping habits, to realize that he is no longer the only one living on his floor. His first clue is quite sudden—a wet towel, wrapped around a slim pair of hips currently attached to a young man standing in front of him. Eyes, a strange color that seems somewhere between brown and green but occasionally shift suddenly to almost grey, peer at him in amusement from behind a fringe of greying brown hair.
“Can I help you?” the boy asks, and his voice sounds smooth, with a slight lilt.
“Er,” Harry supplies hopefully, and he feels his cheeks flush as the boy laughs quietly. “Who are you, and why are you naked?”
“Alexandre,” the boy offers, clutching his towel with one hand and offering his other. His chest is streaked with angry looking pink scars. “I’m trying to hunt down the house elves. They’ve got my clothes.”
“Alexandre?” Harry’s tongue feels thick as he tries to wrap it around the unfamiliar syllables.
“Yes,” the boy supplies, the lilt cementing itself in Harry’s mind as a very faint French accent that sounded nothing at all like Fleur, really. “I’m visiting from Nantes, and this place seemed to be the cheapest inn in town.”
“Er, yes,” Harry blushes as he notices the towel slipping further. “Well, I’ll just…um.”
“Wait.” Alexandre’s eyes harden slightly, and Harry is certain he sees them go completely grey before they meet his own. “You haven’t shaken my hand yet. That’s not very nice. After all, I’m the one standing here naked with my hand out. All you have to do is take it.”
Harry feels suddenly odd, like déjà vu or like he’s dreaming through Voldemort’s eyes. Smiling uneasily, he grips Alexandre’s hand in his own. It is cool, slightly damp, and buzzing with magical energy.
This is the way it happened: Narcissa Black Malfoy woke up one day, and then the next she didn’t. It wasn’t hard to figure out what had happened, with the corpse smelling like bitter almonds and her brittle nails broken off, bleeding at the cuticles. Her hair was dull and ugly, broken and snarled, her skin greyed and scaly looking, and her eyes wide and white.
No, the question isn’t what had happened to her but why the corpse was covered in pennyroyal and daisy petals, that was the puzzle. It’s hard to understand, and between this case and the Snape case, it certainly seems to Tonks that the Death Eaters are really claiming their own. She’s slightly concerned that this case has ended up on her desk, but not terribly. She finds that even if she wracks her mind, she can’t find a single positive memory of this distant aunt of hers, whose corpse was found only a month after that of the man who owned the house she was found in. In fact, the only memory Nymphadora Tonks has of her aunt is her cousin’s birth announcement and the way Narcissa Black Malfoy had managed to look at her as if she were a bug to be stepped on, all the way from Wiltshire.
What concerns her is the strong feeling that these cases are related, and an even stronger feeling that she’s missing an important factor here. But she’s already spent too many late nights on the Snape case, so much time that she can’t honestly remember the color of Remus’s favorite shoes or the color of the front door at number twelve. The whole Weasley brood has moved in with them, now, and she knows that Remus hasn’t gotten the nerve to tell them that he’s found Harry, but she’s not had the time to scold him properly for it.
When Younger, the energetic young intern, comes bustling in with a thick packet of papers, she is so lost in her thoughts that he has to cough twice, progressively louder, for her to notice. “It’s another D.E. attack,” he says, pronouncing each letter, dee-ee, with a pause in between, “Worse than any before.” He coughs importantly, but when she stares at him, changing her eye color rapidly between yellow, green, purple, and orange, he takes the hint and leaves with a huff. Tonks leans back in her chair and opens the file. Surely it can’t be the wo—
The first words in the folder are: “This morning at approximately two a.m., number four Privet Drive was blown up.”
When Dudley Dursley leaves the house at midnight, slipping out to go sneaking into the naughty pink films with Piers Polkiss, he does not imagine that pornography will save his life. He only knows that when he watches the rhythmic movement on the screen and hears the pants and moans, he gets a woody, and sometimes if he presses that woody against the palm of his hand, it feels really good. Piers calls this jerking off, but Dudley only knows it’s brilliant, and when he says so, Piers laughs and says it’s that, too.
Dudley isn’t thinking on his walk home that the dark smear of smoke on the horizon is his house. All he can think of is how after the film he has this enormous burst of energy in him and how he wants to use this energy to beat someone up. He wishes that Evans kid were around this time of night, because he cries so nicely after a few good punches, or even Harry, though Dudley is a little afraid of Harry now that he seems to have snapped. When he left almost two months ago, Harry took out his wand and waved it in Dad’s face, and Harry said, “Oh, you bastard,” and, “I’m leaving forever!” and, “If I never see you again it’ll be too soon!” He shouted ugly things at Mum, too, about her awful sister and how embarrassed Granddad and Grandmum must be, just turning somersaults in their graves. Somersaults, he said, because of what a shoddy aunt Mum had been, and then Mum had cried and Dudley had wanted to just kill him, that nasty boy. But Harry had turned that pointy stick on him and all he could remember was that feeling…that awful feeling like nothing would be alright again. He’d backed into the wall then, and he and Dad and Mum had watched as the nasty Potter boy walked down the stairs and out of their lives.
Piers is clinging to Dudley’s arm and he is about to make a funny comment about Piers and, “Oh, I never realized you felt that way,” when he sees what Piers sees before them. There, standing tall against the burning ruin of most of Privet Drive, is a whole stand of bogeymen, their grinning skulls peeking out from tall hats and dark, black clothes. He sees shadows dancing in the fire and realizes that they are awfully close to the fire, but are not a bit too warm. In fact, Dudley feels more than a bit too cool, and then the bad thoughts come back. Piers has frozen in place, staring at the grinning skulls as they walk closer. One of them in the back has begun to laugh, a high, terrifying laugh, and Dudley finds he cannot move. The embers from the fire are beginning to pop, like corn, and one hits him in the thigh. This is all that is needed to wake him up, and he grabs for Piers, but the other boy will not move. Piers’ eyes are glazed slightly and his eyes reflect the fire as if he were a doll. Even Dudley tugging with all his might cannot budge him, and Piers throws him away from his arm with what seems little more than a casual twitch of his hand.
Dudley watches in terror as Piers moves forward slowly, stepping into the fire. He cannot help but stare as his best friend is consumed in flames. Piers says nothing, and Dudley thinks how terribly brave he seems. As Piers’s hair burns, the stench of burned flesh fills Dudley’s nose and he has to swallow reflexively to keep from throwing up all over himself. When Piers’s face begins to melt, Dudley can take no more and he runs away, as fast as he can go. At the end of Magnolia Crescent, he doubles over in the bushes and up comes Mum’s dinner of cabbage rolls and pork. He is sick until his chest aches and nothing else can come up. His fingers shake and he drips sweat, tears, spittle and stomach acid. He’s never imagined anything as horrible as Piers’s silence as the flames licked at his blistered lips, while his glassy eyes reflect nothing.
So much nothing has happened in the past month that Harry finds himself stunned to realize that the school term should have begun four days ago. He’s shocked that he could have let himself forget. Without anything to keep his time against, he has slowly drifted away from reality and almost any sense of time, slowly unmooring himself from the real world. He discovers that Bill and Fleur’s wedding was five weeks ago, and five weeks ago Ottery St. Catchpole was razed to the ground. Snape’s corpse was found just over a month ago, battered and beaten in a grove not terribly far from Godric’s Hollow. He moved out of the Dursleys’ about two months ago, and he left school for what he now understood to be the last time shortly over three months ago. Dumbledore has been dead for three and a half months, and though it still stings as if it were yesterday when he thinks on it, he is appalled to realize that he hasn’t been thinking of it at all, really. He has been drifting in this dreamy half world of endless nights alone.
Only now his nights aren’t alone. Well, they are in the literal sense: he’s had no visitors since Remus two weeks ago, but he can hear other people in the building now, an odd feeling after his isolation for so long. He can hear Alexandre walking in his room just a few doors down, and he can hear the other boy dressing and undressing. He can hear through the walls as the other boy bathes for hours every few days, and the heavy, muted sound of fabric that has just slid down legs to land on the floor. Harry imagines that if he were to listen hard enough, he could hear the rasp of zippers or the popping sound of buttons slipping through thread ringed holes.
One thing he hears a lot of is wanking. He doesn’t know if this is just his overactive imagination, but he can hear the other boy groaning, the old bed in his room groaning, the wood floors groaning, and it makes him hopelessly hard. Alexandre himself doesn’t turn Harry on—he finds the boy odd and more than a little bit creepy—but the humanity of hearing someone else wanking just seems to work for him these days. Listening to Alexandre get off makes him hard, so he wanks, too, and as he lies in his own bed, sweaty bed linens nested around him and his fingers trailing through puddles and streaks of come on his belly, he imagines Alexandre getting hard from listening to him, too.
Mostly, though, what he hears are perfectly innocent, innocuous noises, like a body moving quietly in the distance or the low buzz of the boy’s voice as he talks to himself. That’s one of the odd things about the French boy: he talks to himself often. There have been more than a few times when Harry goes into the hallway expecting to see him talking to another guest or the proprietor, only to find him sitting in the hall outside his door talking to himself. Alexandre’s odd eyes light up at the sight of him, and often Harry finds himself badgered into another conversation with the boy about something or another that Alexandre has encountered during the day. He always falls for this, Harry thinks, and he wonders if it’s because he secretly wants to talk to Alexandre or if he is so desperate for someone other than himself and the odd boy to talk to that he will try every chance to replace him. Harry never really listens to the boy with more than half an ear, anyway. He suspects Alexandre makes his experiences up, or at least their inherent non-French qualities. Alexandre makes him feel uncomfortable, and he cannot help but be on his guard around him.
It’s a calm sort of feeling, Draco realizes, to be sitting on the floor of a decrepit inn room drinking tea with your worst enemy. There’s liquor in the tea, and the combination of Potter’s conversation and the tea fills him with a warm glow. He can feel the goofy smile on his lips, can taste the bitter leaves of poorly brewed tea on the back of his tongue, can hear the other boy’s throat working as he gulps the tea back. Potter’s crude and ill-mannered and the tea is terrible, but he finds him occasionally interesting and certainly better than no one. The dull fug that filled Draco’s days before his forced friendship with Potter is all but gone now, and it’s easy to forget that he’ll be out on the streets again in less than two weeks.
The pub below them is loud enough to be heard on the fourth floor, and Draco is startled to discover that this is the first time he and Potter have been awake during the Leaky Cauldron’s operating hours. Potter has been avoiding those hours because he doesn’t want to see people. Draco has been avoiding them because the smell of food makes him hungrier than he already is. It’s been tempting to spend some of the last of his money on food; it would be too easy to go down to the market and waste the last of his gold. Hungry as he is, it’s possible that he’d lose it all on nothing but one large meal. Instead, he waits for tea with Potter.
Potter is casual about it, in a way that must rankle with Weasley: after the first few awkward days, when Draco abstained from the tea as long as he could before his stomach growled, the tea is always half consumed before he gets there. Potter always tries to fob the “remains” off on him, but every day there are a few more biscuits or scones than the day before. Draco always tries to pretend he’s not hungry, but when he looked in the mirror yesterday he could see the smears of shadow between his ribs like zebra stripes. He looks like a prisoner of war, and he imagines he is, in a way.
Their conversation is always light. Draco tries to remember what it was like to visit Britain the first time from the family home in Nantes and makes up his stories based on that, but Potter doesn’t really seem to listen, anyway, so he doesn’t try too hard. And if his accent slips a little bit every now and then, Potter never catches him on it, so eventually he begins to let it fall to his own real accent rather than the ostentatious slur he’d originally put on. He finds himself relaxing around Potter, and often has to bite his tongue these days to keep himself from talking casually about Spinner’s End. It takes him longer and longer each time to remember why he shouldn’t talk about it, and this worries him. He finds it would be entirely too easy to slip into the life of this French boy he’s made up.
Ginny knows it’s bad to hate, but she can’t help it. Her hatred is irrational; she knows this, too. She has no reason to look at her and see crimson creeping in on the edges of her vision. She isn’t supposed to hate her best friend—the only friend she has, really, since the other girls think she’s creepy after that diary.
Hermione cried for two hours in the loo yesterday, and Ginny doesn’t know if it’s because she found the moldy cheese she’d hid in Hermione’s trunk or because she overheard Ginny telling Molly about the condoms in her purse. Ginny doesn’t even know why she said anything. She feels torn in twenty different directions, crammed into this house with her family and Hermione. There’s no privacy in the place except the bathroom, and even then your privacy is bought in ten minute increments.
The close quarters are affecting all of them terribly. Ron is tense, as if there is a spring within him that is being wound tighter and tighter. His face is grim, and his eyes flash dangerously over petty problems. The chess set has already been set afire, the plaster walls behind every door have fist-sized holes, and the light bulbs have channeled so much incendiary magic that half of them are burned out.
There is a slow drizzle of rain trickling down the only window the family is allowed near—it faces the back lawn and looks to be boarded up from the outside—but Ginny has been staring out of it for hours. She has her transfiguration textbook on her lap because Mum insists that she must study even though she can’t go to school, but she hasn’t opened it all day, not even to read the Quidditch book she has hidden inside. It sits on her leg, a comforting weight as she thinks silently about the world outside. She knows she’s been in a bit of a mood recently, and not even the twins will have anything to do with her.
Tonks and Remus supposedly live in the house, too, but it’s the full moon on Thursday and Tonks has been absorbed with work recently. Ginny wishes halfheartedly that she could talk to them. It doesn’t matter which; she just wants to see a face not topped with ginger fringe and spattered with freckles, and since she has decided to hate Hermione, Remus and Tonks are the only ones available. She feels strange in this dusty old house, like a porcelain doll that has been left behind.
The first time it happens, Harry’s convinced it was an accident for a full hour. It’s like this: Alexandre is laughing, his greyish hair almost falling into the teacup he’s holding. Harry is beginning to suspect he’s added too much booze to the tea, because he feels giddy, too, and there’s a hysterical laugh building in his chest as he watches the other boy. Sighing, he throws himself at the floor but misses and jostles Alexandre’s knee. There is a searing moment of pain as the tea spills onto his shoulder and Alexandre mutters, “Oh, shit!” before giggling and leaning over him. He has a handkerchief out and Harry notices something vaguely wrong with it before Alexandre is suddenly on top of him, his very warm lips pressed against Harry’s. Alexandre smears his mouth eagerly and drunkenly across Harry’s face and, stunned, Harry simply stares up into messy brown hair. There is a sharp nip of teeth on his chin that draws a noise of pain from him and reminds him of what’s happening.
“Alexandre,” he says, shoving ineffectually at the boy with his shoulder. “What are you doing?”
The boy above him stills awkwardly, then pulls himself into an upright position. His cheeks are flushed, and Harry can’t tell from Alexandre’s expression if it is passion or drunkenness. Alexandre skitters back, laughing, but stands up and excuses himself to go to sleep. It takes Harry almost a full hour to remember that he’d not added anything to the tea that night.
Draco sleeps fitfully for three days before he decides it’s okay to visit again.
When Alexandre shows up a few days later looking half sick from hunger, Harry could almost kick himself. When the boy moves so nervously around him that he almost trembles, Harry feels an odd twist in his stomach and almost trips over the tea set he’s already laid out on the floor. He’s set it out every day since it happened, and his heart has panged every time with the knowledge of how comfortable he has become with the other boy. He misses Alexandre immensely, even as he stands in the doorway, blushing and standing on the sides of his feet. Harry’s mouth goes dry as he looks at this boy—not his friend, but somehow grown indispensable.
“Come in,” he says, “Please.”
Alexandre’s cheeks flush slightly and he nods his head a little, following the movement of Harry’s hand toward the tea set. Ten minutes later they are sitting side by side, so close that their knees brush when Alexandre reaches for the lemon. The air is tense, and Harry can feel the weight of it on his shoulders, pressing him to the floor.
“Er,” he begins, “So what did you do in London today?”
Alexandre pins him with a steady gaze. “You’re not an idiot, Harry. Neither am I. I didn’t go into London today.”
Something in Harry’s stomach flips at the information so bluntly acknowledged. He stares at his tea for a minute, wishing he remembered how to divine steam. I knew that, he thinks. I didn’t care, he realizes. I still don’t. The tea leaves drift in lazy circles at the bottom of his cup. “What would you have done? If you’d gone to London, I mean.”
Alexandre looks at him with an unreadable expression on his face, but his eyes are perfectly clear: the irises shift, thinning as the pupils dilate. Acquiescence. “I’m not sure. Perhaps Trafalgar?” Alexandre takes a long, measured sip from his cup. The tension is broken as Harry’s unspoken apology is accepted.
“I’ve never been,” Harry admits sheepishly.
“That makes two of us,” Alexandre replies with a wry twist of his lip.
“Where are you really from?” Harry asks, turning to face him. Their faces are close enough to kiss, and after a minute they do. This kiss is entirely different from the one before, most notably because this one is being reciprocated. There is a lot of fumbling as Alexandre grips his shoulders, perhaps to keep him from bolting. Their teeth clack together and Alexandre draws back, breathless.
“I…” His eyes are dark, pupils almost completely obliterating the iris around them. Harry leans back until he is lying on the floor and Alexandre follows him, turning on his side to face him. His long lashes, some of which are as white as snow, flutter over his cheeks and they revel in the comfortable silence.
“Let’s play a game, Harry,” Alexandre says at last. “The rules are: I’ll tell you three things. Two are true and one is a lie. You have to guess which one is untrue.” His eyes are cool and guarded as Harry turns to look at him. “One: I went to Hogwarts. Two: I’ve killed someone. Three: I was born in France.”
The uncomfortable tension is back as Harry is silent. Something inside of him cheers in vindication, but the rest of him aches with the knowledge that whatever it is he has with Alexandre will be forever different. He holds his breath for a moment, composing himself, then answers, “Don’t do this…”
Alexandre’s eyes go hard. “Guess.”
Harry pleads, “Draco…”
A few days later, when Draco hasn’t come back but Harry can hear he’s still there, Hedwig brings Harry a letter from Remus. It’s as good an excuse as any to get out of this room that’s grown uncomfortably close, so he takes it.
Ginny looks in the mirror more than she ought to, Molly says. It’ll make her vain. Ginny doesn’t see how, really, because she’s quite ugly. Her eyes are fever bright as she catalogues her face: her eyes, listless, brown; her cheeks, fat and speckled with brown dots; her lips, bitten and chapped with cold; her skin, pale and wan with lack of sun; her jaw, slowly growing large and horsy and hideous. There is no one in the house to impress, really, but this doesn’t stop Ginny from standing in front of the mirror for hours, carefully applying smooth cream foundation and pearly coral rouge. She slicks her lips with waxy lipstick until she looks just-kissed and dewy. She paints a watery blue on her eyelids and coats fluttery ginger lashes with thick black mascara.
When her makeup is done, she carefully unwraps the long stockings, unfolding them so slowly that sometimes it takes as long as twenty minutes just to pull one free from the paper. She tugs on her satin gloves, smooth so they won’t snag the gorgeous stockings, and gingerly pulls the silk up her legs one at a time. After making sure that the seams are razorblade straight, she carefully clips her garters to the tops, smoothing her hands slowly over her legs. Then she lifts the pretty white bra from her bed. It’s simple, with a little rosette between her breasts. She slides the straps up her arms, then scoops up the mounds of flesh on her chest and rests them in the cups as she reaches behind herself to close the hooks.
Ginny stands in front of the mirror examining every angle of the stunning image. The girl in the mirror isn’t her; the girl has shimmering liquid copper pooled over her shoulders and spilling onto her breasts, barely restrained by a lovely scrap of white lace. She has a thin, flat stomach that leads the eye fluidly to her wide hips that frame a delicate pink triangle covered lightly by wispy curls. Her legs fall for miles and miles encased by sheer white that hugs her curvy body all the way down to pretty pink toes that cause the fabric to blush the palest pink. She looks like the most beautiful girl in the most expensive fashion magazines.
Ginny, on the other hand, has scraggly orange strings hanging from her head like a rag doll. Her hair sticks to the sweat gathered between her breasts, pinched in a bra that is too old by far and ill-fitting. Her stomach is emaciated, and her ribs and hipbones jut sharply from her pasty stomach. She has an enormous arse from sitting around all the time, and her legs look silly, like sausages bursting in their casings of silk. Her cunt is furred over with a ginger forest of curled wire. She will stand in the mirror for an hour, touching herself until the girl in the mirror shakes with pleasure, and then she will carefully deconstruct the beautiful picture. She takes off the stockings slowly, then the bra and makeup. Then she dresses up like Ginny Weasley again, her crisp shirt covering her breasts and the dowdy skirt ghosting her knees. The girl in the mirror goes away until the next time Ginny comes to visit her.
One day, as she and Ginny shudder together, there is the glimmer of eyes in the doorway. Ginny flushes pink, her cheeks and forehead going hot with shame and embarrassment, but the girl in the mirror meets his eyes evenly. She looks beautiful, shaking and blushed with sensual pleasure, and he flees from her knowing eyes. That night, Ginny wears her makeup to dinner. Fred and George laugh at her, Hermione looks at her pityingly, and Molly tells her to go wash her face because she looks like a tart. Even as she stumbles into the hall, hot tears of mortification streaking down her cheeks in blue and pink and black lines, she can feel his eyes hot on her.
When Draco, mollified by time and hunger, knocks on Harry’s door again, it is opened by a fat man in a ghastly night cap. He stands there numbly as the man berates him for bothering him at this time of night then goes back to his room. He has three more days left in his room, and he spends them sitting in his bed pretending he’s waiting for tea time.
The sightings begin to pour in the closer it gets to Halloween: Death Eaters in Dorset; Bellatrix Lestrange on Knockturn Alley, buying potions ingredients; Malfoy blonde spotted in Muggle London in the subway. After Tonks bursts into tears over the Black Malfoy case, she is assigned to these hoaxes, reports filed by little old ladies who see bogeymen lurking in every darkened corner. She knows it’s the job they give the Aurors who have little breakdowns like hers, but it means she can spend more time at home with Remus.
When she goes home for the first time, she is surprised at the sheer number of people living in the house. She knew academically that the Weasleys had moved in, but the sheer number is still overwhelming when she wakes up late the first morning and staggers down the stairs to the kitchen in one of Remus’s old shirts to be confronted with the embarrassed grins of four young men. When she heard footsteps behind her and turned to greet her boyfriend, Arthur Weasley had been adjusting his tie. After seeing her state of dishabille, he’d raised an eyebrow but cheerfully greeted Molly and accepted a cup of coffee. Finally Remus had come in, and by that time she’d been so thoroughly embarrassed that she’d rounded on him fiercely and stormed out of the room to get ready for work.
Even remembering it made her cheeks flush. She knew that what she’d done had been horrible and out of her norm, but she’d been so out of sorts recently that she secretly feared she was becoming slightly unbalanced at best, completely unhinged at worst. When Remus told her that he’d encouraged Harry to come stay for a week or two, she’d had to suppress a shudder, as she did now. She hasn’t yet told Remus about her aunt’s death, and she imagines he’d think her recent behavior was because of it, but she knows that isn’t true. At least, it’s not completely true, she reasons with herself. Most of the problem is as simple as this: she’s late, and it’s illegal to mate with a werewolf.
The reception he gets when he moves into number twelve is cool at best. Grief makes Molly distant, Fred and George are busy working on new Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, and Ron can’t look at him without light bulbs popping like corn. Bill and Fleur must still be on honeymoon, Harry thinks, but a niggling feeling in the back of his mind tells him that no, they’re not. After the first day, his stomach ties itself into knots and he finds he cannot sleep. When Remus greets him in the morning, he goes half-hard at just the sight of the man’s hair and has to spend thirty minutes in the loo having “personal time” with his left hand before he’s able to join decent society again.
The house creaks and groans in odd ways, sighing here and there in a way he doesn’t remember from two summers ago. There aren’t any doxies anymore and Kreacher is long gone, but late at night as Harry lies on his back staring at the bed curtains, he can hear little feet running down the halls, giggles, and muffled words. He wonders if there is a brownie in the house, and begins to leave milk and bread out on the hearth in his room, but it is never touched. Then he remembers that it should be oatmeal and switches, but food is tight in the cramped quarters and he stops after less than a week because he feels guilty.
He tells himself that he only misses Alexandre, not Malfoy. Alexandre was charming, in his own way, but Malfoy is a prat and Harry thinks somewhere in the back of his mind that the worst thing Draco Malfoy has ever done is not try to kill Dumbledore but instead try to make Harry fall for him. Which he didn’t, Harry reminds himself, but it’s impossible to believe that he didn’t like the made up boy just a little when he finds his cheeks growing hot every time he sees Remus. An icy cold stab of jealousy grabs him one morning as he sees Tonks leaving the room she shares with Remus and he can’t help being touchy and irritable for the rest of the day.
Ron still won’t talk to him. He seems to be funneling all of his attention through Hermione, and the first time he catches them together—Hermione, spread out on the desk like a book with a cracked spine, Ron’s fingers squelching loudly and wetly between her legs—Harry all but runs away from the scene. It’s not intimate at all; Ron is attacking her with such violence that Harry can’t even imagine it would feel good and Hermione is sitting dispassionately on the edge of the table apathetically looking down at Ron’s shiny fingers, looking for all the world as if he is using someone else’s body. When her eyes catch his in the doorway, Harry feels sick to his stomach and has to leave. The image won’t leave his mind but he can’t be sick because someone is in the toilet for twenty minutes. It turns out to be Ginny, who is still flipping the pages of her fashion magazine, several years out of date, as she walks out.
Harry wonders how he ended up through the rabbit hole.
Bellatrix is beautiful, haughty, and rich. She has never had anyone deny her anything, and she isn’t about to start, so when the little shop keep at the potions shop refuses to give her service, her hand shakes with the desire to scratch his eyes out with her long red nails. She shakes so much in her fury that she must clutch her elbows, but her voice is deadly level.
“You will sell me those ingredients,” she informs him, a chill hanging in the air from her tone. She pulls a bag heavy with gold taken from the stack Narcissa kept in the drawing room and lets it fall to the counter with a clink.
“Are you trying to bribe me?” the boy asks, and Bellatrix recognizes him as a Slytherin, class of 1994. Flint, or something like that. He’s got a money-hungry expression and she almost twists her lip up in a sneer at his eagerness.
“I am prepared to pay,” she weighs her words carefully, “handsomely for these items.”
“Ma’am,” Flint simpers, fluttering his lashes in a way that could be called coy in a girl, but on him merely looks ridiculous, “I’ve been instructed not to allow, erm, ‘his’ people to purchase anything. I could lose my job.”
Resisting the urge to roll her eyes, Bellatrix turns on her most syrupy voice. “What will it take to make it worth your while?” she asks, already counting out how many galleons she can afford to pay before it becomes ludicrous.
“Well,” Flint seems to ponder for a moment, but his eyes glitter triumphantly. “Ma’am, I don’t think I could take money under the counter like that. It’s just not fair to all of the other people I’ve had to turn away.” Bellatrix’s mouth drops open slightly, stunned. She turns on her heel sharply to leave, but Flint grabs her sleeve quickly. “But Ma’am,” his tone is smooth as silk, “if you don’t mind the compliment, you’ve got fabulous tits.” This is how Bellatrix ends up on her pureblooded knees sucking cock like a two sickle whore in a storeroom on Knockturn Alley, but it’s also how she ends up with three months’ worth of bicorn horn.
One day, as Harry is lying in bed after a long wanking session, feeling the sweat cool in his armpits and the come congeal in his belly button, the doorbell rings. This is odd because he has never known anyone to ring the doorbell to number twelve before. In fact, he hadn’t known there was a bell. He uses a dirty sock to wipe himself clean and tugs on his jeans, heading down the stairs to see who it is. The familiar shock of blonde hair surprises him as Remus opens the door, and Ron rushes forward to shove Draco back into the street. The fierce push unbalances him and suddenly Draco’s sprawled on the front step all bones and dirt.
“Oh my God,” Molly’s soft cry is audible upstairs as Malfoy’s sleeves fall up, revealing knobby elbows that look like parchment stretched over bones too large for his body.
“Cor,” Ron mutters when Malfoy’s shirt slips to reveal a sharply jutting collarbone lined with dirt, bruises, and dark shadows. It has been almost two weeks since Harry last saw Malfoy, but it looks like a hundred years. Draco is ushered in, despite Ron’s protests, and given a cup of tea while Molly looks for something to feed him with. It’s another mouth to feed—another stretch to their already thin menu—but Molly doesn’t care as she gives him the broth she’d been planning to cook dinner with. After eating only half a bowl, Malfoy asks to use their shower and Molly takes his filthy clothes. They’re stained and the stench coming from them reminds Harry firmly of the stink of dead things mixed with the smell of Mrs. Figg’s house.
He runs into Malfoy in the hall outside the shower and he watches a drop of water fall from the other boy’s earlobe, tracing its path down his shoulder and across his chest with his eyes. Malfoy clutches a towel around his hips and they can hear Molly and Arthur arguing downstairs. The muted whisper-shouts are interspersed with words like “Death Eater,” “Snape,” and “Dumbledore,” but Harry can see clearly that his forearm is not marked. Malfoy won’t meet his eyes, but Harry leads him to his own room, where Charlie has transfigured the bed into two beds and Molly has left an old set of clothes, hand me downs from Ron’s third year. Draco doesn’t turn away to drop his towel and dress and Harry doesn’t look away. Greyed cotton pants are pulled up over skeletal hips. A pair of faded school slacks follows, the charcoal color flattering nicely the color of the greenish bruise on a concave stomach. The shirt is no longer crisp and the robes are ragged at the hem from being passed down for more than ten years, but the jumper that Molly left for him puddles around his elbows and Draco looks like a small child playing in his big brother’s clothes.
“Draco,” Harry says. Grey eyes flash quickly up to meet his and the room is tense again. Draco turns on his heel to go downstairs.
The air is beginning to frost over and Halloween has come and gone without any of the dire predictions made by blue haired biddies coming true. Tonks is still at work sorting through dozens of false reports when she comes across one that’s odd. The witness, a squib cousin of one of Tonks’s roommates in school, claims she saw Severus Snape in Yorkshire. The whole incident has left the woman very shaken up, and Tonks suspects that there may be someone out there polyjuicing themselves into the intimidating—and currently very dead—Hogwarts professor, but when she reports the case to her supervisor, she gets a noncommittal noise and a nod of the head, quickly followed by a soothing smile. She is growing frustrated with her job, but can’t bring herself to talk to anyone about it because she knows that all of her secrets will pour out once she opens her mouth.
She has come home early to tell the Weasleys that they can go home now, but as she walks in the door she sees her cousin sitting in the parlor. His hair gleams in the gas lights and the portrait of Mrs. Black seems pacified by the presence of a true pureblood in the house because she only calls Tonks the product of a whorish Muggle lover rather than anything truly awful. Her cousin looks ill, but he has always been far paler and thinner than he should have, so she supposes it is relative to his previous poor health. His Weasley jumper has a large letter ‘G’ on it and Molly is standing protectively over him as the others sit around with various expressions of distaste on their faces. Ron looks as if his face might cook an egg he’s so hot with anger, and Ginny has a placid doll-like expression of slightly bored apathy on her face as she stares at her feet. Hermione is curled away from Malfoy as if his touch is toxic, and the twins are eyeing him warily from the divan. Harry and Remus have twin expressions of warded concern in their faces, but Malfoy is deliberately avoiding meeting his eyes with Harry’s studious gaze.
Tonks has learned long ago that with this group she should never be surprised by anyone who shows up, but since the last she’d heard Draco Malfoy was missing—presumed dead—she can’t help the twist of confusion that must show on her face. Remus smiles apologetically at her and comes to take her arm, saying, “He came by today looking for help. He’s been homeless since…well, you know,” he says, making a lame gesture with his hand. “He was more than half starved when he showed up, and Molly’s been feeding him every few hours since he got here. He was in the middle of telling us what he knows about,” he pauses, “the case when you came in.”
A bird has gotten caught in her chest as she looks at the boy on the couch with new eyes. “He was there?”
“No,” Draco’s voice is fragile and Tonks is forcibly reminded that despite everything, he is only seventeen. “No, but…I heard it. What happened. And then they made me help them move the,” he chokes slightly, “corpse.”
“They?” Tonks’s tone sounds sharp, even to her own ears.
“Yes.” His eyes close slowly, and then open just as slowly. They move to her, watching her face. “My mother and Aunt Bellatrix.”
It has been a long day, exhausting. Ginny is curled in her bed on her side, dozing and thinking over the events and discoveries of the day. Her hair is sticking to her skin as she tries to sleep, but her mind is racing too fast for her to rest. She feels anxious, but she doesn’t know why. She suspects she feels unsafe with Malfoy in the house, but in the state he’s in, he couldn’t even dream of hurting her. Between her fat arse and the sticks he has for thighs, she could see herself pushing him down the stairs if he threatened her. He’d probably shatter.
She caught him staring at her today, her admirer, staring with those eyes he’d used to watch her visiting the girl in the mirror. He’d been watching her arse and the way her skirt moved. She pretended not to notice, but the feeling of his eyes on her had made heat pool in her belly. Hermione is out of the room, probably whoring herself out to Ron, so Ginny lets her fingers slide between her thighs. She whimpers as they touch sticky wetness and there is a groan from the door. Behind her, there are heavy, masculine footsteps and a warm body slips under the blankets with her. He captures her wrist and pulls her fingers, gleaming in the moonlight, toward himself. She can feel his hardness pressed against her arse and her eyelids flutter. They both groan as he licks her fingertips, sliding his own calloused hand over her belly to her panties. His fingers toy with the bow on the front before dipping in to scratch through her damp curls. They seek out her clit like they’ve been here before. Ginny opens her thighs slightly and rides the wave of pleasure coursing through her body. He pants behind her, grinding his cock against her. She knows when he comes: he clutches her whole mound with his hand, pressing fingertips in almost painfully against her pubic bone as he shudders against her. Hot, wet pulses squish in the fabric of her nightgown and she lets out a soft moan. His hand slips away, smearing slime up her stomach as he pulls his fingers out of her panties. Shaking, he stands up and presses a kiss to her forehead from behind and sneaks out of the room before Hermione can get back. With her thighs quaking and her legs slipping against each other, Ginny tries to force herself to sleep.
Draco soon learns that there’s no privacy at Grimmauld Place. Anything you can be walked in on doing, you will. The first time he runs into Potter on the stair, just coming out of the toilet with his eyes bright and his cheeks flushed, his whole body screaming, “I just wanked!” he is stunned, then mortified. As he listens to Ron get his from Granger, the bedsprings creaking and groaning almost as loud as the huffing and puffing of the weasel’s breath as he thrusts into her, he wishes wholeheartedly that he were deaf.
The first time he walks in on them, with their kinky ritual of mirrors and silk stockings, he knows he’s finally seen something wrong. The weaslette is only sixteen, but she is on her back, moaning and writhing as her lover pumps into her. Her long legs are wrapped in pretty silk stockings and decorated with silk bows. They look for all the world like they should belong to a bride instead of a teenaged girl, and there is a little rosette on her bra, the same color as her cinnamon nipples that are being pinched between the man’s fingers. All he can think is, that man shouldn’t be doing that. He should know better. This is wrong. She sees Draco’s gobsmacked expression in the mirror and screeches, clutching to her lover. Draco realizes she is orgasming and runs as far away as he can. He hides in his room under Harry’s bed and shakes in disgust until dinner, when Harry comes to bring him to eat. He won’t tell Harry what happened, and Harry stops asking as they walk into the dining room.
After dinner, Draco stays to help Molly with the dishes so he doesn’t have to see them again, but the weaslette sits on the kitchen table, watching him. Her eyes are so blank and doll-like that he feels ill and wonders vaguely if she even cares what she is doing. Eventually all of the dishes are clean, the counters wiped down and everything put away. Molly makes him a cup of chamomile tea because he tells her that he hasn’t been sleeping well and she sends him out of the room. As he leaves, Ginny stares at him silently. He heads to the room he has been sharing with Harry as quickly as he dares, but in the dark hallway he finds himself grabbed by the collar and slammed into the wall. His tea splatters wetly against the floor and the cup shatters. In the kitchen, Draco can hear Molly get up to follow the noise, but a pair of lips are growling next to his ear.
“Don’t tell her anything. You didn’t see anything,” the man snarls at him and he stares at the glint of light reflected off of a dragon’s tooth as he is shoved to the floor. Ginny minces up the stairs and into the hallway. She looks down at Draco, who babbles nonsensically about not seeing anything, and then she goes into her room. The man follows her and Draco’s stomach turns. He is dry heaving in the floor when Molly, who is all terrycloth dressing gown and fuzzy slippers and smelling faintly of burned sugar, finds him sobbing sickly in a puddle of his own snot and bile. She helps him to bed and brings him more tea, and when Harry asks him what happened, he turns over and pulls the blankets over his head.
Harry is lying in bed when he realizes that he doesn’t understand how Malfoy knew how to get to Grimmauld Place. He knows the Fidelius charm has expired, but the house is still unplottable. He thinks about asking, but when he looks over to Draco’s bed, he sees that he isn’t there yet. There is a sudden clatter of pandemonium in the hall, and Harry rushes to see what it is. The door won’t open, he finds, but if he presses his ear to the old wood he can hear faintly the muffled thud of a body falling to the ground. When Molly enters a few minutes later with a weak looking Malfoy on her arm, it’s all he can do not to demand with whom Ferret-face has started an argument. Then he sees the dark shadows under pale grey eyes and the almost arthritic shaking of too-thin limbs and realizes that not even Malfoy would pick a fight when he’s this ill. He watches Molly put Malfoy to bed and waits for her to leave before asking what happened, but all he gets is sulking for his trouble. He thinks of asking Molly, but it’s late and he knows she will only send him back to bed, so he rolls over so he can keep an eye on the tiny bundle beneath the coverlet in the next bed.
The next day, there is an odd tension in the house. Ginny is nowhere to be found, as usual, but Charlie is watching Malfoy like a hawk. Harry wishes that Charlie would see that the boy is simply too sick to do anything—besides, who has he got to turn to, anyway?—but Charlie’s eyes won’t leave the pale figure that staggers through the parlor skittishly. Even the twins are affected by the general malaise of the day, and their constant jokes seem to have hit a lull. Ron and Hermione seem to be having a bit of a tiff. Hermione is in the library reading—Ron jokes that she has been memorizing her textbooks—and Ron has been sniping at Malfoy all day.
“Come on, then!” Ron taunts from his seat on the plush sofa, “Tell us how your Death Eater friends killed Snape. We know it was you, anyway.”
“Ron!” Molly’s tone is sharp, and Harry can see the scowl forming on Ron’s face already at her perceived treason.
“Oh, come on, Mum! He’s been a Junior Death Eater for as long as I’ve known him. Surely you can’t ignore that!” Ron’s tone is sour, but not as sour as the ugly expression forming on Malfoy’s face. The twins are fidgeting slightly and Fred stands up to leave, but George stays, almost entranced. Fred tugs on his brother’s shoulder for a while, then gives up and leaves.
“Ronald,” Molly’s tone is warning, and her eyes flash dangerously. “There’s no need to bring up the past.”
“Mum, just because a snake licks your hand when it’s injured doesn’t mean it won’t bite when it’s well again,” Ron’s tone is sullen and whiny, and Harry suddenly can’t see how this creature could be his friend.
“Ron, that’s enough!” Harry stands, walking over to the chair where Malfoy is sitting, trying to catch his breath. Harry cups a bony shoulder in his hand and Draco’s head jerks up. He stares at Harry for a moment before pulling away and looking around nervously. His tongue flits out, licking cracked and drying lips, and his eyes settle on Ron.
“He’s right, you know,” Draco’s tone is conversational, and Harry is startled and half-hard at the sudden memory of Alexandre. “I was a ‘Junior Death Eater,’ as he called it. I wanted to serve the Dark Lord.”
“Voldemort,” Harry’s half-though correction slips through as a whisper, and Draco nods.
“Voldemort. I wanted to serve him and destroy the results of what I saw as the Muggle taint on Wizarding society,” Draco’s voice is soft, but grows in strength. Ron is sputtering indignantly, but not standing up, so Draco continues. “I was…angry, I suppose. Angry that such a disgusting breed of people could be allowed to breathe the same air as we could, study the same things we could, and that everyone seemed to have forgotten.”
“Forgotten?” Molly’s voice is hesitant. “What has everybody forgotten, dear?”
“The old ways. The way it was before when Wizard kin and Muggles got together,” Draco rubs his left arm, right over the Dark Mark that Harry knows isn’t there.
“Bugger the old ways, Malfoy. You lot just use that as an excuse as to why smart witches like Hermione shouldn’t be allowed to go to Hogwarts!” Ron’s voice is clear and sharp, cutting across the room. “You think that because her blood’s impure—just because she was born to Muggles—she’s not allowed to breathe the same air as you? You’re an utter bastard. Ten of you aren’t worth her.”
“Hermione Granger was not born to Muggles,” Draco’s voice is calm. Ron’s indignant cry is ignored as he continues, “Do you know how the old magic works, Weasley? How it runs in the veins like blood, and how every part of your body can feel it, from your toenails all the way up to the roots of your hair? Do you think that just happens spontaneously? There’s no such thing as a Muggle-born witch or Wizard, but there are loads of squib born people out there.”
“What do you mean?” George asks.
“There is no magic spontaneously created, only magic allowed to die, to rot in the furrows and disappear forever. For every one so-called Muggle born witch or wizard, there are ten ‘odd children’ whose parents either didn’t believe or never got their Hogwarts letter, who’ll never know exactly why strange things happen to them. There are children in Britain whose magic has been so bred out of them that they simply pass under the notice of the Ministry. These children will never understand why, when they get really angry, the sitting room’s window splits. They’ll never know what a gift they’ve been given by their ancestors that their parents have thrown away.
“I doubt there’s such a thing as a pure-bred Muggle anymore. Our bloodlines have mixed so thoroughly that almost every person in Britain has a magical signature. These people breed and they get the luck of the draw—sometimes, their child is born with enough power that he or she can go to a Wizarding school. Sometimes it is born so weak of magic that it dies at birth. Sometimes it is born a squib, with so little magical energy that it’s almost Muggle. Then these squibs with their low-level magic breed and the resultant child is even less powerful, until all that’s left is a tiny spark of power.
“People like Granger are extremely lucky. In her case, one squib line with a decent amount of power left in it—perhaps she’ll look back on one side of her family and find she’s got a grandaunt who was sent to a special finishing school and disappeared from knowledge shortly after, or her grandfather has no history before his nineteenth birthday. Either way, she’ll find magic in her line if she looks for it—those people married into a line that was dying. Somehow, her parents have managed to create a functioning witch, but half of her powers are…slow. They don’t work as well as other witches’ do. She can’t do charms, or transfigurations, or maybe she’s pants at divination and can’t fly a broom,” Malfoy turns his eyes to Ron, who’s staring at him with a mixture of loathing and reluctant admiration on his face, “as well as the other Wizarding students in her year. She’ll study twice as hard as a pure-blooded classmate and maybe she’ll be a better student than…her. But she’ll never have a tenth of the power that other student shows, and she’ll never be able to do all of the things her friends at school can, because her magic is so withered.”
“What complete poppycock!” Hermione’s voice is watery with tears of betrayal. She stands in the doorway and glares at no one as hard as she glares at Ron. “I’ve never heard such unmitigated racist propaganda in my life!”
“Hermione,” Ron starts, and she storms over to him. He grips her arm and tries to pull her onto his lap, but she struggles and for a moment Harry is sure she will punch Ron. She doesn’t, but she doesn’t sit down, either. Hermione stands stiffly next to him, her arm caught. “Just listen a minute.”
“Absolutely not!” she shrieks, suddenly clawing at Ron’s hand.
“What’s going on?” Ginny’s voice floats in from the hall, where she stands. “Is Hermione unwell?”
“How could you possibly believe that because I’m Muggle-born my magic is inferior to yours, Ronald Weasley?” Tears are beginning to leak from Hermione’s eyes and Ginny comes in to stand next to Charlie, observing the situation. Harry is sure that she and Hermione have been quarrelling again, and he’s unnerved by the gleam in Ginny’s eye as she sees Hermione’s frustration. “How could you believe that pureblood Death Eater propaganda shit?”
“Mind your tongue!” Ginny’s voice is clear and decisive, drawing heads around the room to look at her. Her face is suddenly flushed and she has shaken her hair loose of one of the blue bows she is wearing. It hangs limply, dangling from one strand to rest on her shoulder. “Not every pureblood is a Death Eater, and it would do you good to remember that!”
“Not every Death Eater is a pureblood,” Malfoy drawls, and everyone looks at him again. “Every Death Eater has his own agenda. He has his own reason for believing Voldemort’s lies, and you don’t have to be a pureblood to toady to him.”
“And why, then, do you? What’s your reason, Malfoy, for wanting me and my family dead? Don’t recite that ‘they’re killing magic’ drivel to me. Tell me the real reason,” Hermione demands, her face flaming with passion. Her hair is wild, and Harry can see in her both the shy English rose and Boudica, the warrior queen.
“My family has no history past the sixteenth century,” Malfoy begins. His eyes drift to his lap, where his fingers are toying absently with the bottom hem of the Weasley jumper he has borrowed from George. “Unlike a lot of the British Wizarding families, we can’t trace ourselves back to our Keltoi roots or claim that we were descended from the great Roman wisewomen. Before November 1523, we have no idea who our family was. We don’t even know the family name. It could have been anything, for all we know. We do know that there was a small manor house belonging to the family that is still standing; it’s there that I was born,” his eyes lock with Harry’s, and Harry feels his neck flush. “This manor is the only thing my family has left from those days because everything else was taken from us.”
“What do you mean?” the words escape Harry’s lips before Hermione’s disapproving scowl can stop them.
“Autrefois, il y’un garcon. Il etait un garcon jaune et beaux. Mais les heurs de la vie etait moments douloureux…” Draco begins. It sounds like he is reciting a well-loved poem or children’s story. He looks at Harry and begins to translate, “Once upon a time, there was a boy. He was a young boy, and beautiful. But his life was filled with sadness…”
There is a sudden pounding in the night that startles Lucien Leblanc from his sleep. His wife, Marie, is sleepily curled on his arm. Her nightcap has fallen loose from her head and for a moment the sight of moonlight on her hair is so captivating that he forgets why he is awake. Then Jehanne begins to cry and Clareta is running into the room to their little bed. Her little footfalls are almost completely overwhelmed by the raucous cries of people outside. Marie jumps up and races into the hall. Lucien follows her to the children’s rooms, and as he stands outside the opened door of his son’s room, he realizes two things quite suddenly: the air is choked by the smell of thatch burning, and Michel is not in his bed.
It is very much like Michel to be out flirting with the girls in town until it is far too late to be proper. It is not, however, very much like the family’s roof to be on fire. Jehanne is shrieking in terror now, and Clareta has thrown her arms around Marie’s neck, sobbing like the small child she is. There is nothing to do, Lucien reasons with himself, but to go out and face the crowd. He gathers his wife and daughters to him, clutching Jehanne’s tiny hand in his own and curling a protective arm around Marie, who has Clareta on her hip. They are all in their night clothes, but Lucien throws back the front door anyway. The sight that greets him is truly terrible; it seems the entire town is there, and they’ve all got murder in their eyes.
“Leblanc, your wife is accused of witchcraft and consorting with the Devil,” the ugly man standing at the front of the group states. His eyes are beady as they rake over the state of Jehanne and Clareta’s undress. Lucien pulls Jehanne behind him to protect her from staring eyes and the man bares rotted teeth at him in a sneer.
“What is the meaning of all this?” Lucien demands. “My wife has done you no harm. Nor have I.”
“Then you do not deny she is a witch?” Lucien feels as if he has turned to ice at the man’s words. The denial is on the tip of his tongue, but he cannot bring himself to speak against her family, who for many years tutored the both of them in the intricacies of the craft, coaxing them slowly toward the perfect potion making skills, the most delicate transfigurations, and the most fluid charms work. “You see?” the man goads the crowd, “He cannot deny it!”
“My wife is no consort of the Devil!” Lucien finds his voice as the townspeople laugh mockingly.
“What other name is there for a witch? Come now, pretty thing, and confess your sins,” another man, one Lucien remembers working in their plow fields last autumn, grabs Marie’s arm, tugging her to him. His eyes rake over her eagerly and he pulls at her night shift.
“Confess and you shall be saved!” someone else in the crowd calls and chaos breaks loose. Jehanne is torn from his hand, her screams echoing long in the night. Marie is lost to his eyes as the townspeople begin to swarm into their pretty little home, taking everything they can get their hands around. He stares in horror as Clareta is slapped roundly across the face by a crone.
“Be still, you stupid thing!” the woman cries, shaking the child, and Lucien sees white for a moment. When the haze lifts, the woman’s hands have fallen off and the people around her are screaming. Clareta has disappeared, as well, hidden by the throngs of people. The hag falls over in a faint and Lucien’s eyes dart frantically for his family before a crushing weight hits his skull and all is dark.
When he awakens, the first thing Lucien sees is Michel, strapped to a large block in front of a roaring fire. There is a rod of metal sticking out of the fire and the man from before, who Lucien now recognizes as Msr. Baudelaire, the man who tried to convince him to sell their pretty house last autumn, is standing next to Michel, his hand pressed firmly on the boy’s neck. In the firelight, Michel looks almost half of his seventeen years. His eyes are large with fright. He stares at Lucien as if he has seen a ghost.
“Papa! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry; I’ll never stay out late again. Oh, God, Papa!” Michel cries, his fingers scrabbling against the wood as he tries desperately to worm his way out of Baudelaire’s grasp. “Please, Papa, make him stop. Make him let me go!”
A piercing scream forces Lucien to tear his eyes away from his pleading son. Clareta is being bounced on the knee of a grim old hag. She is reaching for her mama, who is bound nearby. Clareta starts to sob and the woman makes a noise of disgust, shoving the child at someone nearby. He shoves her back and Clareta cries louder, hurt by all of the rough treatment. A peasant woman backhands her and Clareta sniffles in the dirt—Clareta, the child who could never stand even flower pollen on her hands has got mud in her hair. Marie chokes on a sob and Lucien rages against his own bindings to comfort her. Marie’s white night dress is torn and bloodied, and he is wholeheartedly and selfishly glad that he was not awake to see why she has a large bruise on her calf in the shape of fingerprints. He cannot see Jehanne, but he can hear her screams and see the large crowd near Michel. He can see the way Michel will not look to the crowd, and Lucien realizes with a sickening lurch in his stomach that the boy has been placed to watch. Look at this, their actions say. This is what boys like you do to good girls. Lucien spits on the ground and is kicked in the stomach for it.
He does not see the exact moment that Clareta is pushed into the water to stifle her crying. He only sees as Marie fights against her bounds as violently as a she-wolf. He sees as the child is brought back out of the water and the cold thing is thrown at the feet of her mother, who sobs so brazenly that it seems her heart has broken. He sees as the crowd parts as Jehanne fights her way out of it, dagger in hand. As their tormentors approach her, he sees her eyes fly heavenward before she sheathes the dagger in her belly. Lucien tells himself that this is what the blood oozing down her legs is from. When the branding iron is pulled from the fire, it bears the words “of bad faith” and he cannot watch as the hot metal is pressed into his son’s forearm.
He can hear acutely the sizzle of the hair burning and the dull popping sound of blisters forming and bursting as the iron is pressed into Michel’s arm. The boy’s screams are truly horrifying and the sickly sweet smell of burned flesh fills the clearing. He can hear the boy vomiting and Baudelaire laughing. He still has his eyes closed tightly when he hears the whistle of a sword and the two meaty chopping sounds when it takes more than one stroke to silence Marie’s mad screams. His eyes are still closed as he hears Michel sobbing and panting for breath across the clearing and as he hears the murderer lift his blade again. His eyes stay closed.
When Michel is found three days later in the city of Rouen, half-mad and delirious with hunger, the scabs on his arm oozing blood and pus, he cannot remember his own name. All he can say, according to the milk girl that finds him wandering through the forest, is that he must get out of France. The townspeople suspect that he is a victim of the Inquisition, and they refuse to help him, but he is eventually taken to the lodgings of a pair of British wizards visiting the continent. They agree to take him back with them, but since he will not tell them his name, they call him by the name bleeding on his arm: Le Mal Foi.
Hermione says that the story is a pack of lies, that the Inquisition didn’t start until years later and that Malfoy has been reading too many penny dreadfuls. She says he’s making it all up and he only wants sympathy, but even Ron admits that it’s a horrible story, and maybe Malfoy isn’t so bad, after all, seeing as how he hasn’t started a fight in a while, anyway. Harry doesn’t know quite what to make of this assertion; he’s glad Ron’s willing to try to be friends—it keeps him from feeling sick when he thinks of Alexandre—but he’s still certain that Ron is the one fighting with Malfoy in the hall.
In the past few days, Malfoy has come in with a split lip, a broken nose, and bruises covering most of his pale, thin body. Though he has fleshed out more than he was when he first arrived, Harry is still concerned, and at Harry’s insistence, Charlie has been healing the worst of his injuries. Charlie has some sort of big brother sense, Harry figures, because he always seems to know when he’s needed. The injuries vary between scratches down Malfoy’s arm to horrible blotchy bruises on his legs and once a shoulder out of socket. When Draco staggers into the room one day, his eyes wide with shock and his face whiter than paper, his wrist broken and cradled protectively in his other hand, it is too much.
Harry bypasses Charlie in the hall, going straight for Ron’s door. He can hear Hermione in there, but for once he doesn’t care. He slams the door open to the sight of them, she with her face buried in his lap and he with his hands fisted in the sheets of his bed. Ron sputters angrily and Hermione mewls in embarrassment, pulling away and hiding behind the bed. Ron’s cock hangs heavy, red and wet in the space between them, and Harry’s eyes are drawn to it almost helplessly. Shaking himself, Harry steels his courage and strides over to Ron, punching him soundly in the jaw.
“You leave your hands off of Dra—Malfoy,” Harry snarls as his friend curls on his side, clutching his face. Ron leaps at him and wrestles him to the floor, kneeling over Harry and punching back. Harry can barely fight back as Ron pants above him, sweating and crying he is so angry.
Molly rushes into the room followed by Fred and George, who pull Ron off of Harry. Draco stands in the doorway silently as the scene unfolds. His eyes are cool and condescending, but they jump nervously between the various Weasleys in the room.
“What in the name of Merlin is happening in here?” Molly demands as Harry nurses a bloody lip and Ron tries to hide his nudity behind a pillow.
“Ron’s been picking bloody fights with Malfoy,” Harry accuses behind the monogrammed handkerchief Draco has pressed to his lip. The blond boy rolls his eyes and hides his injured hand behind Harry’s back.
“I’ve not effing touched him, Harry!” Ron’s cry is indignant and he almost drops the pillow when he tries to throw his hand up.
“You’ve started a row with him in the hall every night for the past week! You’ve busted his lip twice, almost broken his nose, and now,” a sharp kick to the back of his shin tells Harry that Malfoy clearly doesn’t want his injury declared. “Now I won’t stand for it anymore,” he finishes lamely.
“You’re batty! I’ve been with Hermione every night this week,” Ron asserts, despite the muffled squeak from behind the bed.
“What?” Molly’s yelp is barely a question.
“Ronald Weasley!” Hermione’s tone is recriminating as she stands slowly from behind the bed. Her blouse is unbuttoned and her hair is a mess, but she is dressed and Harry suddenly feels a pang of remorse for involving her in the situation. “Harry, what on Earth has gotten into you?”
“Ron’s been hitting Malfoy,” Harry mutters, turning his face away from his friends.
“He has not! Where would you get such an idea?” she demands.
“Have you…you’ve been…Ron, are you…active?” Molly sputters, and Ron’s ears go crimson. Fred and George laugh loudly and all attention is suddenly torn away from Harry.
“Mum!” Ron wails indignantly. “I’m never going to forgive you for this, Harry!”
Fred and George laugh even louder and Fred comes over to where Harry is standing. “Don’t worry about it, mate,” he grins, patting Harry on the shoulder on his way out of the room. Harry begins to follow him.
“Wait!” Draco grabs for Harry’s arm, but winces and Harry realizes that he has reached with his injured hand. He grabs the pale arm well above the wrist and leads Malfoy to Charlie, who pales slightly at the obvious swelling and odd angle of the boy’s wrist.
“Fix it, Charlie. Please.” Draco’s whole arm is trembling from pain and lack of treatment. Charlie’s lips are thin and white as he slowly shakes his head. “What do you mean, ‘no’? You’ve got to fix it! Look at him; it’s pretty fucking obvious his wrist is broken. It hurts so much he’s gone white!” Charlie stares at the arm Harry is holding, and then backs away slowly.
“I can’t. I can’t fix that,” Charlie gasps, unable to tear his eyes away from the injury.
Molly’s gasp is loud suddenly in their quiet discussion. Her voice is tremulous as she carefully touches Malfoy’s wrist and watches him wince. “When did this happen?” she asks.
“Today,” Malfoy’s voice is quiet. “I fell on the stair. I tripped,” his eyes are warning as he glances back at Harry.
“Ron pushed you,” Harry replies.
“Have things like this been happening often?” her voice is tight.
“No,” Draco says as Harry says, “Yes.”
“All the time,” Harry ignores Draco’s glare. “Usually black eyes, split lips, and such. Almost every day.”
“No,” Draco says as Harry says, “Yes.”
It takes three hours and several favors called in by Arthur for Molly to find a way to get Malfoy to a doctor who is willing to keep a secret. The doctor shows them all how the bones in his wrist have been broken in three places. His arm has been twisted so fiercely that the tendons around the break are inflamed. It takes two different potions to stop the swelling so the doctor can even look at the damage, and after a dose of skele-gro and a pain relieving potion, Malfoy is sent back to number twelve under strict orders not to use his arm for a week. Molly blames the whole thing on herself, Charlie is subdued, and Ron refuses to talk to Harry, who won’t stop glaring at him. Draco is curled in the armchair in the parlor under the watchful eye of Phineas Nigellus Black, who harrumphs threateningly whenever the sleeping boy is approached.
Winter has hit and the worst of the cabin fever has come. Every day, Ron looks out of the family’s one window and wants so desperately to be at Hogwarts that his whole chest aches. It will be Christmas in a week, but he knows hopelessly that this Christmas will be different than any other in his life. At Hogwarts, Christmas means sleeping in late in a warm bed, not being woken up by your brother’s snoring as the icy wind whistles through the cracks around the windows. At Hogwarts, Christmas means feasting, playing in the snow, and games of chess and exploding snap in the common room. At Grimmauld Place, he and Hermione are quarrelling, Harry is being a prat, and his own brothers won’t talk to him.
Everyone is behaving oddly around him because they think he broke Malfoy’s arm. Ron thinks he should have listened to Hermione when she said not to believe him and that stupid story he made up about his family, and Ron feels like a moron for believing that Malfoy could have changed. Then again, the ferret-faced git seems to have completely fooled Harry. This bothers Ron more than he would like to admit, seeing Harry trail around after Malfoy like a lost puppy. He feels that something irreparable has changed in his relationship with Harry, and though he doesn’t know what it is, but he’s sure it’s Malfoy’s fault.
These days, it seems Malfoy has been communing with the house. He spends all day wandering in and out of all of the rooms, a habit that is fast annoying several members of the Wesley family. Already Charlie has threatened him at the dinner table for walking in on Ginny as she was dressing, and Ron thinks that all of his skulking around looks like he is plotting something. Malfoy avoids all of them, but none so fervently as Harry, who asks after him whenever someone walks into the room. It’s as if they’ve been playing a game of hide and seek that has been going on for days.
This is how he feels with Hermione, who won’t talk to him. She’s been completely humiliated, and everywhere she goes in the house she is jeered at. The paintings mock her loudly as she walks by them and Mrs. Black makes vulgar assertions about how Hermione is now even more unmarriageable. After the first time that the portrait in Ron’s room calls her a slut, she has refused to say anything at all to him, much less meet him alone in a room for any length of time.
Mum’s embarrassment is tangible, as well. She has begun knitting for lengthy stretches of time—sometimes eight hours in a row—with her head down, counting stitches to avoid having to talk to anyone. Her mood is temperamental recently, and it seems that it takes very little to set her into a foul attitude or a crying jag. He is glad that Tonks has told him that he can go outside if he likes, but there is a terrible uncertainty when he thinks about the world outside Grimmauld Place. It’s a world he hasn’t been a part of in a long time, and except for Tonks’s occasional reports, he knows nothing of what has happened. Tonks doesn’t even give them a full report, Ron suspects, and from her stories it seems there is an uneasy calm permeating the world outside this vacation from the war.
Tonks talks about little things: Cho Chang has been married recently, to a boy from America who bears more than a passing resemblance to Cedric but behaves more like Viktor Krum; the Minister of Magic has declared the first day of every September a day of memorial for those lost in the war; there have been rumours, but no real movement on either side as far as she knows. No one, not even a Muggle, has been injured in a Death Eater attack since before Halloween, despite near hysteria caused by rumours at the time.
Ron is contemplating whether or not to go outside when he opens the broom closet to find Draco Malfoy half dozing under the Shooting Stars. His whitish hair is streaked with dust and his eyelashes flutter on his cheeks peacefully, but when the floorboards creak under Ron’s feet, Malfoy jerks into a sitting position. His eyes are wide and guileless with lack of sleep and something else as he stares up at Ron, his expression like that of a stunned animal. A very wicked plan begins to form in Ron’s mind.
“What are you doing in here?” Ron tries to keep his tone light and conversational.
“I’m hiding. From Harry,” Malfoy elaborates.
“I know one place he won’t find you,” Ron says, extending his hand to the other boy.
The potion isn’t there for them to play with—Draco knows this—but with Weasley polyjuiced into his sister and himself polyjuiced into Granger, he also knows that they can have the freedom to leave the house. Draco Malfoy cannot venture into Wizarding society, but Hermione Granger can, and so she does. Weasley takes him around in the neighborhood the first time, and they don’t venture as far away as Diagon Alley. For now, Draco is content to sit in a swing in the park and feel the winter sun on his face. It is all too soon when Weasley’s watch tells him that they must go back before the potion’s effects wear off. As they part to go to their different parts of the house, he makes Weasley—who insists on being called Ron—promise that next time they will go to the Wizarding part of town. Draco wants to know what is happening to his family, and he knows that he won’t find out while he’s stuck in dank old number twelve.
The next time they go out, Ron is himself, but Draco is one of the twins. If anyone thinks it odd that one is going while the other stays, they don’t say anything and the two of them slip out of the oppressive clutch of the house easily. They walk slowly and easily and they make it all the way to the Leaky Cauldron before they realize that it’s just too far for them to walk in one hour. It has taken them twenty-four minutes to get to the pub’s doors and it will take them another twenty-four to get back. If they want to stop anywhere in the Alley next time, they will have to do something else, so on their way back Ron jots the tube schedule down on a piece of paper in his pocket. Fortunately there’s a tube station near the house, and if they are efficient with their time, they will be able to shave ten minutes off of their travel time each way, which leaves just enough time to have a quick peek in a shop window or two, a glance in the Prophet, and a few minutes for delay if the train is late. Draco can’t pretend he isn’t disappointed that he couldn’t go in today, but he gives Ron a hesitant smile and thanks him, anyway, for going out of his way to help him.
The third day, Ron has become his eldest brother and Draco is the girl Weasley again, a grouping that makes his stomach roil when he thinks about it. Again, they slip out the door without complications. By this time, they’ve gone through almost an entire bottle of polyjuice, and Draco has grown used to the taste. There is only enough left for one more trip, he measures, but he wants so badly to poke around in Wizarding London that he doesn’t let himself consider not going today.
The subway ride, paid for by Ron with a few slips of paper charmed to look like Muggle money, is nothing like Draco has ever experienced before. It is crowded, hot even though there is snow outside, and the small cars smell like sweat and stale air. There is a mad woman in the corner who gives off a foul odor and mumbles to herself. He finds himself clinging girlishly to Ron’s arm, and Charlie Weasley’s expressive eyes read warm amusement when he pulls himself away. When the train starts, it is with a jolt that almost knocks him out of Ginny Weasley’s sensible shoes. When it stops, he has to grip Ron’s arm to keep himself from tumbling arse over teakettle onto the dirty, wet ground. It is a very short walk to the pub.
When the back wall opens, Draco feels his breath taken away, as if he has never been to the Alley before. It takes all of his willpower to keep himself from gawking in awe as people in multicolor robes rush around. There are owls screeching in Owlops’s window and the excited rush of children’s voices around the Quidditch accessories shop give him such a heartsick pang of longing for his childhood that he stands in the middle of the street blinking back tears before moving on to the next window.
Before long, he finds himself standing in front of the Daily Prophet’s offices. Inside, he can see the print machines running and the papers fold themselves carefully in order, twine snaking around the papers so that the morning owls can carry them off to readers. There is a newsstand in front of the building, and for the first time in almost six months, Draco reads a headline. He feels someone reach into him and carefully scoop his insides out, leaving him hollow. The papers declare proudly, “Malfoy Heir Missing, Presumed Dead. Ministry Seizes Assets.”
This is how Draco learns that his mother is dead.
Draco is in a terrible mood. He’s almost worse than he was back at Hogwarts, Harry thinks. Malfoy has taken to calling Hermione a mudblood again, and he avoids Charlie entirely. He makes vague, disparaging comments that impugn Ginny’s honor, and he’s stopped helping Molly with the dishes after dinner, citing that he was “neither born to house elves nor given their awful buggy eyes” so why should he perform their menial tasks? Everyone in the house is getting tired of his behavior, and when Harry says so one night, Malfoy merely snorts loudly and turns away from him.
That night, Harry is awoken by a nightmare—Sirius falling through the veil again, pushed by Bellatrix. There is a queue of Harry’s loved ones, and she pushes them all in, one by one: Remus first, then Ron, Hermione, Ginny. Draco is the last one in line, and Bellatrix looks surprised that he is in the line, but laughs at Harry when Draco’s eyes go cold and he steps through the veil himself. Harry tries to push her through, but suddenly she is a large stone statue of Dumbledore. He looks at Harry with disappointed eyes, and Harry bolts awake, sweating. There are tears on his face, but there is a cool hand on his brow, gently pressing him back into the pillow. Harry cracks his eyes open and sees a blobby white shape leaned over him.
He grabs his glasses and slides them up his nose. Draco looks suddenly nervous, as if he may bolt, and Harry finds himself clutching the other boy’s hand to his chest. “Are,” Draco’s eyes dart up to Harry’s scar, which is probably vivid red against his clammy forehead, “Are you well?”
“Yeah, I think so. Just a nightmare,” Harry tries to grin at Draco, but all he can see is the distant expression from his dream.
“Oh, well then…” Draco tries to slip away, but Harry clutches tighter to his hand. “Unhand me, Potter!” his voice is panicked as he begins to tug on his hand.
“Malfoy,” Harry starts, but continues gently, “Draco…what’s wrong? Why have you been acting like a prat recently? I know this behavior isn’t you.”
“You don’t know me, Potter. You know Alexandre,” Draco’s tone is bitter.
“That’s not true. I know lots of things about you. You went to Hogwarts,” Harry’s voice is sweet, pleading. “You were born in Nantes, France.” Draco shudders and lets Harry pull him to the bed. When he sits down, Harry brings his lips to the shell of Draco’s ear and murmurs, “You’ve never killed anyone in your life, despite what people think.”
The release of tension from Draco’s frame is cathartic, and he curls into Harry’s offered embrace, tucking his head into the crook of Harry’s neck. “My mother is dead,” he informs Harry, who makes soothing circles on his back. He feels childish and slightly patronized, but it is comforting to have Harry take care of him. Harry must be expecting him to cry, he thinks, but he only curls tighter into the dark-haired boy. “Nobody even told me. She’s been dead for weeks.”
“I’m so sorry,” Harry’s breath ghosts over the nape of his neck and he shivers at the sensation. His fingers clench in the arm that is wrapped around him, and Harry tightens his grip. They sit there comfortably for a few minutes as the memory of Alexandre rushes through Harry’s mind. He presses a kiss into Draco’s hair, and Draco stiffens at the contact.
“I should go back to my bed,” he says as he disentangles himself.
“Wait.” Draco stands awkwardly next to Harry’s bed, his nightclothes slightly rumpled and his emotions raw on his face. Harry stands up and slides his fingers to the nape of Draco’s neck, where they play with the short hair there and the boys’ eyes meet reluctantly. Harry presses a kiss to the corner of Draco’s mouth as the blond pulls away, and he settles into his bed as Draco goes to the door. His eyes are luminous with unspoken words when he opens the door and leaves.
Draco’s mind is a mess of half-formed ideas, so when Ron suggests they make another trip out to Diagon Alley, he is all for it. He’s still reeling from the news of his mother’s death, from the press of Harry’s lips to his own, and from the knowledge that the three galleons he carries are the last of the Malfoy estate. He doesn’t pay attention as Ron buys the transport tickets with his charmed paper, or when he ushers him into the car. In fact, it is several stops later, near Piccadilly Circus when he realizes that Ron isn’t with him at all. None of the names on the chart look familiar, and all of the stations look the same to him. He realizes with a start that he is lost in Muggle London, and will soon change back into himself. In his mind’s eye he can see himself standing in the middle of a crowd of Muggles, the frilly pink jumper he is wearing highlighting his own knobby knees. He imagines that the yellow hair ribbons he is wearing in the Weaslette’s hair will clash horribly with his own hair, and that the blouse will stretch uncomfortably over his own shoulders. He could never have imagined that Ron—Weasel—would do this to him, but thinking back he suspects he should have known.
He is near Marylebone Station when the cramps hit him, and when the doors open he shoves his way through the crowd, pleading feminine problems. Once in the cubicle, he doubles over in agony as the changes occur. His skin shifts over muscles that grow firmer than they were before. The hair on the back of his neck prickles with the feeling of skin that doesn’t quite fit. The tendons around his joints shift strangely, stretching and relaxing until he is quite suddenly himself again, standing in the girls’ toilets at the Underground station. Ginny Weasley’s socks have pooled around his ankles; he no longer has her stocky calves to hold them up. Her skirt is slipping off of his bony hips, and he is glad to be able to tug tighter the belt he’s worn today. The shirt he is wearing is pulled taut over his broad, distinctly male shoulders, and the darts in the bust make it sag awkwardly in the front. The brassiere he’d charmed from handkerchiefs still fits because it is also charmed to fit, but it is a strange and entirely unwelcome sensation to feel the cloth straining to lift flesh that isn’t there. He glances down and is immensely grateful for the first time that he is both shorter and thinner than the Weaslette, because the skirt and jumper he is wearing have combined to make him look like a young, if terribly flat chested, schoolgirl. He uses the hair ribbons as garters on the tall socks and as he ventures out of the cubicle, no one takes any notice of him.
He wanders aimlessly out into the city, feeling overwhelmed. He has never felt as alone as he does now, dressed as a girl wandering through Muggle London. Draco wanders around the city, taking in the sights and hoping that he will see something familiar until his feet hurt and he can walk no more. He has made it all the way to Charing Cross, and he knows that he cannot be far from King’s Cross and the Hogwarts Express, but even though it would be running this time of year, the train is closed out of fear in the Wizarding world. All around him is a festive jumble of fairy lights, evergreen plants, and fake snow. The streets are filled with dirty slush and water.
Draco realizes that it is close to Yule, the Winter Equinox. He can feel his magic ebbing in him slightly, and he wonders if it is fear, illness, or anxiety that is causing this. He doesn’t even consider another witch or wizard until the enchantment comes over him, and then he’s asleep; the woman scoops him up and carries him into an alley, where they disapparate, leaving behind a ringing echo on the bricks and the faint shape of two high-heeled shoeprints.
It takes Ginny around four days to realize that one of her pairs of shoes is gone. When she sees that one of her school skirts is missing, she is sure she has only left it behind at the Burrow. The missing blouse is a case for only mild concern, and the jumper with pink bobbles is worrisome, but likely under the table in some room where her paramour has pulled it off of her. In fact, it takes one specific thing to make her upset about the missing clothing. Two things, actually: her yellow hair ribbons have disappeared.
She looks everywhere in the room she shares with Hermione. Her own jewelry box is emptied seven times before she will believe they aren’t there, and she takes every pair of panties out of the drawer twice, one by one, just to prove that it isn’t where she put them. She searches thoroughly underneath her bed, and then between the mattresses. She pulls all of her clothes out and this is how she notices that there is a lot missing from her wardrobe.
At first, she believes that Hermione has been taking her things. Ginny rifles through everything Hermione owns after this, and though she finds nothing, she is still certain that Hermione has them. She dumps her trunk into the floor, searches every pocket in her wardrobe, and even pulls the sheets off of her bed to search through them but she finds nothing. Leaving the mess in her wake, she goes off to search the house. She’s had trysts in several rooms, so it takes her all day to search those rooms. She even searches rooms she’s never been in, and almost begins to search Kreacher’s nook when Mum comes into the kitchen to make dinner. Mum sends her outside to play in the backyard, where the boys are playing football, and when Ron trips over his own two feet and lands in the bramble bushes, scratching himself up, she forgets the whole issue and laughs herself sick. It isn’t until after dinner, when Hermione is blubbing in the middle of her worldly possessions, that Ginny even remembers she was looking for something.
Harry is sure that Draco is upset with him. It feels odd to care so much whether or not Draco Malfoy is upset with him, but all he can remember when he tries to sleep are giddy eyes looking into his, the tentative press of hands against his shoulders, and the feel of warm, slightly chapped lips pressed against his own. All he can think about is the rush of emotions that accompany these memories. When he even thinks about Draco, he can feel himself walking on air.
But Draco obviously doesn’t feel the same mass of conflicting emotions rushing through him at the barest memory of a kiss. He’s been avoiding Harry for weeks, since even before it happened, and since it happened Draco’s not been in the room at all. His bed is un-slept-in and the blankets unmussed. His things do not move and his chair at meals is not filled. Harry knows this is his fault in the same way that he knows that Dumbledore’s death was his fault, and Cedric and Sirius. In a way, he is glad that Draco is angry with him, because now he will not have to worry about him.
Harry isn’t even sure of what he’s feeling. He doesn’t know why something in his stomach aches at the thought of Draco’s white blond hair. He doesn’t understand how his lips can miss something he’s only had three times. This is nothing like it was with Ginny, who was needy and clingy, or with Cho, who was watery. It is nothing like anything he’s ever heard about relationships before, and a lot more like what he felt last year, when he was waiting for Draco to do something. He does feel like that—like he’s waiting, albeit rather impatiently, for Draco to make his actions clear, to explain something to him.
Around him, Grimmauld Place slowly begins to return to normal. Remus is named the new Secret Keeper, and Harry can feel the magic singing in his blood when the ritual is performed in the sitting room. Molly continues to cook and clean and knit, and Harry has already seen at least four Weasley jumpers folded neatly in the bottom of her knitting basket. She winked at him and held her finger to her lips, then quietly went on picking an “R” into the jumper she was working on. Fred and George have left the house to go back to their shop, and Charlie and Ginny work as clerks for them from time to time. Ron and Hermione are fighting again, and she is back to memorizing her text books while Ron practices his chess moves on a charmed set. The only person he sees nothing of is Draco, but then, Draco is avoiding him.
Everything in Harry’s mind seems to cycle back to Draco. He can feel himself becoming obsessed the longer the boy stays away from him, and he decides he must force Draco to acknowledge him. He goes through the small pile of the other boy’s things and finds nothing but the rags he wore into the house and his dragonhide boots. Hidden in a sheath in one of the boots is Draco’s wand, which makes a strange chill creep down his spine. He’s never known any wizard to leave his wand behind as long as this.
This is Harry’s first indication that something is wrong.
Ron is surprised when, after over half a week, no one has noticed Malfoy’s absence at the table during meals. He was certain that someone would have said something by now, but there has been utter silence on the subject. Perhaps it has something to do with the dramatic changes in the house, he thinks. With most of the family going back to business as usual, it is easy to ignore a person who seems to beg to be ignored.
It was far easier than he thought it would be to leave Malfoy in Muggle London. He’d seemed distracted, and all Ron had had to do was guide him onto the train. If anyone had noticed the two of them, it would have looked like a big brother making sure his sister made the train. Malfoy had wandered into the car in a stupor and when the doors closed, that was that. Ron still feels a trill of elation when he remembers the sight of the subway taking Malfoy away.
It is Christmas before anyone says anything. Christmas morning before someone notices that the prat is missing. The family is sitting around a tree that Fred and George have brought, and Mum is handing out the presents. Bill and Fleur’s jumpers are sitting wrapped beneath the tree, and Molly stands in front of it, holding one more package, confusion written on her face.
“Draco?” she asks. “Has anyone seen Draco?”
Silence answers her, and Ginny speaks up, “Harry, go tell your boyfriend to get his lazy arse out of bed. We can’t open our presents until everyone is here.”
Harry stammers, his face turning red, about how Draco isn’t his boyfriend. Something cold and hard makes itself known in the pit of Ron’s stomach. It isn’t true, of course, he tells himself. Ginny’s just being a twit.
“Stop trying to deny it and just go wake him up. I know he’s not used to our country manners, but that’s no reason to sleep till noon,” Ginny says firmly.
“But…” Harry begins, “but I don’t know where he is. He’s not been sleeping in our room.”
“What?” Mum’s voice is strange with realization.
“I haven’t seen him at all for at least a week,” Harry declares.
“Not since you locked lips with him, then?” Ginny asks, a fierce sneer twitching at the corner of her lips. The entire room grows silent and Ron’s stomach twists sharply. Deny it, he wills to Harry. Deny it, please, and we can still be friends. Things can be okay again.
“No,” Harry’s voice is deliberate, “not since then.”
Ron can feel his heart break as his best friend is suddenly ripped away from him. Malfoy’s gloating smirk flashes behind eyelids he only now realizes he has screwed tight against the world. Hermione’s hand brushes his shoulder and he barks out, “Don’t touch me!” before he opens his eyes to find her comforting hand covering Harry’s instead. She looks at him understandingly, and he wonders what it is that she suddenly understands. He is overwhelmed by the sheer joy he feels in knowing that wherever he is, Malfoy is nowhere near number twelve. He pulls himself to his feet and looks around the room, where Mum is speaking urgently to Dad and the twins and Charlie are animatedly talking about the revelation. Ginny smiles at him and he suddenly feels ill, so he leaves the room. He can hear Hermione’s voice echo in the hall behind him as she shouts after him.
He is dreaming, Draco thinks, when the foot on his shoulder suddenly jolts him awake. He rolls sleepily, a small protesting noise escaping him before he realizes he is not in the hallway at number twelve. He is curled on cold stones that feel familiar, somehow, and there is a familiar high-pitched squeal of laughter echoing in the room. His eyes crack open to the sight of a pair of old-fashioned black boots with tiny buttons up the side. He only knows one person who still wears these boots, and Aunt Bellatrix kicks him again, in the ribs this time.
“Get up, you lazy bag of bones!” she shouts, and even though every part of his body resists, he manages to slump into a sitting position. “Aren’t you lucky that Wormtail found you? Said he saw you skulking around in Muggle London and I went to pick you up. What were you doing in Muggle London, boy?”
“I was…” Draco’s mind works rapidly for the best way to color the truth. To his surprise, it is shockingly easy. “I was doing reconnaissance.”
“Tell the truth,” the whiny voice of Peter Pettigrew comes from the shadows. Wormtail looks the same as always, his battered old clothes still filled with holes. His silver hand looks a little blackened by grime, but otherwise the man is exactly as he was when Draco left. He even stoops with submission in exactly the same way.
“I am! I was watching the Order of the Phoenix for the Dark Lord.” Aunt Bellatrix’s eyes darken at this, and Draco is reminded forcibly of the corpse in the clearing and what happens to those who upset his mad aunt. “In L—” the word won’t come. “The house is called Gr—” and he chokes again.
“Fool, we already know all of that,” Aunt Bellatrix sneers down at him. “You’ve done nothing useful in this time?”
“I’ve…” Draco’s throat constricts. “I’ve been spying on Harry Potter.”
Aunt Bellatrix’s smile widens and she offers him a hand, helping him stand. “Oh? Tell me what you’ve learned.”
“Perhaps,” Wormtail cuts in, simpering, “we ought best to hold the story until the Dark Lord can hear it? No sense in telling it twice.” A shade passes over Aunt Bellatrix’s face but the smile returns so quickly that Draco thinks he may have imagined it.
“So we shall.”
It only takes her twenty minutes to learn that no one at all has seen Draco Malfoy in a week, and the news is almost as distressing as knowing that one of her own children was missing. Harry tells her how he assumed the boy was in the house because his wand was still in his room, and a little piece of Molly’s heart goes numb and cold. Christmas has already been aching and heart-sore without Bill and Fleur, with Fred and George planning to leave early to get back to their shop and Ginny’s poor behavior, but she is surprised to find that this, too, bruises her heart.
She had never thought that the skinny, mean little thing would be as dear to her as one of her own children, but something about him inspired the same rush of motherly affection she felt for Harry. It takes her only minutes to organize a search of number twelve, top to bottom, and when they find nothing, she is almost frantic with worry. She bothers Arthur until he tells her he will try to find him, and Tonks is clearly put out by her insistence that she help them. When they find that one of the bottles of Polyjuice put away by the Order to help with escapes is missing, it is all she can do not to collapse into Arthur’s arms and sob. He could be anyone, anywhere.
Bellatrix stares down at her nephew as he sleeps, chained to the floor. She has no idea why he is here, only that she knew as soon as Wormtail told her where to find him that she needed to get him. He was surprisingly light—his magic was weak—but she doesn’t allow herself to be fooled by this. She knows that, should he want to, he could fight back. She has seen him do it, back at Spinner’s End.
She wants desperately to know where he went when he left the little house. She wants to know what he has been doing and how much he knows. There is no way to guess, so she has to bring him to the Dark Lord’s table tonight and hope that he isn’t killed outright. It is a dangerous gamble—one that Narcissa lost—but there is no other way. Hopefully, she thinks, the Dark Lord will be merciful.
There is a great deal to be done before the meeting, and she knows she must hurry if she hopes to accomplish it all before Wormtail gets back. He has gone to Knockturn Alley for the potions ingredients she requires, which will buy her some time, but not much. She quickly starts a fire for her cauldron and throws in the powdered asp eggs. To this she adds bat’s blood and stirs four times counterclockwise, twice clockwise, and counterclockwise again. She continues to mix the potion quickly, taking care to stir to the maximum effect before taking the cauldron off of the fire. She can hear Wormtail approaching and grabs a small, corked bottle from behind the beetle eyes. She will run out soon, as supplies grow rarer and rarer, but for now she doesn’t concern herself. As she takes a swig and wipes her mouth, she can feel Draco’s eyes on her back. Her skin prickles slightly, but the sensation passes quickly and she decants the potion she has been working on. Then she leaves the room to bathe, because she smells like an alchemist.
The house is oddly tense these days as the Weasleys wait for Draco Malfoy to find his way back to Grimmauld Place, so she avoids it as much as possible. Tonks is working on easy cases recently, things like accusations of corruption in minor officials and misuse of magic-related materials. Her conspiracy theories, as her ideas have been dubbed, are popular around the office and almost every day someone tells her about something new, such as Boggarts trying to take over the world or pygmy puffs being the evil spawn of Dementors, charmed to look cute and cuddly. She can hear them laughing behind her when she walks down the hall and animated conversations die down whenever she enters the women’s toilet. The water cooler is abuzz with lively gossip about her radical claims, and she suspects there’s a betting pool to see how much longer she will last at work. To make things worse, the baby she is trying to pretend isn’t growing in her is sucking at her magic, feeding ugly rumors about her “supposed” Metamorphmagi qualities as the brown hair she was born with begins to grow in, leaving her with three inches of dark roots.
Remus is trying to be considerate, but she feels torn between loyalty to him, loyalty to her job, loyalty to the Order, and her own fear that she will lose everything if she says the wrong thing. She knows that it is only a matter of time before she can no longer hide her secret—a scant few weeks before the Order loses another of its powerful links to the Ministry. She doesn’t even want to think of the scene that she will cause with her resignation. She tries not to think of the look of disappointment that will show in Moody’s eye when she has to hand him her badge. She will cease to be of any use to the Order; all of these things because she was careless.
Sighing, Tonks puts the files she is working on away. They are nothing important, and the Ministry can wait another day for her to finish them. She’s hardly working now, anyway. She grabs her coat and is on her way to the Apparation room when the idea comes to her, and instead she heads out to Knockturn Alley for rue and yarrow.
The doors loom ominously in front of him, and Draco can’t help but feel his heart hammering in his chest. He has been working all day on hammering out his story to tell the Dark Lord—Voldemort, a voice in the back of his mind corrects him. The voice sounds like Harry. The last time Draco was in front of these doors, it was last summer, after his father’s disgrace and before his own. Then, he’d stood proud, his shoes shined to glossy black and his hair brushed to burnished silver, glad to finally be called into his Dark Lord’s inner circle. Looking back at himself, the fool of a child he’d been, he scoffs under his breath. Aunt Bellatrix hears him and slaps his head, bringing tears to his eyes. Now he knows what truly goes on in meetings like these, and what those things can do to ruin your life. “Kill him,” Voldemort had said, “or I will destroy you.” At the time it had seemed an idle threat; after all, how could he fail? Draco was never less his father’s son, wholeheartedly charging into the situation blindly without a care to the consequences. He’d made a bloody fool of himself, blustering around thinking he was being honored when he was really being punished. No one else had achieved that feat before. How could he have been so vain as to think he could?
Now he is being dragged back into the room in chains. He remembers with unerring accuracy the terrible way he’d behaved then: kicking house elves, yelling at his mother, and even breaking Potter’s—Harry’s—nose just because he believed he had the power to do so. He feels his cheeks warm at just the thought of his behavior, even as an icy thread of worry worms its way into his heart. Last summer, Voldemort had been toying with him. He’d used Draco’s family as a way to extend his game, but now that he has no family, what will he do? He has no time to contemplate as the doors creak open and Aunt Bellatrix shoves him inside.
The Death Eaters’ laughter is mocking as he trips over the girl’s socks he has forgotten he is wearing. He stumbles, falling to the floor in a heap at the feet of the Dark Lord, who laughs loudest of all. “So, little Draco, have you taken to wearing dresses? No wonder we couldn’t find you. We were looking for a little boy when we should have been looking for a girl!” The laughter is loud and mocking as Voldemort fists his hand in Draco’s hair and pulls his head back. Draco tries to look compliant, meek, but all he can manage is to barely keep from glaring at this creature before him. Voldemort throws him down in disgust and turns to the Death Eaters.
“Can you tell me, Mister Malfoy,” the sibilant sounds as Voldemort emphasizes the word ‘mister’ send shivers down Draco’s spine, “why you did not kill Dumbledore?”
“I—”Draco begins, only to have Voldemort round on him quickly and kick him.
“No lies, Mister Malfoy,” Voldemort chuckles, tipping Draco’s chin up with his wand. “I think we all know by now what I do with liars.” The crowd around them laughs raucously, jeering at him. “After all, you seem to have known Severus Snape quite well.”
Draco’s stomach lurches suddenly at the memory of the corpse in the glen, maggots chewing their way through flesh bloated with putrefaction. It takes him a long moment to remember the protection spells his mother put around the body and to push Voldemort—and his fake “memories”—out of his mind. Voldemort’s high screams of laughter echo in his mind as he leaves. He remembers Snape, his favorite friend of the family, assaulting him time and time again, pushing harder and harder at his mind until one day he understands the power available to the wizard who can control his own mind. These memories are interspersed with vivid pictures of blood oozing across the floor, a candlestick dripping grey matter sitting on the end table, his mother leaned over the corpse with her lips pressed passionately to the dead man’s. It is the image of his father, a slack-jawed idiot drooling onto his collar that makes him push at Voldemort’s mind again. He tries to ignore that this is a real memory, pulled from his own mind, as he fights with indignant self-righteousness.
“I didn’t have time,” Draco says, pushing Voldemort out with a gasping breath. He sags into himself, all of his muscles releasing a tension he didn’t know he had. He can hear the Death Eaters go silent at his impudence, but he is proud. He is proud of himself that for once in his life, he has done the best that he can do.
“Not enough time?” Voldemort’s amusement is audible.
“No, my lord,” Draco replies, somehow finding the energy to turn his boneless flop into some semblance of groveling. Forgive me, Professor, he prays as he carefully raises his eyes from the wood floor to Voldemort’s feet, where Nagini the snake sits. Draco’s breath catches in his throat and his heart beats like a bird trying to escape from the cage of his ribs, but he presses on, “That fool, Dumbledore’s lap dog, rushed in to stop me before I could do anything. He held me back with talk of my redemption until your men arrived.”
This is apparently the right thing to say, as Voldemort merely chuckles to himself. “He talks about other fools,” he tells the other Death Eaters, who let out a cacophonous mix of braying laughter and disappointed mutters. They’d so hoped for blood, Draco thinks bitterly. “And how did you end up in such charming clothing, my boy?”
“I was doing reconnaissance, sir,” Draco replies, “at the headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix.”
“Oh? And where is that?” Voldemort’s tongue is sharp and Draco is sure he will detect a lie, so he tries to tell the truth.
“L—” again the words fail him. “Gr—” He is beginning to feel ill from the effects of Fidelius against him.
“Obviously they have hidden the location with a Fidelius charm,” Aunt Bellatrix speaks up, and for a moment even Draco stares at her. Her boldness goes unnoted, however, and Draco continues.
“I was spying on the people in that house,” he says, “when one of them suspected I was a spy. He drugged me using Muggle means and dressed me as a girl, leaving me in the poorest quarters of Muggle London in hopes that I would be kidnapped or killed.” The lie is bitter, but the truth in the statement is bitterer still, and he is almost overcome with nausea at his own stupidity.
“It seems a childish thing to do. What is the name of the member of the Order of the Phoenix that did this?”
“R—” the name won’t come, and the more he pulls on it the more the room begins to spin. “Ro—”
When he faints at Voldemort’s feet, he is not concerned with the picture he makes, splayed on the ground, his skirt tugged up his legs to above his knees. He is not worried about torture or pain or death. He falls gratefully into the welcoming arms of darkness.
There has been a great deal displaced in Ottery St. Catchpole by the Death Eaters and their fire. The Burrow stands alone, untouched, on the other side of Stoatshead Hill, but not every family was as lucky. Luna Lovegood is sitting on her front porch, or, rather, where her front porch would be if she’d still had a house, playing idly in the ashes on the walk with a stick. Her father’s printing house is gone, and so is he. He’d been in the old barn they’d disguised the print shop to be when the Death Eaters had attacked. She’d been in the house, making earrings out of clay. When the first waft of smoke came in through the opened window, she’d run downstairs to the old bomb shelter, a relic from the 1940s and the reason her father had bought the house. She’d locked herself in with the canned food and waited until the screams had faded, the sirens had come and gone, and she was sure the aliens were no longer out scavenging for human bodies to steal.
When she’d tried to open the door, the ceramic handle had been so hot that she’d blistered a little in the palm of her hand. It had taken another day for it to cool enough for her to open the door, and when she’d pushed it open and staggered into the sunlight, there was no one standing there to greet her. There was nothing standing, period. As she’d looked out into the town where she’d grown up, there was nothing that she remembers. The baker’s house, with his little shop, it’s nothing but an oven surrounded by rubble. The bank is nothing but a shell. Even the reflecting pool Mr. Diggory had put in third year is gone, its water dried up and the marble cracked and blackened. She’s afraid of how many spirits she’d see if there was water in it, anyway.
After a few days, someone from the Ministry came to examine the site of the disaster, and he found Luna standing there, in the middle of town. Her face was smeared with ashes, her hair and clothes sooty, and she held a daisy in her hand. She wouldn’t talk, and she still doesn’t. The Ministry sent her away to live with her father’s sister and her family, who tries really hard but just can’t understand what has happened to her. After a week of not talking to them, they have begun to mostly ignore her and put up with her because they have to.
Luna’s aunt says that she can’t see how she’s the child of her father. Luna’s so serious, quiet, and responsible. She always does her chores, always listens to her aunt, and always does as she’s told. She’s well-behaved and down to earth, and generally nothing like the Luna that any of her friends would recognize. She cuts her hair short, curls it, and wears somber clothes day in and day out. She hopes that if she acts like an alien changeling, the aliens that took her father will come back for her.
When Draco wakes up, it is not under Aunt Bellatrix’s shoe again. The room he is in is dark and he can feel stones beneath him. The heavy chains around his feet are a constant reminder of the fact that he is a prisoner. As his eyes adjust to the darkness, he realizes he recognizes this place, and the sudden realization of where he is takes his breath away. He has been here before, probably played in this very room as a child.
The door creaks open and a figure looms in the doorway, outlined by the light in the hall. The footsteps that come in are nothing like Aunt Bellatrix’s, and he feels his entire body tense in fear. “Lumos,” a voice says, and Draco stares.
Hermione is knocking on his door, but Ron does not want to talk. She has been knocking every few hours for the past three days, but he could care less what she has to say. She’s always thought herself so intelligent, but apparently she couldn’t take a bloody hint.
He isn’t talking to Harry, either, even though Harry tries almost as hard as Hermione to get him to open the door. Harry is an awful prig and Ron is furious with him for choosing Malfoy over him. Granted, Harry hasn’t said as much, but aren’t you supposed to choose your girlfriend over your mates? That’s what Ron did, anyway.
A part of him niggles with the thought that it may have been his fault. After all, he hadn’t spent much time with Harry since he got in, and with that sort of loneliness, Ron supposes a person might have turned to Malfoy. Not him, of course, but someone with a weaker will might easily let Malfoy fool him into spending time with the obnoxious prat.
He doesn’t even let his Mum into the room. She leaves his food outside the door, and Hermione has taken it away once or twice, saying that if Ron is going to be so awful, she’ll draw him out of the room somehow. He’s since learned to keep up with mealtimes and bring the tray in before the others can finish eating if he wants it. He thinks the nerve of her to take his things is pretty bold, but he dares not say anything lest she think he actually wants to talk to her.
He doesn’t want to talk to her, but he misses her. He misses the soft, easy way she folds into his arms. He misses the wild tangle of her hair after sex. He misses the sweet salt of her skin and the slick wet of her mouth. He misses her lip gloss and leaving bites on her neck and shoulders.
After a week of celibacy, Ron thinks he could power Britain work a month on the energy he’s spent wanking. Charlie has moved out of the room, claiming the lack of peace has kept him up at nights. He’s glad, in a way, because it means more room for himself, but at the same time he feels alone in a way that he’d never thought he could. He’d always thought that between five siblings and two best friends he’d always have someone to talk to, but instead he finds himself holed up in dank old number twelve, with no one who’s willing to talk to him except the traitor and the enemy’s bedfellow.
Even if Harry weren’t shagging the Ferret, Ron still wouldn’t talk to him, he reasons with himself when the urge to give in gets too strong. He still hasn’t forgotten that fight, even if Hermione has. Ron doesn’t understand how she can just forget the humiliation they both faced that day. Mum still doesn’t look him in the eye, and Dad has gotten it into his head that he needs to hear “the talk” again since apparently it didn’t sink in the first time.
Not for the last time, Ron is glad he sent Malfoy away, even if it does look like the situation is going to blow up in his face. The ferret-faced git is more than deserving of it, in Ron’s opinion, and even though he was not the one beating him up, he wishes he were. In fact, Ron thinks, I’d like to meet that guy. I’d shake his hand. Ron can’t stand this painful distance between himself and everyone, and he knows it’s all Malfoy’s fault.
Sighing, he pulls himself out of bed. He has let himself wallow in his wrinkled bed sheets for too long. He stands up and staggers to the bathroom for a shower. Outside the bathroom, he hears something odd. It sounds very much like—
Ron throws open the door, expecting to find Hermione wrapped up in Harry’s embrace. That’s what makes sense, even if the thought makes him ill. But what he sees is so much worse than he ever could have imagined.
“Gin—!” he yelps, eyes wide. Ginny is on her back, hiding her face, but her legs are open and he can see everything. Above her, Charlie—their older brother Charlie, who’s supposed to always protect his younger brothers and sister—is frozen in horror. “Oh, God,” Ron moans, turning away from the sight. He can’t believe it. It can’t be true. Charlie, big, strong Charlie. He’s not supposed to be the one to defile his baby sister like this. It’s supposed to be Dean, with his artistic hands, or Seamus, Neville, even—Neville, who had such a crush on her back in fourth year. Someone he could beat up for doing it, but then things would go back to normal. He’d always secretly dreamed it would be Harry, so he didn’t have to beat anyone up because after all, Harry and Ginny were supposed to end up together. He’d been so happy for them at the end of school because they’d seemed so close, but now…
He doesn’t even realize he’s talking until he sees Hermione in the hall. “No, no, no,” he chants as she grabs his shoulders. “No, no, no, no,” he sobs as she shakes him.
“Ron? Ron, what’s the matter?” her voice is frantic, but he can’t stop shaking. This isn’t how it was supposed to happen at all.
The boy has displeased his Master, that much is obvious. He can see it still, the way he carries himself like he’s better than someone else. The haughty set of his shoulders show he’s got too much pride, that one. The seed of Lucius Malfoy, who had too much pride, himself. By half. The Dark Lord showed him, then, didn’t he? Showed him what happens to those men who call themselves the Lord and forget to call on their true Master.
Peter’s nose twitches as he lets his eyes run over the scene before him. There, in the middle, the Dark Lord stands. He looks radiant, tall and majestic. At his feet, scraping like the worm that he is, is the coward. The son of the failure. There is a grim set to his lips and a firm line to his back, and Peter wonders how his Lord could mistake the boy’s posture for one of submission. No, the Dark Lord never makes mistakes; the little fiend is lying to the Dark Lord, trying to fool him into complacency. Nearby is Bellatrix, the beautiful madwoman. She has been remarkably coherent recently, Peter thinks snidely. Much calmer than usual. Her behavior has been less fawning, too, and Peter cannot help but hope that she is cooling in her faith.
Something has changed in this dark angel of their Lord’s court. Something is different about her, and even her nephew has seen it. Peter sees the changes every day, but never as clearly as when she interacts with the boy. He has voiced his opinion to the Dark Lord, but here is one place where the Dark Lord is completely blinded: he is easily influenced by beauty and power. And if there’s anything the Black sisters were known for, it is their beauty.
Between Narcissa’s pale gold and marble skin and Bellatrix’s wild faerie looks, there’s nothing a man could want for. Even the Muggle lover was pretty, he admits, with her cheery red curls tumbling over her shoulders. Their temperaments were as different as their appearances, and in school even though Bellatrix was a Slytherin and much older than him, her fits of pique were infamous. She could hurl a shoe at you before you knew what you’d done to offend her. Narcissa, on the other hand, wouldn’t give anyone who wasn’t Slytherin and filthy rich the time of day. He’d met her a few times in school, but always through Sirius, and he wasn’t sure she’d known his name when she’d died. Andromeda…well, she was best not talked about. She’d been pretty and kind, but never interested in Sirius’s little friends and by the time that Peter had done something to impress her with, he’d learned that there was no point. She wasn’t like Bella and Cissy, who’d both married rich, powerful boys and become rich, powerful women. The last he’d heard, she’d married a mudblood named Tinker or something and got herself with a brat in the Order.
He is jolted from his thoughts by an impatient snarl from the Dark Lord. “Do I bore you, Wormtail?”
“N-no, my Lord,” Peter stammers, suddenly aware of the dangerous ground he is on.
“Then why, pray tell, did I have to raise my voice to call you?” the Dark Lord’s voice is deceptively soft, but Peter knows better than to let himself be hypnotized by the dulcet tones.
“I’m sorry, my Lord. It won’t happen again,” Peter grovels, throwing himself at the dusty hem of the cloak before him.
“See that it doesn’t,” He says, but before Peter can press his lips to the hem in gratitude, He continues, pointing that wicked wand at him, “Crucio. I will not be humiliated by my servants at my own court, Wormtail. Do I make myself clear?”
Peter can’t think but for the shouts of “Yes, my Lord!” echoing in his brain and the agonies of muscle after muscle cramping, knotting, tearing. There is no pain like Cruciatus. He cannot open his mouth to let them out, and just before he thinks that he will surely go mad with the screams building behind his locked jaw, his kind and merciful Lord releases the spell with a casual finite, leaving him sobbing for breath and trying desperately not to drool on the Dark Lord’s hem. “Yes, my Lord,” he gasps quietly between great wracking spasms that shake his entire frame.
Above him, Bellatrix is watching with cold, calculating eyes. When she sees him looking at her, she smirks and turns her own attention to the Dark Lord. He will not rebuke her because she is His favorite, and Peter can’t help but feel bitter about it. He wonders when it will be his turn to be the shining star at the top of the ranks. Has anyone suffered the way he has? Has anyone loved and worshipped as he has? No. Not Lucius. Not Severus. Not Bellatrix and certainly not this brat of a boy who kneels here pretending to pay his respects.
One day, he’ll show them all. He’ll show them what it is like to give your life to a cause and receive no glory. He’ll show them all what it’s like to be laughed at and mocked for being too fat or too poor or too stupid. One day, some day soon, he will stand above them all and they will cower in his shadow as the Dark Lord’s brilliance shines on him and him alone.
I’ve never been good at potions, she thinks as the cramps overcome her in the hallway. She’s always misjudged an ingredient’s purpose, stirred one time too many, forgotten the one part of the potion that’s important. The part that makes it safe. She is lying in the hallway outside her office when she feels the trickle start, when the dark stain spreads from between her legs. It feels like a dam is bursting, an unclean, clotty dam. As she lies in the hall and feels it pour out of her, she throws her head back and screams.
Her coworkers come running, but the stench of old blood makes them turn away to retch. The stain has spread to the carpet and still the blood keeps coming. Someone goes to fetch the mediwitch and still the blood keeps coming. The mediwitch asks her, “What were you doing when this started?” and she clenches her teeth against the pain. The mediwitch asks her, “Where does it hurt the worst?” and she screws her eyes against the pitying looks of her coworkers. The mediwitch asks her, “Do you think you might know what has caused this?” and she screams against the agony trying to claw out of her belly.
Tonks is rushed to St. Mungo’s, where a gynecological nurse is assigned to her. The woman is nice, but Tonks sees accusation in her eyes. She screams for Remus, but Remus isn’t here, and when the cramps seize her again, she allows the world to fade at the edges. She is sweaty and covered with blood, but the blood won’t stop coming. There can’t be this much blood inside of me, she thinks hysterically, her hands fisting in the sheets. A new mediwitch comes in and presses a cool cloth to her forehead. There is a glass at her lips and she gulps the potion gratefully, unsurprised when she finds herself slipping into a calm sleep.
When she wakes, she is in a hospital bed and Remus is there. His face looks old now, lit with the bad fake daylight charm used to keep the room cheery. He looks haggard, but his eyes light up when he sees that she’s awake. “Nymphadora?” he asks her. “Tonks?”
“Wotcher, Remus,” she tries to smile, but even the muscles in her face are stiff and sore.
“I was so worried,” he mumbles, pulling her wrist to him. She sees for the first time the delicate map of veins running just beneath her pale skin. There are tubes and wires coming from the back of her hand, and she wonders if she’s been asleep for more than a few hours. “You’ve been in here for days. They said you’d collapsed at work and just started,” he swallows, and his grip on her hand tightens slightly, “bleeding everywhere.”
“I’m okay, Remus,” she forces the smile past tired muscles, but it doesn’t seem to comfort him.
“What could have possessed you to do something so stupid?” he rages suddenly. “I could have lost you both!”
Tonks feels her insides shift and she feels like crying. She tries to pull herself together, and turns her face away. “What do you mean? There’s only one of me, Remus.”
“There is now,” he says, and a lump fills her throat. She suddenly feels small and vulnerable lying in the hospital bed. Her stomach hurts.
“Did they…” she can’t ask without looking at him, but when she turns to face him she can’t see him. Everything is fuzzy and she realizes that her eyes are filled with tears. “Did they tell you? Is that how you…how you found out?”
“Did you think you didn’t smell different?” he asks fiercely as he leans over her, kissing her eyelids. “You smelled so beautiful to me. Of course I knew before.”
“Now I just smell like a sanitary napkin,” she chokes and he shushes her, pressing his lips tenderly to her creased forehead.
“No,” he whispers. “No, you still smell beautiful. Just a different kind of beautiful.” He holds her in his arms as she begins to sob.
The row, when it happens, is great and terrible. Ginny and Mum are too alike for it to go any other way: Ginny hurls lamps and vases, Molly throws teapots and slams doors. They scream and quarrel and cry for hours, while Dad only punches Charlie and tells him to get out. The fighting can be heard from any point in the house, and there is no room left unscathed by their fury. Ginny chases Harry out of the sitting room, and Mum cries so loudly in the parlor that Hermione feels uncomfortable and leaves the room. When Ron runs into Ginny in the hall, she slaps him so hard his ears ring and Hermione has to pull her off of him before she can do it again. He doesn’t bother thanking her but only moves on to another room. Mum is too distraught to cook dinner, so everyone has to fend for themselves. It isn’t until breakfast the next morning, as Charlie stands in the kitchen scrambling eggs with his suitcase next to him that everyone finds out what is going on.
At first, Hermione can’t believe that it has been happening. She’s never had brothers or sisters, but even so she can’t imagine something like this happening in her family. Something like this, she says, and Ron can almost see the disgust in her eyes as she talks about his family. Harry is stunned, as well. With only his porky cousin and that ghastly aunt and uncle of his as family, Ron can’t imagine that incest is something that comes up in his life a lot. Which isn’t to say that it comes up in Ron’s a lot, but the chances of it coming up are a lot better with a girl like Ginny in the family than the thought of anyone ever wanting to shag Harry’s elephant of a cousin.
It soon comes out that Charlie was the one hitting Malfoy, too. The spying git had caught them at it one day and Charlie’d had to keep him silent somehow. As much as he hates Malfoy, the thought of big, manly Charlie smacking that little walking skeleton that he’d been when he’d first showed up makes him queasy. Harry apologized, of course, and even Ron has to admit that he seems far likelier a choice than Charlie, who always seemed so cool with his long hair and dragon tooth earring. This doesn’t mean that Ron accepted, but he cannot keep a row with Harry going in the face of a disaster like the one between Mum and Ginny.
Even at seven in the morning they are already at it again, and the two of them blow into the kitchen in a storm of horrible names and ghastly insults. When they see Charlie standing there, the room goes silent. This is the first time they have been in the same room since Ron walked in on them, and even though they refuse to admit it, everyone wants to know what they will do. Ginny takes a step tentatively toward him, and he turns away from her, back to the eggs he is making.
“Charlie,” her voice is quiet, and the nervousness in it strikes Ron as odd. He wonders if this might not be the first time they’ve let themselves see each other the way everyone around them sees them; he is older, taller, wiser. Her brother. He should have known better. She is young, pretty, and impulsive. The baby of the family, and the only girl. She touches his shoulder with a shaking hand and his shoulders droop. He lets himself be turned in her arms until they are face to face and there, in front of everyone, he catches her lips in a kiss. Her arms tangle behind his head and she pulls him closer. The kiss is deep, passionate, and final. When she steps away, his hand lingers on her waist for a moment and he stoops to get his bag. Charlie leaves everything behind him—family, friends, even the food he’d been cooking—and walks up the stairs. They can hear the door open and when it closes, Ginny falls like a marionette without strings.
Ginny’s inconsolable for days after, and it’s this, rather than anything else, that draws him slowly back to Hermione. Ginny is like the shining example of a relationship gone wrong. As long as you don’t do this, it seems, you will be fine. As long as you don’t commit incest. He wants so badly to make things up with Hermione, but he can see that a clear step in that will be to make things up with Harry. It helps a lot that no one thinks he was the one beating Malfoy, but Ron isn’t sure that it helps enough.
Harry and Hermione are planning to get smashed in Harry’s room, to deal with the drama going on in the house. Ron doesn’t know if he’s invited, but he knocks on the door anyway. The rest of the house is silent, sleeping, but Hermione opens the door and she looks startled but pleased to see him there. When he comes into the room, it is clearly divided between Harry’s mess and the eerie neatness of Malfoy’s area. Harry’s bed sheets are tangled and practically falling off of the bed, but Malfoy’s bed is neatly made. Ron remembers that Malfoy hasn’t slept there for two weeks, and for the first time an odd feeling clenches in his gut. He wonders if Malfoy is okay, but only for a minute.
Hermione sits on the floor next to Harry, whose eyes are rimmed red, and pats the spot on the ground next to her. “Harry,” Ron feels his throat constrict, but Harry looks up at him and smiles.
“I didn’t think you were coming,” Harry says, offering him the bottle of firewhiskey. He accepts it, and several hours later the three of them are curled in a warm stupor on Harry’s bed.
“Is he,” Ron finally lets himself ask, “your boyfriend, Harry?”
Harry seems to understand who Ron is talking about, but lounges on his bed, thinking. “No. I don’t think so,” he answers finally, his tone firm.
“How can you not know?” Hermione asks, her breath rushing warm along the side of Ron’s face. They all smell like grain alcohol.
“I’ve never asked him,” Harry’s reply is simple. “Plus, I think he hates me.”
“How can he hate you? You’re just Harry,” he wheedles, letting his voice whine. Hermione laughs and settles her head into Ron’s stomach.
“Ron, do you have a crush on Harry?” she asks playfully, tugging his arm over her shoulder to meet Harry’s hand. “It’s okay if you do. I think.”
The room is filled with the quiet sounds of breathing as Ron thinks hard. He lets himself pore over everything he can remember about his life with the Boy Who Lived. His fingers tangle in Harry’s while he thinks. He thinks about everything that has happened in the last seven years, and somewhere between basilisks, Dementors, Tri-Wizard Tournaments, Death Eaters, the Department of Mysteries, and horcruxes, he realizes several things at once: no, he does not have a crush on Harry; he can barely stand Harry’s presence at times; and Harry is probably more like Malfoy that anyone ever lets him be. The revelation stuns him, and he stares at the ceiling trying to work his way through this new information.
“No,” he says finally. “I don’t have a crush on Harry. I don’t think Malfoy hates you, though, Harry. Evil, smarmy git that he is, I doubt he hates you.”
“Really?” Harry asks, and for a long moment he thinks that Harry is asking about Malfoy, but Harry’s hand wraps around the back of his neck and there is suddenly a pair of lips pressed wetly to his own. “You don’t like me, even a little bit?”
“Mate, I can hardly stand you at times,” Ron corrects, flopping back down to the bed. “Plus? You’re pants at kissing. Sorry. You had to know.” Harry laughs and falls back to the bed. Ron notices that Hermione is almost asleep and he moves down to curl around her. On the other side of the bed, Harry also curls around her, and this is how they fall asleep, a trio again.
Remus doesn’t understand how everything in his life could go pear-shaped so quickly. One minute everything is going well—everyone is getting along, and all is right with the world—and then the next he finds the Weasleys screaming and tearing at each other’s hair, Malfoy has run away, and Tonks is…
He doesn’t see what would have led her to do this. Has work been too difficult lately? Has she been put off by the chaos going on in the house? What could motivate someone to drink an infusion of rue and yarrow? The tenuous balance needed to make the potion work for…the potion is so dangerous that it is usually only used by midwives. It had taken several mediwitches several hours to find an antidote, while Tonks bled out in the examining room. The warm, coppery smell of new blood had mixed with the rank, rotted smell of old blood, and together they’d filled the hospital. When Remus had entered, the smell had almost overwhelmed him. He’d been terrified.
And then she made it through safely. It had been miraculous that she’d survived it, and with time the overpowering scent of coins had faded until it was only an undercurrent. Tonks’s smell, like wild flowers and the scent that said “mate” to Remus, had slowly grown in strength, though the smell of sickness pervaded. When she’d woken, the smell had returned to normal enough that Remus could smell that something was missing. There had been an added sweetness to her lately, something that shouted “mate” more strongly, but now it was gone. He’d pressed a hand to her stomach gently and felt the full impact of what she’d done.
Now, back at the house, he feels like he is floundering. Nothing is the way it is supposed to be. Moody has called together a meeting of the Order, and as he sits at the table looking at the group that’s supposed to defeat Voldemort, there are more absences than people present, it seems. This meeting feels like he did after Lily and James’ deaths—slow, hesitant. The biggest hurdle to get over is the very obvious empty chair where Dumbledore once sat. Next to him, Minerva’s chair is empty because she is busy trying to rebuild the school for opening next year, and Severus’s chair is painfully stark, as well. Kingsley is away doing reconnaissance for the Aurors and Charlie has been banned from the house. Tonks is of course still lying down from her recent illness, and Remus wonders if it isn’t perhaps time to allow the others in. He feels they’re too young, of course, but even as chair fillers, Ron, Hermione, and Harry, Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom would all be welcome. Anything to distract from the immensity of their loss.
The Order feels lame, toothless and powerless. They look at each other sitting around the table and see nothing but a wash of tired faces. The history books never show this, Remus thinks as he stares into the glass of water between his hands. They never show how tired someone can get during war. This is how mistakes are made; this is how battles are won and lost—by who’s the most rested. He wonders briefly if this is Voldemort’s plan, to tire them out and suck away their will to fight. Now that there are no more spies, they find themselves scraping for knowledge. Whereas before they always knew in advance that something was going to happen, now they often don’t know until several days after the fact. Everything has changed since June, and there is no way to stop the world, like a time turner, and spin it backwards until it hasn’t happened again.
There’s no way to move backwards, and with nowhere to go ahead of them, they are stalled, perpetually existing in the same dreary day, over and over again, while Harry screams over Dumbledore’s stiffened body and somewhere Voldemort laughs.
Standing there in the doorway, Draco looks like a ghost. He is dressed as he always was in school, with long robes covering him and not a strand of hair out of place. Molly is standing at the door bawling, and Harry is watching the events play out from the bottom stair. Even across the room, the tension is electric, and Harry can feel the hair on the back of his neck rise as he looks over the other boy. There is no mistaking this boy for Alexandre. This boy is Malfoy unerringly, from the top of his white blond head to the soles of his dragonhide boots. There is no kind hearted quirk to the mouth and no sad eyes peer out from beneath greying hair that is slightly too long.
Malfoy stares back, his eyes challenging and the slight lift to his chin is haughty. For all appearances, he is the Great Ferret-Faced Git of lore, taunting the Weasleys because they are poor and dressing up as a Dementor to make Harry fall off of his broom. But Harry can see the slight nervous twitch hidden in the corner of his mouth, the way he wants to smile but doesn’t dare. He can see how the boy twists his robes between fingers to wipe away nervous sweat, and how he stands on the sides of his feet in his expensive boots. When Harry smiles shyly at him, the illusion breaks and he is just Draco again, rushing into the room and throwing his arms around Harry.
They clutch at each other desperately, as if they’ve been apart a hundred years, but when Harry tries to kiss him, Draco pulls away. He tugs his robes into place and coughs awkwardly, smiling slightly at the other people in the room. “Hello, everyone,” he says, and Ginny stares blankly at him before leaving the room.
“Erm,” Harry mutters, and a hot blush works its way all the way to the tips of his ears. “Don’t mind her. She’s just…”
“Well,” Draco’s voice is crisp. “Anyone—besides Harry—miss me?”
Draco won’t tell them where he’s been; only that he was found and taken care of by well-meaning Wizard ken. He refuses to tell them what happened to him, even when Moody and the rest of the Order come into the room and begin asking questions. All he will do is roll his sleeves back to show that he is still unmarked.
Molly puts him back in Harry’s room with a laughing comment to keep their hands to themselves, but Draco is suddenly skittery in the room alone with him. He tries to calm him down, but it irritates him, this lack of trust, and he eventually just turns his back, gets dressed for bed, and crawls under the blankets. Trust Draco Malfoy to disappear for two weeks and act like an arse when he gets back, Harry thinks as he turns out the light whether Draco’s ready for bed or not. He feels a dull, aching numbness crawling into his chest where the butterflies have been all day, and he screws his eyes up, trying not to cry.
“I did miss you, Harry,” Draco’s voice is quiet in the dark, but Harry doesn’t trust himself to turn around, so he just listens as the other boy’s breathing fades to sleep.
Bellatrix has two doses left, and then she has to be gone. That gives her one hour, because she needs one to travel. She could have had three, but she gave one to the boy when she let him go. She hopes that no one notices he is gone, and that he was smart enough to go where she told him to.
As she looks around the little cottage she’d grown up in, she knows she will never see it again. Pettigrew knows she was here, even lived here for a while, and will probably raze it to the ground. For a moment she chides herself for losing both Spinner’s End and the cottage, but muses that if everything does not go as planned today, she won’t have a need for a house anymore. Her makeshift potion lab lies open on the table, the little bowl of black beetle eyes spilled. The tiny eyes sparkle darkly in the light from the fire beneath her cauldron as she starts one last potion.
For months she’s been tainting the supply of potions Pettigrew keeps in his valise. She’s added newt’s tongue to his sleeping draught, rendering it a toxic sludge. She’s replaced his headache potion with an infusion of wormwood and cowslip, with just enough belladonna to make it hallucinogenic. His pain potions have been tainted with essence of mandragora. Anything she can do to make him miserable, but never enough to make him suspicious of her.
He suspects her now because of the boy. He’d wanted blood from the moment she’d brought him back to the cottage, and her unwillingness to kill her nephew had made him vindictive. Then when the boy was not killed by the Dark Lord, he’d been on edge, almost raving in his jealousy.
The potion is almost done. It is to be her last contribution to the cause. She will leave it by itself, sitting on the table with nothing on it but a tag. She decants it into one of her favorite phials: green, cut glass. A gift from the Dark Lord after her first successful kill. There is no way that whoever finds Pettigrew, the phial still clenched in his hand, will not know what has happened. The worst part is over, she reasons with herself. All that is left is the rest.
She sets the phial carefully, then slips out the door. There’s no time to pack, nor any reason to. However these next few hours go, she’ll never need the things she brought into this house again. She is already wearing the large, concealing robes that she will need once the transformation takes place. They are too big for her and the tall, starched collar bothers her chin, but they will fit well enough when they are needed.
She cannot travel through the Wizarding world. Both of her faces are too well-known for that. She covers herself with a notice-me-not and leaves under cover of darkness, hoping it will be enough. It will have to be, she thinks darkly, as she dares not do more. She swings the broom between her knees as she walks out the door, and though she has not flown in years, it all comes back to her easily.
She knows that her flight will be a long and perilous one, but it is the only option left to her and as she whistles through the air on her way over Bristol, she takes the potion for one last time.
Hermione Granger is standing outside Grimmauld Place for the first time in more than six months. She is inside a phone booth in Muggle London, debating whether or not to call her parents. Outside, Ron and Harry are horsing around, throwing snowballs made of the dirty, icy London slush. She’s scolded them, but she was laughing as she did it, so it had little effect.
The dial tone on the other side of the line is harsh and grating. She hasn’t used a phone in so long she wonders if the number will go through, or will she end up calling someone else on accident? With shaking fingers, she carefully presses the numbers. At the first ring, she almost hangs up. She feels ill, suddenly, and shakes so bad that she has to lean against the side of the booth. She clings to the phone and when the tinny voice on the other side wafts up from her hand, she drops it. The phone hits the side of the booth with a loud clang. She quickly slams it onto the receiver, listening to the coins slide through the machine to land on a pile of other phone calls. She shudders, tugging at her gloves with weak hands before pulling them away. With a cold hand, she digs through her pocket for another fifty p.
This time, the line is picked up right away. “If this is a joke, so help me…” her father’s voice is strange on the other side. It’s both older and younger than she remembers him, and she wonders if he still looks the same. Hermione is overcome by the need to hear her mother’s voice and feel her warm hands press against her hair.
“Dad?” she says in a small, little girl’s voice. “It’s me, Hermione.”
They talk forever and ever, until the machine prompts her for another fifty pence and another, until she cannot find any more and her hand is shaking from the cold. The line is severed sharply in the middle of a word, and she searches frantically through all of her pockets for change before she collapses against the wall. Ron rushes to the booth, pulls her out, and wraps her up in his arms, but she has never felt so little and alone. The walk back to Grimmauld Place is long and silent, and the boys throw no snow, but all she can think about is how she never got to hear her mother’s voice.
Draco is in the sitting room when he hears footsteps approach from behind. He has a moment of wild panic when he thinks that it must be Charlie, here to teach him a lesson again, but when Harry coughs slightly, he relaxes. Harry sits next to him and they look out the window at the snow together.
“It’ll be spring soon,” he says, and Draco nods absently. The January snow is melting already, and soon it will be February.
“Not too soon,” Draco replies. “There’s a lot of winter yet.”
“We’ve been through the worst of it.”
“No. The worst of it is always that part at the end, right before you think it’s over,” Draco turns to look at Harry, who is already gazing at him with something like longing in his eyes. “Don’t let yourself be fooled. There’s always more to come.”
“I just call that part March. It doesn’t count as winter,” Harry’s voice is quiet, and Draco feels him shift on the sofa.
“So what did you do in London today, Harry?” he keeps his tone light, and the hand that covers his sends a shiver up his back.
“Nothing, really,” Harry’s eyes are still fixed on him. “Are you well?”
“No more so than any other day.” Harry smiles and he feels the corners of his lips lift in response. His hands fist at his sides with the desire to run his fingertips over the scar sitting nestled between those brows. His lips tremble with memories. Harry is different now, he thinks, than he was before, and all Draco has done is come back the same. “No less so than any other day.”
Harry takes Draco’s hand in his own, looking down at it in concentration. “What are you doing?” the question dies on Draco’s lips as Harry begins to rub his thumbs into his palm.
“Divination. Let’s see what I remember,” Harry murmurs, studying the pale hand that shakes with emotion in his hand. They sit, frozen on the sofa until Molly calls for dinner. “I’ve got nothing,” Harry admits, grinning, and Draco tries not to feel warm at the knowledge that they’ve been holding hands for hours.
After dinner, Draco decides that if they’re going to be doing the whole romance thing, he is going to be the one in charge, and he pins Harry to the wall in the hallway, their lips mashed together. He pants as Harry leaves a love bite the size of a walnut shell on his neck, just below his ear. As he clings to Harry and groans as their lips tangle, he is stunned to find himself dangling on the edge of orgasm, and lets himself go when he feels Harry grinding into him, hears the shocked cry of pleasure that escapes when Draco slides his thigh up Harry’s leg, and tastes the beginnings of tears as they escape from the fanned half moons of Harry’s lashes. He wraps his arms around Harry’s shoulders and mewls until Harry picks him up and puts him in bed.
Harry treats him gingerly, but like a boy; he pulls Draco’s boots off, stuffing them under his bed, and unclasps the robes he is wearing over his clothes. He toes off his own scuffed trainers and curls around Draco, pressed against his side. For the first time in a long time, he feels warmed through and as he dozes off, he feels Harry’s hair brush lightly against the side of his face.
When Harry wakes up, he finds himself sprawled across Draco’s bed. Draco is standing over him buttoning the cuffs of a shirt he has borrowed from Ron, a tiny smirk forming in the corner of his mouth when he notices that Harry’s awake. “Oh, you’re up now, my little hedonist?” Draco’s tone is playful, and he stoops over Harry to give him a lingering kiss. “Get up. I want breakfast.”
Harry merely pulls Draco to the bed with him, where they are still kissing when the door opens and Hermione enters. She clears her throat, but her eyes sparkle with laughter. “Molly says if she finds one of you has run off again, whoever it is will be getting cold eggs.”
“We’ll be there in a moment,” Harry tells her. As the door closes behind her, he presses another kiss to Draco’s lips. The blond draws away with a firm slap to Harry’s leg, then tugs on the jumper Molly made him for Christmas.
“Hurry up,” Draco smiles at him, and Harry smiles back.
After breakfast, Harry and Draco sit in the parlor with their backs to the door. Harry is gently coaxing Draco to hardness again, his hand resting high on Draco’s thigh and his lips pressed softly to his ear. He whispers little things about how glad he is that Draco’s safe and how happy he is that he came back. His fingertips are pressing circles on his inner thigh and Draco can feel his face is flushed.
Draco leans over ghosts his lips over Harry’s, but just before they touch, Harry finds himself pushed back onto the sofa and Draco is rushing out the door. Stunned, he stands up to follow and finds Draco standing at the front door. The door itself is thrown wide, and Bellatrix Black Lestrange is standing in the doorway, a broom tucked under her arm.
Harry feels something awful twist inside him as her dark eyes sweep over Draco to him and she smirks.
Ron is standing in the kitchen waiting for Hermione to finish helping Mum with the after-breakfast dishes when he hears footsteps pounding across the floor upstairs. He glances back at them, with their sleeves rolled up and their arms up to their elbows in soapy water, and smiles fondly. He heads upstairs to see what all of the ruckus is, and as he comes into the room, he sees Malfoy standing at the front door. His stomach lurches as he recognizes the other figure, and he pulls his wand out only to have it knocked out of his hand by a flying disarmament spell. He opens his mouth to say something, but what comes out is, “Dad!”
“How cute,” Malfoy sneers, but his eyes dart over to the hallway, where Harry looks like he is going to burst into tears.
“Be quiet, Draco,” Lestrange tells him, and Ron realizes that she has not lifted her wand. It was Malfoy who’d used the spell before. He can hear his mother’s footsteps coming up the stairs and he realizes that his father has already gone to work.
“Mum! No!” he shouts as he sees her come up the stairs, drying her hands on a dish cloth. She brushes by him calmly, taking the broom from Lestrange and leading her in.
“I was wondering when you’d get in.”
They’re all sitting in the room reserved for Order meetings when the potion begins to wear off. Ronald Weasley’s face is white and his hand keeps drifting over the scars on his arm. Hermione Granger is somber, her face earnest and thoughtful and more than a little bit afraid. Harry Potter has folded himself into a chair and is pouting at everyone, especially Draco. They’re waiting for Arthur to come back from work, and for the rest of the Order to arrive.
It begins slowly, a classic case of polyjuice potion: her stomach clenches, her limbs shudder and twitch. Her hair flattens and becomes greasy, her teeth lengthen, and her nose stretches outward. The bountiful curves of her body melt slowly until she is flat, planar, and pointy. She can feel her facial structures reshape until finally, she sits at the table in her true face. It is the first time Severus Snape has been at this table in almost a year.
The first reaction is visceral: Weasley knocks over a chair as he stands up and Granger faints. The secondary reaction is much more subtle: Weasley growls slightly, Potter turns his face away in disbelief, and Draco’s knowing smile fades. Tertiary reactions are explosive: Potter shoves back from the table, almost tipping himself over in his hurry to get away, and storms out of the room. Weasley grabs Severus’s collar, hauling him out of his chair. Molly pulls at her son’s arms and looks imploringly at the girl Weasley, who stares at him as though he has grown an extra head. Draco makes a quiet noise and follows Potter out of the room.
“I can’t believe you, Malfoy!” Harry rounds on Draco as soon as they get into their room.
“Oh, so I’m Malfoy again?” the boy’s tone is bitter and he knows it. “I couldn’t tell you, Harry. It was too dangerous.”
“How was it dangerous? I might have felt safer knowing your crazy aunt was really only the man who murdered Dumbledore, in disguise?” Harry’s voice is raised, and Draco can’t believe the self-righteousness he hears in his voice.
“It was too dangerous for him! If anyone had known—” he is cut off.
“Which is why everyone knew but me, isn’t it, Draco” Harry sneers his name, making it sound like some sort of vermin.
“No one knew, Potter,” he replies. “I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone but Molly and Lupin.”
“Oh, really?” he wants nothing more than to smack Potter’s stupid face right now.
“Get this through your thick skull, Potter: I told no one. It wasn’t safe,” Draco speaks slowly as if talking to a small child or an idiot. “It was not out of some deeply ingrained distrust of you, or even out of a desire to protect you, to baby you, or keep you from the truth. It was safer for him the fewer people knew about the situation, and I told the people who really needed to know. You’re not going to find out I was gossiping about Professor Snape’s impending arrival disguised as my ‘crazy aunt,’ as you so tactfully put it.”
“Why couldn’t you tell me, though?” Potter’s voice is plaintive now, and he takes off his glasses to clean them on the hem of his shirt. “Didn’t I deserve to know?”
“Potter—” he starts, and suddenly liquid green eyes are turned on him. “Harry,” he says gently, “It’s not that you didn’t deserve to know. It’s that Severus could have been caught out there—killed—because I was careless with the information. With things like this, you can’t just go around telling everyone everything they want to know, you know?”
“It’s just…they never tell me anything,” Harry’s voice is sharp-edged now. “Everything’s on a ‘need to know’ basis with them, and I’m never on the ‘needs to know’ list. They didn’t even tell me how Dumbledore was injured last summer, or that he was at all. Dumbledore himself didn’t tell me anything until it was too late.”
“What do you mean?” Draco breathes.
“I don’t know. I don’t mean anything,” Harry slumps onto his bed and stares at his scruffy trainers. “They just…they never said that he was sick or anything. They never bothered telling me that he was in a lot of pain. I mean, I guess I would have noticed if I’d just paid attention better, but if I’d known I wouldn’t have acted a prat the way I did.” Draco sits next to him, sliding his hand up his arm to comfort him.
“You were a prat?” Draco laughs a little, pressing his forehead to Harry’s shoulder.
Harry sighs. “I always feel like everything’s my fault, and maybe I wouldn’t get so many people hurt if I knew what was going on.”
“Harry, no one thinks these things are your fault. More than a healthy share of them are my fault,” the words taste bitter on his tongue, but he knows they’re true, “but none of them are yours.”
“Of course it bloody well is my fault. I’m the one who believed those dreams from Voldemort that got Sirius killed. I’m the one who was so eager to do my hero thing that I didn’t bother stopping to ask questions. I’m even the one who didn’t tell anyone I had a strange textbook that told me to use spells I’d never heard of on my enemies,” Draco can hear the wry twist of Harry’s mouth as he says this, and smiles.
“So I’m your enemy, eh, Potter?” he presses his lips against the nape of Harry’s neck and delights in the shudder it produces.
“I thought you were.”
“I was at the time,” Draco admits. “But I was a fool at the time.”
“You’ve gained a great deal of wisdom since then?”
“In some ways, yes.”
“Draco, tell me why you ran away,” Harry’s voice is soft, full of an emotion that sounds like guilt. Draco pauses, and Harry waits.
“No,” he says finally, closing his eyes.
“Why? Was it because of what happened?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Draco says firmly, and Harry pulls away from him. As Harry stands at the door looking back at him, all Draco wants is to tell Harry what happened. He opens his mouth to tell him the truth, but Harry just walks away.
When he tells the story, all eyes are on Severus Snape. It was his decision to tell it well after dinner, and when they see the greenish cast to Tonks’s face, everyone soon agrees. He tells it simply, with no flash or color, but the words are chilling as they sink into the crowd circling him.
Bellatrix is excited. She carefully combs the dark curls out of her eyes, skims her eyes over the curves of her breasts and belly and hips, flattered in the mirror by her robes. Narcissa’s, really, but the stupid bint won’t notice after today, if Bella has her way. Her long fingers come up to pinch her cheeks pink and she bites her lips bloody red. Her teeth look all the whiter for the pinkish smears on them. She has to look as pretty as she can for her Lord.
Today is the day she is to be tapped to join His inner circle. Now she’ll get all of the information He gave that half blood and her Muggle loving sister. Now He’ll pull her close to His body and…a shiver ghosts down her back. Anticipation. She doesn’t care what she’ll have to do, she’ll just do it. Her Lord must know the depth of her love for Him. He must. She will show Him, anyhow, and He’ll never forget or doubt her again.
She hopes He wants her to kill those failures in the next room. That half blood and his whore, who stay up at night worshiping at the altar of adultery while the little coward sleeps in the next room. Lucius; he had his faults, but not even he deserves this, this flagrant flaunting of his terrible fate. His pretty, pretty wife—she always got all the attention from the boys—and his troll of a conspirator, his ratty little son who never did anything but whine, oh, even Lucius deserved better!
Lucius, pretty and long haired, who liked to look at Narcissa with his silvery eyes but touch her sisters under their skirts, who wouldn’t talk to Andromeda, wouldn’t fuck Narcissa, and wouldn’t marry Bellatrix, he was worth ten Severus Snapes. He was a pathetic man and he had a small prick, and now he’s brain dead and soporific, lingering, clinging to life in his cell at Azkaban—nasty, dirty place!—like an opium addict, chasing the dragon forever. He isn’t pretty anymore, Bella sneers at her reflection, with his hair shorn off and the marks of his own fingernails scarring his shit-smeared arms and legs. His belly is spotted with bruises where he is beaten every day by some guard who’s lost his friend, his cousin, his father, his son to this war. Lucius is a pariah, the figurehead elected by the Wizarding world for crucifixion, but she remembers him as he was when they were young: pretty, powerful, rich, and perpetually horny.
A quick check to see if the robes flatter her arse and she is reaching for the bottle of perfume on the nightstand. Narcissa’s, but bought with Lucius’s gold, so it ought to be hers as well. It smells like paper whites, though, and it’s far too pretty for her, but she supposes that it will just have to do. As she glances back to the mirror, she sees them in the doorway, looking at her. You’re ugly, his eyes say. You’ll never please our Lord. You’re playing dress up again, her eyes say. You’ll never be me, no matter what you take from me. I’m beautiful, Bella’s reflection says, and she knows who to trust.
“There’s a meeting tonight,” Bella tells them, her lips curling triumphantly. “I know you didn’t know. You,” her eyes flick to him, the traitor, in the mirror, “aren’t invited anymore. You,” her eyes narrow at her, the fool, “were never devoted to the cause in the first place.” You didn’t offer him your soul the way we did, your husband and I, she smirks at the reflection.
“Don’t tell him where we are,” Narcissa’s lips move, but all Bella hears is noise.
“Tell who, darling?” Bella reaches for Narcissa’s pretty diamonds, but selects black pearls instead. She doesn’t wince as she forces the tiny studs through the skin of her earlobe. Warm blood drips onto her bare neck and she watches it spatter on her skin.
“You’re mad,” he sounds like he’s reading the weather report. Bella smiles at him, still watching the trickle of red that contrasts so prettily against her black hair and white flesh.
“You know who, Bella,” Narcissa sounds desperate now, and she reaches for Bellatrix’s sleeve with dirty hands.
“I’ll tell Him if He asks,” Bella’s smile falls. How could the fool ever think that she could keep something from Him?
“You won’t go out that door,” Narcissa’s eyes have widened and she looks afraid. Good. She should be. Bella shoves her out of the way, walking calmly toward the door. There is a sudden, searing pain on her scalp and she turns to find her sister clutching a hank of dark, long hair. I won’t be pretty for him, she thinks for a wild moment before launching herself at Narcissa. She almost crows in triumph as she feels her fingernails grab purchase in Narcissa’s delicate flesh and she pulls, reveling in the flow of warmth that pours from her sister’s arms onto her face. Narcissa’s screams are animalistic and Bellatrix can barely make out that she’s talking. “Won’t let…hurt! I won’t...him! Draco!” her sister pants as Narcissa elbows Bellatrix sharply in the collarbone, toppling them over. There is a triumphant screech from Narcissa, who begins to scratch almost ineffectually at Bellatrix’s eyes and face. All it takes to unseat her is a solid punch to the jaw and the blonde woman is sprawled on the floor, sobbing with breath and spitting blood. Her robes are torn, but Bellatrix feels that He would appreciate her more like this—bloody, battle-stained—than He would a dozen Narcissas with perfect hair. Speaking of, Bella reaches for her sister’s pretty golden hair, grasping for a handful of that perfect blonde. Narcissa fights weakly against her, but Bella manages to tear free a solid chunk that scatters over them both as Narcissa finally breaks free. The wind rushes out of her lungs as Bella feels Narcissa’s pretty ringed fist rammed into her diaphragm. The world goes hazy for a moment, and Bella vaguely feels herself falling onto the floor. Narcissa continues the onslaught, punching and clawing wildly at Bella’s face and head. She distantly feels her left ear get caught in one of the diamond rings on Narcissa’s hand, and when she tastes blood she knows it’s her own. Narcissa looks like a wild woman now, kneeling over her smeared with blood, her hair flying around her and her teeth bared in fury. This, Bella thinks, this is something I could be proud of being my sister. This is something that would make Lucius hard. This thought makes her laugh, blood burbling in her throat. Narcissa’s eyes could kill as she snarls, “What’s so funny?”
“I fucked him, you know,” Bella hears herself say almost casually, as if every day she lay beneath her enraged sister and was pummeled. “Lucius. He was a bad fuck, but he said I was the best he’d ever had. We fucked all the way up to the day I went to Azkaban, and again as soon as I got out. Just so you know,” Bella laughs again, and it sounds like a bloody sob tearing free from her throat, “You weren’t the only one who slept around.”
Bella sees very clearly the switch being flipped in Narcissa’s mind. She sees her frenetic movements calm to a deadly still. She sees the candlestick and smells the blood, hears the traitor shout and feels the heavy clang of old silver meeting and cracking her skull. It’s odd, she thinks as the world begins to fade out, how her tongue could not taste anything, as if finally, after twenty three years holding back the secret and finally letting it go, her tongue has completed its job.
Hermione isn’t quite sure what to make of the story. She suspects it’s true, but she can’t really imagine the world that Draco and his family were living in. On the surface it seems similar to the one that she, Harry, and the Weasleys have been enveloped in, but it strikes her that in the Malfoys’ case, the danger is very real. She feels childish suddenly, and selfish, when she thinks of all of the people in the Wizarding world who’ve lost someone or had their house attacked while she hid from nothing. Looking back on it now, she sees that she’s spent the last several months playing at prisoner of war with her friends while other people in the world suffered for real.
She looks up to see how Draco has taken this new information about his family, but she cannot see him in the crowd stuffed into the room. A feeling like a cold fingertip drags down her spine and she rushes up the stairs to the room that Harry and Draco share. The door is closed, but there is no sound coming from inside. After knocking, she opens the door carefully, but only Draco is inside. She feels Ron come up behind her, but the minute he sees Ron, Draco’s eyes go hard.
“I didn’t tell him, Weasley,” Draco says, and Hermione doesn’t understand what he means. Ron’s grip on her arm tightens and something inside her tightens with dread. “I didn’t tell him what you did, and now he thinks I ran away. Because I hate him.”
“Ron, what is he talking about?” she feels as if the air in the room is growing thinner. She feels all of the oxygen rushing out of her lungs. He blinks. It takes him a very long time to answer, and when he does, it’s unsatisfying.
“I…he,” Ron can barely string two words together.
“What did you do?”
The family and the Order search the house for Harry, but he’s nowhere to be found.
It has been a long time since Harry has taken the Knight Bus, and as he steps off of it, he hopes it will be a long time again. He is feeling nauseous, but he wonders in the back of his mind whether this is half because he is seeing the Hollow for the first time. It looks nothing like he’s expected, really, but he isn’t sure what he expected. Some distant part of him expected rubble, he thinks, but another part expected the house from his photo album, perfect and shining. Part of him even expected his parents, which Harry knows is foolish.
What he gets instead is a pretty Muggle subdivision, not entirely unlike Privet Drive. The lawns are perfect and manicured, the houses a pretty shade of eggshell, and the windows all covered with delicate lace curtains. There is no marker to indicate that here, almost seventeen years ago, the greatest battle of the war against Voldemort was fought. There is no marker that says, Here lie Lily and James Potter, and a little bit of Harry Potter’s soul.
He’s disappointed by the pretty little houses and the pretty little pavement paths that wind their way between them. He’s disappointed by the cute little dogs chained in the cute little lawns and the shiny, freshly washed cars that sit in the drives next to freshly painted sheds. Godric’s Hollow is perfect in all of the ways anyone could ever want it to be, except for the one way Harry needs it to be. The hollow cheer of the town reflects the hollow part of him, and he realizes that sixteen years is a long, long time.
Harry calls the Knight Bus back, and if the driver that has replaced Stan is surprised to see him again so soon, he doesn’t show it. He settles into a seat and when the driver calls back, “Where to, then?” he responds easily.
“Number four, Privet Drive.”
Once again, number twelve is thrown into chaos. Ron admits in long, rambling sentences delivered in shameful tones, how he left Malfoy in the middle of Muggle London, and Remus can scarcely believe the boy’s tale. Malfoy tells them all what happened, and then Severus tells them how he’d found the boy. Between Molly and Alastor, Remus wonders if Ron mightn’t have got off easier sentenced to time in Azkaban for his little prank, they scold him so. He stays out of the situation, himself, but offers to help look for Harry in between taking care of Tonks. Molly tells him no, that they need someone to wait at the house in case Harry comes back, anyway. Between the rest of the Order and the entire Weasley brood, there is more than enough search power to find him, Remus consoles himself.
He finds that Tonks is getting better. She has started sleeping better and no longer complains of pain in her lower back. He’s worried because it will be a full moon soon, but she swears she’s feeling better and that he needn’t worry. With Severus back in the house, he can take the Wolfsbane again, which will lessen the severity of the transformation. Hopefully this time he can be back after less than half a week, but Remus knows better than to count on this.
It’s hard to miss the fatigue that’s been carved into Severus’s face by his experiences since Albus’s death. His eyes are dull and almost lackluster, his face is gaunt and thin, and his entire frame seems to fold in on itself. Everything about him reads as tired, and Remus can’t help but hope he doesn’t look as numb and exhausted as Severus.
Everyone has gone out to find Harry, and Remus and Tonks have the house alone for the first time since the fire. He’s surprised by how empty it feels, and how much of an afterthought he feels like in the house he’s lived in for years. He knows it’s not his house—it’s Harry’s, even if every part of it always has and always will remind him painfully of Sirius—but it’s strange to realize just how little of himself he has imparted in the place. Every room reminds him of someone else; the sitting room is Sirius, the young Sirius he’d first met on the Hogwarts Express, who’d offered to let Remus sit with him and his friend James, the two of them staunch old blood so stiff with fear that no one would like them, and the parlor is so hopelessly reminiscent of Regulus, who’d tried so hard to earn the acceptance of his peers that he’d fallen in with a bad crowd, that tears almost swim in his eyes. The kitchen is Molly perfectly, the only genuinely warm and cheerful room in the house, and he knows he will never be able to pass the bathroom without remembering that horrible day and Ginny and Charlie.
Even Malfoy has a room: the formal dining room, so refined and well put together but used for clandestine meetings of the Order. He shares this room with Albus, whom Remus looks for every time he enters. Harry’s room is the front hall, where the light spills in from cracked and dirty glass to illuminate little squares of yellow sunlight on the ebony floors. The shadows loom ominously in the corners, and it is this juxtaposition between cheer and gloom that reminds Remus most of Harry.
Remus knows that the boy bears a weight far heavier than he should on his shoulders, but he also knows that there is nothing he can do to take this burden away. All he and the others can do is try to help alleviate the stress, and he knows that sometimes they fail to do this. He hopes that wherever Harry has gone, the boy is safe without the safety net of those who love him ready to catch him should he fall.
Dudley finds that life with Aunt Marge is not as awful as he might have imagined it to be. She lets him stay up late and watch the telly, and he can eat as much ice cream as he wants, not that he eats much ice cream. Because as pleasant as life with Aunt Marge can be, Dudley finds it hard to slip back into the routines of his old life.
Smeltings is completely out of the question this year, because he’s spent so much time away. He isn’t sure he’d want to go back there, anyway, to see all of his friends from before who will ask him funny questions about Piers. Instead, he’s going to a local public school that Aunt Marge has found for him. It isn’t Eaton, but it’ll do, she says, and he agrees. At Brightstone Academy, nobody asks him about the fires. They don’t want to talk to him about how he feels about his mum and dad. Nobody expects him to run around hitting first years like nothing’s wrong, and if he wants to sit outside and think rather than try for sports, no one is going to laugh and call him a pansy.
Dudley thinks that perhaps he’s finding a whole new side of himself, underneath the ash and years of dust where he’s neglected it for so long. He finds he’s not half bad at taking things apart, and sometimes it only takes him one or two tries to put it back together again. Aunt Marge says that in the spring they’ll go look at University, but he’s got half a mind to ask about trade school instead. Dudley feels his world shifting slowly to a new axis, and wonders how he’s not too worried about it.
He knows he isn’t smart like some other boys are. He’ll never be an engineer or a doctor, but he thinks that maybe, if he can settle down and learn something useful—pay attention, rather than goofing off in the back of the classroom the way he and his mates used to do at Smeltings—he’ll be alright. After all, he’s not a kid anymore, and there’s no one to take care of him but Aunt Marge. He’s got to learn to make himself useful somehow in a way that he never has before.
Today, he and Aunt Marge are going to visit the house. It’s the first time Dudley will be there, at Privet Drive, since the fires. He’s nervous and feels like he might throw up, but he wants to go see what it looks like now that the debris has been cleared. Construction is due to begin on a new neighborhood soon, and the groundbreaking crews are going to get started within the next month. They won’t call it Privet Drive anymore, and Dudley wants to see Privet Drive one last time before it’s gone for good.
Aunt Marge takes the car, and she lets Dudley drive on the way over because her back is hurting her. Ever since the incident with Harry when Dad had had to ring for help getting her out of the sky, Aunt Marge has had chronic back problems. Dudley thought it was her belt, pressed too tight around her swollen middle, but Dad had gotten angry when he’d told him and Mum had told him to keep his comments to himself. She’d reminded him that Dad didn’t like hearing about those sort of people, and Dudley is glad he’s at the old house because a lump forms in his throat and his eyes grow wet from the knowledge that he will never hear Dad blustering around the house again, nor Mum gossiping over the fence with Mrs. Keller.
There is someone standing on the pavement in front of the spot where number four used to be, and Dudley wants to shout at them to go gawk at someone else’s misfortune until he realizes that it’s Harry.
Harry’s changed a lot since the last time Dudley has seen him. His hair is longer, his shoulders broader, and his face is more worn. He looks like a grownup now, tall and powerful. Dudley wonders briefly if the time is as written on his own face as it is Harry’s, and Harry asks, “What happened?”
Normally, when people ask this, they’re only asking to be nice. Everyone between Surrey and Cambridge knows what happened on Privet Drive, even if they only skimmed the article about this little suburb going up in flames. Some ask him if he thinks it was terrorists, and some ask him how he is holding up, but everyone rushes through that part of the conversation because they don’t really care; they’re only asking because it seems rude not to, to ignore the fact that Dudley’s alone now because someone set his neighborhood on fire.
But Harry’s different, Dudley can tell, and this is why he tells Harry the story. The whole, real story. Not the version he’d told police, where he’d missed the electric fire caused by faulty wiring and come home just in time to see the roof fall in, but the real version, where the strange men in pointy hats had made sure they’d burned down number four first, then decimated the rest of Privet Drive just for fun. The version where Piers had stood in the fire while Dudley had run away like a coward. Harry doesn’t say anything when he’s through telling the story, and Dudley doesn’t have anything else to say, so they stare at each other without talking.
“I’m sorry,” Harry says finally.
“You should be,” Dudley replies.
“I never meant for this to happen, Dudley,” Harry tells him, and he squeezes Dudley’s hand between his own before Dudley pulls away.
“I wish it had been you instead,” he tells Harry, letting as much of his anger into it as he dares. How dare he show up here after being gone so long? How dare he offer a compassionate hand when all Dudley wants to do is hate him? Harry is quiet for a moment, then ducks his head.
“It was supposed to be,” he admits, and Dudley’s heart freezes in his chest. “They were there to kill me, but I was already gone. I’m so sorry I got your family all tangled up in this, Dudley.” Harry’s eyes are clear behind his glasses and Dudley suddenly feels as if he’s finally hearing the punch line to a joke he’s heard years ago. “I know it’s not the same, but for what it’s worth, I’ve been through it, too. I know how hard it is when everyone wants to…make it better, I suppose. I know how hard it is to pretend that nothing’s wrong when you’ve seen those sorts of things.”
“Why? Why were they coming after you? Why did they,” Dudley swallows hard against the lump forming in his throat, “kill Mum and Dad when they didn’t find you?”
“They were after me because that’s what they do: they try to kill me. They’ve been trying for seven years—no, seventeen, really—and every time I’ve been just lucky enough to scrape by. They’ve killed other people around me before, loads of them, but they’ve just never got to me.” Dudley feels a surge of protectiveness come over him, but he shoves it down.
“But why? Why my family? Why me; why Piers?” he asks fiercely.
“Because you were there, most likely. They don’t bother justifying their actins to anyone. They destroy lives just because they can. Just because someone’s at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“It’s not right,” Dudley feels the spots of color rising on his face. “That’s not how it should be!”
“But that’s how it is,” Harry says simply, and it occurs to Dudley that he’s never really talked to his cousin the way he is now.
“Then what was it that happened to you?” he demands. He is amused by the stunned look on Harry’s face, and intrigued by the flash of sadness that is quickly covered by a bittersweet smile.
“I suppose it all started when I was a baby…”
Draco can’t stand not being able to help the others look for Harry. A gnawing feeling in his gut reminds him almost constantly of the look on Harry’s face as he’d left the room. The weight of his responsibility for the situation sits heavily on his shoulders as he faces the empty house. Everyone else has gone—Lupin and Tonks to the doctor for a follow up, the Weaslette and her lover for a clandestine date disguised as more searching, and everyone else is out looking for Harry. Even Severus is out looking, disguised as a random Weasley. Granger has packed up her things and is planning to go home soon. Draco feels as though his little surrogate family is shrinking and the house is growing larger.
He’s concerned with how attached to Harry he has become, and how much his moods depend on the other boy. He’s been sulky all day as he waits for word of Harry, and when the word he gets is that Harry still can’t be located, he becomes downright morose. He wants nothing more than to tell him the truth, but it’s hard to do if Potter isn’t here to hear the truth. He’s hesitant to tell the truth, anyway, because as much as he hates Weasley, he doesn’t exactly hate Potter anymore, and he doesn’t want to upset him. He feels like he has become such a ninny.
Mostly, Draco tells himself that Harry’s okay. He hopes so, and he thinks that he is, because unlike him, Harry has spent a lot of time in the Muggle World. He’s escaped from Voldemort more than a few times, as well, which is a sure sign of self-sufficiency in Draco’s book. He has to tell himself that Harry’s okay, though, because every now and then his nightmares spill into the day. He’s had more waking dreams than he can count, all about various ways that Harry can be tortured and killed without anyone knowing. He hopes every day that he will stop having these morbid hallucinations, but every day they come back, with growing insistency.
Draco’s never thought himself a Seer, but even he is getting worried.
Ron doesn’t know what to do. He’s searched everywhere, pored over subway maps and walked both cobbled and paved streets until his feet are too tired to go any further. He’s been up both sides of the Thames, down Diagon Alley, and even through Knockturn Alley, though the place scares the piss out of him. He’s checked the Leaky Cauldron and though he learns that Harry was there over the summer, no one knows where he is now, and Ron is running out of places to look.
Everyone is sitting at the table trying hard not to glare too much at him. Mum has been searching all over Hogsmeade every day, and Dad keeps an eye out for news at the Ministry. The Aurors, led by Moody, can’t go out and search for him since they’re supposed to be hunting down suspected Death Eaters, but even they have seen neither hide nor hair of him. Charlie has gone back to work in Romania, but even he is keeping an open eye and ear for gossip. Ginny, Fred, and George search a different city every day—today was Manchester—but between the three of them, not even a hair has turned up. They’ve even got McGonagall looking for him as she finishes up her preparations to open the school in the autumn.
Snape won’t tell them where he’s looking, but he’s gone from before breakfast till after tea every day. Mum says that if anyone’s going to find Harry, it’s going to be him. He’s determined that Harry will be found before the end of the week, but Ron doesn’t think Harry is going to be found so soon. He’ll be found when he wants to be, Ron thinks, but he keeps looking.
Harry and Dudley are at tea when the familiar shade of hair appears in the doorway. He whistles and the boy’s attention is drawn to their table. He looks like a Weasley—one of the twins, to be precise—but he moves oddly, clearly unused to the body being used. Harry invites him to sit at their table and Dudley grunts around the rim of his teacup.
“Where have you been?” the unnamed Weasley demands as he sits down. “We’ve been looking all over town for you.”
“I had to visit a few places,” Harry replies indifferently, and the Weasley glares at him.
“Oh? And where, pray tell, were these ‘places?’” the Weasley asks, a very Snape-like sneer forming on his lips.
“Godric’s Hollow,” Harry says simply, and he has the good graces to look abashed. “Then I went to Privet Drive. It burned down, you know. Several months ago.”
“I knew,” the Weasley sniffs.
“I didn’t,” Harry says. The Weasley stiffens in shock.
“How could they not tell you? I mean…” he asks, as expressive Weasley eyes show sympathy, pity, and remorse.
“They didn’t even tell me about Snape until a month later,” Harry tells him, and the Weasley’s eyebrows crease in irritation. “I’m pretty used to not being told anything.”
“But surely, Potter, you get the Prophet?” Harry shakes his head.
“Not anymore. I was tired of having my mail edited, so I stopped getting mail.”
“Excuse me,” Dudley says, and Harry turns to him. “Who’s this?”
“Oh, this is Fred,” Harry introduces the Weasley to Dudley. “Fred, this is my cousin Dudley.”
“How do you do?” Fred is polite, if slightly formal. Dudley’s eyes on him are sharp, as if he’s watching him for any sudden moves.
“I remember you, I think. You came to get him,” he jerks his thumb at Harry, “once. You gave me a toffee that turned me into a pig.”
“I was obnoxious as a child,” Fred says dourly, and Dudley nods cautiously.
“I don’t think I ate toffees for at least a month after that,” he replies. The waitress comes by and Fred orders Darjeeling with a bit of lemon. When the tea comes, they sit in silence until Harry stands and extends his hand to Dudley.
“I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with you, Dudley. I really have. But I think it’s time for me to go do that hero thing I’m supposed to be doing. D’you have Hermione’s address so her parents can owl your letters to me?” he asks. Dudley nods and Harry smiles. “Bye, then.” Fred and Harry leave and Fred pulls Harry into an alley so they can Apparate back to Grimmauld Place.
Ron is in the kitchen helping his Mum cook dinner when Snape brings Harry back. Harry looks happier, healthier than he did when he left, and Ron thinks about how unhappy and frail Malfoy has grown since Harry left. The words come out of his mouth before he can form them, and quite suddenly he’s confessing. He admits to Harry everything that he did to Malfoy right there, standing in the kitchen with a carrot in one hand and the vegetable peeler in the other. Harry slugs him, but afterwards he helps Ron stand back up and settles in to help cook.
He is a little surprised by how well Harry seems to know his way around the kitchen. He can chop quickly, and between the three of them, Mum’s famous shepherd’s pie is in the oven baking away in less than half an hour. As Harry mixes a salad, he talks happily about wanting to get a flat, and Ron discovers for the first time that not everyone wants to stay at number twelve. Harry makes him promise to go flat shopping with him, and Ron almost refuses, but Harry continues on so easily that he figures it’s better to just go with it than to keep fighting against him. Harry will do as he wants, whether anyone around him wants him to or not, and that’s one of the few things Ron’s finally learned over the last seven years.
At dinner, Malfoy stares at Harry with such wounded eyes that Ron almost begs Harry to go make up with him if only to keep him from putting him off his food any more. Malfoy stands up halfway through the meal and walks back to his room, and Harry follows him. They’ve not quite finished kissing in the hall when Ron goes by on his way to bed, but he simply walks around it instead of saying anything.
He feels completely disjointed from everyone as they begin to move again. He feels static, like the last bear to wake from hibernation. All around him, things are changing and people are growing. Time has stopped for no one but Ron, who stands in the middle of it all, untouched.
The doctor said that she must stay in bed for three weeks, and by the time Remus pronounces her well again, it is well into March. Her muscles feel tired and sore, and she’s lost a lot of weight. Her skin is so pale that she feels almost like she’s made of marzipan. Everything hurts, but only from disuse.
At first, Remus only lets her out of bed when he is there, so he can help her as she stumbles around, leaving enormous bruises on her arms and legs where she runs into tables and chairs, trips over rugs and her own two feet, and falls so jarringly that at first she’s sure she’s pinched a nerve when her toes go numb. Then he lets her walk around in the room when Molly’s in the house to check on her. She can usually only make it to the chair by herself before she falls into it, exhausted, but any movement is good news, so she keeps trying.
Then one day she makes it all the way to the door on shaky, coltish legs before losing her breath, so she clutches the knob in her hand so hard that the cut glass leaves little lines on her palm and swings it open. There is no one in the hall, but the sight of something outside these four walls is so beautiful she wells up in tears. Now she begins to believe what Remus keeps telling her: everything is going to be okay. Everything is going to get better.
It takes her almost another two whole weeks before she can make it to the kitchen, where she spends her mornings talking with Molly about all of the changes in the house. When Molly tells her about Charlie, she remembers the cheerful eleven year old she’d met on her first day at Hogwarts and is confused until her mind calls up the image of Charlie Weasley as she’d last seen him, with long hair spilling over his eyes and his dragon tooth earring shining in his ear. He looks old, she thinks, and wonders if she does, too.
She feels old, like every part of her has outlived its manufacturer’s warranty. It takes nothing to tire her out now, maybe a brisk stagger across the room or a short flight of stairs. She spends most of her time in the little chair that Remus has put next to the window. She watches birds, and once a neighborhood cat gets into the yard but Molly chases it out again with the broom. She feels like Whistler’s Mother.
She feels haunted by a general gloom that seems to rise up out of the floorboards. Outside, the world is beginning to bloom and grow, but here in the dark holds of number twelve, Tonks feels like one of her limbs is missing.
Molly knows she must let go. She has held on too long to the hope that Bill and Fleur are simply on an extended honeymoon. It’s grown childish and self-defeating, her desire to hide from the truth: they’re not coming back. They’re likely dead.
She talks with Arthur, who plans the funeral for early March. The ground might still be a little frozen, but there aren’t any bodies to bury, so Molly figures it’s not such a problem. She doesn’t know what to do to plan a funeral—certainly not the funeral of her oldest son and his wife. They were supposed to grow old together, she thinks, but as the days pass the crying jags grow less frequent and she grows more used to the idea. It’s not pleasant to put to rest her first baby, but there’s nothing she can do about it.
She uses the wedding’s guest list to send the notices.
Luna thinks that this is perhaps the most beautiful funeral she’s been to, aside from Professor Dumbledore’s, of course. The sky is a clear, cloudless blue and the sun shines on the small groups clustered around the graves. There is birdsong nearby and somewhere insects chirp happily at the coming spring.
The caskets themselves are a stunning polished dark wood. Draped over them is an amazing array of roses in every color imaginable. The mourners around the caskets are discreet, with no more gnashing of teeth or wailing than is deemed proper by modern polite society. Luna hopes that her own funeral will be this lovely when she dies.
This is the first time she’s really seen anyone since the wedding and the fire. There are so many people here that she knows, that know what she’s been through. She feels calm, the panicky feeling that has been pervading her life since the attacks on Ottery St. Catchpole dissipating. Even though she hasn’t said anything to anyone and no one has said anything to her, she feels at ease.
The wind lifts her curls on the breeze as she stares out over the cemetery. Fleur’s family has come, of course, and Luna watches as her little sister—Gabrielle, she thinks the girl’s name was—dabs at her eyes with a linen handkerchief. There is a warm hand on her shoulder and she turns around to find Neville standing there. He looks surprised to see that it’s her, but smiles his shy little gap-toothed grin anyway. “Hi, Luna,” he says, and something warms inside her.
“Hi,” she responds. She finds herself walking with him and talking about nothing in particular. When he asks to see her again tomorrow, she smiles for the first time since her father’s death and says yes.
Draco’s fingers are cold, so he buries them beneath Harry’s warm shirt. It makes perfect sense to him, and as he snuggles in to Harry’s chest, he hears a contented sigh above him. “What comes next?” Draco asks, pressing his face against Harry’s chest.
“I don’t know. It’s almost spring, for real this time,” Harry replies, running his fingertips over the ridges of Draco’s spine. “Do you want to stay here?”
“No,” Draco shudders at the thought of staying after everything that has happened. “I don’t want to stay here.”
“Do you want to move in with me? I’m thinking of going to get a flat,” Harry asks, tugging gently on Draco’s shirt. He peels it off before pressing himself into his warmth again, and Harry continues to pet him like a cat.
“Only if your flat lives up to my expectations,” he murmurs muzzily. “I expect to be pampered, Potter.”
“Anything you want,” Harry’s laughter is quiet. “I’ll give you anything you want.”
“Anything? Oh, Potter, you know just how to spoil a boy,” Draco puffs softly in silent chuckles across Harry’s chest. Harry grins down at him, then pulls him up for a kiss. It is soft and sweet and slow, and nothing like any other kisses before this one. The heat builds up between them then, and Draco pushes up against him. This sweetness is a little frightening, so he changes it, nipping at Harry’s bottom lip with his teeth and sliding his cupped hand between Harry’s legs. The hardness he finds there makes his breath come faster, in short little pants, as he traces the seam of Harry’s trousers over the bulge. Someone groans, and Draco doesn’t know who it is. It doesn’t matter, as Harry’s hand is on the button at his waist and then the zipper and then pressing inward.
His pulse pounds heavy against Harry’s hand—he can feel the vein in his cock throbbing as fingers slowly and mercilessly tease him to aching. He can do nothing but gasp and groan and feel, and it is all too soon when he feels his orgasm rushing up on him. He tries to push against it, but Harry grips harder and pulls faster, and Draco is shuddering against him, lips stretching into a cry as his eyes screw up against the feeling. He can feel the muscles in his legs twitching and his toes are curling, and when the sensations wash over him, everything goes white for what seems like hours as Draco pulses, hot, slick, and sticky, all over his pants, shirt, and Harry’s hand. He can feel Harry rutting against his back and his spent cock twitches in interest.
His laugh is breathless as he pulls at Harry’s hair to tug him down for another kiss. “You’re rather good at that,” he says as he rolls over. He is faced with the rumpled front of Harry’s trousers, wrinkled from grinding into Draco’s arse. There is a wet spot on the front, and after a brief moment of hesitation, he reaches up to pop open the button. His own open trousers begin to slide down his legs as he wriggles on his belly to find a comfortable spot. Harry braces himself on his shoulder as he lifts his hips and yanks his pants and trousers down. His cock waves in Draco’s face, and he feels like laughing, but he can’t do anything but grin widely and wrap a hand around the base.
“I’ve had a lot of practice. On myself, of course,” Harry amends, his ears going red. His eyes are riveted to Draco’s face, there between his spread knees, and when he licks his lips, he feels more powerful than he did when he first got his wand.
I did this, Draco thinks, looking up the length of the body splayed before him. The thighs tremble with his breath, the chest jumps spasmodically with little, hitching gasps, the eyes are wide and dilated. This is all because of me, he wonders, and turns his attention back to the task at hand: Harry’s cock. It’s longish, he supposes, but not overlong. It’s thickish, perhaps wide enough to stretch his jaw a little, but not enough to make the task unsightly or make him drool everywhere. It’s purpling at the top, where the blood is pooling, and the entire thing bobs in the open air. He finds himself smiling uncontrollably at the expression of lust on Harry’s face, but he’s never sucked cock before—despite what Weasley might say—so he carefully sticks his tongue out and licks a small test swipe up the underside, along the crown.
Harry’s groan is sweet, so he does it again and again, until the tip of his tongue is dry. Then he wets his lips and stares at the little bead of fluid at the top of Harry’s cock. He’s not really sure he wants that in his mouth, but he can’t keep going without doing it and he really wants to keep going, so after a moment he puts his tongue flat on the purple, oozing head of it and licks across the drop. He registers two things at once: the fluid is bitter and salty, and makes him gag, but Harry’s entire body shakes when he does it. Grimacing against the taste, Draco braces himself on his elbows and pulls the head of it into his mouth.
It’s a bit like sucking on someone’s elbow, he thinks, all fleshy and tasting like skin, and if someone’s elbow dripped messy ejaculate onto his tongue. But no one’s ever let out the unholy groan that Harry does when someone’s sucking on their elbow. He smirks around the flesh and dips his tongue into the little divot on the top. Harry’s fingers scrabble at the sheets beneath him, and when he arches up, hips bucking, Draco thinks he’s going to choke but it’s alright because Harry’s seed is filling his mouth and Harry himself is slumping bonelessly to the bed. His eyes water and he spits the bitter, alkaline substance into the palm on his hand, wiping it on the side of the mattress, then nuzzles into Harry’s stomach. The room reeks of sex and sweat and boys, but he cannot bring himself to care when Harry looks at him with brilliant green eyes and that sexy smile full of promises on his face.
When they kiss, Draco is surprised to find himself turgid against Harry’s thigh, and when Harry moves down his body, kissing a line down his chest, he feels himself swelling again. His fingers dig indentions in Harry’s shoulders as he urges him toward his goal. Harry’s breath is warm against his cock, and the first swipe of tongue makes him jump. Harry barely breathes laughter over him as he is engulfed in warm, wet heat. It’s like nothing he’s ever felt before. Draco throws his head back and makes a keening cry in the back of his throat. He’s glad that Harry wanked him earlier, because he wants to savor every amazing second of this. He’s sure that nothing could ever feel as brilliant as the suction around him until Harry starts to bob his head, and suddenly he’s not so sure that taking the edge off has helped as much as he thought it did. He mewls helplessly, his chest burning for air as Harry does wicked, wicked things with his tongue at the base of his cock. He’s of half a mind to ask Harry where he learned to do this and if he’d mind giving lessons when the all-encompassing white sneaks up on him again.
As he comes down, he registers Harry’s warmth next to him, pressing comfortably against his side. Harry presses kisses against his brow and he lifts his chin, asking silently. Their lips meet in a slide of tongues, and Draco feels himself begin to drift off.
“Move in with me,” Harry says, his fingers carding through Draco’s hair. He suddenly feels closer to this boy with bad eyesight and messy hair than he has ever felt with anyone else in his life. It’s a frightening feeling, like the floor is dropping away and the roof has been ripped away at the same time. There’s nothing to keep him from falling, he thinks, and he clutches at Harry’s shoulder.
“I’m not a good person, Harry,” he says. “I’m bigoted, mean, and when I don’t get my way I act like a prat.”
“Oh, is that what that is?” Harry’s chest shakes with laughter. “I always thought it was because you were a rich, spoiled brat.” The word were is key in the sentence, and instead of feeling hurt or angry, the unnamable emotion swells in his chest.
“I don’t want to move too fast,” Draco tells him, and he knows that this sounds odd with the taste of Harry’s come in his mouth and sweat cooling between their bodies. Harry understands though, somehow, and no more is said as they curl closer together and drift off to sleep.
The wedding comes as a surprise to exactly no one. They’ve all been waiting for it for the past year, but Remus still feels butterflies in his stomach whenever he looks at Tonks and thinks, “That’s my wife.”
It wasn’t an elaborate affair, just a trip to the courthouse and a large dinner made by Molly, but Remus finds himself unimaginably happy to see the simple band on Nymphadora’s finger. He can’t call her Tonks anymore, he supposes, and it feels odd to call her Lupin, so he supposes she’ll have to either let him make up a nickname or settle for Nymphadora. He calls her Nympho once, jokingly, right after the wedding, and she’d pulled him into the bed and not let him up for hours. They’re far more careful now, and Remus is considering a vasectomy. He feels a little bit like the stray that is deciding to neuter himself, but if he doesn’t dwell on it, it doesn’t bother him very much.
He’s a bit sad whenever he thinks about her “illness,” as they’ve taken to calling it. It bothers him more than he lets her know, and more than he thought it would, to think of their child—his pup, the wolf snarls—being flushed down the drain. He tries not to think about it often because it leaves him upset, but when he thinks of Harry, and how James got to have his son, even if he wasn’t there to raise him, something bitter rises to the back of his throat. It feels like acid but tastes like jealousy, and it always makes him feel like a bad person.
I am the last of the marauders, he thinks, looking out the window at Harry, Ron, Hermione and Draco play outside on the back lawn. They are playing some new game that they have made up, a combination of rugby and monkey in the middle. It’s a rough game, and Draco and Ron are using it as an excuse to tough each other up. Hermione scolds them visibly, and Harry laughs, his face so much like James’s in this instance that Remus’s heart hurts.
He remembers being that age, almost as if it were yesterday. He remembers playing Quidditch in the field behind James’s house while Lily played with the rainbows shining from her engagement ring. He remembers lying in bed next to Sirius and listening to him plan their future, and it always involved lots of hot birds with perky tits and living happily ever after. Even Peter brings back fond memories, and when he remembers the time James had sent him to steal one of Lily’s bras to wank over, a laugh burbles up, even after all these years. Lily’d stomped on Peter’s tail, thinking he was a real rat, and when she’d found out she’d slapped James so hard her ring had fallen off. It had taken them almost a week to make up after that, but then the wedding had had to be expedited to prepare for Baby Harry.
But to remember the good times is to remember the bad, as well, and he can’t remember James and Lily’s wedding without remembering that Peter and Sirius had fought over who was going to be the best man. It was Sirius, of course; there was never any doubt that that was how it was going to be. From the beginning everyone had known, but when the Maid of Honor, Miss Janella Waterford, had asked Remus to be her date, it was Peter who was sitting on the floor as the four of them—Remus, Sirius, James and Lily—had chattered enthusiastically at the table reserved for the bridal party. At the time, it hadn’t seemed a big deal to anyone, but the wedge that had slowly fallen between them grew wider that day, and before long, Peter was busy when they were having dinner at the Potters’, and Peter was busy when Sirius and Remus had moved into the flat paid for with Mrs. Black’s gold. Eventually they stopped inviting him, and eventually he stopped coming.
Peter was always too eager, Remus thinks. He’d seemed too willing to stand up for his friends. Too willing to agree. Too willing by far to say, “Oh, of course you’re right. How could I have ever thought differently?” Compared to the rest of them, who fought each other like children to take what they wanted—Remus is distinctly reminded of the time James had punched Sirius for ogling Lily’s bum—Peter is pure and selfless. A saint.
Remus can always look back at it now and connect the clues. He can see perfectly how Peter had worked them, manipulating them expertly into doing exactly what he wanted. But there’s no point to this sort of memory. There’s nothing he can do to fix it, so he chooses to focus on his happy memories of the five of them together. If some of these bring to mind an unsavory thought, he simply remembers that it is the tragedy of what happened that makes him appreciate the happiness all the more.
He isn’t really sure what he wants to do, now that he has the freedom to do it. Severus has been the potions master at Hogwarts for so long that he’s almost forgotten how to do anything else. For the first time in his life, he has no connections to anything, and it feels simultaneously like the freest and the scariest thing he’s ever felt in his life. He has no job, no house, and most of the Wizarding World thinks he’s dead, so his options are rather limited, but the knowledge that he can—for the first time in his life—do what he wants is exhilarating.
Even though he knows that he can do whatever he wants, he faintly registers a desire in the back of his mind to teach again. He tells the voice quite succinctly to kindly shut the hell up, and reminds it that the little snot-nosed balls of pestilence are more often than not more trouble than they are worth. A voice that sounds eerily like Albus laughs softly in his ear and reminds him that he, too, was once one of those selfsame snot-nosed balls of pestilence. He summarily ignores it.
Minerva has already told him that if she is still the Headmistress when the war is over, he is welcome to either of his old positions, but he thinks that perhaps he may not take her up on the offer. At least at first, he concedes. He wants to see what happens first. He’s always had the idea to go into potions production, perhaps with Wolfsbane or other vital potions that want for a steady hand and a talent for stopping death in a bottle.
For now, though, he is mostly stuck at the Order’s headquarters. They are the only people who know that he is not dead, and since Nymphadora’s…problem, she has been put on open-ended leave of absence. It is a polite way of forcing her to retire, since the position is unpaid, and after she manages to crawl out of bed again, she sends the Ministry an owl telling them what they can do with their unpaid leave of absence. He is glad to see this bit of spark in her, this glimmer of the girl she’d been when he’d taught her. She’d been awful at potions—almost as bad as Longbottom, he thinks, or maybe Potter—but she’d had more than enough spirit in her that he’d known she’d get whatever she wanted.
Most people probably wouldn’t believe it, but Severus remembers almost every student he’s ever taught. Some of them he remembers because they were good students—Draco comes to mind, or perhaps that Chang girl who’s boyfriend had died in the Tri-Wizard Championship—and some because their potions are so abominable that he wonders they don’t poison themselves cooking—the Longbottoms and a majority of his Hufflepuff students. Some he remembers because they are know-it-alls, like Granger, and some he remembers because of the havoc they’d caused, like most of the Weasleys he’s ever taught. Some he remembers simply because there is something memorable about them, like Omar Stufflebean’s enormous nose or the way Drusilla Quince would chew on her quills during tests. The only one he remembers for his cheek is the famous Harry Potter, and he supposes that only Potter would have dared be mouthy with him; raised by Muggles but wildly famous, Potter is often a strange juxtaposition between the best and worst of the Wizarding world.
He isn’t sure what he thinks of Potter’s relationship with Draco yet. He knows that Lucius would be furious if he knew, but he also knows that Draco can’t base his decisions on Lucius’s opinion anymore. He seems to have honestly learned his lesson from the first time, and Severus feels jealous of Draco not for the first time. He wishes wholeheartedly that he’d never gotten caught up with the things he’d done when he was younger. Still, he thinks, of all of the ways things could have turned out, this isn’t the most unfortunate outcome. He is finally away from the ranks of the Death Eaters and Draco is safe, so he supposes that things have mostly come out on top.
For the time being, he is content simply to hide himself away at number twelve, waiting for the war to be over. When it is, he will have a few decisions to make, but for now, all he can do is wait.
Charlie is glad he’s managed to get his old job back. The Romanian air is refreshing after being cooped up so long in England. Working with the dragons is the most fulfilling thing he’s ever done, and it’s easy to forget that anything is wrong in the world as he leads them from one place to another, keeping an eye on them to make sure they don’t escape into the countryside. The bright spring sunshine is like an equalizer, bringing his life back into focus with an unerring clarity he’s never had before.
The war is going to begin again, and soon. There’s no denying that fact. Every day the Order sends him new reports of Death Eater circles moving around the world. His work with the dragons is beginning to change slightly, as he trains them to guard buildings and places. He suspects they’re going to be shipping out a batch to replace the Dementors soon, and he only hopes he’s done a good enough job. His work is important in the grand scheme of things, and he never lets himself forget it.
Dad still refuses to talk to him and Mum sends his letters back unopened. It hurts, and he doesn’t wonder anymore why Percy refuses to visit at holidays. He hopes that someday he can repair the burned bridges between himself and his family, but for now the wounds are still too raw and fresh. He hasn’t seen another Weasley since the funeral, when no one talked to him and he pretended not to be bothered. He’d tried desperately to keep his eyes away from her, but in the sun for the first time, she had been so beautiful she’d sparkled. He’d been almost unable to tear his eyes away from her, even after Fred and George had stepped between them, twin looks of disgust on their faces.
He thinks it’ll just take time and that, too, will fade. He remembers the way she’d smiled when the family had gone to Egypt to see Bill, and the way she’d cried when she was seven and Ron had shoved her out of a tree. Charlie thinks about everything he knows about her, and feels lucky that he knows her as well as he does. Not everyone gets the opportunity to know their lover as well as he knows her. Then again, not everyone is sleeping with their baby sister, a voice in the back of his head says, and for once he can’t ignore it. Here in Romania, far away from her smile or the almost shy way she would rub against him, it’s easier to realize that yes, he was shagging his sister. They’d almost destroyed their family with it, but even this knowledge doesn’t make him want her less.
When she shows up one day, her yellow sundress fluttering in the wind and her hair floating around her, he thinks she’s quite possibly the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. Her limbs are long and healthy again after the family has moved back into the Burrow, and she moves like the seventeen year old woman that she has somehow become. Just the flare of her hips, the inverted comma of the hollow of her back, the dip between her collarbones and the sweat gathered on the nape of her neck make him hopelessly hard for her.
She looks so sweetly out of place in this rugged world of men that Charlie can barely believe she’s really here. Her eyes light up when she sees him, and when she rushes over and he wraps her in his arms, it’s like he’s never been gone. She’s not supposed to be here, he knows, but he can’t bring himself to ask her how she got here. He’s bewildered that she’s here at all, and the smell of little white flowers overwhelms him as he clutches her to him.
All in all, she stays a week. That’s all the time she’s allowed, and even though they both want her to stay longer, she can’t. Mum thinks she’s visiting Lavender Brown, and if she isn’t back at the Burrow on time, that’s where they’ll look for her. She cries a little before the portkey activates, and she promises she’ll try to get Mum and Dad to let him come back for Christmas. She tells him she wants to come back next summer, but he knows that in a little over a year and a half, anything can happen. He tells her not to make promises because things might change: she might meet a boy at school, or there may be an accident. He doesn’t want her tied to him because of a promise that she’ll regret later. He presses his lips against her eyelids and lets go of her just before the portkey takes her away.
His little house feels empty without her in it. Everywhere he finds little touches that say, “Ginny was here”—there are flowers on the table, his clothes are neatly folded, and the whole bedroom smells like her. He already misses the comfortable, domestic days when they pretended they weren’t related, pretended that they were just another happy young couple that has moved in together. They shouldn’t get their hopes up; he knows that a relationship like theirs can’t last, but he’d tried not to think of it as they’d christened almost every surface in the house.
A small smile tugs at his lips as he begins to count the days until Christmas.
Hermione is glad as she shoulders her bag that she is going to finally be seeing the last of Grimmauld Place. She is tired of its cold bricks and the dark and draughty hallways. She’s relieved to be putting it behind her, and though she’s been asked to help the Order of the Phoenix with its horcrux hunting, she has already made plans to go home. She wants to take her placement exams, perhaps go to University. She’s thinking of studying abroad, and getting out of Britain for a while. No one can blame her, after all, for wanting to get away from the slowly building war at home.
Her dad is going to be by in a moment to pick her up, and she stands on the curb outside, basking in the warm spring sunlight. Ron is watching her from the window. They’ve been on-again off-again for a year now, but Hermione supposes that this time they are truly off. For good. She’s got her own life to sort out and he his, and between the two of them they can’t seem to settle on a happy medium. That’s life, she thinks flippantly, and she hopes she’ll meet a gorgeous new guy overseas.
She’s already got Harry’s new address, and she’s made Molly promise to owl if anything important happens or if they need anything. Ginny’d tucked a letter under her pillow last night apologizing for her behavior, and though Hermione doubts they’ll ever be close again the way they were in school, at least they’re on speaking terms again, something new that’s changed since Christmas, when Ginny’d called her a hideous beast and stopped talking to her. She still doesn’t know what she did to the other girl to make her dislike her so vehemently, but she supposes that if Ginny’s willing to forgive and move on, so is she.
In the Prophet, the cover story is that of the discovery of Peter Pettigrew’s body last week. He’d been poisoned, the article states, but as he’d been a Death Eater, there is little to no rush to find his killer. She’d smiled at Professor Snape when she read that and he, to her surprise, had smirked back. He’s staying at number twelve, since he really has nowhere else to go. Draco is staying too, but she sees that state of affairs lasting all of a week before he gives in and moves in with Harry.
All around her, everything seems to be coming alive. As the world wakes up from its winter slumber, so do the people in it. There was a Death Eater attack on a small city in Wales two days ago, the first attack since October. She knows she’s got only a small window of time to get out before there’s no way out. Part of her feels like she’s a coward, running away to leave the others to solve everything for her, but more of her realizes that if she stays, her chances of making it aren’t good. The Wizarding world will need her later, when everything is over, to help rebuild. Right now, she’d only get herself killed, and if there’s anything so pointless as wasted life, Hermione Granger has never heard of it.
Her dad’s car pulls up to the curb and her heart flips as she realizes that it is the first time she’s seen him since she’d left for Bill’s wedding almost a year ago. Her mum is in the front seat, and her eyes are wet with joy and a tiny bit of fear. Hermione slides into the back seat and looks out the window as Grimmauld Place fades from view forever, or at least a little while.
Harry is lounging on the futon in the middle of his apartment, Draco’s head on his stomach and his fingers combing through the soft blond hair when the owl arrives. It’s carrying an official-looking letter of heavy parchment, and he only recognizes it as one of the school’s owls when he takes the letter from it and wanders into the kitchenette to fetch it one of Hedwig’s owl treats.
He stares at the letter indecisively for a minute before he decides to open it. The inside is written with the same green ink that he remembers from when he was eleven. Draco’s eyes are on him as he reads it.
“Dear Mr. Potter,” the letter begins.
“In the face of shadows and adversity, often it is the comfortable and familiar that suffers the first penalty, and it is these things—the restoration of them—that bring our confidence. For over one thousand years, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been a shining beacon of hope when all is lost. We have never closed our doors to those needing help, and have always striven to provide shelter, both physically and emotionally, throughout the storm—with one exception.”
“Last year, the security wards at Hogwarts were breached and several students were injured. Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster and a professor that I’m certain has touched thousands of lives, not least yours and my own, was killed during a battle between supporters of He Who Must Not be Named and the staff over ownership of the castle. Hogwarts’ esteemed Professors, with the noted assistance of our young pupils, were victorious, but at heavy cost. We were forced, in the interests of safety and our students’ well-being to close our doors for the first time since our four founders first opened them.”
“As elected Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I would like to invite you to the opening of our doors on Tuesday, September 1st, 1998 at 11 a.m. There will be a brief ceremony and we would like all students of Hogwarts—past, present, and future—to attend. Afterward, there will be a reception in the Great Hall and visitors are invited to wander through the Awards Room to remember their days at school or dream of coming adventures. There will be a reading from Hogwarts: A History, to remind us all of where we have come from, and speeches given by this year’s Head Boy and Head Girl to show us where we are going.”
“It has been a long, cold winter, but Hogwarts’ torches will always be a light to remind Wizardkind of the sun.”
Headmistress, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry”
Harry feels his hands shaking as he finishes the letter, and he closes his eyes. When he opens them, they are blurry with tears. A small slip of parchment falls from the letter, and when he picks it up, he finds it written in the same spiky hand that graded his Transfiguration essays in school. It mentions briefly that all students who missed their NEWTs because the school was closed are invited to sit their exams next spring, with the current seventh year students. He smiles through his tears and brings the letter to Draco, who curls against him to read it. There’s no way to know where he’ll be in a year, but he hopes it’ll be at Hogwarts, taking his tests. After that, no one knows, but he hopes to at least finish things the way they should end.
He takes Draco’s hand in his own and Draco murmurs distractedly against his arm. So many things have changed in the last year that he feels like he’s been spinning on a merry-go-round that is finally beginning to slow. When Dumbledore had died, if someone had told him that a year later he’d be playing house with Draco Malfoy in a flat in the suburbs of London, he would have laughed in their face. He’d been so hurt and angry with everyone that he’d run off, a habit he has to sheepishly admit he’s indulged in too often in the past year.
As he looks at Draco in the fading light of sunset, he still sees Alexandre in there somewhere, but he realizes that he doesn’t need a disguise to forgive someone. He doesn’t need to pretend that Draco didn’t let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts, just as he doesn’t need to pretend that Snape didn’t kill Dumbledore. To hide behind lies and pretend you can’t see them is stupid, and any forgiveness given by someone who blinds themselves like that rings hollow. He knows that Draco still has nightmares about that night in the Headmaster’s office, and he knows that Snape will never forgive himself for what he has done. It’s not his place to make them feel bad for things that they did in the past, because heaping hate on someone can’t fix what’s happened.
He wonders if this is what it feels like to grow up, and some mornings when he looks at himself in the mirror to shave, he sees a grown man looking back at him that he can barely recognize. This man looks happy, and it brings a smile to their faces as Harry thinks that perhaps he may have found that little piece of himself that he’s been looking for. Sure, some things haven’t changed. It’s still not safe for him to leave the flat often, and Draco isn’t allowed to leave at all. He received a death threat yesterday from someone claiming that it was his fault Voldemort was still out in the world killing people. He doesn’t pretend that tomorrow he might not be attacked and killed by Death Eaters because it’s possible. Anything is. There’s a long road ahead of them all, filled with Death Eaters and horcruxes, danger and possible injury or even death, and pretending it isn’t going to happen to him only leaves him unprepared for when it does.
He just feels like he’s coming out of a long, strange winter’s nap, and he feels more refreshed and ready to face whatever happens than he’s ever been before.
An Epilogue, some time later:
Harry and Draco are standing at the foot of the stairs leading into the Great Hall, and Harry is struck by the memory of something similar happening several years ago. Professor Sprout is standing at the top of the stairs, ushering the visitors in. The crowd shuffles restlessly and once again Harry feels overwhelmed by the number of people here. At the front of the crowd, he can see Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini, who’ve been in hiding at Blaise’s Italian summer home. Off to his left somewhere is Susan Bones, who talks loudly about her engagement to Justin Finch-Fletchley over the summer. Behind him, he can hear Rita Skeeter pestering people about their reaction to the death of Voldemort, and he smiles to Draco and squeezes his hand. Draco smiles back and the crowd begins to surge into the Hall.
Harry’d never imagined that he’d be able to see this day, and as he looks up at the teachers’ table from his seat next to Draco, some of the faces are the same, but others are different. Professor Sprout rushes up the stairs to her position at the table, and her yellow hat wobbles precariously on her head when she sits down. Next to her is Professor Sinistra, but to her left is an empty chair to represent Madam Hooch, who’s to be replaced with Charlie next week. Madam Hooch was not, contrary to rumor, killed in a flying attack on a Death Eater party, but Harry has it from a trustworthy source that she will be fully recovered from her fall during the summer staff game of Quidditch soon, and she has taken this opportunity to step down. On the other side of the empty chair is Professor Vector, who is talking to Professors Flitwick and Slughorn. At the other end of the table, Hagrid’s chair is empty, and Harry swallows hard, his grip on Draco’s hand tightening. Next to the empty chair is where the Divination teacher would sit if Firenze were able to sit—instead, the centaur has chosen not to be present today. Instead, Trelawney sits in the chair chatting with a few professors Harry’s never met before. He assumes that they teach Ancient Runes or something, and turns his attention to the center of the table, where Dumbledore would have been.
Instead, Professor McGonagall stands in front of the Headmistress’s chair, resplendent in a new set of tartan dress robes. She has a scarf of shimmery blue fabric around her neck that makes Harry’s throat close around tears that he refuses to let out. Her eyes twinkle in a way that makes Harry smile as she talks to her Deputy Headmaster next to her. On his part, Professor Snape looks sullen at having his vacation at Draco’s home in France ended, but secretly pleased to be back at Hogwarts. Snape’s eyes glitter with what Harry can only imagine is malicious glee as he plans how to best strip Gryffindor of any house points it may earn this year. He almost pities the children, except that he knows it’s a badge of character for a Hogwarts student to be able to say, “I dealt with Professor Snape and lived to tell the tale.”
It has been a year since the final horcrux was destroyed, and almost five since Dumbledore’s death. Harry feels lucky to have escaped by the skin of his teeth, and fortunate that so many of his friends—and people he considers his family—have survived. It still pains him to think about all of the people lost to the war between Cedric, who Harry counts as the first victim, to Theodore Nott, who’d snuck into Azkaban and shot his father with a Muggle pistol then turned it on himself only two months ago. He no longer blames himself for their deaths, but it doesn’t make it hurt less knowing that there was nothing he could do to prevent them. All he can hope is that now, in the strangely calm days after the war, he will be able to heal.
Minerva’s voice suddenly cuts through the crowd’s noise as if they are still schoolchildren, and she smiles as she begins to speak.
“I’d like to thank you all for taking time out of your busy schedules to join us here today as we celebrate the fourth continuous reopening of the school and the end of the first full year since the end of the terrible reign of Voldemort. You will never know what it means to me to see so many of your happy faces here on this joyous day. I am truly grateful to you all for coming here today, to share this special, if bittersweet, day with us here at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Thank you.
“Even now, the dark days that forced this school’s doors to close seem but a distant memory. Many of you here today will always remember that year, when fear almost toppled the Wizarding World. We may have let the world grind to a halt, but we never stopped believing that it would be better one day. Despite terrible attacks on our homes, we continued to fight against tyranny, and oppression, and evil, and it is due to this determination—the determination of each one of you, who refused to let the darkness of those days snuff your bright souls—that brings us here today. It was each of you, who refused to let yourselves be pulled into the dark glory of corruption, and it was each of you, who fought against the claims he staked on your hearts, minds, and bodies. I am so proud of each and every one of you, just for being able to be here today because you persevered.
“I’d like to introduce to you now the Minister of Magic, Mr. Archibald Corbie, here to speak to you today…” Minerva’s voice drifts off as the new Minister stands to speak. Harry’s mind wanders over everything that has happened to him thus far, and everything that may happen in the future. He still has no idea what he wants to do with the rest of his life; for now he’s content to play it by ear and do whatever strikes him at the time. He’s got an interview with the Chudley Cannons tomorrow about the hole left when their Seeker had been killed by a ghastly hanging hex during the now infamous Cannons-Limeys game, when a group of rogue Death Eater supporters had broken into the game and tried to reenact the scene from the 1995 World Cup. The perpetrators were quickly arrested and sent to the new dragon-guarded Azkaban, but all it had taken was a single misfired spell to ruin the Cannons’ winning streak and take them out of the season.
He isn’t even sure he wants the job. He knows that Ron would stare at him in befuddled horror if he ever heard Harry saying that, but all Harry can think is that it would take him away from home a lot, and he and Draco would have to leave the comfortable little flat they’ve shared for four years. He may not be quite sure what he wants to do with himself now that he’s finished the whole “savior of the world” thing is done, but he does know that their little flat is the closest thing to home he’s ever felt. He’s not sure what he’d do if one morning he woke up and he was somewhere else.
It’s hard to believe that he’s been with Draco for more than four years, too. Of all of the outcomes possible, Harry thinks that this is the least likely think to come out of the war. It’s right up there with aliens landing and Snape smiling. Speaking of aliens, he reminds himself, Neville and Luna are expecting them to at least drop by before tea. Luna is pregnant and entirely too round to be heading out to events like these, but Neville likes to keep up with what is going on outside their little home near the remains of Ottery St. Catchpole. They’ve got Harry and Draco reporting on the reopening of Hogwarts’ doors for the new year, Remus and Tonks reporting on the Ministry’s memorial service for Rufus Scrimgeour, who was killed by an assailant brandishing a knife last month, and Ron has gone to the International Floo Center to wait for Hermione, who is coming in from school in India today.
Everyone has changed so much since school that Harry can hardly recognize them, even the ones he’s been around since 1998. For instance, Hermione’s been studying Eastern magic practices, and the last time she came in she was so completely bohemian that Draco’d half-joked about “hippie stink” for a week until she’d submitted to his not so subtle quest to bring her back to what he called her “good English roots.” She’s been seeing someone at school called Hrundi, and he hopes for Ron’s sake that she has not brought him with her.
Ron, on the other hand, has begun work in the Ministry. He’s seeing a young secretary in his office, and she’s got longish blonde hair that’s colored. She has a penchant for wearing short skirts and trying to flirt with him, and Draco’s already threatened her to keep her “grubby paws to herself,” he’d said. Harry can never remember her name—he thinks it’s Carol or Cindy or whatever—and he feels uncomfortable around her, but Ron brings her everywhere, so he finds himself inviting Ron along less and less often.
Luna’s never really got over the burning of Ottery St. Catchpole, but Neville seems to think that living near it’s helping a lot. They’re an odd couple, but they seem happy, and May was their first wedding anniversary. It had been a sad little wedding with only their friends there, but Luna glowed in her gown and Neville’s grin was a mile wide if it was an inch. They’re strangely suited to one another, and their children—twins—are expected any day now.
Remus and Tonks seem to be getting on okay without a million people crowding into number twelve with them. Tonks’s job with Gringotts keeps them comfortably fed and she doesn’t have nearly as many late nights as she did with the Ministry. Remus looks younger now, without the stresses of war pressing down on his shoulders, and he and Tonks have begun cleaning the house from top to bottom. They’re planning to renovate at the end of winter, and Harry can barely wait to see what they do.
His biggest and most pleasant surprise has been Draco. Yes, he still acts like an ass from time to time, but he finds more often than not Draco uses cold words as a defense mechanism. His chances of being called a speccy freak decrease exponentially when he stops talking about Lucius, and now that he doesn’t talk about Death Eaters, Draco almost never hides his glasses from him anymore. Draco’s mean streak is still a mile wide, but he turns it toward other people instead of Harry. Like using it for good instead of evil, he’d commented to Draco once, and found earthworms in his boots the next morning.
Their life is comfortable and surprisingly domestic. Some days they spend tangled in the sheets on Harry’s bed, and others they seem like roommates or good friends who snog a lot. Harry cooks breakfast and lunch, and Draco charms the dishes clean and picks where they’ll have dinner. When they get back from eating, they’ll kiss on the ratty old futon Harry insists on keeping, and some nights they’ll go back to Harry’s room together, but some nights they go to separate rooms. It’s unorthodox, yes, but every now and then Draco just seems to want space, and that’s okay with him. Sometimes he wants that space to be as small as possible and located between their bodies, and that’s okay with him, too. The important thing is that the way things are work for now, and that’s the only way he really wants them to be.
He is broken from his musings by the sound of clapping, and Draco smirks at him knowingly as he looks around the room, realizing that the Minister’s speech is over. He claps distractedly as the people around them rise to a standing ovation. Draco grins mischievously and whispers, “Come on!” before tugging him through the crowd toward the door leading further into the castle. With everyone at the event, there is no one in the hall to watch as Draco leans against the wall, pulling Harry with him and into a kiss.
The kiss is warm and comfortable, and when it’s done, he drops his head to Draco’s jaw and trails kisses down his throat. Draco’s moan vibrates against his ear and he reaches down to cup the erection forming between them. He slides his knee between Draco’s thighs, and when he ruts against Harry’s palm, Harry smirks and presses more firmly.
“Wait,” Draco gasps, he turns them around to press Harry against the wall. He tugs impatiently at the buttons of Harry’s dress robes, leaning in to steal a quick kiss. Finally, he gives up and just hikes Harry’s robes up to his waist, fingers making quick work of the fly of the jeans Harry is wearing underneath them. He pauses, laughing quietly. “Ever heard of formal wear, Potter?” he asks, and Harry drags his fingertips up the front seam of the denim suggestively. He laughs, too, when Draco’s eyes flood with lust.
“If you don’t like what I’m wearing, Draco,” Harry breathes against the shell of Draco’s ear, “why don’t you just take it off me?” A guttural groan escapes Draco’s lips and their mouths meet again in a tangle of tongue and teeth. He thrusts his hand into Harry’s pants, pulling at his cock and thrusting haphazardly against his leg. Little breathy whimpers escape him, but Harry grabs his wrists and carefully pulls his hand out of his pants. His cock follows for as long as Draco can hold it, springing energetically out as Harry pulls his hands up near his face. “I don’t want to come yet,” he explains to Draco’s little moue of disappointment, and he nuzzles his face into the side of Draco’s. “I still want you to fuck me,” he says, and he can feel Draco’s arms stiffen slightly.
Harry pats into the back pocket of his jeans, the real reason he wore them today. The tiny tube of lube is warm form being pressed against his thigh all day, and Draco’s body visibly shudders when he presses it into his hand, letting his arms drop to his sides. Harry yanks his pants and trousers down, and his lifted robe makes him feel a little dirty as Draco opens his own trousers and pulls his pink cock out. He taps Harry on the shoulder so he will get down on his knees, and Harry watches through his knees as Draco prepares himself, slicking a handful of the lube down his shaft. Draco presses into him and it’s uncomfortable as he slides in the first few inches, burning as he pulls out again, but Harry groans when he pushes in again. He feels Draco’s cock pressing against his insides and his hand wrapping around his cock. It only takes a few pumps before Harry is coming, his eyes tightly closed and panting for breath. Draco follows soon after, and they both fall to the floor.
The cold stones press oddly into his chest and his nipples hurt from their icy touch. His back hurts a little from the arched position he’s in—arse stuffed and thrown up in the air, back concave and his head resting on his arms. Draco’s heavy, but he can’t move to throw him off.
“Er, gerroff,” Harry tells him, and Draco lazily pinches his side near his ribs.
“I like it here,” Draco responds, letting his head drop to Harry’s shoulder. He presses affectionate little kisses to the back of his neck, and Harry supposes it might be quite nice if he weren’t on rough stone so chilled that it makes his bollocks want to try to crawl back into his body.
“You’re heavy and there’s come dripping down my leg,” Harry informs him and Draco sighs, rolling off of him to lie on the stones beside him.
“Philistine,” Draco accuses fondly. “Ouch. These stones are pointy. They don’t feel pointy through your shoes, but they’re pointy.”
“My parents were of good British stock, I’ll have you know,” Harry smiles, sweeping a cleaning charm over them, followed by a mild warming charm. Draco puffs contented laughter into his shoulder.
“Gentlemen, if you’re quite done,” a voice interrupts their dozing. “There will be children here shortly. I recommend you hide at least the naughty bits and pretend you weren’t skipping speeches that were being given by appointed Ministry officials to bugger each other in the hallway,” Snape’s voice is the closest Harry’s ever heard it to friendly, and when he cracks open his eyes, the man is upside down, his mouth twitching with repressed laughter.
“Alright,” Harry consents, if only to spare Snape the knowledge that his students probably understand more about sex—even the kind where Draco Malfoy gives it to him hot and dirty in the hallway outside the entrance to the dungeons—than he gives them credit for. Draco pouts at the loss of his pillow, and Harry helps him to his feet.
As they pull their clothing back on and smooth out the wrinkles in what they’re already wearing, Snape continues, “You know, if someone had told me ten years ago that one day I would walk in on Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy having sex in the dungeons, I would have thought they were mad. I only wish you were still my students, so I could take points,” he teases. “In fact, I have half a mind to take points from the next Gryffindor I see, just to punish you.”
“You have half a mind, alright,” Harry replies, laughing. He watches Draco zip his trousers, and even though he can still feel the stretch of his arse from Draco’s cock, he’s half hard again.
“Cheeky,” Snape responds, and Draco laughs, too.
“You only wish you’d skipped the speeches, too,” Draco’s tone is sing-song as he kneels, re-buckling his boots.
“Not if this is the site I’d have had to greet me,” Snape says ruefully, nodding toward the hall, where they can hear students rushing back to their rooms after the long summer months away. “Run while you can. If they catch you here, they’ll make you teach the little bastards.”
He and Draco are halfway to the shifting staircases when the children rush in, swarming around them. They are all hopelessly short, he realizes, and his eyes dart up to Draco’s as he wonders, were we ever this small? A little boy—Harry gauges his age at about seven—trips and falls over the uneven stone floor, and when he hits the ground, he lets out a swear that would make a sailor blush.
“Effing stupid bloody stones,” the boy mutters, and Harry is stunned to see him pick up the books he has dropped—books he distinctly remembers using in the third year.
“I’m getting bloody old, Draco,” he says conversationally as they leave. People stare at them as they swing their joined hands between themselves, and Harry wonders if it’s because they’re Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy or if it’s because Draco looks like Harry has just finished having his wicked, wicked way with him. He decides he doesn’t care about that so much as he does the fact that he is hurtling toward old age at the speed of light.
“No, you’re not,” Draco answers, and Harry turn to him, surprised. He’d expected, “Well, obviously,” or “No shit, Potter,” but Draco’s response is genial and calm, without even the barest hint of the biting sarcasm he’s come to expect when he says something stupid.
“What? How do you figure?”
“Well, you’re younger than me, Potter, so you can’t be getting old. Because I’m not getting old. Well, not old, per se. I’m aging like a fine wine,” he says conspiratorially, and Harry wonders—not for the first time and probably…no, definitely not for the last— whether Draco has lost his mind. “That’s what the gorgeous and the fabulously wealthy do: they mature into full-bodied merlots, or something like that.”
“Yes, I expect so. And since I’ve decided that you’re pretty enough, you can turn into wine with me. Not merlot, though,” Draco muses aloud. “Maybe a Zinfandel or something slightly tawdry like that. Grape juice spiked with Grand Marnier.”
Harry stops in the middle of the school courtyard to look at him, happiness bursting in his chest. His lips twitch and suddenly he’s laughing so hard his ribs hurt from it. Draco looks a little put out and Harry wraps his arm around Draco’s thin shoulders. Draco’s lips purse with thought and they start walking again. “And I was thinking…” his voice trails off.
“No. Well, maybe later, but that’s not what I was thinking about,” Draco brushes a large speck of imaginary dirt off his lapel, and Harry is overcome by the force of emotion he feels for this man in front of him. “I was thinking that I need an office, so I can maybe start looking into schools for Potions Mastery programs, and maybe do my studying there. But we don’t have enough room to build on, and we can’t use my closet, so we’ll just have to use your bedroom, and you can move in with me,” he pauses, thinking for a moment, “Or I can move in with you. Whichever works.”
Harry laughs and kisses him.