Tissue of Silver
by Fearless Diva

"As it
Were tissue of silver
I'll wear, O fate, thy grey,
And go mistily radiant, clad
Like the moon."
-- "Fate Defied" by Adelaide Crapsey

Malfoy Manor
8 March, 2000, 8:30 a.m.

Dear Sev:

Last night's dream predicted that I will receive a visit from Harry Potter this morning. He'll be wearing a truly atrocious yellow shirt and he'll be no less irritating than he was the last time I saw him. I don't suppose if I owled him and begged him to wear something else that he would. I shall be forced to suffer in silence and wear my sunglasses to cut down the glare.

As far as what Potter wants, evidently the Ministry is concerned that someone is trying to kill me. Insert pithy comment of your choice here regarding just how long that list might be. That they're sending their Super Auror out to the Manor instead of the standard-issue variety would suggest they know something I don't. Yet. It would be very nice if these fucking visions would provide some useful information but so far all I've been getting is the Autumn collection of women's robes and Harry Potter in an awful yellow shirt. It's charmingly ironic, isn't it, that there's no predicting what the dreams will predict. I wish now I'd paid more attention to your lessons on patience. I can hear you laughing and I want you to know that I don't begrudge you your sad little amusements in your dotage.

Tomorrow's another day of testimony, so once I've escaped from Potter I'll spend the afternoon with the prosecutors going over the case. It's another open and shut, though - Bagman. They might as well pack him off to Azkaban right now and save us all the trouble, but I suppose the formalities must be observed. Worse will be Goyle on Monday. I keep telling myself that with everything else I've managed to survive, a little thing like condemning one's formerly best friend to an existence as a soulless zombie is only a minor annoyance. And yet, strangely, I still don't feel any better about it.

Perhaps tonight I'll dream something useful and Potter can go find someone else to bother. You'll be the first to know, of course, in either case.

Despite your reservations, I have not abandoned the idea of switching the Manor's wards from Dark magic to Light. Dumbledore certainly believed it was possible without reducing efficiency, and the copious notes he left for me should help. But I do agree that the current wards are far too ancient, imbedded and complex for me to dismantle without assistance. If you would be willing to provide some recommendations for an expert Dark Wards consultant, I would greatly appreciate it. Surely it's better for me to go into the project with the input of someone who knows what they're doing, and I'm determined to move forward no matter what. If bribery is in order, name your price. I await your scathing reply.

In closing, obligatory answers to annoying nagging questions: Yes, I'm eating enough. Yes, I'm resting as much as I can. No, I'm not drinking too much. Yes, I finished chapter fourteen of Carmichael's Potions and Their Counteragents but No, you cannot have it back. I think I'm making progress on the (Near) Universal Poison Antidote and I need the book to double check my measurements. I promise to keep the doors locked and the wards up and take all reasonable precautions, etc. etc. etc. Don't worry about me, Sev. You know as well as I do that it won't do any good.

Draco Jacques

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
8 March, 2000, 4:30 p.m.

Dear Obnoxious Brat-

Suffering in silence isn't your style, as evidenced by our voluminous correspondence. As for worrying, I only worry that I shall be forced to nurse you back to health yet again after you make yourself ill with your stubbornness. I imagine I shall only stop worrying when one of us is dead. I would prefer to put off that eventuality on both sides for as long as possible.

I assume you saw Potter this morning as predicted, and hopefully both of you escaped the encounter intact. He is an insufferable prat, but he does have a good head for Defence. Between the two of you I hope you'll manage to keep breath in that skinny body of yours for a while longer. In addition, I've been putting up with him for years; it's only fair that you should take your turn. Don't feel you have to be polite to him, though. I never bother.

Regarding the wards, I respond as you anticipate. You are a damned fool. The notion of dismantling everything Dark at the Manor and replacing it with Light equivalents is very romantic but Dark magic is at the very heart of the Manor house itself. Despite Dumbledore's hopes, I don't see how you can touch the Dark magic without bringing the rafters crashing down around your ears. However, you are right that your attempting this unassisted would be suicide and I know to my cost just how stubborn you are when you become enamoured of an idea. I will endeavour to find you some assistance. My only price is that you promise to listen to the consultant you hire. Perhaps he or she can dissuade you where I can't, or at the very least keep you from blowing yourself up. I'll dig up a name or two for you and send them along tomorrow by owl.

Speaking of doing yourself foolish harm, the fact that the prophetic dreams are so trivial of late indicates that you've been using absinthe to force them. This and the wards and you wonder why I worry! The cycle of absinthe to bring the dreams and then whisky to forget about them is causing you harm, Draco. I know you think you won't live long enough for it to matter, but you can't know that for sure. We've had this argument a hundred times before, and I'll not rehash it again. Perhaps it doesn't occur to you that there are people who care about you beyond your uses to the Ministry and the prophecies, and that you're harming them when you harm yourself. Surely if it did you would take better care of yourself.

Do you realize that you are just as insufferable as Potter himself? You are a stubborn, insubordinate, reckless, annoying little git. That I am forced to deal with the two of you at once is proof positive that I was some sort of genocidal maniac in a former life. Or perhaps a lawyer.


Draco Malfoy opened the door before Harry had a chance to knock. So Harry was standing there with his hand in the air like an idiot, and it was the first he'd seen Malfoy in a year and a half, and Malfoy looked especially pale and drawn, with dark purple circles under tired grey eyes like he'd been torturing himself for fun at night instead of sleeping. He wasn't wearing any shoes, which, despite the neat condition of his black day robes, made him look oddly dishevelled. Naturally the first thing out of Harry's mouth was, "Malfoy. You look like shit."

"And that's the ugliest shirt I've ever seen. Do come in and have some coffee, Potter."

Harry glanced down at the shirt under his Auror's robes in puzzlement. The salesgirl had sworn yellow was the new black. But Malfoy didn't linger to offer fashion tips and Harry followed him inside Malfoy Manor, wondering if this meeting was going to go as badly as he feared.

The last time he'd seen Malfoy, it had been six months after the Final Assault; they were both still recovering from war wounds and grieving their dead. They'd run into each other in a Ministry corridor, and Harry had taken the opportunity to tell Malfoy he hoped to see him at the award ceremony for the Order of Merlin a few weeks later. Malfoy sneered that he didn't think it terribly appropriate to accept a medal for killing one's parents and then stalked off. Harry still wasn't sure which of them exactly Malfoy had been insulting.

That conversation had been much on Harry's mind when he accepted this assignment. He knew it was going to be a challenge, but Harry told himself that he thrived on challenges. The fact that none of the other Aurors wanted anything to do with Malfoy and Arthur Weasley had begged him to step in as a personal favour was beside the point. He was a professional. No problem too big, no assignment too small. He would step in and save the day, just like he always did. But when he woke that morning, he'd found himself more intimidated by the prospect of coming to Malfoy Manor and facing its master than he'd expected.

Glancing around the entry hall, Harry was surprised by how beautiful it was, all light and air with a cathedral ceiling painted with clouds and rococo designs. He'd been in the Manor only once before and the impression he'd taken away had been one of oppressive gloom and foreboding, though charging into a place under heavy fire during a final battle to defeat a Dark Lord does tend to colour one's memories. "Has it always looked like this," he asked Malfoy, "or did you change it?"

Malfoy turned and raised a perfectly-arched eyebrow. "I've redecorated, but the structure is mostly the same. Not as gothic as you remembered, hmm?"

"Yeah. Lots of light."

He gave Harry an ironic smile, but his eyes stayed glacier-cold. "To say I have a love-hate relationship with the old pile wouldn't be an overstatement," he said, and led Harry into the first floor parlour.

A small table was set up next to a large picture window overlooking the gardens. It was set to overflowing with a tea pot, coffee carafe, a variety of bread in a basket, cheese, fruit of all sorts, preserves, and a plate of bacon. A low arrangement of roses sat in the middle of the table. The whole set-up positively reeked of class and sophistication. Suddenly Harry wished he'd chosen a more subdued shirt that morning.

"Are you expecting company?" he asked politely.

"You're here, aren't you? And the house elves have decided I don't eat enough so they always set out enough food for an army. Help yourself."

Well, this isn't so bad, Harry thought. We've only insulted each other once and Malfoy is being almost pleasant. Plus, food! He sighed happily to himself and began piling a plate while Malfoy poured tea for himself and coffee for Harry.

Harry had already taken a sip of his coffee before he realized that Malfoy had added exactly the right amount of sugar and cream. He looked up at him with surprise. "How did you - did you have a vision about this?"

"Professor Snape told you, then. About the dreams." Malfoy draped himself casually into a chair and sipped his tea, black robes flowing around him as decorously as if they'd been arranged.

"I had no idea they were so accurate, though. So detailed."

Malfoy laughed. "In the dream, I didn't have any coffee made since I don't generally drink it, and you and I got into a screaming row within ten minutes of your arrival."

"So the dreams aren't always true?"

"They're indications of direction. If I hadn't known you were coming, what happened in the dream would have happened this morning. Since the dream warned me, I was able to have the coffee made in advance. Whether we'll be able to avoid the screaming row in the end remains to be seen. Our track record doesn't inspire confidence, though, does it?"

Harry smiled and took another drink of coffee. "No, I suppose not. The coffee is lovely, though. Thanks."

Malfoy's face softened just a bit and Harry was struck by how suddenly young he looked. "You're welcome."

"So, I guess you already know why I'm here, then," Harry said.

"I gather the Ministry wants to smother the Manor in extra security." The tone of his voice left no doubt as to his distaste for the idea.

"Someone is trying to kill you, Malfoy. The Ministry is right to be concerned."

"The Ministry would be quite happy if I went and got myself splinched, just so long as they got their testimony first. I'm a tool and my well-being is completely beside the point."

"To them, maybe, but your well-being should be very much to the point to you."

Malfoy gave a bitter laugh. "Evidently you didn't get the memo about my recent conversion to the joys of painful martyrdom. If things had gone the way I'd planned, I would be far too dead already to be of any use to anyone."

"So you're just going to sit back while someone finishes the job your father started, then?"

Silence. Malfoy's teacup rattled as he replaced it just a little too carelessly in the saucer. "My father is not a topic open to discussion." The flat menace in Malfoy's tone left no room for negotiation, and Harry could see that screaming match looming on the horizon. He switched tactics.

"I'm sorry. I only meant that I always thought of you as a survivor, someone who didn't give up easily, and now you just seem resigned."

"I didn't realize that they taught counselling alongside combat in Auror training."

Harry scrubbed a hand through his thick mop of hair. He'd known that Malfoy had become intensely private since the War and that trying to install a company of Aurors in his house was likely to take some convincing but Harry really had thought himself equal to the task. He'd even bet Seamus Finnigan twenty-five Galleons that he would manage it. But Malfoy was even more stubborn than he remembered, and much less concerned about his own welfare than Harry anticipated. Harry was beginning to feel rather annoyed. "You're making this really difficult, Malfoy."

"My apologies," he drawled and picked up his teacup again. "Obviously someone neglected to inform me that my sole purpose is to make life easy for the Ministry."

"I'm not the fucking Ministry!" Harry's voice was louder than he intended, and he winced. Malfoy raised an eyebrow at him. He took a deep breath. "Look, I know we weren't friends in school but there's been enough death already. Let me help you."

Malfoy took a casual sip from his cup, but there was something in his eyes that made Harry's blood run cold. Like the weight of a sum of years that Malfoy had yet to live through.

"Even you can't save everyone, Potter," he said lightly. "Some things are beyond controlling."

"Let me try."

Malfoy sighed and set his teacup down again, this time without a sound. "What does the Ministry propose to do?"

"I want to install a permanent guard of hand-picked Aurors in the Manor, just until the situation is resolved."

"My list of enemies is long, Potter. There may be more than one situation."

"Did you, um. Is that just supposition on your part, or . . . "

"Vision is not a dirty word, you know. But it's only an educated guess. More a possibility, really."

"I see."

"Well, the problem is that I don't. Seers don't normally See anything having to do with their own lives. Apparently I am the exception that proves the rule but the subjects of those visions are often very trivial. If I do See something I'll let you know but it's likely you're going to have to figure this out on your own without any extrasensory assistance."

Harry nodded. He was used to relying on himself and he found the visions slightly creepy anyway. "Okay, fine. What can you tell me about this long list of suspects?"

"What can you tell me about how many Aurors you're proposing to install in my home?" Malfoy countered.

Harry didn't think Malfoy was going to like the answer to that question, and he considered stalling but he didn't think he would be able to pull it off. And he'd have to tell him eventually anyway. "Six on duty at all times. And myself."

"Merlin! Why don't you just bring in the Chudley Cannons while you're at it? Six people!"

"It's not like you don't have the space. And it's seven."

"Space isn't the issue. And what do you mean it's seven?"

"Six other Aurors and myself equals seven people. Basic arithmetic, Malfoy."

"You're going to be staying here, too? I thought you'd just be around during the day, supervising and making a general nuisance of yourself."

"In this case I'll be needing to make a nuisance of myself around the clock. If you could find a free room for me somewhere fairly close to your bedroom, that would be ideal."

A slow, insolent smile spread across Malfoy's face and he leaned back in his chair. "Harry, if you wanted a date all you had to do was ask."

Harry could feel his cheeks burning. "In case of trouble, you twit. I'm not, um, you know, I don't - "

"If I had a Galleon for every man I've had who didn't um you know, I'd be twice as rich as I am."

His blush approaching nuclear levels of brilliance, Harry tried to get the discussion back on track. "This is serious, Malfoy. The Ministry's informant says there's a spy in your household. You're most vulnerable when you're sleeping, and I'm the commanding member of the team. I need to be here."

"A spy in my household? Perhaps it's escaped your notice, but I don't have a household. I fired all the servants when the house passed to me because I couldn't be absolutely certain of their loyalty. I fired all the guards and imported a staff of eight from London. I've checked them all out thoroughly and they stay at the front gates and don't come near the Manor itself. The house elves are all that's left, because they'd give themselves a stroke before they would betray the master of the house. That's it. That's not a household, Potter. That's barely even a skeleton crew. The Ministry's informant is off his nut."

"Better safe than sorry."

Malfoy shook his head sadly. "And to think you represent the pinnacle of the wizarding world's educational system."

And with that last barb, Harry's slowly unravelling grip on his temper gave way. "Look here, you snotty little creep. I'm expected to take care of this situation and that means you come out of it alive. I've lost parents and friends and someone closer than a brother and I will not let some wanker just walk up to you and kill you without a fight. If you cooperate, my people and I will try to stay out of your way as much as we can. If not, I can find a new way to make myself annoying for every day of the week, with extra servings on Sundays. It's your call."

Malfoy looked thoughtful, as though Harry had just delivered a well-reasoned treatise on new uses for gillyweed instead of an angry tirade. "This means a lot to you, doesn't it?"

Harry hadn't thought of it that way, but he was surprised to find that it did. Not just because it was part of his job, but because a world without an infuriating, enigmatic, arrogant Draco Malfoy in it seemed somehow uncomfortably small. "Yes, it does."

Malfoy nodded. "All right then. I'll have the house elves clear out quarters in the North Wing for your people as soon as you give me the names. I'll even let them use the pool, but tell them no swimming before 8 a.m. I don't want them interfering with my morning laps. You can stay in the guest room across the hall from my bedroom. Let me know what else you need and I'll see it's taken care of."

"Thank you."

"So, I suppose you'll be wanting that list of suspects, then." Malfoy walked over to a small escritoire and sat down. He pulled a roll of parchment out of a drawer, took up a quill and began to write. And write. And write. The parchment unrolled and began pooling in his lap and he continued to write. He wrote names down for ten minutes or so, came to the end of the parchment, turned it over, and began writing down the back. After another five minutes or so, he stopped and blew on the ink. "It's got a bit smeared, I'm afraid," he said.

"Did you prioritise those in some way, or are we supposed to just start from the top?" Harry asked.

Malfoy turned the parchment back over and began working his way down the list, making a tick every so often. When he was done he handed it to Harry. "Here's the top twenty or so. Mortimer Higgs has the liquid funds, the underworld connections and the motive to hire someone to do it - he's probably first on my list."

Harry grimaced. "And good luck finding him. We've been trying for years, since before the War, for more than just the Death Eater business. He's like the Don Corleone of the wizarding world."

Malfoy looked puzzled. "Who?"

"Never mind. So is there a motive beyond the standard Death Eater bitterness there?"

"He and Riddle had set up a scheme to manufacture drugs which could be sold on the Muggle black market. The Death Eaters were in charge of production and Higgs was in charge of distribution. It was supposed to bring money into the war coffers for Riddle and line Higgs' pockets quite handsomely for his trouble. But I blew up the labs before they could make any money. Twice. They didn't know it was me at the time, of course. But in retrospect it's probably fairly obvious."

"Ah. Who else?"

"Anyone with family connections to the Mulcibers, the Goyles, the Crabbes, and the Macnairs. I was involved in the Death Eater executions of both the Mulciber sons and that's come out during various trials. I was the key witness in the Crabbe Jr. and Sr. trials and all three of the Macnair trials. I'll be the star witness for the Goyle case coming up. So there's a motive for revenge on all those fronts."

"Okay, that's good. Go on."

"That leaves basically any person with connections to any of the other hundreds of Death Eater trials for which I've testified. Not to mention someone on our side," Malfoy's tone of voice made it clear that he wasn't sure it was his side at all, "who might have had a loved one killed by Death Eaters and be brassed off at me for it, or anyone whose loved one I personally killed during my days as a Death Eater. I wrote down the names of everyone who came to mind. I can send you some more names later, if you'd like."

Harry scanned down the list. "Hey! My name's on here!"

Malfoy shrugged. "You never know."

Harry gave him a cross look and took the quill out of his hand. "As head of this investigation, I personally vouch for my own innocence." Harry crossed his name off the list. "I'll start my team running down these leads. In the meantime, if you think of anyone else, anyone at all but particularly someone with a strong motive, send me an owl."

Malfoy sighed and went back to the breakfast table for his tea. "Fine. I'm sure you and your people will do an excellent job, Potter. Just don't feel too badly if it doesn't make much difference in the end."

Malfoy Manor
10 March, 2000, 8:15 a.m.

Dear Sev -

I'm sure it will amuse you to no end to learn that Potter's six Aurors have grown like Hydra's heads into almost thirty. Turns out that Aurors take eight-hour shifts, so having six on duty around the clock requires a small army. Potter assures me, though, that the relief shifts are assigned only part-time to the Manor and won't be needing accommodation. You can imagine the comfort this brings me. The Manor is once more host to an invading force, and it's a good thing I've sent the ancestral portraits to the Magical Portrait Gallery or I'd never hear the end of it.

Nothing of importance to relate from last night, just another tiresome version of my untimely end. One of my least favourites - poison can be rather an unpleasant way to die. It does beat repeated and prolonged applications of Cruciatus, however - every cloud having its silver lining.

Every one of these dreams feels so real. I wake each time with the absolute certainty in my gut that I've seen the truth of how the future will come to pass, just as I do the other true visions. The way all these myriad final scenarios contradict each other is maddening, and it's frustrating to have no historical precedent for guidance. As befits the standing of a Malfoy, I am unprecedented. Like everything else connected to my Name it's most irritating. Ah, well. What you cannot change, ignore, is my motto. I'm raising denial to the level of high art.

One of the things I'm most denying at the moment is Monday's testimony against Greg. Counsel for the Defence always rakes me over the coals and that has ceased to hold any terror for me, but to have to look into Greg's eyes as I condemn him . . . It's difficult, Sev. Surely if the dreams are punishment for anything, it is for this. And all my crimes previous, of course. Now that I think of it, perhaps I have no cause to complain of the dreams at all. I resolve from now on to endure them manfully, in stoic silence.

In the meantime, my study for my belated N.E.W.T.s helps to keep my mind off things. I take a small, petty pleasure in knowing that my seven exams will exceed Granger's six. I'm focusing most on Arithmancy, Muggle Studies, and History of Magic, none of which were touched upon by my "education" after I left Hogwarts. I don't anticipate any trouble with Potions, Defence Against the Dark Arts, or Divination. Transfiguration is a toss up. If they ask me to transfigure something innocuous into something nasty I should have no problem, but I never did very well on MacGonagall's fluffy-bunny transfigurations. Against my natural inclinations, I suppose.

I'd like to think that Dumbledore would be pleased I'm going through with my exams. He spent so much time trying to coax me to envision a future after the War, though I don't know if he ever really believed any more than I did that I would have one.

I do apologise for my maudlin temper this morning, Sev. The galumphing of Aurors' boots up and down the Manor's staircases has given me a headache. I hope you're having a more pleasant day than I.

Your Draco Jacques

P.S. Per your suggestion, I've had Potter's team run an analysis on the wards expert and there don't seem to be any problems. She's meeting me tomorrow for a preliminary consultation. Thanks for your help on this, despite your concerns. I'll keep you updated.

P.P.S. I believe I've made a breakthrough in the (N.)U.P.A. and I'll leave it at that for now to tease you. Feel free to beg me to enlighten you, oh Potions Genius. Or, if you are still unhealthily attached to your dignity, I'll give you a full report once my confirming experiments are concluded.

P.P.P.S. Has Potter been working out? He's filling out his horrific wardrobe rather nicely these days. Too bad about the personality, eh? And that absurd business about being straight. As Pansy used to say, whatever.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
10 March, 2000, Midnight

Dear Appalling Nuisance-

I'm sure being overrun with Aurors is quite distressing, but console yourself with the thought of how much Lucius would loathe having them crawling all over the Manor like ants. Considering your impetuousness and the number of your enemies, a dozen dozen more might be a good idea.

As for Potter, if you decide to make a pass at him, please alert me beforehand so I can Apparate to the Manor and witness the look on his face first hand. I think even your famous charms are lost on that one. Given the circumstances, though, I suppose you must amuse yourself as best you can.

It's an excessively cruel joke of Fate's that the wretched dreams of your death didn't stop after they were nearly fulfilled at the end of the War. But we are all of us Fate's playthings; if I've learned no other lessons in my life, I have learned this.

Which brings me to the burden of your testimony. Testifying during the first go-round of this mess was one of the most wrenching things I've ever done in my life, far more difficult than pointing a wand at an innocent and making a clean kill. Greg was your friend and he trusted you, at least as far as Death Eaters ever trust one another. But he made the wrong choices, no matter why he did it. In fact, if anyone is at fault here besides Gregory himself, it might well be me for failing to guide him in the right direction, though Merlin knows I tried my best.

I tell you in all seriousness that you have done the right thing, Draco. Don't ever doubt it. You couldn't have done any more for Greg without putting the whole operation at unacceptable risk. Gregory Goyle's life is a fair trade for the lives of millions and the freedom of all, though that you must make this transaction is another of Fate's cruelties. It will be hard on Monday, but the trials will be over before too much longer and you will finally be released from the duties thrust upon you at much too early an age. And though I never say it to your face, I am proud of you. You've done far more than any of us had any right to expect.

And there. You've made me maudlin, too, you sorry excuse for a correspondent. I take back anything nice I ever said about you.

It's good you have your studies to occupy your mind. Your Potions N.E.W.T. should indeed pose no problem to you - you've been doing Master-level work with me for the last year and if you can't pass a pathetic N.E.W.T. exam I shall be most embarrassed for both of us. It's rather too bad that it's Defence Against the Dark Arts you're being tested over, rather than simply The Dark Arts. Even so, you should be able to administer the exam yourself on this subject as well. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing when I saw you'd also added Divination to your slate of exams. Take care you don't provide a true vision or they'll flunk you. On second thought, give Trelawney one of those blasted dreams of your own death - she'll eat that up with a spoon.

Well, I must sign off and head toward bed. I've got miles of essays to grade tomorrow. For Merlin's sake, I know you're under stress but try to avoid the temptation of beginning a campaign of sexual conquest through the ranks of the Aurors stationed at the Manor. They don't need the distraction. And you can find your distraction elsewhere.


P.S. You're welcome, brat.

P.P.S. My attachment to my dignity remains intact. I'll expect the full report once you've proven that this is more than another of your hare-brained attempts at showing up your old Professor's oft-demonstrated brilliance.

P.P.P.S. I am entirely ignorant of Potter's personal routine and I hope to remain so.

Ministry of Magic
Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Research Division

Date of Report: 11 April, 2000
Agent: David H. Malloy

Background Information on Catherine Tayce, Ph.D.

Date of Birth
11 August, 1973

Place of Birth
Hartford, Connecticut, United States of America

Susanna Tayce, nee Gordon. Certified Potions Master. Born 1946, died 1973, of complications during childbirth. No known siblings.

Charles Linford Tayce, Ph.D. Professor of Non-Human Languages at new York Occult College. Born 1940. No known siblings.

Maternal Grandparents
No information available. Susanna Tayce's background could not be traced. Interviews indicated her maiden name was Gordon and that she was English, but it appears that her birth records were destroyed during the Great Ministry Fire of 1980. Interview subjects say that Mr. and Mrs. Tayce met during their studies at The Princeton School for Magic and that she had resided in the U.S. since at least 1962. No Muggle immigration papers exist, but this is not uncommon for witches of her generation.

Paternal Grandparents
Aida Jameson Tayce, nee Linford. Wife, mother and philanthropist. President of the Board of Directors of The Linford Trust, which provides grants for anti-Dark Arts research. Born 1899. One sister, Carmen Jameson Linford.

Charles Rainier Tayce. President of the Jameson Company, retired. The Jameson Company is primarily known for manufacturing electrical conversion devices which allow Muggle electrical technology to be powered by magic. Born 1883. Three sisters: Anne Tayce-Bishop; Eva Tayce; and Helena Randal, nee Tayce. Two brothers: Geoffrey and James.


Romantic Relationship(s)
Since 1996, Dr. Tayce has been linked to Jerome Stanley Howard, Ph.D., but the relationship is described as "off again, on again." Dr. Howard is a fellow researcher at the Institute for Dark Arts Defence and specializes in spells used for personal combat. Dr. Tayce dated infrequently while pursuing her studies, and in general seems more focused on her work than her personal life.

Closest Friends
In addition to Dr. Howard, Dr. Tayce has a close friendship with Leola Barkham, Ph.D., a professor of Transfiguration at the University of Occult Arts in Redlands, California. They met during their graduate studies at Salem University and have continued their friendship since that time. Dr. Tayce is also said to be friendly with another colleague at I.D.A.D., Jayne Whittier, Ph.D., Director of Potions Research. Dr. Whittier is fifteen years older than Dr. Tayce, but they are said to have lunch together frequently.

Graduated from Salem Witches' Institute in 1988. Bachelor of Arts degree from New York Occult College in 1991. Master of Arts degree from Southern California University of Magical Arts in 1993 (specialization: magical barriers). Doctor of Philosophy degree from Salem University in 1996 (specialization: magical barriers and the Dark Arts).

Employment History
Immediately upon receiving her doctorate, Dr. Tayce accepted a position with the Institute for Dark Arts Defence, a prestigious institution of higher magical learning located in New York City, New York, where she is currently employed. Her teaching load is negligible; most of her time is spent on research. In 1997, she began doing private consultations in addition to her own research. Her most recent tax return indicates earnings of approximately 450,000 in U.S. Dollars last year (about 33,000 Galleons), mostly due to her consulting work.

Graduated from high school at the age of 16 and earned her doctorate by age 23. Awarded Order of Merlin, Third Class, for her assistance to the Order of the Phoenix during the Second Voldemort War. Nominated for the Tesla Prize in 1999 for her work on the foundations of Dark Magical Barriers. Brought in more than 20 Million Dollars in research grants and contracts to the Institute for Dark Arts Defence since her appointment in 1996.

Police Record

Political Viewpoint
Dr. Tayce is left-leaning, advocating a slow, careful integration of Muggle and Wizarding societies. She has an interest in social justice and supports the greater expansion of Magical government to provide a social safety net for the indigent. She belongs to the Wizarding Civil Liberties Society and has been known to make donations to both The Linford Trust (her grandmother's organization) and Foundation for Justice, an organization dedicated to greater fairness in U.S. Wizarding law.

Dr. Tayce's busy schedule leaves her with very little free time, and most interviewees stated that she works "constantly." She plays racquetball two mornings a week at a local fitness club in New York City, and is said to enjoy reading novels when she can find the time.

Although the lack of available background on Dr. Tayce's mother is a troublesome gap, given the prominent position of the Linford and Tayce families and their well-known activism against the Dark Arts, it's difficult to imagine that they would have welcomed anyone with unsavoury connections into the family. Interviewees say that Susanna Tayce was beloved by her in-laws and that her early death due to complications during the birth of her first child was treated as a real tragedy by the Linford and Jameson families. Surely if Susanna Tayce had Dark family connections or loyalties, at the very least her husband's very prominent family would have disapproved of her.

All available data indicates that Susanna Tayce moved to the U.S. in the early sixties, long before the resurgence of Death Eaters prior to the First Voldemort War. None of the data suggests that she was anything other than a very intelligent, well-respected and sadly unlucky young woman.

Dr. Tayce's paternal family are all high respected members of the Eastern Wizarding community, with a history of activism against the Dark Arts and philanthropy toward the disenfranchised. She was admitted into the Order of the Phoenix upon examination by Fawkes himself. Her record of service in the Second Voldemort War and her continuing work fighting Dark Magic are considered exemplary.

I could find no evidence to suggest that Dr. Tayce would have any reason to bear a personal grudge against Draco Malfoy. In light of the data gathered, I believe that if she accepts the position she will perform to the best of her abilities and will not pose a threat to the safety of Mr. Malfoy.

On the morning of Gregory Goyle's trial, Harry sat next to Malfoy on the hard wooden bench outside the courtroom and wondered what Malfoy was thinking. Malfoy had been staring straight ahead for at least half an hour, blinking only occasionally and moving only to lift a styrofoam cup of conjured tea to his lips every so often and then grimace at the taste. Was he torturing himself with reminiscences of childhood friendship? Or perhaps he was recalling nightmarish visions of Goyle's Death Eater crimes? Or imagining himself on some sunny island, far away from trials and death threats and poorly-conjured tea? Or he could be just wondering if the house elves remembered to put his favourite set of sheets on when they made up the bed that morning. Harry was sure that Malfoy had very decadent sheets. Satin or silk, in black or red, or maybe Slytherin green. Maybe Malfoy's whole bedroom was done in green and silver, with carved serpents on the bedposts that hissed the Slytherin House Song in four-part harmony.

Malfoy glanced over at him and Harry was embarrassed to realize he'd been staring.

“What?” Malfoy asked.

“Nothing.” Harry shrugged.

Malfoy rolled his eyes and went back to examining the hallway paint job. Harry sighed. This was Auror's work for you, wild swings between stultifying boredom and sheer terror. It had only been two days and already he was wishing that the attack would come so he'd have something interesting to do.

"Mr. Potter," the staircase sentry's voice sounded in his ear, and Harry leapt up from his seat, wand in hand. "There's a Catherine Tayce here who claims she's got an appointment to see Mr. Malfoy this morning."

Harry relaxed, but remained standing. "Thanks, Janice. We're expecting her; send her on up. And it's just Potter, or Harry, no mister necessary."

"Yes, Mr. Potter. Ms. Tayce, excuse me, Dr. Tayce, coming up, sir."

Harry sighed. He didn't stand on a lot of ceremony with his teams. They had to trust each other with their lives, and formalities just got in the way of that. But there were always a few who couldn't get over their awe of the Boy Who Lived claptrap. More than a few, if he wanted to be honest with himself. He kept trying with Janice. She might get over it eventually; sometimes they did.

"The wards expert is on her way up," Harry said to Malfoy.

Malfoy sat up a little straighter. "Thank all the gods. The only thing worse than sitting here alone waiting for them to call me is sitting here with you staring at me."

Harry opened his mouth to defend himself somehow, though he wasn't sure how, but Dr. Tayce was coming down the hallway before he had a chance. Catherine Tayce, Ph.D. and American, was considered one of the world's foremost authorities on magical barriers, particularly of the Dark variety. He'd met her briefly during the War, when she'd been a consultant for the Order of the Phoenix on their efforts to bring the Manor's wards down from the outside. She'd been awarded the Order of Merlin third class after Voldemort's defeat for her work, but Harry still had one of his team check her out thoroughly. As he expected, her record was spotless and her reputation even more impressive than he'd realized. She'd received her Ph.D. from Salem University at the tender age of 23, and immediately started doing private consulting alongside her position at the Institute for Dark Arts Defence. She was a busy woman and her services were much in demand. Harry imagined that her presence was costing Malfoy quite a few Galleons.

Harry's impression of her was much as it had been two years before. She was a cool, leggy blonde who, despite her youth, carried herself with the poise and authority of someone used to solving difficult problems. She was wearing a short, smoke-coloured suit with matching high-heeled pumps and carried a black suitcase. No witch's robes, as the Americans often didn't bother.

Malfoy sat his tea on the bench beside him and rose to shake her hand as Harry stood beside him. "Dr. Tayce. Delighted to meet you. I'm Draco Malfoy. I believe you've met my shadow, Harry Potter."

Harry shook her hand as well. Her grip was firm and no-nonsense. "Nice to see you again," he said. "Sorry about the security hurdles."

"No problem, Harry. Good to see you. Well, Mr. Malfoy -"

"Draco, please."

She smiled and looked surprised. "Well, then, I'm Catherine. Shall we sit down and get started?"

Malfoy explained that he could be called into the courtroom to testify at any time, but he wasn't expecting they would get to him until that afternoon, which gave them some time to discuss the Manor. And discuss it they did. It was like being trapped in a lift with twin Hermiones. Harry wasn't a technical-details sort of Auror. His niche was pretty much raw power and reckless courage, the old Gryffindor stand-bys. He was good at making plans of action, but this sort of intellectual discourse on magic was way beyond him. As they chattered, his mind wandered, even as his eyes kept sweeping the hallway for signs of an attack.

Despite her accent, Catherine seemed cut from the same cloth as Malfoy; they could almost be related. They were both icy blond, confident, elegant, coldly intelligent, and terribly effective at making Harry feel about two steps above a fungus in sophistication. Harry's black dress robes, which made him feel rather 007 that morning when he put them on, seemed immediately thread-bare and ill-fitting when he was standing next to Malfoy. Malfoy was the very definition of fashionable grace, chatting amiably in low tones with a beautiful woman, his long legs angled just so as if he were sitting for a portrait. His dark blue robes were perfectly tailored to his lean body, in some heavy fabric just short of velvet that sucked the light right into it and drew every eye to him. His hair fell over his eyes in an exact approximation of carelessness and his skin glowed with an egg-shell white perfection that Harry always envied as a teenager, even when he was trying to sock him in the nose. Even though Malfoy looked as drawn and ill as he always did lately, the dark crescents beneath his eyes gave him a romantic vulnerability. And as Seamus always said, women loved vulnerability. Catherine was probably laying plans to get into those dark blue robes right now, even as she was showing off her Dark Arts knowledge. Harry snickered to himself. Too bad for her that even Harry the Toadstool stood a better chance of succeeding in that arena than she did. Malfoy never dated women, to the best of Harry's knowledge.

Malfoy happened to look over just then, catching Harry with a little smile on his face. Malfoy raised an eyebrow, obviously wondering what Harry was grinning about, but he smiled back before turning his attention back to Catherine. It was all Harry could do to keep from falling off the bench in shock. That was the first truly pleasant expression he'd seen on Malfoy's face in, well, maybe ever. He supposed that all eggheads must be alike - doing research always cheered Hermione up too.

After an hour or so, Malfoy and Catherine seemed to finish the most technical part of their conversation and they made an appointment for her to come to the Manor to check the wards for herself. As she wrote the date and time down in a little PDA, evidently charmed to run off magic rather than electricity, she said lightly, "You know, this is a very exciting opportunity for me. I was on the team assigned to crack the Manor's wards during the War, before you had the nerve to drop them yourself from the inside and invalidate all our work. I've been itching to see what those things were made of for years."

As she rose to go, Draco gave her a delighted smile. "I'm always pleased to provide a scratching post for a fellow researcher's curiosity."

She shook Harry's hand warmly as she took her leave, but her smile was definitely brightest for Malfoy. Well, Malfoy was signing the cheque, and they were kindred egghead spirits. Maybe that's all it was, but Harry somehow doubted it. As they watched her graceful glide down the hallway, Harry wondered why it didn't bother him more that women like that never seemed to go for him.

Then the Counsel for the Prosecution was at the door telling them that Mr. Malfoy was wanted, and there was no more time for frivolities, even in Harry's head. Harry could see Malfoy steeling himself and squaring his shoulders before he swallowed the last of his tea, tossed the cup in a hall rubbish bin and went inside. Harry wasn't looking forward to witnessing this any more than Malfoy was looking forward to doing it, but like Malfoy he dutifully followed.

Harry took a place in the gallery seats at the back of the room, all empty because the post-War Death Eater trials were closed to the public for security reasons. Gregory Goyle sat in the Defendant's Chair near the middle of the room, looking much smaller than Harry remembered him being. His hands were folded in his lap and his head was slightly bowed with the air of a man who was only waiting quietly for the axe to fall. His light brown hair had grown past the spiky phase and hung limply on his head as though it too had given up. Like almost everyone who had spent any length of time in Azkaban, he looked far older than his twenty years.

Malfoy walked by Goyle without looking at him and took the stand like it was something he did everyday, which Harry supposed it almost was, given how often he'd been testifying on the Ministry's behalf. Whatever discomfort or nervousness Harry had seen in the hallway had vanished as if it had never been. Malfoy nodded courteously to the members of the jury and waited for the questions to begin.

Counsel for the Prosecution was introduced as Ms. McKinnon, a middle-aged woman with short black hair and the standard issue black dress robes. She was crisp and confident, and had a reputation around the Ministry building for being as hard on her assistants as she was on defending barristers. She'd probably prosecuted more than a hundred of these cases in the last year and a half. Accused Death Eaters were almost never acquitted.

Counsel for the Defence was a Mr. Dorny. He was a mousy looking man, somewhat younger than the Prosecutor, though his brown hair was beginning to thin in the back already. He appeared only marginally less depressed than his client, but he seemed determined to do his job. Harry felt rather sorry for him. Besides being a futile proposition, defending known Death Eaters couldn't be good for his social life.

Ms. McKinnon stood behind the barrister's table and began with all the standard questions, establishing Malfoy's name and identity, and how long and in what capacity he had known the Defendant. Then the actual line of questioning began. "Did you ever witness the Defendant utilizing Dark Magic, specifically any of the three Unforgivable Curses?"

"Yes." Malfoy's expression was as blank as stone.

"Can you please provide the Court with the specific details of what you witnessed?"

Malfoy swallowed, but that was the only indication that he might be having some emotional reaction to speaking the words that would condemn his old friend to the Dementor's Kiss. "I saw the Defendant utilise a variety of Dark curses, on practically a daily basis. I twice witnessed him personally administer the killing curse."

"Who were the victims of these curses?" She glared at Goyle as though she were asking him, but of course it was Malfoy who answered.

"The first was Reginald Mulciber, a Death Eater who had allowed his intended victim to escape. The Defendant was allowed the privilege of killing Mr. Mulciber as a reward for his loyalty. This occurred on the night of 17 July, 1997, in the dungeons at Malfoy Manor. The second instance was on the night of 24 December, 1997. I saw the Defendant use Avada Kedavra on a thirteen-year-old Muggle child named Richard Scrubbs who was attempting to run from his burning home."

"Do you know how this fire was started?"

"It was intentionally set by the Death Eaters for their entertainment. They took turns hexing the Muggles who ran out of the building and gave each other points for the most amusing death inflicted."

Ms. McKinnon turned back to Malfoy. "And in what capacity were you present to witness these crimes?"

"I was a spy for the Order of the Phoenix from approximately 20 September, 1996 to the end of the War."

"Thank you, Mr. Malfoy." She turned to the judge. "No further questions, I am obliged to your lordship."

"Your witness, Mr. Dorny," the judge replied.

The prosecutor took her seat, and Mr. Dorny stood up. "Mr. Malfoy, who else was present on the night of 17 July, 1997?"

"Thomas Riddle, Vincent Crabbe, Sr., Vincent Crabbe, Jr. and several other Death Eaters, I don't precisely recall all their names." Malfoy stopped as if thinking back for a moment, but again his face betrayed nothing. "Lucius Malfoy. And myself, of course."

"Lucius Malfoy was your father, was he not?"

A slightly longer pause, and the tiniest hint of pain showed itself around Malfoy's eyes, but Harry could only see it because he'd spent the last two days in Malfoy's constant company. "Yes," he said, his voice neutral and steady.

"And did your father participate in the crimes of which Mr. Goyle is accused?"

"Yes." No hesitation, and only the blank mask back in place.

"And did you?" Now Mr. Dorny seemed to be trying to turn up the heat on Malfoy, though Harry suspected that between Lucius Malfoy and Voldemort himself, it would take a lot to intimidate Draco Malfoy now. A mousy little barrister certainly wasn't up to the task.

And Malfoy's voice was increasingly bland, the more he was pressed to defend himself. "In my capacity as spy I had to take care to maintain my cover, and it was therefore necessary to appear to participate."

"Did you merely appear to participate or did you in fact participate?"

"In this instance I used cruciatus on the victim, but was able to avoid participating in the actual murder." He answered quickly with no hint of remorse. Harry wondered how he could do that, if it was because he really wasn't sorry, or if he was just that good at hiding himself.

"And did you always avoid participating in Death Eater murders?" Mr. Dorny's voice was contemptuous, but Malfoy countered with eyes so cold they made Harry shiver in his heavy dress robes.

"In maintaining my cover it was not always possible to do so, no," he replied.

"And how many people do you figure, Mr. Malfoy, you killed or participated directly in killing during your time as a 'Spy for the Order'?"

"More than I care to recall." Just that blank, aristocratic mask, but this had to be torture, to get up on the stand day after day and discuss the murders he committed. Harry couldn't imagine how Malfoy could possibly handle this kind of humiliation as month after month of the trials dragged on.

"Mr. Malfoy, you and Mr. Goyle were especially good friends as children, weren't you?"

Now there was a tiny pause, and Malfoy cleared his throat. "Yes," he said.

"How is it, Mr. Malfoy, that you managed to get yourself recruited as a spy for the Order while your good friend Gregory Goyle did not?" Mr. Dorny's eyes drilled into Malfoy, but Malfoy didn't seem to be paying him much attention.

Instead he had glanced over at Greg Goyle and something flickered in his face, some emotion too brief to even classify. "I approached Professor Severus Snape of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with the proposal that I spy for the order."

"And why did you never try to recruit your good friend Gregory Goyle as a spy as well?"

Suddenly Malfoy was testifying not to the court, but to Goyle, and little sparks of feeling were flying in his eyes, though his face still remained impassive. "I did approach him once but I was afraid to make my meaning too plain for fear he would report me to Mr. Riddle. I don't believe he understood what I was trying to imply."

And that, Harry realized, was probably as much of a statement of regret as Malfoy would ever be allowed to make to Goyle. It seemed to fall on deaf ears, as Goyle's expression didn't change one iota. Bearing Ron's coffin from the hearse to the graveside was the hardest thing Harry had ever had to do, far harder than defeating Voldemort, or even watching Dumbledore die. But at least he'd never had to look at Ron across a courtroom and see him beaten and betrayed and utterly defeated, and then pronounce his death sentence. For all his lauded Gryffindor courage, Harry didn't think he could have done it. And Malfoy sat there with only a veiled emotion in his eyes, and his face set as neutrally as if they were discussing breakfast cereal. No wonder he'd never been suspected as a spy.

Mr. Dorny was pressing on. "And if you'd been willing to risk making your meaning more plain, do you think he might now be enjoying the privileges of immunity which you currently enjoy?"

Malfoy's attention turned back to the barrister, his voice drawling cruelly. "It is possible, sir. It is also possible that he would have betrayed me and I would have been killed. In such a case, I would have been unable to play my role in the breaching of the wards around Malfoy Manor during the Final Assault, and Mr. Riddle would likely be conducting post-War trials rather than the Ministry. If he bothered with trials at all, which does seem rather unlike him."

Mr. Dorny smirked at Malfoy, and then appeared to direct his next question at the jury. "Mr. Malfoy, you've admitted to crimes far exceeding the few of which my client is accused, yet due to the Ministry's convenient pardon you continue to walk free, in full possession of the sizable estate passed down to you by your father, who you have admitted was also a Dark Wizard and a Death Eater. Isn't it true that you have an overwhelming self-interest in testifying in these trials on the Ministry's behalf?"

"I have an interest in telling the truth, Mr. Dorny, and that is exactly what I have done today."

"Isn't it true, Mr. Malfoy, that without the Ministry's pardon you would have been eligible for the Dementor's Kiss many times over? Isn't it true that you have an overwhelming incentive to lie in these circumstances in order to preserve your current privileges?"

Malfoy drew himself up in his seat and seemed to muster all the chilly elegance he had at his disposal. "I admit that the crimes I committed are legion, Mr. Dorny, but they were all in the service of the War effort and the work I was charged to do by The Order of the Phoenix and the late Albus Dumbledore. It would be rather hypocritical of the Ministry to charge me for crimes I committed at what was essentially its request. And I would state again for the record that all my statements to this Court are factual and correct in every way to the limits of my knowledge."

The judge stepped in, with a small scowl. "I hear what you say, Mr. Dorny, but I feel it advisable to note that I propose to take judicial notice of Mr. Malfoy's public war record. I am minded to send this case to the jury without hearing further argument on this point from you, unless you feel that you are able to convince me otherwise. Do you have any further submissions?"

Mr. Dorny exhaled, and shook his head. "No, m'lud, I am obliged. No further questions." He sat down. Malfoy must have been relieved to have the cross-examination over, but his posture did not change and he showed no signs of having been stressed by it at all.

Ms. McKinnon stood up. "I would like to re-examine, m'lud."

"Very well, Ms. McKinnon," the judge replied.

"Mr. Malfoy, you stated earlier that you entered into service with the Department of Mysteries on 20 September 1996, is that correct?"


"Had you taken the Dark Mark prior to that point?"


"And prior to that time, Mr. Malfoy, had you ever inflicted an Unspeakable Curse on another human being?"


"So all of the so-called crimes that you committed while posing as a Death Eater were enacted solely in aid of your cover as a spy?"

"That's correct."

"Mr. Malfoy, weren't you awarded the Order of Merlin first class for your role in the War?"


"Thank you Mr. Malfoy. No further questions, I am obliged to your lordship."

"You may step down, Mr. Malfoy."

And that was that. Malfoy was released from the courtroom, and Goyle left for the closing arguments and the jury to seal his fate. The sentence would probably be carried out immediately, and Malfoy would not see Gregory Goyle again.

Harry rose to follow Malfoy out of the courtroom. Just as they got to the double doors to the hallway, Malfoy stumbled. Harry took Malfoy's elbow to steady him and turned him so he could get a good look at his face. He looked horrible. Worse than the usual bad, but Harry supposed he had a right. It was comforting, in a way, to know that the ordeal of the trial had some effect on him, that he wasn't as heartless as he could look.

"Are you all right?" Harry asked once they reached the hallway and the doors shut behind them.

"I suddenly have a screaming headache," Malfoy answered. "I think I need to sit down for a moment."

They took a seat on the wooden bench where they'd been sitting that morning. Malfoy's breath was coming in shallow gasps.

"Malfoy, you don't sound well."

"Having trouble catching my breath. Panic attack," he panted. "Used to get them at Hogwarts. Not before, after. After the War."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Harry asked.

"Just sit with me," Malfoy gasped. "Sev always sat with me."

So Harry just sat there feeling useless. Finally on a whim, he took Malfoy's hand. His skin was clammy but his fingers fit perfectly with Harry's. Malfoy shot him a grateful look but was too busy breathing to comment. It wasn't until Harry glanced down at Malfoy's slim, pale fingers between his own and noticed they were taking on a distinctly blue cast that he suspected something was terribly wrong.

"Malfoy, I don't think your fingers are supposed to be that colour."

Malfoy looked down at his hands in alarm, and began cursing between ragged inhalations. "Cyanosis. Not a panic attack. Poison."

Harry called down to Janice. "Janice, call St. Mungo's. We're Apparating there immediately."

Malfoy began shaking his head frantically. "No. No. No. No. Not St. Mungo's."

"Where then? For God's sake, you've been poisoned!"

"Manor. The Manor." Malfoy's panicked eyes pleaded with Harry. And Harry decided to go with it. There was a good chance that Malfoy knew something he didn't. Hell, Malfoy definitely knew a lot of things he didn't, and Malfoy was in no shape to explain his reasoning.

"Janice, belay that. We're heading back to the Manor. Have a mediwizard with potions training meet us there right away, and I do mean right away. It looks like Malfoy's been poisoned. He needs immediate medical attention. No one is to go in or out of the House except for me, Malfoy, and the doctors. Hydrangea's in charge of the perimeter, you see to the interior of the house. If you need more personnel, call headquarters. I'll be with Malfoy."

"Yes, sir," she answered crisply. Harry began half helping, half dragging Malfoy out of the Ministry building so they could Apparate. Malfoy was looking really seriously ill. His colour was shading toward blue around his eyes and mouth and he was clenching a hand to his temple like he was desperate to keep his brain inside his skull.

Harry Apparated them both to the Manor gates. But it was five minutes' fast walk from the gates to the front door, and there was no way in hell Malfoy was going to make it.

"Have the guards call the carriage," Malfoy said. "Can't walk there."

No shit, Harry thought, but he called for the horseless carriage. The guards brought it around and helped him bundle Malfoy in. By the time they got into their seats, Malfoy had developed a rash along his jaw and neck that disappeared into his robes. As the carriage flew down the Manor pathway, Malfoy grabbed Harry's face and made him look him right in the eyes.

"Pupils dilated?" he gasped.



"I don't know. Pretty big, I guess. It's hard to see in this light."


"You're always pale. Maybe more than usual, though. It looks like you've got some kind of rash on your neck."

Malfoy spared a breath to swear again. Then began rasping out instructions. "You have to tell Sev. Maybe variation on barbital, hydrocyanic acid, atropine, something. No telling when, last twenty-four hours, spells can delay onset. Strychnine . . ."

Malfoy's eyes were starting to lose their focus, and Harry shook him while trying to burn what Malfoy had just said into his brain. "Stay with me, Malfoy. Talk me through this. What about strychnine? Tell me what to do."

"Fuck you, Lucius! I'll see you in hell!" His eyes started rolling back in his head.

Harry shook him by the arm, hard. "No. Do not give up on me, Draco! Tell me what to do!"

Malfoy came to. "'Kay. Boil water. No. No." He shook his head gingerly as if to clear it. "Workroom. On the table, bottle marked N.U.P.A. Hasn't been tested. Should work, though. Tell Sev I'm sorry. Sorry."

And he passed out. Harry commenced swearing himself, and shook Malfoy viciously to no avail. By then they had reached the Manor. The other Aurors gathered around the carriage to help Harry drag Malfoy out, and then down the hall to the workroom.

"Where's the fucking mediwizard?" Harry yelled as they laid Malfoy gently on the floor.

"On his way, sir." Anna answered. "They said five minutes about three minutes ago."

"Shit. I don't know if he's going to last that long." Malfoy's colour was really blue, and the rash seemed to be creeping up his jawline. Harry looked around frantically for the potion Malfoy had mentioned.

And there it was, right out in the open on the worktable, a little bottle marked N.U.P.A., obviously the most recent project. Harry uncorked the bottle and brought it over. It smelled truly awful, but the mediwizard wasn't there and Malfoy was running out of time. Malfoy's grasp of potions was second only to Snape's; if he said it should work, it should. But there was that little matter of the hallucinations . . .

Fuck it. Malfoy was dying. Harry opened Malfoy's mouth and forced the potion down his throat. A bit of it spilled down his chin, but most of it seemed to go down the right way. Harry could only hope that it was meant to be administered orally and not rubbed on the skin or something.

His Auror team looked at him. "What now, boss?" Anna asked.

"Call the fucking mediwizard again, get somebody with some fucking training on the ground here, now. Call a Potions Master, too. Severus Snape at Hogwarts would be best, but if you can't find him, get someone else. If Malfoy stops breathing, we try CPR until we can get some goddamned medical help."

They looked at each other like they weren't sure what he meant. They'd never heard of CPR, Harry realized. Great. His crack team of Aurors couldn't manage CPR, and between the lot of them, himself most of all, they'd let Draco Malfoy get himself poisoned. Brilliant.

Harry checked Malfoy's throat for a pulse. Still there, thank all the gods, faint but regular, maybe getting stronger. He took a close look at Malfoy's face. The skin around the eyes and lips was pinking up, losing the blue cast. "I think he's going to be okay," he said, with great relief.

Malfoy took a deep breath, opened his eyes and croaked, "Don't call Sev." Then he rolled over and threw up all over Harry.

Malfoy Manor
13 March, 2000, 5:45 p.m.

Dear Sev:

Sorry I didn't get a chance to write my usual update this morning. I didn't sleep well and then there was the trial to get through. I hope I didn't worry you.

Speaking of worrying you, I had rather an eventful day today. The good news is that the N.U.P.A. is a great success. The bad news is that I had the opportunity to test it out myself in a somewhat more dramatic manner than I'd anticipated.

DO NOT DROP THIS LETTER AND APPARATE TO THE MANOR. There's no need. I MEAN IT. I'm fine. I spent the last three hours throwing up all over Harry Potter, but I'm unharmed. I'm not sure if the vomiting was an unexpected side effect of the antidote (I hadn't intended it as a purgative, though that's not generally an unwelcome result with a poison antidote), or if it was just the taste of the stuff. It's seriously foul, Sev. The smell of it is still up my nose and my stomach's not yet settled down completely. We need to add some orange and mint to it, or something. Lemongrass? I doubt I'll ever be able to work on it again without taking some sort of olfactory-blocking potion first.

As to who, what, when, where, why - these are the questions burning in my mind too. It would appear that a combination of Muggle and magical poisoning techniques were used. I deduce from the symptoms (cyanosis, headache, dizziness, ataxia, dry throat and mouth, suffocation, rash on the face and neck, rapid pulse, dilated pupils, confusion, dimmed sight, loss of consciousness) that the assailant used either a form of barbital or a combination of hydrocyanic acid and atropine. I think the combination of the last two, along with who knows what else, is most likely the culprit, mixed with charms to delay onset of symptoms and obfuscate the poison used. I took some blood samples as soon as I was clearheaded enough to find a vein, and I hope that analysis of these will prove fruitful. As always, any thoughts you have on the best analytic method would be greatly appreciated.

It seems clear that either my own security or that of the Ministry has been compromised; the poison must have been administered at the Manor during the last twenty-four hours or at the Ministry building this morning. All the house elves and guards report nothing unusual at the Manor except a bit of unseasonable fog this morning - certainly no lurking strangers were seen. The house elves say they checked my food for poison just as they always do and everything seemed fine. The guards never come through the wards and the gate, and have no greater access to the house and kitchen than any of the public. I don't see how the poisoning could have happened here, unless it was one of the house elves themselves. But there's never been a case of a house elf murdering a Head of House in all the annals of house elfdom - I checked. Besides, if they were going to branch out from domestic tasks to the more challenging field of assassination, you'd think they would have started with Lucius instead of my own poor self. He gave them far more reason to be peevish, after all.

As for the Ministry, I checked my tea for poison myself when it was handed to me by the Prosecution Counsel's secretary. Obviously there were no indications of anything amiss, except for the fact that the tea was badly conjured and tasted terrible. Potter has suggested that the taste might have come from an added poison, but that woman's tea always tastes like that. I ingested nothing else while at the Ministry building. Super Auror is now running himself ragged checking over everyone with whom I came into contact in the last twenty-four hours, but last I heard there weren't any leads.

Turning to the question of motive, I think it's unlikely to be Death Eater revenge. The mix of Muggle and magical seems uncharacteristic. But it's awfully ruthless and cold-blooded for a nutter from the other side. I would expect a more personal, hands-on approach if that were the case. I suppose Higgs or another well-placed Death Eater could have hired someone to do the hit, which might account for the odd mix of approaches, but under that circumstance, I feel very discouraged that we will ever discover who did it, short of a dream.

Don't worry, I won't be hitting the absinthe or the mugwort to try to induce the visions tonight. I'm knackered.

I take consolation in the fact that Potter will be needing some new clothes. I'll finally have an opportunity to purchase something halfway attractive for him, in the guise of apologizing for sicking up all over him repeatedly. And really, for all the times he's made me feel like vomiting, it seems fitting that I finally actually did.

Don't worry don't worry don't worry. The Aurors are all in a lather, all testimony's been postponed, and I won't be leaving the Manor for the foreseeable future. I'm perfectly safe. They're going over everything with a fine-toothed comb. I can't deny that I'd take some comfort in your presence, but you'd only frighten everyone with your scowling and get in the way. Stay at Hogwarts, teach your Slytherins and the rest of the idiots and leave all else to the Ministry and Harry Potter. They have to be good for something, right?

Oh, and the key to the N.U.P.A.? The blood of a condemned person, i.e. yours truly. The contradiction between the assured untimely death and the present life of the condemned was the factor that balanced out the alchemical elements of the major families of poisons. I'm merely fortunate that it works better than anticipated on Muggle poisons as well, though it makes a certain amount of sense if one stops to think about the metaphysical similarities of all poisons, Muggle or magical. It may be that my "gifts" as a Seer enhanced the potency of my blood and therefore the potion, of course. I count that as likely, in fact. This is disappointing because it makes the potion less duplicable, but at least the damn thing works. Larger scale trials will be necessary, of course. I bow to your superior knowledge on the best way to accomplish that.

It does strike me as amusing and ironic that the key to saving my hide was the fact of my certain death. Life is so poetic at times.

Don't worry don't worry don't worry. And if I never get a chance to say it, Sev, I do love you. Having you for my godfather is more than adequate compensation for all of Lucius' failings.

Your Draco Jacques

P.S. There's no chance of my sleeping my way through the Manor's contingent of Aurors. Not only am I in no shape for it at present, evidently my reputation preceded me and Arthur Weasley talked Potter into installing an all-female crew.

It's not kind to laugh at a man who spent the day poisoned, you know.

Harry came down to breakfast to find the table set in the parlour as usual, but instead of sitting at the escritoire finishing up his morning letter, Malfoy was nowhere to be found. There was a note on the plate at Harry's customary place. He unfolded it and found elegant, somewhat eccentric handwriting in green ink, reading:


Had an early breakfast and went to the pool for my morning routine. The Professor is in the workroom; please do not disturb him.


Harry folded the note and stuck it in his pocket. Snape had dropped everything and Apparated to the Manor the minute he had word about the poisoning. He insisted on staying a week, though his primary contribution to Malfoy's welfare seemed to be an endless supply of cutting remarks, aimed primarily at Harry and his team. Harry had thought dealing with Malfoy on a daily basis was irritating but now he understood that things could always be worse. He was counting the days to the end of the week.

He made his way to the pool, which was in the North Wing along with the spare bedrooms and the large dining room that the other Aurors used. Sometimes Harry would go over and eat with them or play cards for a little while in the evenings if Hydrangea or Janice were on duty to watch over Malfoy. But for the most part, Harry stayed in the South Wing with his charge. Harry suspected that Lucius had primarily used the North Wing and that was why Malfoy would only go over there in the mornings to do his laps.

A former ballroom had been refitted accommodate the Olympic-sized swimming pool, a Jacuzzi large enough to seat fourteen comfortably (the Aurors had tested it), and a redwood sauna. It was a typical Malfoy excess, but a wholly Draconian one, all light and glass and air, with rococo detailing and a cathedral ceiling upon which a small, friendly-looking dragon could sometimes be seen goosing the cherubs with harmless puffs of fire.

He found Malfoy sitting in a lounge chair with a champagne glass full of Bucks Fizz in one hand and a book in the other. The cover read: Poisons in the Dark Arts: History, Theory, and Practical Application. Light poolside reading. His hair was damp, falling gracefully into his eyes, and he was wearing a thick, dark green bathrobe that reached almost to his ankles. His paper-pale shins showed where he had his legs crossed; they were lightly dusted with golden hair. Harry wasn't surprised that Malfoy wasn't very hairy - who could imagine a hirsute Malfoy, after all - nor would he have been surprised if Malfoy didn't have a stitch of clothing on underneath the robe. But Malfoy gave no sign of concern, didn't pull his robe closer around him or move to cover his legs. He didn't move at all, in fact.

"I thought you'd be assisting Snape in the workroom," Harry said.

Malfoy spoke without looking up from his book. "Professor Snape deserves the courtesy and respect of referring to him by his title rather than by his last name as though he were a Quidditch player. I wanted to help but he insisted that I needed to rest, despite the fact that I feel perfectly fine."

"So he's driven you out of your workroom and you came for your morning swim instead."

"Basically, yes. He'd prefer it if I went back to bed, but I had enough of lying in bed all day when I was ill after the War. Without a good incentive, I'd rather not."

"A good incentive?"

Malfoy finally raised his eyes and gave Harry a knowing smirk. "A playmate, Potter. You don't happen to know of any likely volunteers?" He took a sip of his drink but kept his eyes on Harry.

Harry hated that he couldn't keep himself from blushing. He knew Malfoy was only winding him up and he hated seeing that little gleam of triumph when Malfoy succeeded in embarrassing him. "Very funny."

Malfoy looked pleased with himself and turned his attention back to his book. "Pity. I suppose I'll just stay here, then."

Harry sat down on the lounge chair next to Malfoy's. "You need to talk to Snape."

"I talk to Professor Snape nearly every day in one form or another," he replied absently, and Harry began to wonder if he was going to have to snatch the book out of his hands to get his attention.

"You know, Malfoy, they might not have explained this in Death Eater Finishing School, but it's generally considered polite to actually look at the person who's talking to you."

He sighed as though he were heavily put upon indeed. Setting his drink on the small table beside him, he put a bookmark in his book and snapped it shut. Then he sat up and turned to face Harry with both feet on the floor. He laid the closed book in his lap and folded his hands on top of it. "There, Potter. You have my full, rapt and undivided attention."

"You need to talk to Snape."

"Yes, we've been over this part. And I can see that courtesy isn't seeping in through the repetition. I assume you have a specific topic in mind?"

"He's destroying my team's morale. I want you to tell him to leave them alone."

"He's scaring your team?" One eyebrow quirked up. "Your team of hand-picked, battle-tested Aurors is falling apart because of a little sarcasm? This doesn't strike you as amusing?"

"He's spent the last three days listing each Auror's faults individually in excruciating, scathing detail. I don't blame them for being upset."

He waved a languid hand. "Well, you know, he's concerned about the poisoning. He's not usually that bad." He stopped and seemed to think about what he'd just said. "No, I take it back. He is usually that bad. I find it funny though."

"You would. They're asking for danger money."

"What a bunch of wimps!" Malfoy laughed. "Merlin, imagine if they had to survive three days of real torture. The Ministry need to rethink its training program, Potter. Perhaps when Professor Snape retires from Hogwarts, they should put him in charge of it."

"Yeah, you can laugh but when he isn't terrorizing my Aurors he's bitching about you."

Malfoy shrugged. "That's how you know he cares."

Harry considered. Could it really be that Snape's famous foul temper was a rather contrary mark of his concern? "But he does it to all his students."

Malfoy gave him a pointed look.

"Even Neville?" That was straining credulity.

"Well, I admit that he also sometimes does it to the people he despises, which can make it somewhat hard to tell which is which."

Harry had to laugh. "You two are quite a pair, aren't you?"

"In all seriousness, Potter, if it weren't for Severus Snape, I'd be dead many times over, and probably so would you. Dead or worse."

Harry knew that this was true, but he just couldn't bring himself to admit it out loud.

"Besides, he's my godfather," Malfoy added lightly.

"Snape is your godfather?"

"I was even named after him. Draco Lucius Severus Fornet Malfoy."

Harry raised an eyebrow in disbelief.

"Professor Snape tried to talk him out of it, but you know Lucius - evil."

"I didn't realize that your father and Snape were so close."

Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Close is a word for it. You don't know anything about Professor Snape, Potter. And that's exactly how he likes it. Now, how do you expect me to convince him to keep his opinions to himself? As you said, he doesn't treat me with any more deference than he does anyone else."

"I have no idea. You're his godson; you work it out. But I'll tell you something. These Aurors volunteered to take this assignment and it's not an easy one. They're away from their homes and families and if Snape keeps harassing them, they're going to start requesting transfers. I had a hard enough time filling my roster to begin with; I doubt I'll be able to find replacements if I start losing people."

"Hmmm." Malfoy ran a hand along the back of his neck absent-mindedly. "All right. I'll think of something to say to him, but I make no guarantees that it's going to work."

Harry nodded. "That's all I ask."

"Is that all, then? Am I released from this taxing level of politeness?"

"Yes, that's it. God, you're annoying."

Malfoy smirked and unfolded gracefully back onto the lounge chair. "So I'm told." He opened his book, settled back, and in a moment looked as still and relaxed as if he'd never moved.

"You're like some huge, irritating, blond cat," Harry said.

"Cats don't read, Potter. And, please, do shut up."

Harry sighed and reclined back on his chair. He supposed he should go find some paperwork to do. He hated paperwork. He sighed again.

"Potter, you sound like a steam engine. Why don't you pour yourself a drink, or go for a swim? On the other side of the pool. Far, far away from me."

"I don't have my swimming trunks," Harry said without thinking.

Malfoy raised his eyes from his book with a look that suggested Harry might be the stupidest person ever born. "I have better things to do than ogle the bits of the Lion of Gryffindor," he said, and lowered his eyes again. "Feel free to drop trou, just do it quietly."

"That's all right," he mumbled. "I'll just, um, pour myself some juice."

Malfoy waved a hand toward the back of the room, at a small wooden drinks cart that usually resided in the parlour. On top was a half-empty bottle of champagne in an ice bucket, a carafe of orange juice, a decanter of whisky, a bottle of absinthe, a small, ornate, silver and glass water decanter, a silver bowl with sugar cubes in it, and a rococo silver absinthe spoon with a green glass handle. On the shelf below there were whisky glasses and a few absinthe glasses. There were no other champagne glasses to be found. Harry took a whisky glass and poured it full of orange juice. He took a deep drink and considered the varied contents of the cart.

"Are you in the habit of drinking whisky first thing in the morning?"

"Not that it's any of your business, but no. I don't know why the elves brought the whole cart. Perhaps they had a premonition that you'd be driving me to drink this morning. Don't you have something else you could be doing?"

"Not really," Harry lied. "Isn't drinking absinthe, even at night, a bit, you know . . . overwrought?"

Malfoy released an irritated sigh and let the open book drop onto his chest with a muffled thump. "If you must know, it's for the dreams. Now, if you're not going to have a swim, then be a good little Super Auror and go patrol something. Somewhere else."

Harry refilled his juice glass and returned to his lounge chair next to Malfoy. "Absinthe keeps the dreams from coming?"

"No, Potter, it forces them to come. Usually it brings the most trivial ones, but not always."

"So you can try to get a vision of something specific?"

"Is it really necessary to discuss this?" Malfoy looked more than habitually annoyed.

"I'm just curious. We don't have to talk about it if it bothers you."

Malfoy's nose wrinkled up just a little in distaste. "It's not that it bothers me, it's just . . ." He stopped, clearly bothered and not wanting to admit it. "If I don't have a vision for a few nights, I start to feel out of sorts. Itchy, I suppose you'd say. Wound-up. I take the absinthe, have a vision, even a trivial one, and the feeling goes away."

"Huh. So they're sort of addictive, then, the visions. If you went long enough without a dream would the itchy feeling go away?"

He shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. No one really understands exactly how prophecy works or why, and every Seer's experience seems to be different anyway. Even when I don't force them, the visions come regularly enough that I doubt I'll ever get the chance to experiment with it."

"And nothing else works to make the itchy feeling go away? It has to be a dream?"

Malfoy gave him a wolfish grin. "Actually, sex helps. Could just be the distraction factor, though."

"I should have known."

"You asked," he said with a smirk and picked up his book again.

A house elf suddenly appeared next to Malfoy's chair. "Master Draco, sir. Miss Pansy Parkinson is here to see you."

"Fucking hell! Is everyone in the universe determined to disturb me this morning?"

The house elf just waited patiently for a response to his question. Malfoy put the bookmark back in his book and sat up. "Have her wait for me in the parlour, Wilson. I'll be there presently." The house elf nodded and disappeared and Malfoy began digging underneath his chair for a pair of dark green rubber sandals.

"Malfoy, why do your house elves speak in complete sentences?"

He looked up with a distracted air. "What? Oh, the elves." His expression darkened a bit. "Lucius did it. Don't ask, Potter. Trust me; you don't want to know. Changed all their names, too, and they won't answer to the old ones. It's fucked up but there's nothing to be done about it now." He stood up and slid his feet into the shoes, then took up his glass from the table. "Potter, since you're obviously at loose ends this morning, would you mind terribly acting as chaperone during Pansy's visit? Just to err on the side of caution, you understand."

"All right, Malfoy. No problem."

"I'm going to get dressed, then, and I'll meet you and Pansy in the parlour in ten minutes."

And so they made their way back to the South Wing, and Malfoy disappeared upstairs while Harry went to wait in the parlour.

Ten minutes became twenty, passed in excruciating silence with Pansy Parkinson. She had made herself at home on the sofa as though she'd just been there last week. Her chic green witch's robes showed quite a bit of décolletage, but somehow she didn't seem quite as put-together as she had when they were in school together. She examined the seams of her short white gloves, and Harry pretended to be fascinated by the parlour moulding and tried not to pace.

When Malfoy came in, still carrying his book, the reason for the delay was clear. His hair was perfectly dry and styled, his black and silver day-robes exquisite over black silk trousers. Pansy leapt up and made a bee line for him, bestowing air kisses on each chiselled cheekbone.

"It's been a while, Pansy. What can I do for you?" He said as he guided her back toward the sofa and set his book on the end table.

"What makes you think I want something?" She smiled playfully and made a show of looking the parlour over. "Well, it's a good deal more relaxed, I'll give you that. Did you redecorate the whole place?"

"The majority of it. The previous décor was so . . . Spanish Inquisition, didn't you think?"

"It looked like the house of someone who had minions."

Malfoy's smile was just the slightest bit forced. "I learned a lot during the War," he said lightly. "Chiefly, that minions are always looking for ways to advance, generally by stepping over the bodies of those above them. This struck me as a tradition that I could do without."

Pansy took a seat on the sofa and Malfoy sat down in the overstuffed armchair. Pansy looked slightly annoyed that he hadn't taken the position next to her, but she turned her attention to Harry, who had remained standing. "So, how many times have you hexed each other so far?"

Harry frowned at her. "None, thank you very much. We're both adults now, you know, not a couple of little kids."

"We restrict ourselves to hurling insults," Draco added, but his smile was more genuine. "So far."

"Very noble. Potter, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to speak to Draco in private."

"Sorry, Pansy," Malfoy answered before Harry could. "I'm afraid he has to stay. Security reasons. Everything you say will be kept confidential, won't it, Potter?"

"My word of honour."

"There. You know what that means coming from a Gryffindor. You understand, I'm sure."

"Yes, of course. That poisoning sounded like a nasty business, though I suppose if there's anyone equipped to recover from poison it would be you."

"Well, we all have our talents," Malfoy drawled. "It would appear that living through a wide variety of assassination attempts is mine."

"Not your only talent, as I recall." Her eyes glittered.

"Perhaps not. But I've become a bit more particular about how I use my talents of late. So tell me, how have you been spending your time, then? 1996, wasn't it, last time we saw each other?"

Harry felt like he was watching a tennis match. Pansy returned the volley. "Summer before sixth year. I have to admit I was worried about you, Draco. You didn't look well that summer. But you came out on top, just like always. Another of your talents."

He arched an eyebrow. "Not always on top, I assure you. But often enough. You haven't done badly yourself, I assume. Very smart of your father to escape to France before he got pulled any farther into Lucius' plans. I envied you that summer, actually, having an out."

The coolness of her façade melted a little. "I wasn't convinced at the time that it was wise, but of course he turned out to be right. Unfortunately, he isn't always so prescient." She pulled off her gloves and tucked them into her pocketbook. "I suppose I'll get to the point. I have a proposition for you. A proposal, actually." She paused.

"Well, go on. I'm listening."

"It occurs to me that although our betrothal was dissolved you still don't have a Lady of the Manor. You'll want heirs, I'm sure, and assistance in running the estate. And I am not yet spoken for . . . "

Malfoy looked at her with unconcealed amazement. "Pansy, what part of extraordinarily gay don't you understand?"

But she waved a hand. "Psh. As if Lucius wasn't. That has nothing to do with the practicalities of maintaining a Family of Standing, and you know it. We're not discussing a love match - it's a business proposition. Though I actually was rather fond of you when we were children."

"That's sweet of you to say, I'm sure, but I've been trying to arrange my life so that it is as different from Lucius' life as possible, short of becoming poor. I was particularly hoping to avoid the sham marriage."

"It wouldn't be a sham! I'm fond of you; I hope you retain some fond memories of me. We wouldn't be pretending to be anything we weren't, well not in private, anyway. But the Malfoy line would continue and you'd have the benefits of a partner in dealing with the affairs of the Family."

"Such as spending the Family's money, I imagine. Pansy, I'm fairly certain that the world will be a much better place once the Malfoy line dies out. If this is about money, then we can discuss your situation, but let's leave matrimony out of it."

She looked crestfallen and gazed at the parlour carpeting. Her face coloured in embarrassment but she kept her voice steady. "Turns out Daddy's much less adept at making investments than he is at guessing the outcome of civil wars. We're going to lose the estate if we can't find a way to cover some of our debts. You're still single, for obvious reasons, and you're rich as hell. We were betrothed at one point anyway, and I always thought you'd make an excellent Head of Family. Getting married seemed a logical way of getting the necessary capital."

"Well, it is traditional. But tradition isn't all it's cracked up to be, Panse. I think you could do better." He was almost tender with her. "How much money do you need?"

"About thirty thousand Galleons to halt the foreclosure. One hundred twenty-five thousand to get our heads above water."

Harry nearly choked, but Malfoy just nodded as if he weren't surprised. "Three percent interest."

"Compounded quarterly?"

"Annually should be sufficient."

She blinked. "That's very generous. Are we talking about the thirty thousand or the one twenty-five?"

"I can manage the one twenty-five. I'll have my solicitor draw up the papers and I'll send them over by owl this afternoon. You should be able to transfer the money to your account as soon as you've had your people go over the loan agreement and you've signed."

"And what's in it for you?" She twisted her hands in her lap, looking both suspicious and hopeful.

Malfoy's smile was sharp. "I don't have to marry you, for one. Then, there's the interest. Even three percent annually isn't peanuts when the principal's one hundred and twenty-five thousand Galleons. There's no catch, Pansy. You caught me on a good day."

It hadn't seemed like such a good day to Harry. In fact, Malfoy had been decidedly cranky. But perhaps he measured these things by some bizarre standard known only to himself. Maybe just the fact that he'd not spent the day poisoned or tortured counted as good for him.

Pansy gave him a watery smile. "Thank you."

Malfoy walked her to the door and even allowed her to give him a hug on the way out. Then he came back to resume his spot on the sofa. As soon as he sat down he started taking off his shoes.

"So, what do you think, Potter? Should I look into continuing the ancient and honourable Line of Malfoy?"

Harry snorted a laugh and sat down in the chair again. "Was there ever a Malfoy who wasn't a stuck-up, sneaky, power-hungry practitioner of the Dark Arts?"

Malfoy considered the question. "I'm sure that there must have been, sometime, by the law of averages. A white sheep was bound to appear eventually. But if there was, said sheep was probably disinherited. So I'm afraid the answer to your question would be no."

"You weren't seriously thinking of marrying Pansy?"

"Good heavens, no! She's got a face like a pug! I don't know what Lucius was thinking when he arranged that betrothal. That he'd wiggle out of it somehow, I'm sure. Can you imagine, that nose entering the bloodline?" He shuddered. "The Malfoys may have been stuck-up, sneaky, power-hungry practitioners of the Dark Arts, but they always had an eye for beauty."

"I think that comes along with the stuck-up part, Malfoy."

"Oh. Perhaps you're right. Anyway, if I were going to saddle some poor woman with the title of Lady of Malfoy Manor, she'd have to be a lot more attractive than Pansy. And I'd want her to have some common sense in addition to having a strong nose and an understanding of fashion. I might even find a mixed-blood witch, if she was powerful enough and had a good brain in her head. Cause a little scandal for old times' sake. Fresh blood would probably do the family some good."

Harry laughed. "Yeah, especially the kind that refers to genetics rather than what you'll be sacrificing at the next new moon."

"Oh, you wound me," he said dryly as he picked up his book and stretched out on the sofa.

"So why did you give her the money?"

"I didn't give her the money, Potter. I loaned her the money."

"At a paltry three percent annually. And don't tell me you can use the interest, because I know you're overrun with cash and you could care less about accumulating more."

Malfoy shrugged. "She was kind to me when we were children." He opened his book and it was clear that he considered the discussion closed.

Harry shook his head and headed upstairs to collect his paperwork.

The Daily Prophet
14 March, 2000

Ministry Expenditures for Protection Growing Daily

by Staff and Magical Press Agencies

Inside sources at the Ministry of Magic confirmed this morning that Draco Malfoy, former Death Eater turned Ministry spy and son of Voldemort lieutenant Lucius Malfoy, was poisoned yesterday after giving testimony in the Dark Magic trial of Gregory Goyle, Jr. Malfoy is reported to be recovering and is expected to survive.

In the meantime, Ministry sources indicate that a contingent of as many as fifty Aurors has been installed at Malfoy Manor, the Malfoy ancestral home, to see to his protection. Reports are circulating that the security force is being headed up by none other than MOM's most famous employee, Super Auror and teen heartthrob Harry Potter. While Malfoy has provided key testimony for most of the Death Eater trials to date, critics maintain that the Ministry is expending far more in protecting Malfoy than his testimony is worth, reportedly as much as 2,000 Galleons a day. Malfoy was allowed to retain the whole of his family's estate and holdings after the War and is considered to be one of the richest wizards in Britain, despite the fact that his fortune was accumulated largely through the Dark Arts and under normal circumstances would have been confiscated by the Ministry. Wizarding opinion polls show that 98% of the public would prefer for Malfoy to pay for the Aurors' protection out of his own pocket.

Harry Potter's team is said to have few leads at this time and it is likely that the round-the-clock protection of Draco Malfoy will continue for some weeks to come.

Another morning, another breakfast at Malfoy Manor, but for the second time in a week, no Malfoy. Harry went next door to the workroom, since by this time of morning Malfoy could usually be found reading in the parlour, reading in the workroom, or locked away in his bedroom, presumably reading. He knocked on the closed door but didn't wait for an answer to enter.

What he saw when he opened the door was rather startling. Malfoy was sitting at his worktable with his sleeves rolled up and an ornate silver dagger poised over his wrist, blood just beginning to ooze down in shocking scarlet contrast to the delicate white skin of his inner arm. Harry shouted and was across the room before Malfoy could move. He grabbed the hand that held the dagger. "What the hell are you doing?" Harry screamed.

"What the fuck, Potter! Get off me! You're wasting it." Malfoy wrenched his hand away from Harry and exchanged the dagger for a little vial off the worktable, holding it to the wound to collect the blood. There were three other little vials on the table that had already been filled, and two empty ones waiting. Now that it was lying on the table, Harry could see that the knife's elaborate silver handle had a dragon etched into it. So very Malfoy.

"Please tell me that this is something other than what it looks like," Harry sighed.

Malfoy glared at him. "Well, I suppose if you're a moron it looks like a very slow, controlled suicide attempt. If there were a person here who had a modicum of intelligence, which clearly there is not, they might think it looked like blood collection for potions' use."

Harry could see a few other small cuts on Malfoy's wrists, some obviously fresh, others in various stages of healing. "How long have you been doing this?"

"Since the day after the poisoning," Malfoy answered, his voice still tight and cross. "My blood has certain properties required for the Near Universal Poison Antidote. I'm putting away as much as I safely can into preservative vials so it won't deteriorate. So Professor Snape can use it if I'm not around."

"Because you're a Seer?"

"That's part of it, Potter. I'm sure it's a bit beyond you." That was the exact tone that Malfoy used to use on Harry when they were both eleven.

"Oh, I'm sure it would be," Harry sneered back. "You don't have to be such a wanker about it, Malfoy. Anybody would find it alarming to see someone sitting there bleeding with a knife against their wrist."

Malfoy capped off the vial and smoothly exchanged it for an empty one, losing only a drop or two of blood in the process. "I apologise if I startled you," he said absently.

Harry could hardly believe his ears. "What did you say?"

"I said I'm sorry I startled you. What?"

"I've never heard you apologise before. Not sincerely."

Malfoy laughed. "Potter, we've hardly spoken since 1996. I did eventually grow beyond the snotty little brat stage." He picked up the dagger and reopened the shallow wound expertly and reapplied the vial. "Well, sort of."

Harry grinned. "Not to hear Snape tell it."

"And I'll bet he sneaked away to Hogwarts this morning without waking me up to say goodbye, didn't he?"

"That's what Janice said," Harry answered, helping himself to a chair next to the table. "She was on the early shift this morning. And she also gave me this." He took a letter out of his pocket, unfolded it and removed the article enclosed inside, laying it on the table where Malfoy could read it without needing his hands. "The Daily Prophet strikes again. Moody sent it. He says they've run several articles like it in the last few days, and he's been getting a lot of mail complaining about the cost of keeping the team here. He and Arthur want to meet with me this afternoon to discuss it."

"I often wish Lucius hadn't sold the Prophet off. I'd make a few editorial changes if I could." Malfoy's tone was bland, his attention split between his task and the article. He skimmed through the piece quickly, snorted a laugh at one point and muttered "teen heartthrob," and then returned his focus to the nearly full vial. "I wondered why Professor Snape was hiding the newspapers. When I was at Hogwarts recovering after the War, he always hid the paper if there was something negative about me in it. So, what do you want to do about this?"

"Well, I certainly don't want to pull my team out. We're no closer to catching the perpetrator than we were a week ago, and it's obvious you're still in very real danger. But I don't know what kind of compromises Arthur's going to be forced to make."

"Tell Weasley I'll pay." He capped off the vial, took up the knife and cut his wrist again, a new wound this time, producing a faster flow. He managed to get the blood dripping into the new container with a minimum of waste, graceful even in exsanguination.

"You'll pay for what?"

"Everything. The Prophet says I'm one of the richest wizards in England and we all know how reliable they are." Harry snickered. "Seriously, you know I've got more money than I'll ever be able to spend. Whatever is left when I die is mostly going to charity. Lord Snape certainly doesn't need it and I don't have any other family. If the Ministry wants me to pay for your team being here, it makes no difference to me. I'm already paying for their grocery bill, and I must say for a group of dainty little girls they eat a prodigious amount. Paying their salaries or whatever else is no burden to me."

Harry shrugged. "All right. I'll tell him. That's probably going to solve a lot of his problems." He folded the article back up and returned it to his pocket.

"I exist only to serve." Malfoy smiled and continued dispassionately watching his blood drip into a preservative vial. Perhaps in the end it was just another commodity to him, no different than strangleroot or toad's toes, something to appear on an inventory list. Seer's blood, one fourth-ounce, unadulterated, pure wizarding stock, aristocratic.

"Now is there something I can do for you this morning, Potter, or did you just have a sudden urge to make a dramatic entrance to my workroom?"

"I've got a couple of things I need to discuss with you, and I was hoping you might be able to help me with a project. But I'm starving. Can you finish up there and we'll talk over breakfast?"

"A potions project?" Malfoy capped off the vial and pulled a handkerchief out of his robe pocket to hold against his wrist.

"No, Dark Arts. Defence Against, actually."

Malfoy raised an eyebrow but followed him into the parlour without further questions. As they sat at the table, Malfoy went to pour himself a cup of tea but was hampered by the necessity of holding the handkerchief against his still-bleeding arm. "Would you mind giving me a hand here, Potter?"

Harry reached over to pour the tea for him. "Aren't you going to spell those closed?"

He shook his head. "No, I'm not done. I plan to keep collecting as much as I can safely manage, and using magic on the skin would contaminate the blood when I collect again in the morning."

"You need an Elastoplast." Malfoy gave him a blank look and Harry had to smile. "It's a self-adhesive bandage. A Muggle thing." Harry pushed the cup of tea over to him and poured himself some coffee, then began piling food on a plate.

"It's usually not a problem, I only cut a little too deeply on that last one. It will stop bleeding in a moment. Well, let's hear about this Dark Arts project of yours, then." Malfoy sipped his tea, looking a little silly holding one hand to the other wrist as he lifted his cup.

"It's good to know that even you look like a giant prat every now and then, Malfoy."

"Do not mock me. I am a martyr to the cause of research. Are you going to tell me about this project, or are you going to keep dodging the subject until teatime?"

Harry sighed. "It's about the spell that Voldemort used to kill Albus."

"Exanimus." Malfoy's expression was grim.

"What do you know about it?" Harry took a croissant and began drizzling honey on it.

"Lucius did some of the research that led to Riddle finding that spell. The book it came from was in the set of Dark Grimoires that I donated to the Aurors' Library after the War."

"Yeah, I found it." Harry pulled the copy he'd made out of his pocket and handed it to Malfoy, who checked beneath the handkerchief to see if the bleeding had stopped, seemed satisfied that it had and put the handkerchief back in his robes. He unfolded the parchment and took a look.

"That's it all right. If you've read through the book you probably know as much about it as I do."

"I'm trying to develop a counter-measure," Harry said with a mouth full of croissant. "If you were me, where would you start?"

Malfoy whistled as he buttered a piece of toast, carefully spreading a perfectly even coat all the way to the edge of the crust. Trust Malfoy to make buttering toast an operation requiring surveying equipment. "That's not going to be easy," he said as he took a bite.

"I know. That's why I'm coming to you. You probably have more direct knowledge of the Dark Arts than anyone else still living; I thought you might have some advice."

"Did you ask Professor Snape about it?"

Harry nodded. "He suggested I speak with you. He said that you have more recent experience with Dark charms and hexes."

"Huh. It's not like him to be so modest. He was probably too busy to talk to you." Malfoy swallowed the last of his tea and set his cup down. "Well, I can tell you that this spell runs on raw power, which is why it's so uncommon. There's a tremendous danger of losing your grip on your own magic in a spell like this and burning yourself out. Basically the person casting the spell is using his own magic directly to suck the life force or magic out of the victim. It's crucial that the caster be certain that he is more powerful than the victim. If he isn't, two things can happen. One is that the caster can't get a hold on the victim's life force and there's no effect. The second is that the victim's magical power can overload the caster and it basically explodes. Very messy, that. It's not easy to ascertain the level of someone's magical power, but once you have, you've also established that the victim's not going to have much chance of protecting himself. Even if you could develop a counter-spell, the victim probably wouldn't be powerful enough to maintain it in the face of the caster's greater power."

"So by casting Exanimus you're adding the victim's magical power to your own on a permanent basis?"

Malfoy nodded. "Assuming you can handle the extra power in addition to your own. That's the danger of the spell. It was an incredible risk on Riddle's part to try it on Dumbledore. With his typical arrogance, he presumed he would be able to channel his own power and all of Dumbledore's power on top of it. But if it had worked, I can't imagine that anyone would ever have been able to stand against him again."

Harry shuddered. "It looked like it was working. He drained enough power out of Dumbledore to kill him."

"It might have run over and burned him out or exploded on him at the last minute. Or maybe it's a really good thing that you took him out while he was distracted."

Harry was silent for a moment, considering. "What could you do with that power?"

"Anything," was the shrugged answer. "Everything. It's raw power, just like what you always draw upon to work magic. You'd just have that much more with which to work."

"Could you pass it along to someone else?"

"You mean split it up and give it to a group of other people? To keep from burning yourself out?"


Malfoy looked thoughtful. "I don't know. You'd need a second step to the spell. Sucking energy in isn't quite the same as infusing it. You'd need an opposite equivalent, Perfundere or something, I should think. But I imagine it would be possible if you could hold all the extra energy long enough to dole it out, and if you didn't force more magic into anyone than they could handle. It would be a very tricky business though. On more than one level, Potter. Look, spells are considered Dark for what two reasons?"

"The spell is created through a process which causes grievous harm to a sentient being, or the spell is cast with the intent to cause grievous harm to a sentient being," Harry answered immediately.

"So at the very least Exanimus is equivalent in Darkness to Avada Kedavra; it would kill whomever you were using as a power source. I'd make an argument that it's Darker, since you're killing someone to devour their power for your own ends."

"I'm just looking at the spell theoretically."

Malfoy's expression made it quite clear how likely he thought that. "Theoretically, you're treading on dangerous ground. Look, Potter, I know you're one of the good guys, but I also know how seductive this kind of Dark Magic can be. You start looking at these issues theoretically, but before long it occurs to you that you actually have the means to make the spell work. If there's anyone left alive who could manage this spell, Potter, it's you. I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole, myself. I'm a powerful wizard, but I know I couldn't handle this. But you, you've got power you haven't even begun to tap. You're a dynamo. And somewhere in the deepest recesses of your heart you know it."

Harry held up his hands. "I'm not saying I'm going to try to -"

"Let me finish. Say you learn to do Exanimus, and then you use it in the field. It's a perfectly legal use of deadly force by an Auror in the line of fire, because even though it's Dark no one knows about this spell and it's not on the forbidden lists. You're defending yourself or your comrades, and the person you kill is a bad guy whom no one is going to miss. The bad guy's not as powerful as you are, and you manage the spell just fine. You get that extra hit of power and suddenly everything's easier. What then? Are you really going to be able to put this spell on the shelf and never use it again? Or say you do manage to dole the power out among your colleagues, do you think they're going to be anxious to set that aside? A queue will be forming outside your office of people wanting in on the windfall. The cat's well and truly out of the bag then, and suddenly people are blowing themselves up left and right and killing each other for a chance to swallow some extra power."

"I see what you mean, and I know it's a slippery slope. But I want to know if there's any way I could have saved Dumbledore that night. If I could save someone in the same position if it happened again."

"Theoretically," Malfoy's voice was dripping with irony. "I suppose if you'd been able to cast Exanimus on Riddle that night while he was casting it on Dumbledore, and you'd been able to carry not only your power but also Riddle's and Dumbledore's, you could have returned Dumbledore's power to him and split Riddle's between the two of you, thereby saving Dumbledore and killing Riddle. But I'd be very surprised if even you could have managed that. You're talking about holding the combined energy of three of the most powerful wizards of the last two centuries in one body. Even if it's only for a few moments while you're reapportioning it, I can't imagine that there would be anything left of you but your spectacles and a greasy spot on the floor."

"Nice image."

"It's a gift of mine." He gave Harry his patented wry smirk before turning sombre again. "Potter, you need to understand that the possibility for corruption here isn't just the temptation to misuse the spell. Using Dark magic, particularly a spell this elemental, this powerful, changes a person. It clears a path in your heart for your darkest impulses. Bit by bit, the more you use it, the easier it is to use it, until things which should be truly horrifying begin to seem ordinary. How many times have you used Avada Kedavra?"

Harry blinked at the sudden change of subject. "Um, I don't know. Dozens of times during the War, I'd think. Once in the line of duty as an Auror."

"And how difficult was it to throw that curse the first time?"

"Very. I wasn't even sure it was going to work."

"And how difficult was it the twentieth time? How long did you stop to think before you used it the last time?"

Harry got the point. He hardly thought about it anymore. Casting Avada Kedavra took no more effort now than it took to cast a Leglocker Curse or Stupefy. And there were times during the War when he gave it about the same amount of thought.

Draco eyed him steadily. "Exanimus is considerably more advanced than the Killing Curse. It could probably be considered a form of Necromancy, though I haven't studied it enough to be sure. Using magic that Dark and that powerful hollows out the decent parts of yourself. You've already made a start by using what Dark Magic you have. If you think you're harder, colder after the War, it's probably not just the War, Potter. There's a thing called metaphysical damage. It's what happens when your personality begins to be corrupted and twisted from using Dark Magic. If you want to know how Tom Marvolo Riddle became Lord Voldemort, if you want to know how Lucius Malfoy became someone who would happily torture his only son, his heir, to death, metaphysical damage is your answer."

Okay, Harry thought, that's pretty fucking scary. "So if you're damaged that way, can you recover? If there anything that can be done to fix it?"

"By the time you're far gone enough for the damage to be obvious, you don't want to be fixed." The look in his eye was sardonic and sharp. "But yes, there are things that can be done to mitigate the damage, if it's caught early enough. There are exercises, and using Light magic for positive ends helps restore some balance."

"And you know how to do the exercises?"

"What I chiefly know is that I have far too much experience already, and believe me, even the noblest person has a shadow side, Potter. Even the Lion of Gryffindor. If you want to get to know yours, there are less dangerous methods than experimenting with ancient high-level Dark magic."

Harry shivered despite himself. "So if you don't recommend trying to fashion a counter for Exanimus out of Exanimus itself, where would you start instead?"

"With something defensive, probably shielding of some kind. Extraordinarily strong shields, portable wards almost. Shields are generally founded on Light magic and it takes less power to hold a defensive position than to initiate an offensive one."

They were interrupted by Anna coughing at the doorway. "Harry, the intelligence report from headquarters just arrived. I'd thought you'd want to see it right away."

She stepped into the room and handed a slim report to Harry. "Thanks, Anna." She nodded as if she were giving a salute and left.

Harry read through the report quickly. "It's about you," he told Malfoy. "They've found a great pile of nothing on the poison and the poisoner. The top suspect remains Mortimer Higgs, mainly because he has opportunity and motivation and they're after him already anyway. Dr. Tayce had a possible opportunity at the courthouse but no one could envision a likely motive."

"Not to mention the fact that she's a bleeding War hero, vetted by Fawkes himself into the Order," Malfoy interjected. "The Ministry's wasting its time with her."

Harry looked up at him and grinned. "Leave no stone unturned, no matter how stupid, that's our motto at DMLE." He pronounced it "dimly," and Malfoy rolled his eyes.

"They toss in the house elves and the gate guards as possible but not likely. There's not a single recorded case of a house elf being involved in the murder of a head of household, and the gate guards don't come inside the wards. And there you have it. Eight pages to say they're still at square one."

"What about the Aurors?"

"What about us?"

"You aren't counting the Aurors as possible suspects?"

Harry was vaguely horrified. "Of course not. I hand-picked this team myself."

"From volunteers. I'm sure there were several Aurors who weren't interested in keeping me alive."

"Well," Harry caged, "it's an open-ended assignment on-site. We only ever take volunteers for those. Some people's family or personal situations prevent them from being on call for long hours."

Malfoy looked smug. "I'm sure. So, what if one or more of those volunteers were something less than a fan of mine. The Aurors are coming in and out of the house at all hours completely unrestricted. They have plenty of opportunity, and they all have plenty of motive to hate Death Eaters."

"You're not a Death Eater!"

In response Malfoy rolled up his left sleeve. On his forearm was knot of pink scar tissue in the shape of Voldemort's death's head symbol. "This tars me with the same brush as anyone else who wore it. To say I'm not or wasn't a Death Eater is to wilfully misunderstand the lengths to which I was willing to go in order to defeat Riddle and my father. To those who loved the people I killed, there is no difference between Lucius and myself."

Harry ran a hand through the thick disaster of his hair. "Anyone who thinks that you and Lucius are the same needs to have their head examined." Malfoy just looked at him steadily and Harry sighed. "I'll administer Veritaserum to my team just to be on the safe side. At least we can rule them out as suspects, then. I'll have to take a dose, too. Bloody potion always gives me a headache."

"Can I come ask you questions until it wears off?" Malfoy asked hopefully.

"No. Now that we've established that I'm a complete failure at my job and we have no leads whatsoever, I'll go begin the rest of my day. I really appreciate your talking with me about Exanimus. I know it probably brings up some bad memories." Harry drank down the last of his coffee.

"Ah, yes, the Malfoy family research parties were always such a lovely time. Lucius set a new personal record for ugliness to get his grubby paws on that book, and probably everyone else who ever owned it had done the same. It was steeped in blood from first to last. I was delighted to hand it over to the Ministry and never have to lay my hands on it again."

Imagine growing up with that sort of thing just lying around your house, Harry thought. It was a monument to Snape that Malfoy didn't turn out completely twisted. "I'll give your regards to Minister Weasley and Secretary Moody this afternoon."

Malfoy picked at the remains of his toast. "I imagine they'll be more pleased to have my money than my regards, but they're welcome to both."

"Oh, and I'm having dinner with Sirius and Remus tonight, so I may not see you until tomorrow morning. Janice is off but Hydrangea's on the interior tonight; you'll be in good hands."

"Hydrangea's hands aren't exactly what I dream of at night, but I'm comforted by your faith in her," Malfoy smirked as Harry took his leave.

Ministry of Magic
Department of Records and Documents

Request For A Change Of Name

Date: 16 November, 1998

Current Name: Draco Lucius Severus Fornet Malfoy

Requested Change: Draco Jacques Severus Fornet Malfoy

Reason for Request: Namesake was "Death Eating Bastard." Also, "Murderous Dark Arts Wielding Scum." In addition, "Very Poor Excuse For A Father."

Status of Request: Approved

Officer of Record: Phineas James Tuttlelout

When Harry walked into the Three Broomsticks, Sirius was already sitting at their usual table in the corner with a half-empty pint of lager sitting in front of him. He was munching on a packet of crisps and Remus was nowhere to be seen.

As Harry approached the table, Sirius got up and gave him a hug, then signalled the barman, who began pouring Harry's pint. "So, where's Remus?" Harry asked as they both sat down.

"The good professor is marking essays. He said to say hello and he hopes we'll see you for dinner soon, but he's got too much work to go out pub crawling with the boys. Also, you shouldn't let me get you into any trouble."

Harry snorted. "Okay, I'll keep that in mind." By then the barman was nearly finished pouring Harry's drink and Harry went to fetch it. When he sat back down at the table he raised his glass. "Thanks for this," he said, and took a healthy gulp.

"Ordered two chicken pies, too; no point in breaking with tradition. I reckoned you could do with a pint and a pie after what you've been through. So, how many times have you hexed Malfoy so far?"

"You're the second person to ask me that. Is it so hard to believe that I might have grown up a little bit in the last few years?"

Sirius waved a hand. "You might have, but has he? I would have cursed the little fucker into next week from the outset. Save yourself the trouble of waiting for him to do something obnoxious."

"It would have been a short wait. He's grown up too, but he's still bloody annoying. Not hostile like he used to be but he's always trying to embarrass me, make me blush."

"And does he succeed?" The heat in Harry's face was enough of an answer and Sirius laughed. "I'd think you'd be used to queens by now, as much as you're around Remus and me."

"You don't flirt with me just for the sake of embarrassing me. And, of course, he's as sarcastic as ever and still somewhat condescending. He argues with me constantly over my recommendations for his safety. And if I hear him tell me one more time to address Snape with respect or to get my boots off the footstool, I'm not sure I can be held responsible for my actions."

"So it's going well, then," Sirius said with a smile as he finished off his drink.

Harry shrugged. "Oh, it's not as bad as I thought it would be. He's actually pretty funny at times. He has grown up a lot. He even seems to have got over most of his Pureblood Supremacy bullshit."

"Well, that's something, I suppose."

"And the food's good. His house elves really know how to put out a spread."

Sirius laughed. "Ah, I should have known. No wonder you're not more brassed off at Malfoy. Feed you and you'll follow anyone anywhere."

"Yeah, thank God Voldemort never realized that a lavish buffet would have completely destroyed my resolve. A nice roast and some of those little pastry things and it would have been all over."

The barman approached their table with their pies and fresh pint for Sirius' on his tray, set them on the table, received their thanks and went back to his post.

Harry neglected to give the pie enough time to cool off and burned his tongue with the first bite. He quenched the sting with a mouthful of beer, while Sirius cut his pie open and let the steam escape with a smug look.

"You know," Harry continued with a slight lisp. "That's another thing that does brass me off about Malfoy. He never does things like that."

"He never burns his tongue on a pub chicken pie? I can't imagine that he's ever eaten one. A bit common for him, isn't it?"

"He'd want a fancy version of a chicken pie. With champagne gravy or something. You'd know better than me. Did the Black Family dinners include fancy pies?"

"Only the ones we made out of our Muggle victims. Bwahahahahaha!" His attempt at a villainous laugh was actually rather scary. Probably the sort of thing they practiced at Black Family dinners.

Harry rolled his eyes. "What I mean is that he hardly ever does anything clumsy. The only time I've seen him stumble is when he was poisoned. He's so bloody decorative. He sits around looking like he's part of the interior design. Aristocrat with book on sofa, unshod. And that's another weird thing, he hardly ever wears shoes. Do you think the War gave him some kind of phobia about it? Maybe Lucius tortured him with shoes."

"How do you torture someone with shoes?"

"Make them wear shoes that don't fit? Throw shoes at them? I don't know. I'm sure if there were a way to do it, Lucius Malfoy would have sussed it out."

Sirius started laughing around a mouthful of chicken pie. "Harry, I think being cooped up in a gothic estate with a reclusive weirdo is affecting your mind. Maybe he just likes going barefoot. Why does this bother you? Are his bare feet offensive in some way?"

"Only in the sense that they're as fucking perfect as the rest of him."

"You're saying you're offended because his feet are attractive. Do you realize how gay that sounds?"

"Yeah, now that you mention it." He took another sip of beer and had a bite of pie, which had finally cooled enough to eat. "It's a good thing it's not contagious or I'd start to wonder."

Sirius quirked an eyebrow. "There are worse things to be."

"Hear, hear." Harry raised his glass and clinked it against Sirius' before draining it and waving to the barkeep for another.

They finished off their chicken pies, drank another pint or two and played a game of darts, which Sirius won, as usual. Sirius made his usual indirect but not very subtle pitch for Harry to dump DMLE and come work for him in his private investigation firm, and Harry dodged the subject. As usual. They drank just enough lager to make the time pass, and after closing time Harry went around to the Cottage to say hello to Remus and have a cup of his perfectly brewed tea and another hour of conversation. As he made his way back to the Manor, Remus' tea still warm in his belly, he realized that he was bloody lucky to have the family he had.

Malfoy Manor
17 March, 2000 6:43 a.m.

Mr. Augustus Ludd, Esq.

Grout, Harpy and Ludd LLP
1215 Ambages Lane
London, England

Dear Gus:

Thanks for the card inquiring after my health. You'd know better than anyone just how difficult it is to bump off a Malfoy. I'm fine.

I have a few minor changes I'd like to make to my will. The first is that I've extended a loan of one hundred twenty-five thousand Galleons to Pansy Parkinson at an annual rate of interest of three percent, with a flexible term of repayment. In the event of my death, my estate will forgive the loan, and refund the sum total of the interest paid, if any. Feel free to owl over to Thomas to get a copy of the loan agreement. I believe he was planning to send it over, but the ink's hardly dry on the parchment yet.

The second is that I would like to make arrangements to leave all of my clothes (including shoes and accessories) to Harry Potter. Yes, that Harry Potter. Someone's going to have to do something with them, after all, and his wardrobe could use an infusion of couture.

Severus Semotus Caligo Harrison Snape, Lord Snape, remains the Heir, as before, and aside from those matters on which I've left explicit instructions, shall dispose of the estate as he sees fit.

Given the circumstances, it might be best to expedite these changes. Could you send someone over with the documents tomorrow afternoon? If Martin's free, that would be ideal. (And not just because he fills out his robes nicely. Though he does.)

Thanks for your attention to this matter on short notice.

Yours sincerely,

Draco Jacques Severus Fornet Malfoy

When Harry got back, it was past midnight and he could see the light still on in the parlour as he walked up the drive. He let himself into the house, greeted Hydrangea and went to investigate.

The parlour door was standing open, as it usually was, and when Harry walked in he was surprised to see Malfoy lounging on the couch with his bare feet up on the armrest and a bottle of whisky cradled in one arm. He was wearing a black t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Muggle music - The Beatles, actually - was coming from a cd that was spinning with no visible means of support on a shelf, and Janice was sitting at the table by the window looking exhausted. She jumped up from her seat as soon as she saw Harry.

"Mr. Potter, sir, I tried to get him to eat something but . . ." her voice trailed off and she indicated a plate full of now-cold and rather disgusting looking food. "He's been drinking."

"Potter," Malfoy said in his most imperious drawl, "please inform Janice that I am present in the room and there's no need to act as if I weren't."

"Mr. Potter, he threatened to insult me," Janice countered.

"He threatened to insult you?"

"Potter, tell Janice how soft I've got, that there was a time when I would have eviscerated her with no warning." Malfoy considered his words. "Well, not literally. Verbally. Maybe literally. Depends on the context." He took a large swig from the bottle. "Tell her, Potter. I used to be scary."

"You're still scary, Malfoy. Janice, thanks, you can go on to bed. I'll take over. I'm sure Mr. Malfoy will be very embarrassed by his behaviour toward you in the morning."

"No, I won't!" Malfoy sang out. Janice shrugged at Harry and made her escape. "Anyway, Lucius is Mr. Malfoy," Malfoy continued. "I hate it when you call me Malfoy, Potter, and I don't think I shall answer to it anymore."

"What am I supposed to call you, then?"

"Draco. Or you can call me Jacques." Malfoy giggled. "That started as a joke, you know."

"I know. Are you going to keep calling me Potter, then?"

"Yes," Malfoy answered after a moment's reflection, with great dignity.

"That doesn't seem fair, really."

But Malfoy had closed his eyes and Harry thought he'd probably fallen asleep. He sat himself in the chair across from the sofa and put his feet up on the footstool.

"Take your shoes off, Potter, if you're going to put your feet on the furniture," Malfoy said suddenly, his eyes still closed.

Harry couldn't help but smile as he leaned down to unlace his boots and take them off. He was never going to let Malfoy live this down. It was worth two weeks of his constant company just to see him this drunk.

Malfoy sat up abruptly and pointed to the cd spinning on the shelf. "I did that, you know."

"You started the cd player?"

"No! I mean, yes, I did, but I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the music. This Muggle music. Listen to it, Potter."

"I've heard 'Golden Slumbers' before, Malfoy."

Malfoy scowled at him. "I thought I heard someone talking, but I don't hear my name, so they can't possibly be talking to me."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Draco. I've heard 'Golden Slumbers' before, Draco. I was raised as a Muggle, Draco, as you never stopped reminding me when we were in school."

"But have you ever really listened to it? Shhh. Shhhh. Stop talking. Just listen."

They stopped talking and listened to Paul McCartney sing. Harry generally took Muggle music for granted. He listened to it, he heard it when he watched the telly, it was all around. It wasn't something he thought about. But now that Malfoy mentioned it, this was a pretty good song. Beautiful, even.

The song ended and "A Day in the Life" started. They listened to that one in silence, too, until the last note hung in the air for what felt like eternity.

As it slowly faded, Malfoy said, "If they'd won they would have destroyed that. I stopped them. And you did, too." He laid back down, the bottle dangling from his hand loosely off the edge of the sofa. "And that's enough. That's good enough."

"Enough for what?"

"I'm very drunk," he said, as though this were a perfectly reasonable answer to the question. "The Two of Us" started playing.

"I can see that, Malfoy. I mean, Draco. Where did you get this cd and why are you listening to it?"

"It's for my Muggle Studies N.E.W.T. Muggle Popular Music, Volume 12, The Magic of The Beatles, Compiled and Collected."

"That's what all that reading is for? You're taking your N.E.W.T.s?"

"I'm taking seven N.E.W.T.s," he said proudly. "Be sure to tell Granger that, won't you, Potter?" He lifted the bottle and poured some into his mouth without sitting up. Harry was amazed that he neither spilled a drop, nor choked. He was beginning to get the idea that Malfoy was somewhat practiced at this. "Some people read for the love of knowledge, though, you know, Potter. Some people have some depth beyond dashing about saving everyone from themselves, and Death Eaters, and scaly things."

Harry had no idea what that meant, and he decided he really didn't want to delve into it. "Draco, are you saying that you never took your N.E.W.T.s?"

"Was rather busy infiltrating the Dark Lord's inner circle at the time, Potter. I got a great education in skinning techniques, though. And demon summoning. I can summon a great huge old nasty demon any time you want one."

"I'd rather we skipped it if it's all the same to you."

"I thought you'd feel that way. Most people do. Not the most practical education, as it turns out."

"But it's not like you have to work or anything. I mean, it doesn't really matter if you finish your N.E.W.T.s or not."

"It mattered to Dumbledore," he said quietly. "And it matters to me."

"Oh." The Beatles played in the silence. "So, what ones are you taking, then?"

"I'm very drunk," Malfoy said.

"I seem to recall your mentioning that, yes."

"I'm going to tell you something now, Potter, only because I'm so drunk I won't remember it in the morning, and you're too much the noble Gryffindor to ever bring it up again. If you ever try to use it against me, I shall deny it vehemently and then find a way to wreak my vengeance upon you. A great and terrible vengeance, Potter."

"I'm assuming that's pretty much what you studied your seventh year instead of your N.E.W.T.s, great and terrible vengeance wreaking."

Malfoy gave Harry a beatific smile. "Exactly."

"Okay, consider me sufficiently intimidated. Go on. What's your big secret?"

"The first half of my sixth year, before Lucius pulled me out of Hogwarts," he took a deep breath, then plunged on quickly, "I had an enormous crush on you."

Harry wasn't sure if he should laugh, or say thank you, or scream in terror, or what. So he just sat there with his feet up and his mouth open.

"I got over it, of course" Malfoy continued. "I think it was just that I'd started having the dreams, and I knew I had to switch sides. And I knew if I did my parents were going to die. And I was going to die. But the future, when Voldemort won - it was bad, Potter. You have no idea how bad. So there I was, and you were the champion of lost causes, weren't you? I mean, you were friends with The Weasel, and Granger, who, let's face it, started out rather poorly. You were dashing about saving everyone. I suppose I hoped you could save me, too. Charge in on your white horse. Maybe then I wouldn't have to go back to the Manor and be a spy against my own family and probably kill them and probably die. But Christmas came and everything happened just as I knew it would. I knew no one could save me, not even you. But thinking that you might gave me some comfort for a while, I think. Just until I got used to the idea, you know?"

Harry thought that that was one of the saddest things he'd ever heard. Malfoy rolled over onto his side and set the bottle carefully on the carpet.

"So, thanks, Potter," Malfoy said. "Even though you didn't know what I was thinking, it helped. And thanks for saving my life after I got poisoned, too. I don't think I thanked you for that. And thanks for killing the Dark Fuckwit. I really hated that tosser. And thanks for something else, too. I can't remember what it was now. You're not so bad, really, Potter. You just need some new shirts."

Malfoy's eyes drifted closed, and he tucked his hands beneath his head and began to snore softly.

Harry took a soft wool throw off the end of the sofa and covered Malfoy with it, then gently swept a stray lock of blond hair out of his eyes. "You're welcome, Draco," he said quietly. "Sweet dreams."

Ministry of Magic, Department of Mysteries
Official Field Agent Report
Classified Document - Security Clearance Phoenix

Agent: Severus Snape
Date of Report: 1 October, 1998

This report is provided at the request of the Minister of Magic, Arthur Weasley, and concerns the events of 25 May, 1998 and the role of the deep-cover field agent known as "Jacques." Until that time, Jacques' true identity was a closely-held secret known only to the author of this report and Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and head of the Order of the Phoenix. The events which comprise this report destroyed a part of Jacques' cover, but it is crucial that certain aspects of his role remain secret, for the sake of his continuing safety. This report is submitted, therefore, only under the condition that it remain highly classified for the duration of Draco Malfoy's life. After his death, this report should be declassified so that history may acknowledge the full extent of his responsibility for the Order of the Phoenix's victory in the Second Voldemort War.

On or about 20 September, 1996, Draco Malfoy approached the author with a proposal that he begin to spy on the Death Eaters on behalf of the Order of the Phoenix. As the son of Riddle's second-in-command, he would be beyond suspicion in a way that none of the Order's other spies could possibly be and he would be living at Riddle's headquarters with access to the highest level of information. Naturally, the Order was very pleased to accept his suggestion. This is a matter of public record. What has been and must remain highly classified is Draco Malfoy's status as a very powerful Seer. His visions of his future life as a Death Eater after Riddle's victory induced him to make every attempt to ensure that this dire outcome would never come to pass. While providing intelligence gathered in the customary ways, he was also providing the Order with the contents of his frequent prophetic dreams.

In the Autumn of 1996, Malfoy knew that his father was preparing to pull him out of Hogwarts and he, Headmaster Dumbledore and the author raced against time to find a way to facilitate communications once Malfoy was "in the field." Face-to-face meetings were far too dangerous, and would not give the Order the opportunity to retrieve information on the almost-daily basis required. A portkey seal was finally devised which would allow Malfoy to write a daily report and portkey it away to Hogwarts immediately. Sealing the letters transported them to a box in the author's private quarters at Hogwarts, and leaving no evidence at Malfoy's end that a letter had been sent. Letters were small enough to slip through the wards around Malfoy Manor, and allowed Malfoy to send communications as often as he could find time to write. No mechanism was devised for getting information to him; it was agreed that the less he knew about the Order's affairs, the better. Regardless of his status as Lucius Malfoy's son, no one harboured any illusions about his fate if he were discovered to be a spy. A one-way stream of information was determined to be safest for everyone concerned.

A code name was employed, not only to prevent the existence of a paper trail attaching his name to the information he provided, but also to give the other members of the Order a way to refer to him. Malfoy chose the name Jacques on a whim, because once the Headmaster had asked him what he planned to do when the Order won the War and he replied flippantly that he would move to France and change his name to Jacques. This is the true origin of the now-famous name and the fleur-de-lis seal that Malfoy chose for the portkey; it had nothing to do with underwater photography, as has been widely rumoured.

Malfoy was provided with only one meagre possibility for escape if the operation were compromised. A second portkey was designed, with smallest possible magical signature, strong enough only to transport a single person from wherever it was used into the infirmary at Hogwarts. It was weak enough to slip through the Manor's wards and it was keyed to work only for Malfoy. Dumbledore, with his typical whimsy, used a Muggle object for the portkey, a Chinese coin supposed to bring good luck. When he presented it to Malfoy and explained what it did and the significance of the coin, Malfoy muttered, "Good luck to me if I ever need it." Malfoy doubted that he would be able to reach the portkey in time if he were discovered, but Dumbledore felt it was always possible that Malfoy's dreams might give him advance warning. In the end, it was the author's good fortune that Malfoy had the portkey and Malfoy was correct in his assumption that the escape route would do him little good at all.

As predicted, Lucius Malfoy pulled his son out of Hogwarts over the Christmas break of 1996. Thus did the younger Malfoy's life as a spy in his own household begin. He portkeyed letters every morning with the details of the Death Eaters' plans as far as he knew them and descriptions of his prophetic dreams. These letters often included his own private thoughts, as he had no one to whom he could unburden himself and the stress of his position was overwhelming, especially for such a young man. All relevant information contained in the letters was passed on to the Order immediately, but his privacy has been guarded by the retention of the original letters among the secure, personal papers of the author, whose estate will release them to an appropriate archive after Malfoy's death.

In March of 1998, Malfoy wrote that he had dreamed that the author would be unmasked as a traitor and killed at the next meeting of Death Eaters. The author was pulled from field work and remained at Hogwarts, safe beneath the school's protective wards. He continued to teach and research potions and matters of the Dark Arts at the Order's request.

The War continued on its course, and by May of 1998 it was clear that events were coming to a head. The younger Malfoy had been put in charge of the wards of Malfoy Manor, and he had carefully built in a "back-door" with a specific password provided to the Order. The wards appeared to be entirely whole when examined, but could be breached by anyone who held the password. Malfoy wrote that he had chosen this method because it ensured that he need not be available, conscious, or even alive when the Final Assault took place. The Order made its plans to attack on the first of June.

On 23 May, 1998, Ronald Weasley, Hogwarts student, member of the Order and youngest son of the current Minister of Magic, was mortally wounded by Death Eaters. The author knew of a potion that might counteract the Dark curses with which he had been attacked, but it had to be brewed immediately before consumption with unusual and very fresh ingredients. No one else had the knowledge to make the trip to pick up the ingredients, and the author felt that he might Apparate to Diagon Alley, get the ingredients and Disapparate before the Death Eaters realized he had left Hogwarts. This turned out to a be mistaken assumption, based partly on arrogance and partly on panic on behalf of Mr. Weasley, whom the author admits he never particularly liked but to whom he had grown accustomed. By random chance, a Death Eater happened upon the author in Diagon Alley and took the opportunity to portkey him back to Malfoy Manor.

At that point the author's life was clearly forfeit and the best which could be hoped was to die with the Order's secrets intact. Lucius Malfoy and Tom Riddle spent the afternoon of 24 May in an attempt to gain those secrets by means of torture. But they wasted a great deal of time with their own amusement rather than trying to illicit information. They seemed to think they had all the time in the world to gain whatever of the Order's secrets the author possessed. Draco Malfoy made certain that this was not the case.

As soon as the author was left chained in the dungeon alone, Malfoy appeared with the Chinese coin in his hand. He had rekeyed it to the author's magical signature and employed it without the author's consent, leaving himself in the Manor dungeons with a shattered cover and no escape route

Malfoy stated afterward that he had been dreaming of his own death for months (a fact which he never shared in the letters). He decided that he preferred to die saving the author's life rather than at his father's whims or for some other purpose. This foolish sentimentality put the Order in the difficult position of having a field agent with knowledge of a key point of strategy in enemy hands, though Malfoy argues that the author was in possession of that same bit of strategy so the situation had not changed. Regardless, plans were put into immediate action to implement the Final Assault on Malfoy Manor on 25 May. After rapid medical treatment by Poppy Pomfrey, the author went with the Assault Team in hopes that there might be something of the younger Malfoy left to rescue.

Tom Riddle and Lucius Malfoy spent most of the night of 24 May and all of the day of 25 May torturing Draco Malfoy. The younger Malfoy had been intentionally developing a tolerance to Veritaserum during his tenure as a spy, and was able to utilize this and a number of other methods (quoting his father's old etiquette manuals back to him from memory for one, and sheer bravery in the face of unimaginable pain for another) to prevent the Death Eaters from discovering the back door he had set in the wards. He also managed to keep his gifts as a Seer a secret, though perhaps it would have been preferable if he had told, for if Riddle had a further use for him he probably would have been left in better shape.

The younger Malfoy was discovered in the dungeons in the early evening of 25 May, after the Manor fell and Tom Riddle and Lucius Malfoy had been killed. He had been physically tortured, exposed to what amounted in the aggregate to hours of Cruciatus, and dosed with a number of experimental potions. He was unconscious, bleeding, and clearly dying. Medical staff were in short supply, as the casualties from the final battle were overwhelming, so he was taken back to Hogwarts in hopes that something could be done for him there.

Malfoy was in a coma for five weeks while the author, Madame Pomfrey and several doctors from St. Mungo's tried to discover what potions he had been given and how to counteract them. In addition to these poisonings, Malfoy suffered from the cumulative effects of Cruciatus and twenty-four hours of other physical tortures. After waking from the coma, he spent another four and a half months on bed rest, healing. The long-term effects of his injuries and the extensive damage to his nervous system and metabolism remain unknown. It is likely that he will be affected by them to some degree for the rest of his life. That he survived at all is nothing short of a miracle, and a testament to his strength of will and the medical prowess of Madame Pomfrey and the St. Mungo's staff.

No less than the late Ronald Weasley, Harry Potter, or the great Albus Dumbledore himself, Draco Malfoy is a hero of this War. At astonishing risk to his person and his psyche, he undertook work that could not have been accomplished by anyone else. He was literally irreplaceable to the Order. Without access to the wards of Malfoy Manor, or worse, if Malfoy had chosen to provide his prescient abilities to Tom Riddle instead of the Order, there can be no doubt that the War would have been lost. The author hopes the Ministry will take these facts under advisement when reviewing his case. This concludes the report.

Harry left instructions with Hydrangea to leave Malfoy where he was but keep an eye on him, and went to bed. When he came back downstairs the next morning, Malfoy was still lying on the couch, but with the blanket pulled up over his head leaving his bare toes exposed to the cold. Harry had a strong urge to tickle his feet, but considering the shape Malfoy's head was likely to be in, it wouldn't be kind.

The little table was covered in breakfast stuff, just like always, but there was also a clay flask about the size of a wine bottle on the table with a note tied around its neck, and three large boxes wrapped in brown postal paper. The poison detector Harry got for Malfoy was sitting on the table, a little enchanted phoenix in gold that sang in the presence of anything poisonous. The charmed statue was silent so Harry pulled out a chair and sat down to eat Malfoy's breakfast.

Malfoy groaned, the blanket still over his head. "Are you house elves always this noisy?"

"No elves, just me," Harry answered with a bite of toast in his mouth. "Want some breakfast?"

"Didn't you have enough of me throwing up all over you last week?"

"Actually, yes. Looks like you've got some post here, Malfoy. Draco."

Malfoy sat up and the blanket fell off his head into his lap. He looked at Harry suspiciously. "What did you call me?"

"Last night you decided you weren't answering to Malfoy anymore and insisted that I call you by your Christian name," Harry answered with a gleam in his eye. "Or Jacques."

Malfoy moaned, fell back on the sofa and pulled the blanket back over his head. "I'm never going to hear the end of this, am I? Of all the people in the world, I have to make an ass of myself in front of Harry Potter."

"Actually, that was all you said." Harry turned back to his toast and coffee casually. "You passed out pretty quickly, after making me listen very carefully to 'Golden Slumbers.'"

Malfoy pulled the blanket down so it rested under his chin. His hair was sticking up in all directions, and it was all Harry could do to keep a straight face. "Really?" Malfoy asked.

"Yep. A great blackmail opportunity sadly ruined by your inability to hold your liquor."

"Hey! I hold my liquor very well. You were late." Malfoy sat up and grimaced. "Did Sev, Professor Snape, I mean, send a bottle over?"

Harry shrugged. "There's a bottle here with a note."

"Hand it here, would you? I'd Accio it but I don't know what I did with my wand."

Harry got up and gave Malfoy the brown flask. Malfoy took the note off and read it aloud. "Dear Horrific Irritation, I'm sure a week of behaving yourself around me will have taken its toll by now. Find attached the Snape Ancestral Hangover Potion, as per usual. See if you can make this one last longer than a week. If you must vomit, I suggest you aim for Potter. Yours, etc. Severus." Malfoy tossed the note over his shoulder, uncorked the bottle and took a long drink, then made a face. "Damn stuff tastes like sawdust."

"What's in it?" Harry asked.

"Don't know. He won't tell me. He says it's a Snape family secret and he'll leave it to me in his will. As if I'll live that long. Works wonders, though. I'm feeling better already." Malfoy let out a long belch. "Oh, excuse me," he said demurely.

Harry cracked up laughing. Then he realized what Malfoy had said and abruptly stopped. "What do you mean, as if you'll live that long?"

"Oh, you know," he waved a dismissive hand. "Prophecies of doom, blah di blah, whatever."

"No, I don't know. Don't do that, don't blah di blah, whatever. What are you talking about?"

"The dreams, Potter," Malfoy said slowly like he was talking to someone very stupid or slightly deaf. "Repeated prophetic dreams of my death at an early age? Part of the whole Draco Malfoy, Seer Extraordinaire package. You said the Professor told you."

"Snape told me that you had prophetic dreams, but he didn't say you were dreaming your own death!"

"Oh, shit." Malfoy winced and ran a hand through his hair, which only rearranged the unruly bits so they were going in new, equally unruly directions. "I wouldn't have said anything if I'd known he hadn't told you."

Harry threw his napkin down on his plate and stood up. "Great. Brilliant! You wouldn't have said anything. Do you want to die? And what the fuck is the matter with Snape, he's just letting you run around like there's nothing wrong?" Harry was shouting.

"Potter, just calm down."

"How the fuck am I supposed to protect you if you don't tell me these things?"

"Potter, sit down and -"

"What did you dream? Tell me everything! No, wait, let me get a piece of parchment, I want to write this down." Harry began frantically digging through the drawers of the end tables looking for something to write on.

"Potter, it isn't -"

"What's the point in being a Seer if you won't tell me what you're Seeing? How am I supposed -"

"Harry!" Malfoy stood up and shouted at him. "Shut up!"

Harry was shocked into silence. Malfoy never called him by his first name, and seldom raised his voice no matter how irritated he was.

Malfoy continued on in a calmer tone. "Thank you. As I was trying to explain, it isn't just one dream. I dream myself dying in a hundred different ways. I have these dreams all the time, and they seem like true prophecies, but they all contradict each other. The only thing they have in common is that I see my dead body at the end and I look fairly young. Though the Fornet side of the family ages beautifully, so who knows. I dreamed myself dying of Cruciatus and torture at the hands of Voldemort and my father, and I almost did. That was exactly as I dreamed it. I dreamed of dying of poison, and I almost did, but it was a different kind of poison in the dream, so I don't know what that means. I've dreamed of drowning, falling, burning, bleeding, you name it, anything but natural causes at a ripe old age. I even dreamed of being shot with a Muggle gun. There's no way that you can guard against all that, okay? I'm going to die young, and there's not much you can do about it. Just keep me alive as long as you can, and I'll be happy. If I get to take the N.E.W.T.s in May, that would be nice."

Malfoy sat back down on the couch with a sigh like the speech had exhausted him. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "You've given me a headache," he complained. "Pour me some tea, would you?" He took another drink of Snape's hangover remedy and screwed up his face. "Grgh. Tea."

Stunned, Harry poured the tea as requested and handed it to Malfoy. He didn't want to believe that Malfoy was right. He refused to believe that there was nothing to be done about this death sentence. Malfoy was so young; it wasn't fair. He'd hardly had a chance to do anything with his life. All he'd done was sneak around doing horrible things in order to save the world, and have dreadful, horrific visions of the future, and nearly get himself killed. And, okay, evidently sleep with a large number of probably very attractive men, many of whom previously thought they were straight. Even so, that wasn't much of a life. Malfoy - grand, peculiar, aristocratic Draco Malfoy - had for his greatest ambition finishing his N.E.W.T.s before he died. That was just wrong. He should be doing something bizarre and fantastic, like starring in the first wizarding musical on Broadway, or running away to Tibet to write pornography, or winning the Nobel Prize for potions-making. Instead he was sitting around, hoping he'd get a chance to pass exams he probably could have written, and waiting for someone or something to kill him. It made Harry want to break things.

Malfoy's snapping fingers brought Harry back to reality. "Still in there, Potter? You're looking rather peaked. Have a pastry or something, why don't you?"

Harry did as he was told, but hardly tasted the pastry or his coffee. His mind was racing with possibilities and probabilities and the injustice of it all. "I refuse to accept that you're going to die and there's nothing we can do," he finally said.

Malfoy shrugged and sipped tea. "Okay."

They were both silent for a while, until Malfoy's eyes landed on the boxes still on the table. "Oooh," he purred. "I bet I know what those are." He could barely contain his glee, and there was something mischievous in his eyes when he looked at Harry that made the hair on Harry's neck stand on end.

Malfoy set his teacup on the table and examined the labels. "Ha, I knew it. Armani Wizarding. Harry Potter, your time has come!" He ripped the paper off the boxes, opened the top one, and lifted out a set of black dress robes. He held them up to examine them critically. "Not bad. Come on, Potter, try them on."

"What?" Harry wiped the butter off his fingers on his napkin hurriedly, but he didn't know if he even wanted to touch something so obviously expensive. Not that he didn't have the money to pay for such things, but it just wasn't his style. Conspicuous consumption made him uncomfortable.

"They're for you, numbskull. To replace the ones I ruined. Go on, put them on."

"No, you didn't have to, you know the Ministry will reimburse me . . ." Harry ran out of words when he saw the determined look on Malfoy's face. He realized it would be easier to try the robes on. Maybe he'd get lucky and they wouldn't fit.

He stood up and unbuttoned his Auror's robes, shrugging them off and laying them across the back of his chair. He took the Armani ones from Malfoy and pulled them on. When he buttoned them they fit perfectly. He sighed.

Malfoy was looking at him like Christmas had come early.

"How did you know what size?" Harry asked.

Malfoy waved a hand. "Magic, Potter. That shirt has got to go, though. Try one of these." Harry didn't understand what was wrong with his beige shirt, but Malfoy was digging through the other boxes like it was his new mission in life and eventually held up a shirt. It was a light cream colour, and it rippled gently as Malfoy ran his fingertips across it.

"Hm, excellent hand to the fabric. Here, Potter, put this on."

Harry obeyed, removing first the new robes and then the old shirt. He'd never been entirely comfortable undressing in front of other people, even in locker rooms, but walking around without a shirt was hardly a big deal. It didn't occur to him to be self-conscious, until he glanced up to take the new shirt from Malfoy and saw the look on his face. It was something hungry, and flirtatious, and raw, and sparkling. Something dazzling. Harry suddenly felt more naked than he'd ever felt in his life, but he was curiously warmed by it. To put that look on Draco Malfoy's face felt like an accomplishment, and that was damn confusing. He felt his face colouring and he took the shirt from Malfoy and quickly put it on. He tucked it into his trousers.

"Much better," Malfoy said crisply. "Put the robes back on and go look at yourself." He indicated a mirror on the other side of the room, and Harry did as he suggested.

Malfoy was right. Harry didn't know why, but even he could see the new clothes were much better. Light seemed to love this black cloth in a way it never did his old robes. When he turned, the fabric moved in a dashing swish. In the new shirt his eyes looked greener, or brighter, or something. He smiled at himself. He looked good.

He turned to see Malfoy smiling back at him with a proprietary air. "There's two more shirts and a pair of black trousers there, too. The green shirt is going to look particularly nice on you. I'll go see about getting some more tea while you try the trousers on, shall I?" And he strode out of the room without waiting for an answer.

Evidently Harry wasn't the only one discombobulated by the moment they'd had, or whatever it was. He hurried to change his trousers before Malfoy returned. This assignment had turned out to be more complicated than he ever could have imagined.

Malfoy Manor
22 March, 2002, 10:40 a.m.

Dear Sev:

Thanks for the hangover remedy. You are timely as always. I'll endeavour to pace myself with it, per your suggestion.

In return for the potion, I shall tell you the story of what I did last night to put me in such dire need of said. I got horribly drunk, made unfounded snide remarks to Potter's favourite underling, and then confessed to Potter himself that I had a horrible crush on him in sixth year. Having done as much damage as I reasonably could without involving weaponry, I thankfully passed out.

When I woke this morning, I was still in yesterday's clothes and had evidently been left where I had fallen. Potter was making enough racket to wake the dead in gathering up his breakfast, but was kind enough to pretend that I didn't say anything untoward, and I played along gratefully. That Gryffindor nobility does come in handy at times.

So, there. That should provide you with your morning's chuckle at my expense and you can go about your day knowing that without your potion I should have been exposed to the indignity of being sick on Harry Potter twice in a seven-day period, in addition to my drunken embarrassment.

You know me so well, Sev, but I know you, too. Right now you're lifting a black eyebrow at the parchment and wondering if I'm still under the thrall of my adolescent enchantment with Potter. The teenage malcontent in me wants to snarl back that of course I'm not. But the more mature part of me (yes, it exists – don't interrupt) has to admit that he's a damn attractive man. He's not been on the cover of Teen Witch Weekly every other week for nothing, after all. He's sleeping just down the hall from me. And I'm surrounded by all these Amazon Aurors, with only the Handsome Mr. Potter for male company. And, yes, okay, I'm fucking bored. But you needn't concern yourself about my distracting my bodyguard. He's convinced he's straight, and even if he weren't, I doubt very much he'd be interested in the likes of me - an ex-Death Eater spy whose only future lies six feet below ground, and him not even in need of the inheritance. Not to mention how all his Auror friends would take the news. They'd probably commit him to St. Mungo's before he pronounced the second syllable of my name. I'm entirely resigned to looking without touching on this one.

I've done myself a disservice, though, by buying him some fetching new clothing. I thought I'd find it restful to be spared his remarkably ill-chosen ensembles, but having him looking so delicious has proved rather frustrating. I did get a drool-provoking glimpse at him without his shirt, though. One must find one's delights where one may, particularly when one is trapped in one's large-but-still-confining estate. Rolling your eyes too hard can cause strain, Sev. You should be careful.

I'm being a good boy, though, I swear it. All prim and proper and not the littlest bit of flirting with him and I even left the room when he changed his trousers. You saw for yourself when you were here, I'm being terribly, frightfully good. I hope you'll give me some credit for not allowing my "outrageous libido" (your words, from January as I recall) to rule my actions. It really is quite an effort, you know.

Thanks again for going easy on Potter's Aurors, by the way. None of them quit after all, and Potter is much relieved. Who knew it was so difficult to find Aurors willing to guard an ex-Death Eater spy? Perhaps if they were allowed to beat me, as in the good old days, there would be more volunteers. I could suggest this as an incentive to Potter, should the need arise.

As for the quest for the Mad Poisoner, there's nothing to report but a lack of evidence. A week of testing and Potter's team has turned up nothing. No residues anywhere, not on the house china, not on the cup they found outside the courtroom, not on my clothes, nowhere. No definite motives, no serious suspects, and I'm still not 100% sure of the poison that they used. Maybe you'll have better luck with your continuing tests on the blood samples, but I'm coming up with large amounts of zero. In lieu of dreaming something useful, I am forced to hope that the Ministry's informants or Potter's bloody Aurors will come through. But it's likely I shall die of something else entirely first.

It was much more interesting when you were here to torment everyone, Sev. Thanks again for disrupting your schedule to such an extent and staying for so long. It really wasn't necessary but I can't pretend I wasn't relieved to have you here. I suppose there's something about getting poisoned that makes me long for the sarcasm of home.

Yours in celibacy,

Draco Jacques

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
22 March, 2000, 10:30 p.m.

Dear Oversexed Annoyance:

I didn't need precognitive abilities to see that one coming. Trust you to fall in lust (with Harry Potter of all people!) while being stalked by an undetermined number of unknown assailants. Most people would be too upset by the minor fact of constant mortal danger to be distracted by their hormones, but not you. Some Gryffindor hero allows you to throw up all over him and you're overcome. Honestly, Draco. I know they bred for beauty over common sense in both the Malfoy and the Fornet lines, but this is ridiculous. You should be applying your prodigious intellect to keeping yourself alive, not spending your time trying to get into Potter's bed.

As for your not being good enough for him, that is nonsense of the most absurd sort. While the War was no easier for him than the rest of us, you spent two years facing unrelieved danger and unbelievable stress, making choices that no one, much less a sixteen-year-old, should ever have to make. Anyone who claims that you aren't worthy of the Great Harry Potter is a liar and a fool.

I have my doubts that he's good enough for you, frankly. While he's unquestionably a power to be reckoned with, he's nowhere near your intellectual equal. His understanding of potions is abysmal and I doubt he's cracked a book since he left Hogwarts. He's all brute force and recklessness. The two of you would make a pretty pair, but what in the world would you talk about when you weren't in bed? Not to mention the fact that he's supposed to be concentrating on guarding you, not going down on you. Potter's attention span is short enough as it is.

Set your habit of sexual conquest aside in this case, for the sake of your own safety. Let Potter focus on doing his job, and channel your energy into discovering who's targeted you. This is a youthful foolishness you can't afford.

Speaking of your assailant, the latest tests on the blood samples reveals no trace of the poison. I think we must face the fact that either it disappeared quickly from your blood or the N.U.P.A. neutralized it and flushed it from your system. Running more trials on the N.U.P.A. might at least settle the question of whether the lack of evidence is due to the poison or the antidote. And we need to gather more data before we can release our findings anyway. I'd prefer to have your assistance if Potter can be persuaded to allow you to leave the Manor. Obviously I don't want you to do anything that would compromise your safety in any way, though it's possible that Hogwarts is safer for you than the Manor at this point. Let me know what you and Potter think; I could spare some time next week.


Coming downstairs to have breakfast with Malfoy had taken on the pleasant familiarity of routine. Harry felt a small sense of satisfaction when he saw Malfoy sitting at the escritoire finishing his daily letter to Snape, and he was happy to pour himself coffee and sit at the table with the paper until Malfoy was done. When the letter was sealed, the usual house elf appeared out of nowhere in response to some inaudible, invisible signal and took the letter for delivery to the owlery. Then Malfoy sat at the breakfast table, as always, poured himself a cup of tea and chose a piece of toast to pick at. Harry filled his plate near to overflowing with bacon and toast and pastry and croissants.

"Malfoy, what would Snape say if he knew you had stopped eating after he left?"

The elegant Malfoy shrug in response. "Something sarcastic, probably. Why, are you going to owl to grass me up to him?"

"That was always more your line."

"Oh, you and your little mates did your fair share of spilling, Potter." He laughed. "You were so annoying, with your sanctimonious attitude and your hypocrisy. You broke the rules more than everyone else combined and almost never got nobbled for it. It used to drive me batty."

Harry buttered his croissant. "Hey, I only broke the rules because I was battling evil and things."

"Battling evil and things. I can't believe MacGonagall ever fell for that bullshit." Malfoy was sprawled decorously on his chair, teacup in hand, with that gleeful sparkle in his eyes that he got when he was baiting someone. This had also become a traditional part of their breakfasts together, on the days when Malfoy didn't look half dead.

"Look here, Malfoy," Harry waved his croissant and flakes of bread rained down on the table. "There was evil and I battled it. And you're trying to distract me from my point, which is that you aren't eating enough. And if I have to report you to Snape, that's just what I'll do. I'm not going to all this trouble to keep you alive just so you can starve yourself to death."

"Do you always take such a personal interest in the people you guard?" He made it sound vaguely dirty.

But Harry knew it was a diversion tactic and he refused to be diverted. "Usually I don't have to. Usually I guard normal people who get hungry, and don't forget to eat, and generally try to keep themselves alive to the best of their ability."

Malfoy picked up an apple and bit into it. "There, happy?" he asked with his mouth full.

"Ecstatic and charmed. You're spared from Snape's wrath for another day."

He swallowed. "Oh, I get his wrath, don't you worry. But I'd rather not have him cross at me for not eating on top of everything else."

"What did you do to annoy him this time?"

Malfoy looked oddly embarrassed. "Ah, you know. The usual."

"Some egghead argument over potions?"

"Something like that." Malfoy took another bite of apple, and did his best to look innocent. There's a story there, Harry thought, but I'll never extract it without Veritaserum. As he lifted the apple to his lips, Malfoy's sleeve slid down a little bit, exposing the series of scabs and healing cuts on the inside of his arm. Which reminded Harry of what he had in his pocket.

"Oh, I was in Muggle London yesterday and I got you something," Harry said. He reached into his robes, pulled out a small cardboard box and offered it to Malfoy, who set his apple down and accepted the box quizzically.

"What is it?"

"Elastoplasts. For your potions wounds."

Malfoy's mouth quirked just a little, as it did sometimes when he was trying not to smile, but the pleased glint in his eye gave him away. A tiny flush of accomplishment ran through Harry. "An early birthday present," Malfoy said.

Harry was a little embarrassed. "I'm afraid I didn't realize. I would have at least wrapped it if I'd known, and it's such a little thing. But whatever, happy birthday, at any rate. When is it?"


"April Fool's Day?"

"The traditional birth date of Seers, according to old wives' tales." Malfoy shook the box with a papery rattle, then pushed up his sleeve and started rubbing the box lightly over his cuts. "It's not working."

Harry smiled and took the box away from him, opened it, pulled out an Elastoplast and unwrapped it. "They're bandages. You stick them on and they stop the bleeding without your having to hold a handkerchief to your wrist like an idiot. Here, give me your arm and I'll show you."

Malfoy held out his arm. Harry took the backing off and carefully applied the elastoplast lengthwise to the freshest-looking cut. As he smoothed the plastic down, he felt Malfoy looking at him and glanced up. Their eyes met and Harry froze. Malfoy's eyes were grey and amused, with flecks of blue and green colour swirling through them, colour one couldn't see unless very close. His pupils expanded in the dim morning light of the parlour.

"How do you get it off?" he asked softly, as if he was trying not to break the spell. Harry just stared. "Potter?"

"Oh." He blinked. "Um, you just pull it off. Like this." He steadied Malfoy's arm by the wrist, took hold of the edge of the elastoplast and pulled.

"Ow!" Malfoy yelped.

Harry chuckled. "You cut yourself a dozen times every morning without a second thought, but you scream at taking off an elastoplast."

"I didn't scream," he sniffed. "That was an exclamation of surprise. It's rather ingenious, isn't it, how they get it to stick to your skin? Thanks, Potter. It was kind of you to think of me." There was a moment of silence. "May I have my arm back now, or would you like to keep it as a souvenir?"

"Oh!" Harry blushed and let go of Malfoy's wrist. "Sorry!" He sat back down and became very interested in his partially dismantled croissant. It was strange that he suddenly felt awkward when he and Malfoy had been getting along fairly well. "So when are we leaving for Hogwarts, then?"

"Professor Snape said any time today would be fine. Catherine will be here in half an hour to walk the wards, and I thought after she'd left I'd pack up my things and we could go."

"You're not planning to walk the perimeter of the grounds with her." The pleasantness of the morning dissolved in a wash of apprehension.

"Yes, I am." Malfoy's jaw was set in the stubborn line that meant he would not be moved. "We'll be inside the wards; it's perfectly safe."

"The wards won't stop a physical attack."

"No, but the big fence will." He rolled his eyes. "No one is expecting me to be touring the grounds. You'll be with us, Catherine will be there, you can invite along whomever else you like."

"Malfoy, people can hurl things through a fence. They can shoot through a fence. You could have a whole company of Aurors with you and it wouldn't stop someone from shooting you."

"It would if the Aurors were standing in front of me like human shields."

Harry gave him a dirty look. "You're determined to do this, aren't you? Leaving to go to Hogwarts is risk enough, why do you have to do this, too?"

"Because I need to walk the perimeter with Catherine to explain what I know about the wards. And I want the wards changed over before I die so whoever ends up inheriting the old pile won't have to try to cope with them."

"I'm not going to let you die," Harry said crossly.

"Don't you tell me I'm not going to die!" Malfoy shouted. His face was full of anger and frustration, probably the most emotion Harry had seen in the time he'd been staying there. Malfoy closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and the expression flowed away like water, leaving only his neutral mask. "Potter, last night I dreamed I drowned in the bathtub. Bubble bath tastes terrible, by the way. The stuff was all down my throat, it was disgusting. I cleaned my teeth for ten minutes when I woke up to try to get the taste out of my mouth. Don't tell me I'm not going to die. I see it. I SEE it, okay? I just want to retain as much of my dignity as I can, and I would like to accomplish a few things first, one of which is the wards. We're doing this. Find a way to feel comfortable with it, or don't, but when Catherine Tayce gets here I'm walking out the front door with her."

"You're impossible," Harry sighed. "If I ever irritated Snape half as much as you irritate me, it's a wonder he didn't strangle me."

"Trust me, Potter," Malfoy said with an amused little smirk. "When it comes to being annoying, you make me look like an amateur."

"I have Aurorial authority, you know. I could legally Stupefy you and stuff you in the closet until Catherine left."

Malfoy laughed. "It's going to take more than Stupefy to get me back in the closet. And if you think I'd let you get away with something like that and not take retaliatory measures when you finally let me out, you're cracked. Try it and suffer, Potter."

Harry sighed again. He never realized before how much he counted on his position to smooth the way. When he came into a professional situation, he was the Auror. He was the authority, and he was the Hero of the Voldemort Wars besides. People he was helping never argued with him. They did what he told them and they were generally damn happy to do it. But Malfoy was different. He was a stubborn git, and he'd survived years of intimidation, first from Lucius, then from Snape, and finally from the Dark Lord himself. Harry just couldn't compete with that. Malfoy was completely unimpressed by him. "All right. How about a compromise? I'll let you go without any trouble if Janice and I go with you, and you wear my invisibility cloak."

"It's going to be pretty obvious that there's someone there, Potter. I mean, I'll leave footprints, and I assume Catherine will be talking to me."

"But you'll be less of a target. If you'll wear the cloak and promise not to dawdle, I'll stop complaining."

"I doubt that very much," Malfoy muttered. "All right. If you toss in not telling Professor Snape about it, you've got a deal."

"You know, normal people are eager to cooperate with me when I'm trying to keep someone from killing them."

"Normal people have no spines as near as I can tell. Where's this invisibility cloak of yours, then? And why do I get the feeling that its existence explains the vast majority of the mysteries of my childhood?"

"I was battling evil. That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

The following document was wadded up and thrown into the wastebasket in the parlour of Malfoy Manor. The Manor house elves found it, smoothed it out and put it in one of the drawers of the parlour escritoire, along with a number of other similar pieces of parchment.

Ways I'd Rather Not Die

1. Torture of any kind. I've used up my lifetime allotment.
2. Asphyxiation, erotic or otherwise. Too much like a panic attack.
3. Drowning. See No. 2.
4. Poison. Vomiting is undignified.
5. Potions accident. Humiliating.
6. Torn to bits by wild animals. Painful and messy.
7. Kissed by Dementors. Body still alive, spirit dead; high on the horror meter. I'll pass.
8. Food poisoning. See No. 4.

Ways To Die That Might Not Be Too Bad

1. Lightning strike. At least it would be quick.
2. Avada Kedavra. See No. 1.
3. Shagged to death. For obvious reasons. I'm not sure how practical this really is, though.
4. Exsanguination, as long as my blood wasn't being used for something awful. It actually seemed fairly peaceful when I almost died of it before, if I hadn't been in terrible pain from the wounds which were causing it.
5. Hypothermia. Also rumoured to be peaceful.
6. In my sleep at the end of a long, happy life. Ha.

Catherine Tayce arrived dressed for walking, in a dark grey silk trouser suit and sensible low-heeled shoes. But Malfoy invited her to sit down and talk for a moment first, and offered her some breakfast. She tore at a croissant while Malfoy sipped his tea and Harry wondered if drinking another cup of coffee would make him too jittery. He caught himself tapping his foot against the table leg and decided it probably would.

"So," Tayce began as Malfoy poured her a cup of coffee, "on my way in I made a cursory examination of the wards. I suspect that dismantling what's there will be less difficult than integrating the new barriers with all the rest of the house magic."

Draco nodded. "What if we replaced all the house magic with Light equivalents at the same time? I was planning to address it at some point anyway. Would it be easier to integrate the new wards if we changed everything over at once?"

She looked startled. "Well, the integration might be easier, but Jesus, that's a lot of work. It would take weeks. At least. And the house would be completely non-functioning for the duration, no heat, no light, no dishwashing spells, and most importantly, no wards. You'd have to move out while the work was completed, and then you'd have another curing period of allowing the magic to settle back into the house. It might be years before everything ran the way it should."

"That's a security nightmare," Harry said. "Unless you moved into Snape's quarters at Hogwarts for the duration. I can't think of anywhere else that would be secure enough."

"All right." Malfoy drained the last of his tea and poured himself another cup. "I knew it might be a problem but I wanted to cover all the options. What are your thoughts on the integration of the new systems, then, Catherine?"

"The current wards are rooted in blood magic, and based on what you've told me I'm assuming most of the house magic is as well. We're talking the Darkest form of blood magic, spells bound by the blood of an unwilling donor, usually one killed in the course of the spell. It's very, very stable once it's in place and it provides a huge amount of power. Because so much of the house magic and the wards are keyed to Malfoy blood and the Heirship of the estate, I'd guess that the blood sacrifice was probably a family member. Nasty."

"Welcome to my world." He scowled, looking shockingly like Snape, only much more handsome. It always surprised Harry to see some residue of Snape in Malfoy, though the more he got to know him, the more frequently he saw it. Interestingly, there was almost never a sign of Lucius, except for the colour of his eyes and hair. "The traditional counter to blood magic is sex magic. Is that the direction that you're thinking for the power for the new wards, then?"

She shook her head and swallowed a bite of croissant. "No. First of all, I don't think it would produce enough power. Not without ensuring a conception out of the ritual and I get the impression that having children isn't in your life plans."

"Not at this juncture, no," he drawled.

"Without that conception, I don't think it would be specific enough to the Malfoy line, anyway, even if you could drum up the power that you need. I'm worried that the house magic, which is very specifically Malfoy, won't accept the new wards if they're too generic. So not sex magic. Love magic."

He groaned. "Which makes perfect sense if you're worried about raw power, but I don't have a boyfriend hidden in a cupboard anywhere. For simple sex magic, I could probably find someone I could convince to join me."

"I would think so, yes." Her arched brow wouldn't have been out of place on Malfoy's own face.

"But I can't exactly arrange to fall in love with someone, and it would have to be genuine for the spells to work. A love potion wouldn't be enough to do the trick."

"There's love magic that doesn't rest on romantic love, you know. There's paternal love, filial love, platonic love. I actually think you might be better off, because of the family-specific spells, if you can find someone you're related to for an assistant."

"Perhaps it's escaped your attention, Catherine, but all my immediate relatives are dead. And seeing as how I loathed most of them, they wouldn't be much help even if they weren't."

She blushed and stirred her coffee for no reason. "I'm sorry. I know this must be a sensitive subject for you. But can you think of anyone at all?"

"Does it have to be a blood relative? Would a surrogate father work?"

"Is there an official aspect to the relationship? Like, has he claimed you in public as his son, or named you his official heir?"

"My godfather. I am his heir and he is mine." Harry wondered what on earth Snape could do with two gigantic estates, or what Malfoy could do with them for that matter, but he supposed that neither of them had anyone else left to inherit.

"And you have a strong bond with this person?" Tayce asked.

"Yes." And Malfoy didn't even seem to be upset to be forced to admit it.

"That's great. That'll do. As long as he's one hundred percent willing."

"I don't see why he wouldn't be."

"Well, then, tentatively, and subject to some more checking on my part, I think that's what I'd recommend. Reweave the warding spells using your relationship with your godfather as a power source, anchoring them into the foundations of the house, just as the current wards are anchored. Key it all to the Malfoy line so it complements the house magic and it should integrate and settle pretty quickly. The spells themselves won't be easy, but given your background you should be able to manage it."

"Good. Excellent. I'll go and get my shoes, then, and we can take a look at the wards together."

"With the invisibility cloak," Harry reminded him.

Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Yes, Potter. I know. My short term memory remains remarkably intact." And with that he vanished upstairs, leaving Tayce and Harry alone.

"He's not what I expected," Catherine said after a moment.

Harry poured himself a glass of orange juice, more to give himself something to do with his hands than a strong desire for the stuff. "What did you expect?"

"I thought he'd be more like his father. Cold, with a cruel streak. But he's quite charming at times. He has a cold veneer when he's not comfortable with someone, but you can tell there's passion underneath. Warmth. That he cares about things. Cares about other people. Don't you think so?"

Harry's sip of juice went down the wrong pipe and he coughed. "I wouldn't know anything about Malfoy's passion."

She smiled. "I just mean that he's not as insensitive as he pretends to be."

"Well, he can be an enormous pain in the neck, but Draco Malfoy is nothing like his father."

"Hmm," she looked thoughtful and turned back to her coffee. "I read Lucius' Dark Arts journals, you know. For a research project."

"I didn't realize they'd been made public."

"They weren't. Draco gave them to the Aurors' Library and I got special permission to go through them. They're mostly theoretical; Lucius couldn't admit in writing that he was doing anything illegal, but it's still fascinating. In one entry, he made an off the cuff mention of spending the whole afternoon disciplining his son. Gave me chills to imagine what he could have been doing to him."

Harry was fascinated but at the same time felt a little guilty. Draco was absolutely paranoid about his privacy. He'd be furious if he knew they were talking about him. And Harry wasn't too keen on talking about his own childhood problems or having anyone else talking about them, so he sympathized. But at the same time, there was all this Draco Malfoy beneath the surface that he couldn't quite get to. He could see that it was there, but he couldn't quite reach it. It was too tempting.

"Did the journals say anything else about him?"

She shook her head. "No, they aren't personal journals, only notebooks from Lucius' Dark Arts studies. It was just an off-hand remark, but that was part of what was so gruesome about it, that he'd be so casual about spending an entire afternoon disciplining a ten-year-old child."

"I gather that what he did to Draco at the end of the War was pretty dreadful, too."

"Have you seen the medical reports?"

"No, have you?"

She nodded. "I have friends in the right places; you have to, to research the Dark Arts. I'm sure you could get to them with your security clearance, if you wanted. But they're not pretty. Don't bother, unless you have some compelling reason."

"Your saying that just makes me imagine something worse."

"Maybe." She looked dubious. "It was pretty bad, Harry. It's nothing short of a miracle that he survived it."

"He's tougher than he looks." That much, Harry was sure of.

"Evidently." She paused, took another sip of tea. "You respect him, don't you?"

"I do. And I'm grateful for what he did during the War. He sacrificed everything for the cause. He's not the only one, of course, but I can't help but respect him for it. He had a lot to lose."

"Well, he seems to have come through it all right. He must have the Devil's own luck."

Harry looked down into his juice and took another drink, thinking of Malfoy's prophecies. "Perhaps."

Ministry of Magic, Department of Mysteries
Official Report of Events by Non-Agent Personnel
Classified Document - Security Clearance Gryphon

Author: Poppy Pomfrey
Date: 2 October, 1998

Minister of Magic Arthur Weasley asked me to provide an account in layman's language of the injuries done to Draco Malfoy during the last days of the Second Voldemort War. Mr. Malfoy granted me permission to give the information, with the understanding that my account will become a permanent part of his War record.

As the nurse at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I was part of the medical team that treated Mr. Malfoy after the War. The team also included Potions Master Severus Snape (Lord Snape), Drs. Renata Weissmann and Langford Cross of St. Mungo's Hospital, Dr. Herodotus Barthelmy (a London neurologist in private practice), and a handful of private nurses (names available upon request) who helped me care for Mr. Malfoy during the first few weeks of his illness. The Ministry may contact any of these people for confirmation of my report.

Mr. Malfoy arrived in Hogwarts' infirmary on the evening of 25 May, 1998, after having been exposed as a spy and tortured for over twenty-four hours by Death Eaters including (it was determined later) Thomas Riddle and Mr. Malfoy's own father. A list of his injuries follows:

· Broken left kneecap
· Five broken toes on the right foot
· Broken index finger on the right hand
· 3rd degree burns to the palm of the left hand
· Broken left cheekbone
· Blisters and chemical burns to the lips, mouth, throat and oesophagus
· Multiple cuts and abrasions
· Severe bruising over approx. 65% of his body
· Bleeding from all orifices of the body
· Disruption of function of all of the major organs
· Nervous system disorders consistent with prolonged exposure to Cruciatus (seizures, tremors, etc.)
· Impaired blood-oxygen absorption
· Impaired nutrition absorption

Mr. Malfoy was unconscious upon arrival and no information about how the injuries had been inflicted was available. Physical torture was the obvious cause for the external injuries, and Cruciatus seemed the logical explanation for the nervous system disorders. I treated the external injuries first so a clear picture of the other injuries could emerge. Mr. Malfoy's heart stopped once during the procedure, and was restarted via magical intervention.

Once the more superficial injuries had been healed, a full scan via thaumography revealed damage to all of the major organs. They were essentially dissolving. The blood vessels throughout the body were also displaying signs of thinning and collapse. These two factors were causing the continuing bleeding. I had never seen or heard of a spell or potion that could dismantle a person's body in that way, just liquefying it. Professor Snape suspected one or more experimental potions.

The level of injury was considerably beyond what I see as a school nurse, but St. Mungo's was overrun with casualties from the Final Assault. They had no free personnel to send to help and no free beds to accept Mr. Malfoy if we sent him there. The physician I spoke with didn't believe Mr. Malfoy would last out the night considering the seriousness of his injuries. But he promised to send someone once their backlog of patients had eased. So it fell to Professor Snape and myself to try to keep Mr. Malfoy alive long enough to be seen by a doctor.

I gave Mr. Malfoy Resanguinating Potion to try to slow the effects of the bleeding and applied Balancing Potion, which is the standard remedy for Cruciatus damage. I also administered what organ-strengthening potions I had on hand. The interactive effects of all these potions has never been studied, of course, but given the seriousness of Mr. Malfoy's situation, it seemed a risk worth taking. The potions reduced the rate of physical decay, bleeding, and seizures, but did not stop them altogether. In the meanwhile, Professor Snape began investigating the potions used and searching for possible remedies.

Just past midnight, Mr. Malfoy's heart and lungs stopped functioning. Once again his heart was restarted via magical intervention, but his lungs did not respond to treatment. I cast a spell for magical respiration and began doing transfusions as Mr. Malfoy's bone marrow was no longer able to replace his blood even with the Resanguinating Potion. Finding a viable vein for the transfusions was quite difficult and I had to use several supporting spells to shore up the walls of the blood vessels.

Professor Snape arrived not too long after with the first experimental potion to repair the damaged organs. Mr. Malfoy's condition improved but magical respiration was still necessary and after a time I could see that, although the degeneration was greatly slowed, Mr. Malfoy's organs weren't responding as vigorously as we had hoped. Professor Snape began refining that potion and also looking into direct antidotes. His efforts lasted well into the next day, and eventually Mr. Malfoy stabilized to a degree. He was still unable to breathe on his own and he did not regain consciousness, but the terrible dissolution of his organs and circulatory system seemed to have stopped and the bleeding was staunched.

By the evening of 26 May, 1998, St. Mungo's had cleared their backlog of patients and they were able to send a consulting physician, Dr. Weissmann. Her medical opinions guided Professor Snape's work and she made suggestions for more spells and potions to further stabilize Mr. Malfoy. She eventually called upon her colleague Dr. Cross to consult as well.

It took Professor Snape three weeks to find an antidote to the organ-destroying potion, and another week to find an antidote to the potion that was destroying the circulatory system. During this time, Mr. Malfoy remained in a coma, dependent upon magical respiration and intravenous nourishment for survival. When the second antidote was administered and healing spells were cast, he began breathing on his own, but still did not regain consciousness.

Further tests revealed that his blood wasn't carrying a normal load of oxygen and Dr. Cross cast a few spells to increase blood oxygen levels until a third antidote could be found a few days later. Once it was administered and more healing spells cast, Mr. Malfoy woke. He was too weak to talk for more than a few moments at a time and could not get out of bed, but he was lucid.

With the most life-threatening problems taken care of, we could finally begin to address the neurological damage. We had continued to administer Balancing Potion but it seemed to have little effect. Mr. Malfoy trembled all over at times, and his hands were always very unsteady. He suffered from nightmares and occasional hallucinations, as well as severe panic attacks, more accurately described as random episodes of complete terror. Drs. Weissmann and Cross recommended calling in the neurologist Dr. Herodotus Barthelmy. Over the next several months, Dr. Barthelmy provided expertise with more advanced neurological potions and psychologically-based techniques to repair Mr. Malfoy's nervous system.

Over the first two weeks of Mr. Malfoy's recovery from the coma, we also began to notice that he wasn't receiving adequate nutrition despite the fact that he was eating and taking nutritional supplements. Yet another potion had been administered which prevented absorption of nutrition; Professor Snape believed that its long-term effects were incidental; its purpose had been to cause the blisters and burning on Mr. Malfoy's lips, mouth, and oesophagus. He found an antidote for this potion as well, and Mr. Malfoy's stomach began functioning properly.

Mr. Malfoy spent eighteen weeks on bed rest and continues to undergo treatment by Dr. Barthelmy. The doctor suspects that Mr. Malfoy's nervous system is too damaged to ever fully recover, though his condition continues to improve slowly. His metabolism suffers as well, though we don't know exactly why. His hunger response is dulled almost to the point of non-existence. He doesn't feel hungry and must be reminded to eat. Favourite foods will induce him to eat a full meal, but less enjoyable foods tend to bore him before he's had enough to sustain himself. This disorder seems to be improving with time, but Drs. Weissmann and Cross suspect that it is another problem which will afflict him for the rest of his days.

Intellectually and psychologically, however, Mr. Malfoy is remarkably unimpaired. The more pronounced nervous problems such as the hallucinations, seizures and full-body tremors have disappeared. The panic attacks have tapered off and it seems likely that they will eventually stop. He is in full command of his faculties and Professor Snape reports that his intellectual abilities have not been affected. Dr. Barthelmy's consulting psychiatrist declared him fully compos mentis.

Mr. Malfoy has suffered horrible physical and mental anguish in service to all wizardkind and he will bear the consequences of that suffering for the rest of his life. I hope the Ministry will take these facts into consideration when making decisions about his case.

This concludes my report.

Even Catherine Tayce's fashion sense and chilly, intellectual composure couldn't save her from the ridiculousness of talking to someone who wasn't there. She looked like a well-dressed bag lady, having an animated conversation with herself as she walked the grounds. He and Janice followed about ten feet behind, keeping watch with their wands drawn and stifling their giggles.

"I've never seen anyone trying to flirt with their imaginary friend before," Janice said with a broad smile.

"She's doing her best, though, isn't she?"

"What she sees in him I have no idea."

Harry raised an eyebrow at her. "You mean aside from the looks, money, taste, poise, and intelligence?"

Janice shuddered. "He creeps me out. Can you imagine, all the things he must have done as a Death Eater? And he's just wandering around, free as a bird, holding his head up high, completely unashamed. I mean, it's my job to protect him, sir, and you know I'll do my very best. But he bothers me."

Evidently it was National Talk About Malfoy Day, and somehow Harry had missed the memo. "He bothers a lot of people. Bothering people is a sort of personal challenge to him. There's a lot more going on in his head than it looks like, though. And we really wouldn't have won the War without him."

"People say that, but I wonder."

"I was there, Janice. He suffered horribly for it, too. And if we can't keep him alive, he'll die for it. He reckons it's a good trade, his life for the War effort. That's not the attitude of someone who was proud to be a Death Eater, no matter what snide remarks he might make. Try to have some compassion for him, irritating little wanker that he is."

She looked at him with a tender smile. "You're too good for this world, Mr. Potter."

Harry's stomach did a slow roll. "Janice, I'm just a person, okay? I fuck things up and I'm mean sometimes, and I can't get my clothes to match quite right. I'm always losing my socks and I turned all my white things pink last week when I did laundry. I'd like to think that I'm a good Auror, but I'm just a person doing the best he can and getting it wrong about half the time."

She just smiled and didn't say anything. They walked and watched Catherine in front of them, gesturing importantly at the wards, nodding gravely, smiling with that special sparkle in her eyes. The ground was soft beneath their feet from a heavy spring rain the day before, and the sky was overcast and seemed to be considering gathering itself together for another go. Harry wondered if now was the time to pull out the weather as a topic of conversation.

"I don't like the way he looks at you," Janice said at last.

"He looks at me?" Harry's throat was dry. "How does he look at me?"

"Contemptuously, sometimes. He rolls his eyes at you like you've said something ridiculous, and he insults you."

Harry chuckled, but he didn't feel as relieved as he thought he should. "That's just Malfoy. We've known each other since we were eleven and we always fought like cat and dog. Hell, if he treated me with respect I'd know he was up to something."

"Do you think it's true what they say about him?"

"Probably not. What are they saying?"

"That he's, you know." Janice whispered, "homosexual."

Harry stared at her incredulously for a moment before going back to scanning the trees. "Well, yes. In the sense that he told me so, and just about everyone else who would listen. Don't tell me you find that scandalous?"

"No, it's just. I mean." She looked embarrassed. "I've never met one before, is all."

"You might be surprised."

She turned to him in shock. "Sir, you aren't! I mean, are you?"

"No! No!" Harry realized he'd said it rather too loudly. "No. Not that there's anything wrong with it, of course. I have friends that are." Godfathers, to be precise. "But I'm not."

Janice looked relieved and Harry felt annoyed with her. Did she think he'd somehow be less worthy of her stupid hero-worship if he were gay? Or that Malfoy deserved to die because he was? A sudden sense of exhaustion washed over him. He'd been basically on-duty 24 hours a day for the last three weeks. He was sick of people having idiotic ideas about him, he was sick of Malfoy making his life difficult, and he just wanted to go back to his apartment, have a lager and watch telly for a while with no issues of life and death intruding.

He looked over at Janice, who was watching him with an apprehensive frown. Worried that she'd brassed off the boss, he realized. She was just a kid from a small town who had never really got used to Beauxbatons in the seven years she was there. It wasn't her fault that she was a damn good Auror but didn't have a clue about anything else. And yes, she was a year older than Harry, but Harry's life had aged him prematurely. He felt guilty for getting upset with her, even if it was only in his head. He gave her a weak smile and patted her on the shoulder in what he hoped was a reassuring but supervisorial way. She smiled back, and they walked in silence. Catherine Tayce's laughter sounded like bells across the lawn.

Ministry of Magic
Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Auror Training Division

Date of Report: 14 October, 1998
Agent: Gloriana Jameson

Evaluation of Auror Candidate Janice Wright

This report summarizes the progress of Auror Candidate Janice Wright in the Auror Training Program and makes recommendations for the dispensation of her application for employment. More specific details regarding her background and training performance can be accessed in Candidate Wright's personnel file.

Candidate Wright's performance in the Auror Training Program was exemplary. Each of her instructors describe her as highly motivated and dedicated. Her assignments were always completed in a timely manner, with thoroughness and attention to detail. Her offensive spell casting accuracy was consistently in the 95th percentile, with her defensive spell capabilities frequently above the 98th percentile and never lower than the 93rd. While not particularly imaginative in her spell choices during free form exercises, she made use of appropriate spells and did not exhibit any tendencies toward excessive aggression. Her course marks indicate that she has a good understanding of the history and philosophy of DMLE and her marks in both Detection and Ethics were consistently outstanding. Her overall ranking stood at seventh at the end of the program, from a class of forty-nine.

Her greatest weaknesses were improvising in unusual situations and an inability to think in terms other than dualisms. Candidate Wright has very strongly developed opinions on right and wrong, and has difficulty stepping outside of those opinions to see shades of grey. While a strong sense of ethics and morality is obviously to be encouraged in an Auror, her inability to set judgment aside to see from the viewpoints of others can sometimes be a barrier to her understanding.

The instructors report that Candidate Wright was well-liked by her classmates, though she was considered somewhat shy in social settings. She works well with others, but prefers to follow rather than take a strong leadership role.

Candidate Wright was educated at Beauxbatons. Her grandfather (Connor James Wright), father (Robert Wilson Wright), and older brother (Theodore James Wright) were all Aurors with distinguished careers at DMLE. Her grandfather retired in 1982 and her father in 1994. Her brother was killed in the line of duty in 1997 during a Death Eater raid. Candidate Wright has frequently expressed a desire to carry on her family's tradition and honour the memory of her brother through service as an Auror.

While Candidate Wright is still young and will benefit from a few more years of experience and seasoning, her magical and academic excellence will make her a fine addition to DMLE.

Recommendation: Hire.
Ranking: 7.

Despite all of Harry's expectations, Malfoy finished walking the wards with Catherine and no one tried to kill him. When they stepped through the front door of the Manor, Harry could feel knots he didn't know he had untying themselves in his shoulders. Janice went back to her rounds. Malfoy took off the invisibility cloak, which left his hair all static-y and floating in an uneven gold halo around his head. He ran his fingers through it frantically until it was laying flat enough that Harry wasn't choking on his laughter anymore, and Dr. Tayce said her goodbyes with amusement dancing in her eyes. Malfoy ordered lunch for two from the house elves without asking Harry if he should, and the two of them sat at the table in the parlour to wait for their food.

"So, is Dr. Tayce proving to be helpful?" Harry asked.

"She's as brilliant as advertised. I'm beginning to think we may actually pull this off." Malfoy ran his fingers through his hair a few times. It was calmer but still sort of frizzy, very shiny and fine. Harry wondered if he used some sort of special potion on it to get it to behave.

"Nice to know she's not letting her busy flirting schedule prevent her from doing her job."

Malfoy smirked. "Jealous, Potter?"

"I don't care who you go out with," Harry answered without thinking.

Malfoy's eyebrows shot up and he gave Harry a sly grin. Harry could feel his cheeks flaming with embarrassment. God, he was an idiot. He supposed he'd just got so used to Malfoy's double entendres that he was making them accidentally himself now. Malfoy was a bad influence.

"I meant jealous of Catherine," Malfoy said. "Though I'm flattered."

"I don't get it. Why keep flirting with you when she knows you're gay?"

He shrugged. "Maybe she's hoping I'll make an exception. Or maybe Pansy's not the only one eyeing the position of Lady of the Manor. Or, more likely, she's just being friendly and we're taking it the wrong way."

"Have you ever? Made an exception, I mean?" Harry didn't know what had made that pop out of his mouth. Of course, he was curious, but it wasn't the sort of thing one just went around asking.

Malfoy's smile was like a glittering knife edge. "Pulling out the personal questions now, are we? I'll answer if you'll allow me the same prerogative."

"Okay," Harry said before he could stop himself. It appeared that his mouth had completely disengaged from his brain and commandeered the helm. Sadly, he definitely needed his brain in charge if he was going to exchange confidences with Malfoy. He was doomed. A doomed idiot.

"Exceptions have been made once or twice. Mostly for the sake of comparison. I decided I liked boys better. But I suppose a further exception or two isn't out of the question. I must admit the good doctor is almost as attractive as she is intelligent. My turn, now."

Harry swallowed.

"Ooh," Malfoy sighed. "I have so many I don't know where to begin."

"Just hurry up." Harry had an almost irresistible urge to leap up from his seat and run away. He forced himself to sit still, but he would rather have faced Voldemort.

"Oh, but it's so much fun to see you sweating and squirming," Malfoy purred, making it sound very dirty indeed. "Let's see. Have you ever made an exception?"

"No." Harry released the breath he was holding. That wasn't so bad.

"Have you ever wanted to?" Malfoy's gaze was sharp, as though he could cut into Harry with a glance and uncover all his secrets.

Harry knew he could just answer no and be done with it. But he wasn't sure it was precisely true. There was such a thing as a natural, healthy curiosity, after all. All boys had a phase where they sneaked peaks at the other boys in the locker room, didn't they? Was counting the freckles on Ron's shoulders considering an exception? He felt terribly exposed under Malfoy's rapier stare, as if no matter what he said Malfoy would know the truth about him, though why that bothered Harry when it was such a small matter, he didn't know. It was only the ghost of a childish desire, or not even that. The thought of a shadow of a possible desire, so ephemeral not even Malfoy's nimble fingers could get a grasp on it.

"You don't get another question," he answered.

"Now, that's not fair. I answered your question fully." Malfoy's voice was low and seemed to be having a strange effect on the nape of Harry's neck. "I'll give you another go at me if you'll tell me."

Harry shivered. "Absolutely not," he said. Malfoy chuckled, and Harry got the feeling he was laughing at him, not with him. The house elves brought in lunch, and Harry was saved. Conversation turned to making preparations to stay overnight at Hogwarts and Harry resolved never to play Truth or Dare, even without the dares, with Malfoy again.

Another discarded document rescued by the Malfoy Manor house elves and placed in a drawer in the parlour escritoire.

Questions I'd Ask Harry Potter Under Veritaserum

1. Is that hair really unintentional?
2. How many times did you get a hard-on while playing Quidditch with your virtuous Gryffindor chums?
3. Who was your first shag?
4. Did you enjoy it?
5. Did she?
6. Would you consider yourself of average, above average, or below average size? (In a tumescent state.)
7. Most embarrassing memory?
8. Favourite fantasy for wanking off on a lonely night?
9. Have you cracked a book since you left Hogwarts?
10. What piece of information about yourself would you least like me to know?

At Hogwarts, Harry finally got a chance to relax a bit. Snape was just as capable a guardian as Harry, and the wards around Hogwarts were even stronger than those at the Manor. Snape had an additional layer of wards around his personal quarters and workrooms, and refused to allow anyone in or out while Malfoy was there. Harry took possession of a guest bedroom in Gryffindor tower gratefully and slept sixteen hours through. The next day he spent the afternoon wandering the grounds and gardens, then met Seamus in Hogsmeade at the Hog's Head for a pint or two. By the time it was time to go back to the Manor, Harry had spent a glorious fifty-three hours completely Malfoy-free.

But in spite of Malfoy's sometimes irritating personality and the fact that Harry had to be constantly attentive to threats against his person, Harry found he was beginning to miss him. Things were dull without Malfoy's running commentary and his wicked arched brow. He could make a sarcastic remark without even opening his mouth, and he was often very funny. Harry was glad to have had a few days' rest, but he was looking forward to resuming their breakfasts. He just had to get Malfoy safely back to the Manor.

They Apparated at the Manor gates, and Harry quickly evaluated the situation. One guard at the gate - where was the second guard?

Fear twisted in Harry's gut, and he knew immediately that something was very wrong. Every instinct was screaming danger, and time shifted into low gear so that turning his head was suddenly like moving through cold honey. The guard was reaching into his robes toward a suspicious-looking bulge. Harry pointed his wand and shouted, “Contego Draconem!” His voice sounded strangely stretched out and low, as the guard pulled out a handgun, levelled it at Malfoy and pulled the trigger five times.

Five bullets shot out of the gun one after the other to slam to a dead stop in the air four inches from Malfoy's skin, hanging just in front of his face, neck, and chest. They stayed there for a moment, frozen in a weirdly graceful tableau, Ammunition and Shocked Aristocrat, before the bullets dropped unceremoniously to the ground with a quiet, metallic ringing on the pavement.

Harry's Stupefy hit the guard just before Malfoy's did. The guard twitched twice and fell over. Harry and Malfoy looked at each other.

"Huh," Malfoy said, his eyes wide and glazed even as he tried to cover his obvious surprise. "Quick thinking there, Potter. Thanks."

"You're welcome. Get inside the house; there could be more of them."

Harry walked over to the now-prone guard and Malfoy followed, looking down at the body with furious, narrowed eyes. "Jack sold me out, the bastard. Bastard! We may have to torture him to find out what he did with William." He didn't seem to be too distressed at the prospect. In fact, he was looking positively eager.

"I think we can make do with a simple Veritas."

"Well, sure, if you want to take all the fun out of it," Malfoy muttered. "I'm sick of this!" he raised his voice suddenly. "I'm sick of being poisoned and shot at and trapped inside my own house. Being a Death Eater spy had nothing on the fatality rate of being the Ministry's favourite stool pigeon. If I have to take my pound of flesh from out of Jack's hide, then so be it."

Harry looked up as if he just now noticed that Draco was making a dramatic speech. "You're not going to go inside, are you?" he said.

"Hmmm. How would you feel if I said no?"

"Annoyed." Harry glared at Malfoy.

Malfoy looked suddenly cheered. "No."

"Then help me drag him behind the wards at least. Don't touch the gun."

Malfoy lifted the wards and opened the gates and he and Harry each grabbed a shoulder. They dragged the body through and set it behind the guard house to provide a certain amount of cover for them all.

By now, Aurors from all over the estate had heard the shots and come running. A handful went through the gates and searched for any other assailants, and the rest stood around watching while Harry and Malfoy lifted their Stupefies and Harry cast Veritas.

"Who hired you?" Harry asked the guard.

"Mortimer Higgsssss," he hissed, and then began to convulse. He was foaming at the mouth, and Harry and Hydrangea began to try to hold him down.

"Don't touch his skin!" Malfoy suddenly shouted. "Could be a contact poison." He leaned down and used the edge of his robes to examine the man's hands, not an easy task with the convulsions. "He has blisters on the index finger of his right hand. Probably a poison on the trigger, a self-destruct mechanism for getting rid of the evidence." Malfoy glanced up and found the nearest Auror, who happened to be Anna. "There's a bottle marked N.U.P.A. on the table in my workroom. Get it. Hurry!"

Anna nodded and raced down the driveway toward the house.

Malfoy shook his head. "I don't think we have enough time."

"Bloody hell!" Harry cursed. "We finally get a break in this fucking case, a live witness -"

The guard seized up in a gigantic spasm, gasped, and very visibly died. "Fuck it all to hell!" Harry screamed. "Fuck!" He stood up, kicked the body, and started pacing back and forth as he cursed some more.

Anna came roaring up on a Nimbus 2500, with the N.U.P.A. in hand. She took one look at the guard and said, "He's dead."

Malfoy stood up and dusted off his knees. "You Aurors never cease to astound me with your grasp of the obvious." And with that he turned and headed down the drive to the Manor, his hands shoved into his robe pockets.

Ministry of Magic
Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Research Division

Date of Report: 03 September, 1999
Agent: David H. Malloy

Summary of File, Abridged: Mortimer Augustus Higgs

Mortimer Augustus Higgs was born in 1958 to a middle-class, mixed-blood family in the suburbs of London. His father, Augustus Gerald Higgs was a Muggle-born accountant who disappeared in 1969 when he was discovered to be embezzling from his employer. His mother, also Muggle-born, taught mathematics at a Muggle primary school. The family moved in and out of Wizarding and Muggle circles, always straddling the fence between the two worlds.

Higgs was sent to be educated at Hogwarts at age eleven, and proved a mediocre student. He took three OWLS and declined to continue his studies thereafter. During his time at Hogwarts, however, he distinguished himself as an entrepreneur, smuggling in all manner of illicit goods for the other students' purchase, including alcohol, sweets, pornographic magazines, and gag novelty items. With the proceeds from these endeavours, he moved into his own flat in Wizarding London at age 16.

It was at this point that he met Walter "Windy" Waters, a neighbour in the building and petty crook. Waters was well-connected but not known for his ambition or cleverness. He introduced Higgs to Wizarding London's underworld and quickly became Higgs' first henchman. Higgs began absorbing everything he could about the Dark Arts from the older criminals around him, and started moving through the ranks very rapidly, pulling Waters along with him. Waters continued to be Higgs' most trusted lieutenant until his death during a DMLE raid in 1998.

By the time he was 30, Higgs was the most successful organized crime boss in London, Wizard or Muggle, with criminal endeavours on both sides of the magical divide bringing in an estimated 12 million Galleons a year. Exceptionally wily and paranoid, Higgs managed to prevent DMLE from gathering enough hard evidence for an arrest for many years. With intelligence provided by Draco Malfoy during the Second Voldemort war, DMLE finally had enough evidence to press charges in 1999, but to date, he continues to elude capture.

Higgs is adept at the Dark Arts and should be considered armed and dangerous at all times. More detailed information can be found in the attached "Summary of File, Complete" and individual case files H-501400 through H-501627.

Harry spent most of the rest of the afternoon at the Ministry, doing paperwork and justifying himself and his team to various bureaucrats, who had come in specially on a Sunday just to give him a bollocking. There were times that he was very glad to be a close personal friend of the Minister as well as the Hero of the Voldemort Wars. It would take quite a lot to force Moody and Arthur to sack him. There was a limit, though, and Harry was keenly aware that his margin of protection was dwindling with every spectacular failure in this case.

He headed back to the Manor around 5:30, feeling wrung out and dreading a barrage of Draconian sarcasm. Malfoy was reading on the sofa in the parlour when Harry got there, with the small table set for dinner. He'd changed into a different set of robes, a formal set in a rich blue colour that turned his eyes to dark storm clouds laced with lightning, and he was wearing shoes for a change, a pair of dress boots. He actually smiled at Harry before setting his book down with a bookmark in it and getting up to greet him.

"You look like you've spent the afternoon at the Ministry building. Come with me."

"Where are we going?"

"You'll see." He took Harry's hand and led him up the stairs to the bedroom where Harry was staying, and into the en suite bathroom. The big tub was filled with steaming water, and there was a glass of red wine sitting on the shelf along the tub's edge. "You have a nice soak and a glass of wine, and when you're done we'll have dinner. I'll have some clothes laid out for you on the bed."

Harry was struck speechless, and Malfoy had made a silent exit before he could gather his wits to say anything. He ran a hand through his hair. It would be just like Malfoy to do this simply to keep me off guard, he thought. He looked at the water steaming invitingly and the glass of wine just begging to be savoured. There were certainly worse ways to be tortured. He left his clothes in a pile in the bedroom for the house elves and slipped gratefully into the hot water.

When his fingers were wrinkled, the bath water cooling, and the wine long gone, he decided dinner would be a grand idea. The new black formal robes had appeared on the bed, with the green Armani shirt, the black trousers and a pair of black dress shoes with dark socks. He had to admit that having Draco Malfoy as his personal shopper was improving his image. The robes looked fantastic on him, if he did say so himself. His eyes shone impossibly green behind his glasses. He winked at his reflection and went downstairs to see what other surprises Malfoy had in store.

When he came into the parlour Malfoy took one look at him and whistled. "You clean up reasonably well, Potter. Come on, let's eat. You must be starved."

They sat at the table, where a candelabra was already casting flickering gold light on the table settings. Each table setting boasted a profusion of forks, a veritable forest of heavy silver tongs.

"Malfoy, it looks like your forks have been breeding."

He laughed. "We're having a traditional Italian multi-course meal. Just start from the outside and work your way in."

"I think I can manage. From all of this I would guess you're serving several antipasti, a number of primi, a secondo, and a dessert. With a wine to match each course, I imagine.”

Malfoy gave him the ‘surprised pleasure' version of the Malfoy Eyebrow. Malfoy had an eyebrow for all occasions. "Of course. Very impressive."

"Ministry training, so we aren't too much of an embarrassment at all those state dinners. I shouldn't drink too much, though, since I'm sort of half on duty."

"I'll pour you small glasses. You have to have the wine with each course or you don't get the full effect."

Harry did hate to miss out on the wine. He imagined that the Malfoy cellars were outstanding. "Okay, since we're eating it should be all right."

"Someday, Potter, I'm going to take you out and get you really drunk just to see what you're like."

He tended to be weepy and maudlin and embarrassingly affectionate, and Harry would prefer to see Voldemort in hell than have Malfoy see him when he was drunk. "Seeing me drunk could never erase the embarrassment of revealing your Beatles fixation, Malfoy. Or should I say Jacques?"

Surely that was a trick of the candlelight and not Malfoy blushing. "Point taken."

The house elves came in with the antipasti, and poured a white wine into their glasses. “I recognize the olives all'Ascolana,” Harry said, “but what's on the crostini?”

“It's crostini di capperi, a spread of capers, raisins, pine nuts and proscuitto.”

Harry tasted it. It was a balance of vinegar tart and sweetness that Harry rather liked. “It's good.”

"So, have you ever been to Italy?" Malfoy asked.

"No, I've never really been anywhere."

"Why not?"

"No time, I suppose. Obviously it was impossible during the War, and then after, there was all the clean up to take care of, and I keep meaning to take some time off but I never have."

"You must. You must go and see everything, but you must especially go to Italy. It's amazing. The countryside is beautiful, the people are gorgeous, the food is outstanding. I like their long, decadent meals, and the slower pace of everything. Italians have their priorities sorted out.”

Harry picked up his wine glass and sipped, putting on a fake snooty wine-taster accent. “Pinot Grigio, I'd guess four or five years old. Not sure of the vineyard, though. Excellent. Light but not too sweet.”

Malfoy smiled and shook his head. “Potter, you're full of surprises. It's Tullio Zamo Pinot Bianco. Five years old. More Ministry training?”

“What makes you think I didn't take up wine tasting as a hobby on my own?”

“Preconceptions, I suppose. I'm beginning to realize I don't know you as well as I once thought.”

Harry laughed. “I'm more of a lager man, actually. But the wine tasting classes were fun. Beats the hell out of dodging curses, that's for certain. When were you last in Italy?"

"Oh, it must have been the summer before sixth year. As you said, the War got in the way, and then there were all the trials. I didn't really enjoy my last trip there, either. The dreams had started, and I was trying to hide them from Lucius and decide what I was going to do about them. It was a very stressful time. It would be nice to go back under calmer circumstances and really enjoy it."

"Well, maybe once we catch Higgs you can."

Malfoy smiled at him but it was the fake smile, the one that didn't go all the way to his eyes. "Perhaps so."

The house elves came and cleared the antipasti plates and brought the next course, salmon crespelle in a cream sauce, and calzoncelli stuffed with ricotta, accompanied by another white wine. Harry tried the pasta first, and found the filling had a hint of lemon. "Mmm, this is fantastic," he muttered with a full mouth. When he'd swallowed, he added, "Which wine?”

“Riccardo Bruna's 1996 Pigato Le Russeghine.”

He tasted it as Malfoy sampled the crespelle. “I like the Pinot Bianco better.”

“The dryer taste goes better with the salmon,” Malfoy answered.

Harry shrugged. “I still like the Pinot Bianco better. Did your family eat like this all the time? All these forks and courses, and different wines?"

"This is modest compared to what my mother did for a real occasion. She'd be appalled to see how I live most of the time now, just soup and sandwiches and a meat dish here and there. To my mother, any meal where you served less than three wines was disgracefully plebeian."

"I don't really know anything about her. There was always lots of talk about Lucius, and I even met him once or twice when we were still in school, but no one ever talks about Narcissa."

Malfoy looked rather wistful, and Harry was suddenly sorry he'd brought it up. "She was the consummate hostess and the consummate manipulator. Lucius enjoyed bullying people, whereas Mother would never come right out and say what she wanted you to do. But you'd always find yourself doing it and usually believing it was your idea. People seem to think that Lucius had her cowed but it wasn't really like that. She appeared to defer to him, but every now and then she would get this set to her jaw and he would back down immediately. She was the one who kept him from sending me to Durmstrang, you know."

"I always wondered why your father didn't send you there."

"Mother said at the time that she didn't want me so far from home, but in hindsight she may have been trying to make sure I had some additional, lighter influences. And she knew that I adored Uncle Severus and that he'd be able to keep an eye on me at Hogwarts."

"It sounds like you had a good relationship."

"She wasn't a warm, nurturing mother, but I think she did what she could for me. Late in the War, I'm fairly sure she figured out that I was spying, but she didn't say anything to anyone."

"Really? What makes you think she knew?"

"After one of the Death Eater raids had gone pear-shaped, she came to me in private and told me about the failure. And she gave me this knowing look, this meaningful look, and made me promise I'd be careful. That was it. It was nothing that anyone could have interpreted if they'd been eavesdropping, but the way she looked at me, I'm certain that she knew. She was always far smarter than anyone ever gave her credit for."

"Wow. That sort of makes her the unknown hero of the War, doesn't it?"

Malfoy laughed. "Yes, and how she would have hated that. She had a kind of twisted sense of honour. She felt she'd thrown her lot in with Lucius, and she enjoyed all this privilege and wealth so she had to accept the Dark Arts stuff and his position in the Death Eaters along with it. She would never have betrayed him. But she wouldn't betray me either, so she stayed neutral and let the two of us battle it out. She didn't lift a finger to help me when I was found out at the end though. Or at least I never knew it if she did."

"Do you miss her?"

"Every day. Lucius can burn happily in hell, but I miss my mother every day."

"I miss mine, too, sometimes. Even though I never really knew her."

Malfoy lifted his glass of wine. "To absent mothers." Harry touched his glass to Malfoy's and they both drank.

They continued eating for long minutes in silence. "Did you do anything special on your birthday?" Harry finally thought to ask.

"Professor Snape had the house elves prepare a huge dinner and he glared at me until I'd eaten so much I could barely move. He gave me two books."

What else would you give Malfoy for his birthday? Besides a four-Knut box of Elastoplats, that is. "Good books?"

"A very rare and long-coveted first edition of the 1830 Treatise On Poisons, which he'll probably be borrowing before the month is out, and a Muggle historical novel, Music and Silence. It won some prize, I believe. I don't know anything about it, but it looks interesting. I've always had an attachment to historical novels, but I've only started reading Muggle literature in the last few years."

For obvious reasons. "I'm surprised you haven't finished them both already," Harry said with a smile.

"I'm savouring them," he answered, and for once Harry couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or not.

The secondo was guinea fowl in a pomegranate sauce, with grilled courgette and walnuts on the side. It too was excellent, also served with a white wine, Marchesi di Barolo Roero Arneis 1997. One thing Harry could say about Malfoy, when he bothered to eat he really knew how to choose a menu. The two of them talked of insignificant things and it was a surprisingly enjoyable end to a difficult day. Dessert was a chocolate mousse cheesecake, not authentic Italian, Malfoy said, but a favourite of his. They had small cups of espresso, and Harry felt pleasantly full and utterly relaxed. Malfoy had even finished a whole meal, a rare event and usually cause for rejoicing.

Harry was trying to decide between having another espresso - surely one more tiny little cup wouldn't keep him awake - and waddling off to bed when one of the house elves came in with a letter on a silver tray and offered it to Harry. He thanked her and checked the seal. Official Ministry correspondence. Harry got a little frisson of anxiety in his stomach, and opened it. He read it over once, cursed, re-read it, then read it aloud to Malfoy.

"Dear Auror Potter,

Secretary Moody requests your immediate presence at HQ. Seamus Finnigan has disappeared and an owl arrived this evening with a ransom note signed "The Raven" stating terms for his return. The transaction is to take place at 07:00 tomorrow morning. Please come at once. If Mr. Malfoy is willing to assist in planning the operation, his previous experience with The Raven could be useful. We are convening in the Tactics Room, standard password procedures apply.

Yours sincerely,

Auror Pamela Hamilton
Assistant to Secretary Alastor Moody
Department of Magical Law Enforcement."

Malfoy's answer was to stand up and stretch. "Oh, I wish I hadn't eaten so much," he groaned. "Well, come on, Potter. I expect we should get going. Though really, if Finnigan's anything like he was in school, his captors are apt to grow tired of his appalling hyperactivity and send him back regardless."

"Or shoot him in the head," Harry said as he pushed his chair back as well.

"Good point. Best hurry, then." The house elves met them at the front door with their cloaks, and they were off to the Ministry building.

Ministry of Magic, Department of Mysteries
Official Report of Events by a Combatant
Classified Document - Security Clearance Unicorn

Author: Auror Seamus Finnigan
Date of Report: 2 June, 1998
Subject: Death of Narcissa Malfoy

This report is submitted at the request of Minister of Magic Arthur Weasley, and concerns the circumstances of the death of Narcissa Malfoy, suspected Death Eater and Dark Magician.

Narcissa Malfoy was the wife of Lucius Malfoy (known Death Eater, Dark Magician, and second-in-command of the Dark Legions), and the mother of Draco Malfoy (third-in-command of the Dark Legions and spy for the Order of the Phoenix). Her role in Death Eater operations has never been accurately determined. While many DOM operatives see her as a typical Pureblood trophy wife playing hostess for Death Eater functions, others claim that she advised Lucius Malfoy in certain cases at least. There is little doubt that she practiced Dark Magic, given her status as a Malfoy, but no hard evidence has been found. She remains a shadowy figure at best, known mostly for her family connections and her beauty.

After the conclusion of the Final Assault on Malfoy Manor on the night of 28 May, 1998, several Aurors were ordered to conduct a security sweep of the premises to clear it of any remaining hostile combatants. The Aurors worked in teams of two in predefined sections, as the site was large. My teammate Kevin Leight and I were assigned to the second floor of the North Wing, which included the bedrooms of Lucius, Narcissa, and Draco Malfoy.

After inspecting several empty rooms, including that of Lucius Malfoy, we entered Narcissa Malfoy's room and found her body stretched out on the bed. The bed was made, and she was dressed in a black formal sleeveless gown. Her jewellery included a large diamond necklace, a matching bracelet, and a diamond and emerald ring carrying a dim magical signature. She was wearing high-heeled black dress shoes. Her left arm bore no sign of the Dark Mark. Rigor mortis had set in, but no injuries or cause of death were immediately apparent, though the empty vial clutched in her hand suggested suicide by poison. Her wand was found beneath her pillow when the body was moved for transport.

The medical examiner's report later confirmed poison as the cause of death, via a Dark potion known as Sweet Release. This potion, said to provide a swift, painless death, is difficult to produce but has been found in the homes of many Death Eaters. Due to some of the effects of the potion, the medical examiner could only ascertain the time of death within an hour or two. Therefore, the motive for her suicide remains unclear. She may have taken her life before the Final Assault began, when she realized that her husband was torturing their only son to death. Or she may have waited until Voldemort fell, killing herself to escape capture and the Dementor's Kiss. No note was found to explain her actions, and so little is known about her that any conclusions drawn can only be considered wild guesses and conjecture.

See Official Medical Examiner's Report for more detailed information regarding cause of death and time of death.

This concludes the report.

When they entered the Tactics Room, the Aurors gathered around the long table shouted Harry's name and greeted him as though he was entering a pub instead of a tactics conference. He waved to everyone and greeted them back, and was rewarded with wolf whistles and cat calls at his new formal robes when he took off his cloak and hung it on the rack near the door.

"Looks like Malfoy's rubbing off on you, Harry!" called James Devine from the far end of the table.

Harry did a little turn. "This is what style looks like, boys and girls. I'm not surprised that you lot aren't acquainted with it." Malfoy took off his outer cloak and hung it next to Harry's without a word.

"About time you got here, Potter," Moody growled. "Sit down and quit dallying. Malfoy, help yourself to a chair." Malfoy did so, and Harry pulled a chair up next to him.

The table was full of DMLE's best and brightest: Kevin Leight, a team leader like Harry, and a good friend; James Devine, a better team leader than he was a comedian, but only marginally in Harry's opinion; Caspia Overbury, possibly the most aggressively competent and Harry's professional favourite of the team leaders; Pamela Hamilton, Moody's assistant; Icarus Richland, head of the sharpcasters' unit; Bertrand Palgrave, tactics expert; Guiderius Howard, specialist in cults and charismatic organizations; and Zoe Armitage, team leader heading the Higgs investigations. Bertrand Palgrave was in his fifties and Pamela Hamilton in her forties, but everyone else was under the age of 35; many of the most experienced Aurors had been killed during the War, and most of those who survived had taken early retirement, leaving those battle-tested youngsters who still lived to step in. And then there was Moody himself, drawn out of retirement by Arthur's determined pleading, as gnarled and odd as he ever was, but also whip-smart and refreshingly free from the political gamesmanship that could pervade even Arthur's new, improved Ministry.

Moody pointed a gnarled, scarred finger around the table and barked out everyone's last names for Malfoy's benefit. "I expect you all recognize Malfoy, and that'll do for the social niceties," he said. "Potter, here's the ransom note, what do you think?"

Moody slid the note across the table to him. It was a small square of parchment with perfectly even, black script, reading, We have Seamus Finnigan. If you want him returned unharmed: you'll give us Draco Malfoy. Exchange to take place at 07:00 tomorrow morning. We'll be in touch about the location. The Raven.

Harry slid the parchment over to Malfoy as he spoke. "Standard transcription spell to conceal identity. I assume you couldn't get a lock on it magically?"

"As inert as if it were fresh out of the box." Moody answered.

Malfoy waved the note. "I don't suppose any of you were planning to address the fact that the only term for Finnigan's release is handing me over to the enemy? Perhaps that's the sort of thing that might have been mentioned a bit earlier, in the invitation to this little soiree, for example?"

His expression was tightly locked down, as neutral as when he was giving courtroom testimony, but his tone was cutting and even haughtier than usual. Harry realized with a shock that he'd got so used to the more relaxed, private Malfoy, the one that picked at his breakfast and hardly ever wore shoes, that he'd all but forgotten that this nastier, more Lucius-esque Malfoy existed. Malfoy Mark One was not going to be a hit with the other Aurors, Harry reckoned with a sinking heart.

Kevin proved him right faster than he'd feared. "As if you would have come within a mile of the building if you'd known," he sneered.

"I can see you have a low opinion of me, Auror Leight. That really is such a shame." Malfoy's tone made it clear that he couldn't care less about Kevin's opinion. "It's only that if I'd realized I would have changed into something more suitable for allowing the Ministry to get me killed."

Moody's fist came crashing down on the table, and everyone but Malfoy jumped. "There'll be no dying on my watch! And none of this bickering either! We'll talk about the operation itself in a few minutes. Until then, Leight, you take it down a notch. Malfoy's here as a volunteer. And you, Malfoy." Moody stopped and looked mildly disgusted. "Try to keep a civil tongue in your head."

Malfoy smirked and Harry held his breath, waiting for one of a million possible smart-arsed comments. But he just lowered his eyes to the table and kept silent, a little sliver of what Harry considered The Real Malfoy, for which he was profoundly grateful. But the tension in the room was still thick enough to cut.

"Potter, continue," Moody barked.

Harry refocused on the task at hand. "Well, the obvious starting point is The Raven. Do we think it's really them?"

"They were a Death Eater organization," Devine said. "They have motive."

Malfoy tossed the note into the middle of the table. "It's not Raven. It's Higgs."

"Just because Higgs had people shooting at you this morning doesn't mean he's behind every potted plant," Devine answered.

"He's got hayfever, so I imagine I'd hear him sneezing if he were. Look, Devine, excuse me, Auror Devine," Malfoy coated the word with loathing. "Raven was never anything more than a social club, no matter what their press releases claimed. It was MacNair the Younger's project, he was an idiot, and he's dead. Secondly, they were all fanatically insistent that the group's name had been changed from the traditional Order of the Raven to Raven. Just Raven, no The. They went absolutely ape-shit if you called it The Raven. I told MacNair it made them sound like a group of pop star twats, but I suppose he felt it fit. If this note were from anyone involved with the original organization, they would have signed it with what they considered the proper name."

"MacNair's dead because you killed him," Caspia Overbury said. "That seems like a good motive, even if it's a group of leftover wannabes who are trying to pick up MacNair's mantle."

Malfoy snorted. "MacNair didn't have a mantle. He barely had a light spring cloak. And the only people attracted to Raven were even stupider than MacNair himself; they couldn't organize afternoon tea, much less the kidnapping of a top Auror. Besides all that, look at the second sentence. See the colon where there should be a comma? That's Higgs. He sent me quite a few owls over time, and he did that consistently. His punctuation's questionable but he's an excellent organizer. Nabbing Finnigan is much more consistent with his modus operandi and abilities than that of an overrated dance party that no one's heard a squeak from in two years."

"What made you kill MacNair?" Palgrave asked.

Malfoy laid his hands flat on the table and speared Palgrave with a cold, grey-eyed stare. "Did I need a reason?" The room was silent as a churchyard. "This may come as a shock, but as a high-ranking Death Eater, I was actually expected to kill people. MacNair annoyed me, publicly and repeatedly. He was angling for my job. So I did the expected thing and saved you lot the trouble of killing him later."

"In a fair duel, as I recall," Overbury added.

"He was a moron. He didn't stand a chance, and I assure you if he had I would have found a safer way of getting rid of him. As it was I took two minutes of Cruciatus for duelling without permission, and wished quite heartily when I came to that I'd been unfair and poisoned him."

"All right," Moody glared at Malfoy with his crazy eye, while the other looked at Zoe. "Armitage, you're the resident expert on Higgs. Do you buy Malfoy's analysis?"

"There's nothing about the situation that suggests it isn't Higgs. He's pulled off plenty of kidnappings before, though he's never demanded a ransom to my knowledge. He's always just murdered the victim. However, if he'd been trying to get to Malfoy and found him too well-guarded, and he wanted Malfoy badly enough, I wouldn't put a ransom demand past him. It would be like him to attribute it to another organization to cover his tracks. He's smart. He likes to muddy the waters as much as he can and keep us guessing. So, yes, it could be him. But there's nothing about it that makes me certain that it is him. I'm afraid I can't speak to his punctuation habits."

There were a couple of stifled laughs around the table, which Malfoy ignored with arctic dignity.

Moody took a drink from his hip flask and looked at both sides of the table at once. "This is getting us nowhere fast and we're running out of time. I need recommendations. Howard, give me a plan if it's these Raven nutcases we're dealing with. And Armitage, give me one for Higgs. The rest of you listen up and put in your two Knuts when the time comes. Howard!"

Howard was used to these rapid-fire commands by now - they all were - and he started his report without any hesitation. "Well, with the knowledge we have now, I'd say send in an Auror using Polyjuice Potion as Malfoy with as many other armed people as we think we can get away with. Toss an anti-Apparation, anti-Portkey net over the area as soon as the kidnappers arrive. Set snipers around the perimeter of the area and near the exits to catch the kidnappers as they're coming out. The Aurors going in should have battle experience and hostage training. Good ducking skills probably wouldn't hurt either. They'll have to try to avoid a fire fight long enough to get Seamus out of the way, assuming that he can't do anything to help himself, and that the kidnappers even bring him. We're flying blind at this point. There's no telling what this situation's going to look like on the ground, and the Aurors in the field are going to have to improvise. If it weren't Finnigan's life at stake, I'd recommend refusing a meeting until we had negotiated for better terms. As it is, I think we arm up, charge in, and pray to Merlin that we prevail."

Moody looked even grumpier than usual. "I had enough of these nundu dung, seat-of -the-pants operations during both the Wars. Too many feckin' variables. Team, let's hear from you."

The Aurors agreed on the outlines of Howard's plan, made suggestions for whom to take into the hostage exchange, and discussed sharpcasters to be included in the sniper team. Pamela took notes serenely even as people talked over one another, until finally everyone seemed to run out of words. Moody turned to Malfoy and said, "Well, you got anything to add?"

Malfoy looked bored and said, "The Polyjuice won't work. Even if it's only some
ambitious lunatic from Raven, they're likely to have at least seen me in person. You'd need a gifted mimic who can learn to imitate my every swish in the next six hours. Preferably one with an eidetic memory and extensive experience with Death Eater procedures. If it is Higgs, an impostor wouldn't make it past the first question. He and I worked together for months on that drugs-for-cash project, and he knows all the arcane details, things much too complicated to try to explain to anyone who isn't a Potions Master. I'll have to go in myself."

The table erupted in noise. Every Auror was talking at once and they all seemed to have a different opinion, though most seemed to mistrust Malfoy in one way or another. Finally Moody slammed his knotted walking stick against the table and everyone shut up.

"Potter. What do you think?"

"Malfoy's probably right. It's reassuring to imagine that the kidnappers are incompetent but they took Seamus and he's no lightweight. They want Malfoy badly enough to risk a complicated hostage exchange. That suggests it's personal; they probably know him casually at the very least. The first thing they'll be looking for is Polyjuice impersonation. Malfoy's needed for the trials and I hate to risk him, but if we're going to get Seamus back, I don't see what choice we have."

"How heartwarming," Malfoy murmured under his breath, just loudly enough that only Harry could hear him. Harry flushed. He didn't mean that Malfoy's use to the Ministry was the only reason he was worried, but there was no time and no privacy to explain himself.

Moody grunted. "All right then. Malfoy goes in." The table swam again in muttered discontent until Moody glared them all down. "Potter's heading the team. Magically, he's our strongest Auror and he's the best we've got at improvising in the field. He knows Finnigan as well as anyone. He's the right person for the job, and if he wants Malfoy there, I'm not going to second guess him."

"Secretary Moody," Kevin interrupted, "with all due respect, sending Harry into this situation with Malfoy at his back is a recipe for disaster. For all we know, it's a set-up. Malfoy hates Harry and he always has. There's no telling how many subtle ways he could find to get Harry killed."

"Don't presume you know the first thing about whom I hate, Leight," Malfoy hissed. "Besides, Potter's been living in my house for weeks. If I wanted to kill him, he'd be dead already."

"That's a real comfort," Leight replied. "Nice to see you haven't got over your cavalier attitude toward murder." Harry winced.

Malfoy didn't move an inch, but his glare was enough to make everyone at the table flinch. "I'm the Ministry's weapon, your weapon, you utter imbecile! A weapon without a cutting edge is useless. The murders you loathe are all that saved you from being tortured to death when your stunning incompetence got you captured. You should be delighted to have the most successful field agent in the Ministry's history watching your precious hero's back. Or is it that you're jealous of the view?"

Leight launched himself from his chair, wand in hand. Both Harry and Moody leapt up to stand in his way while Devine and Overbury held Kevin's arms as he spat invective at Malfoy. Malfoy sat unruffled, still unmoving, a nasty smirk playing over his face, though he gripped his wand tightly beneath the edge of the table.

"All right, that's enough!" Moody bellowed and pushed Leight back with one meaty hand. He flopped into his chair, peering around Harry to keep staring daggers at Malfoy. "Gods below! Finnigan's life is at stake here, Leight." Moody looked around the room, both eyes going in different directions. "Get out, all of you, all but Potter and Malfoy. Take fifteen minutes, get a cup of coffee, come back ready to work. And Leight, if I hear one more outburst from you, there'll be hell to pay. That clear?"

"Yes, sir." Leight slunk out of the room along with everyone else, leaving Harry to sit back down with that sick feeling of waiting for the Headmaster to pass sentence, even though for once he wasn't the one who'd misbehaved.

Moody poked Malfoy's leg with the end of his walking stick. "I appreciate you don't have to be here, but if you spend any more time winding my boys up I'll send you back to your great fuckin' Manor in pieces and find a way of gettin' Finnigan back without you."

"My apologies," Malfoy said coolly.

Moody's light eye rolled. "You're a right arsehole, Malfoy, and no mistake, and a Dark Magician and a fuckin' poofter to top it off. All things being equal I wouldn't cross the street to piss on you if you were on fire. But you can hold your own in a fight, and you're not above fightin' dirty if you have to. I figure we're better off with you in there with Potter than anybody else, 'cept maybe Overbury. But if Potter gets hurt, it's you I'll hold responsible."

Malfoy just stared back at Moody steadily. "Fair enough."

Moody grunted and turned to leave, but Malfoy stopped him. "If I'm going to do this, I'll need to owl to the Manor for a few things."

"Fine. Potter, get him what he needs. I'm going to take a leak."

Harry got the parchment, quill, ink and sealing wax out of a cabinet along the wall and set it on the table in front of Malfoy. Without a word of thanks, Malfoy began writing his letter. After a few lines he folded it up, muttered the standard spell to heat the wax, and then another spell Harry hadn't heard before. A dragon design appeared in the wax seal and he tossed it onto the table. Then he started on another piece of parchment, wrote another few lines and repeated the sealing procedure, only this time a fleur-de-lis pattern appeared. Then he handed both the letters to Harry.

"Owl these."

Harry turned them over and read the addresses. Predictably, one was to Professor Severus Snape, Hogwarts School. The other was to Wilson the House Elf, Malfoy Manor. "Being rude isn't going to get you what you want, you know."

Malfoy only looked at him impassively. "You have no idea what I want."

After a moment, when it was apparent that no pleasantries like a polite request to owl the letters would be forthcoming, Harry sighed. "I don't like you very much right now," he said, and left to owl the letters.

As he closed the door behind him, he thought he heard Malfoy say, "The feeling is mutual."

When Harry got back from owling the letters, the Aurors were filtering back into the room and there was no opportunity to talk to Malfoy. He was still sitting at the table with that horrible, serene expression on his face. The Aurors were ignoring him, but the atmosphere seemed a bit more civil than it had been, if no less tense. The remainder of the planning was without incident, with both Leight and Malfoy staying very quiet. Armitage recommended following the outlines of Howard's plan, with a few extra precautions just in case it did turn out to be Higgs they were dealing with. After some debate, they all agreed and their strategy was set. Everyone also agreed that Malfoy would have to be tied up; if he walked in under his own power, the kidnappers would know it was a trap. To Harry's surprise, Malfoy concurred without a single smirk or smart remark. Around 3:00, a huge eagle owl carrying a small box came for Malfoy. He didn't say a word about it, just put the box in his pocket unopened, scratched the owl under its chin and allowed it to fly away.

At 5:30, the note with the exchange information arrived via an untraceable private service owl. The instructions gave an address in the warehouse district of wizarding London, and said that only one Auror was to accompany Malfoy into the building. The Auror would be allowed a wand for use in controlling Malfoy but no other weapons. Disregarding this directive would result in Seamus' death. The team agreed that Harry and Malfoy would have to go in alone. Harry would keep his communication spell open during the exchange and everyone would hope that the Aurors would be able to get inside if they were needed. There was a flurry of activity as instructions were sent out to the sharpcasters and adjustments were made to the placement of personnel.

By 6:00 everything that could be done had been, and the meeting broke up so everyone could take their places. Malfoy pulled Harry aside. "You have an office here, don't you?"

"Of course."

"With a door that locks?"

"Yes. Why?"

He handed Harry his wand. "Put this in your desk and lock it up. Higgs has equipment to see magical energy; I won't be able to hide it, and I'm sure as hell not trusting any of these upstanding Aurors to look after it for me."

"You're going in unarmed?"

"Not entirely. I've got my dagger in a sheath in my boot. And this." He took the box from his pocket and opened it. Inside was a large signet ring. He held it up so Harry could see the Malfoy Family Crest on it. "It will function as a wand. Only to a limited degree, but it's better than nothing."

"Won't Higgs see it as well?"

"Yes, but it's common knowledge that the Malfoy Ring is charmed to be irremovable. I can use that to explain away the magical signature."

"Is it really? Charmed to be irremovable?"

"Sort of, but would a Malfoy invent something that didn't have a loophole? I know a way to take it off."

Harry looked at the ring, still held in Malfoy's graceful fingers. "I have a bad feeling about this."

Malfoy rolled his eyes, but the gesture was missing the good humour Harry had grown used to. "Potter, it's Dark Magic, and it was on Lucius' hand when he died. Of course you have a bad feeling about it. I'm not having shedloads of warm and happy feelings myself. But I will not allow you to truss me up like a holiday goose and present me to Higgs without a back-up plan. You want Finnigan back, don't you?"

"Yes, of course."

He slid the ring onto his right hand ring finger, and a little flicker of emotion passed through his eyes.

"What is it?"

His lips curled in a bitter smile as he looked at the ring on his hand. "It's heavy." He gazed at the ring a moment more, then seemed to shake his thoughts off and looked back at Harry with his best impassive mask. "Put my wand away and then we have to go."

3 April, 2000, 1:06 a.m.
Tactics Room
Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Ministry of Magic Building
State of Complete Loathing

Dear Sev:

Short note to warn you in case rumours reach you before explanation - have had busy day. Gate guard suborned; shot at me with Muggle gun this a.m. Am fine, unhurt. Don't worry! Looks like Higgs, long story, will explain later. Then dragged tonight into planning rescue operation of Seamus Finnigan, victim of kidnapping by parties unknown, probably Higgs. Probably won't have time to write in a.m., but will try to get full letter to you no later than tomorrow p.m. Don't worry! Am fine, will write a.s.a.p. Don't worry!


They Apparated to the designated location, around the corner from the warehouse where the kidnappers and Seamus were supposedly waiting.

Harry activated the communication spell. "This is Potter. We're in position and waiting for your signal." He nodded at the affirmative reply, then turned back to Malfoy. "Few minutes to get everyone in place, and then we're on. We'll wait until the last moment to bind you." Malfoy nodded and crouched down on his heels, leaning his back against the brick of the building.

Harry scrubbed a hand through his hair. Everyone had taken a mild restorative potion, (even Malfoy - though he had grumbled about the colour not being as pure a teal as it should be), so Harry wasn't feeling as tired as he might, but he still wanted nothing more than to go back to the Manor and crawl into his borrowed bed.

Malfoy looked weary but completely composed, although his newly-ringed right hand was trembling where it lay on his knee. He followed Harry's line of sight and a flush of embarrassment washed over his face. He wiped the hand on his robes and made a fist and it seemed to steady. He leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes.

"I don't suppose you've Seen anything having to do with this?" Harry asked.

His eyes popped open, looking very pale and almost blue in the dim dawn light. "No. We're on our own. Unless you'd like me to try to dig up a set of cards or rune stones and do a reading on the pavement here."

"Would that really work?"

"No, you idiot!" He laughed. "You're awfully gullible for someone who sat through years of Trewlawney's asinine predictions. I suppose I could try taking a nap. Probably wouldn't do us any more good than a spread of cards, but at least I'd get some sleep."

Harry smiled at the thought of Malfoy sleeping on the pavement like a homeless person. "Don't think we have time."

"Shame. I've got those dark circles under my eyes again. Charming them away isn't good for the skin. It causes wrinkles."

"You're just a fountain of information."

Malfoy smirked at him as if to say I'm a fountain of all sorts of things, and Harry realized that Malfoy Mark Two was back. Now that they were alone.

"Maybe if you ever slept or ate more than a crumb, you wouldn't have to worry about charming the dark circles away," Harry added, just to tease him.

"All right, Professor Snape Redux. The queue for nagging starts over there." Malfoy closed his eyes again and was perfectly still. Silence wound around them.

"Look, I'm sorry that everyone was rude to you before," Harry said. "And I didn't mean to make it sound like I was only concerned about you because of your uses to the Ministry. I would never say that - it just came out wrong. I apologise. For myself and for everyone."

Malfoy waved a hand languidly. "It's not important."

"Kevin's a good guy, really. He didn't mean it; he's just worried about Seamus."

The grey eyes snapped open, and Malfoy made a sound of pure contempt. "Let's not start lying to each other at this late date, shall we, Potter? He meant it." He closed his eyes again. "Leight killed Michelle Rosier," he said quietly.

Harry felt ill. For all the hostility in the room, it hadn't really sunk in that everyone there had probably killed at least one person that Malfoy knew. Harry wondered how many of the dozens of Death Eaters he had killed were something like friends of Malfoy's, people he worked alongside, joked with, played cards with. And then there was Malfoy's father, killed by Harry in a flash of green light, his still body just another obstacle to step over. "I'm very sorry."

Malfoy gave a harsh laugh and opened his eyes. "You misunderstand me. He may wish me ill, but I owe him. He did me a favour. Rosier was getting far too interested in the small, unpleasant coincidences revolving around me. Granted, I arranged to have her sent on that mission, and I told Dumbledore's people exactly where to find her. But Kevin Leight dirtied his hands. Nice to have you lot doing my dirty work for a change, rather than the other way around." His eyes were cold, his expression arrogant, the planes of his face seeming sculpted out of white stone. All traces of playfulness were gone; he'd never looked so much like Lucius as in that instant.

Harry's frustration boiled over. "Why do you do that? Why do you put on this performance of being exactly the way they expect you to be?"

"Because I am, Potter," Malfoy snapped back. "I am exactly what they expect me to be. To defeat the enemy, someone had to volunteer to become him. It was a short trip, anyway."

"That's complete shite. That's not who you are, not all of who you are, not even mostly."

"For fuck's sake, grow up! This isn't some Muggle storybook and I'm not a wounded lion. You can't pull the thorn from my paw and befriend the savage beast, you can't tame me and make me safe for all your little mates to come around and play with. You're the lion, in case you've forgotten. I'm just a snake."

Harry looked at him - skin sickly pale, flashing grey eyes underscored with purple exhaustion, hair still perfectly in place despite everything. So proud, so willing to bleed himself and deny that it hurt. Noble. In a perverse, irritating kind of way.

"I like snakes," Harry said.

"Fuck." Malfoy sighed and covered his face with his hands.

And there was no time to say anything else, because the voice in his ear was telling him it was time to go.

The gag was Malfoy's idea, conjured out of a handkerchief he had in his pocket. "There's no way I'd shut up if you surprised me and tied me up. I'd do my level best to talk you into letting me go or at least irritate you as much as I possibly could. You'd have to gag me or hex my voice away." Harry had to agree that he was probably right. His last words to Harry were, "If you run me into a doorway with Mobilicorpus, Potter -"

"Great and terrible vengeance wreaking, yes, I know." Harry put the gag in place as Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Is it okay? Not too uncomfortable?"

Harry had always suspected that Malfoy could be insulting using only his eyebrows, but there was the proof. Harry took the expression to mean that he was fine and he wanted to get on with it. So Harry cast the binding spell and Malfoy was encircled with thick, white ropes. "How's that? Is it too tight?" Malfoy shook his head. "Okay, then, off we go." Harry activated the communication spell. "We're going in. The link will stay open as of now. Be careful, everyone."

Harry cast Mobilicorpus and began walking toward the building with Malfoy floating behind him like an extremely substantial and irritable ghost.

By the time they got to the door of the building, Harry's heart was pounding. He stood to the side of the doorframe and pushed the door open. Nothing exploded or leapt out at them. So far, so good. Crouching down, he peered around the doorway but it was too dark inside to see anything. "We're going into the building," he whispered.

He walked in, wand held before him, Malfoy trailing silently behind. As he stepped into the darkened warehouse, he saw rows and rows of large boxes, stacked ten feet high in places, but only three or four feet high in others. "There's a long aisle down the middle of the room," he whispered, "with light coming from the end to the right. Lots of boxes stacked everywhere, lots of hiding spots for bad guys. Beware." He peered down the crossing aisles as he passed them, but didn't see anyone. Finally they got the end of the aisle and turned the corner, to find Mortimer Higgs standing with his wand in hand beneath a dim, rusty lamp. He was a plain, dark-haired, middle-aged man with glasses who looked more accountant than crime lord. Sitting next to him was Seamus, tied in a chair and gagged, like Malfoy's complementary bookend.

He allowed Malfoy to float gently to the floor and ended the Mobiliuscorpus spell. "Mortimer Higgs," Harry said by way of greeting.

"Ah, but is it really Mortimer Higgs or someone impersonating him via Polyjuice?" Higgs answered. "At this very moment, another Mortimer Higgs could be establishing an alibi in the South of France."

"At this very moment, I'm most interested in knowing whether that's really Seamus Finnigan."

Higgs took off Seamus' gag, and Seamus immediately shouted, "Don't do it, Harry! Whatever he's asked you for, don't give it to him!"

"He wants Draco Malfoy," Harry answered.

"Oh." Seamus blinked. "Well, that's all right then. I reckon you can give him Malfoy."

"That's Seamus," said Harry.

"Also, all your underpants had holes in the bum until sixth year," Seamus added helpfully.

Higgs smirked. "You're very welcome to take him back. I'd count it as a favour, in fact. I just need my own assurances that your delivery is genuine."

Harry took the gag from Malfoy's mouth, and pretended to cast Veritas without actually casting the spell. "Ask him whatever you'd like."

"What are the three base ingredients in Pure?"

"Poppy, coca and guarana. It was processed magically, but produced a magically inert finished compound safe to sell to Muggles."

"What's the key bit of magical equipment necessary to the manufacture of Pure?"

"There's more than one. A gold cauldron, a magically inert stirring device like a pewter spoon, and distilling equipment made of special, hand-blown, wizard's glass are part of what you need. You'd have to be more specific if you want a proper answer."

"Who invented it?"

"I did."

"With the assistance of whom?"

"No one, you paunchy twat."

"I'm satisfied that's Draco Malfoy."

Harry ended the fake Veritas spell.

"Now," Higgs said. "I'm going to slowly reach into my robe pocket and get some other glasses. Don't be alarmed." He did so, and pulled out two pairs of glasses, one with orange lenses and the other with green. He took off his own specs and put on the green ones, making a show of looking Malfoy over. "No wand, but what's that on your hand, Draco?"

"The Malfoy Family ring, which, as I'm sure you recall, is spelled to be irremovable. That's the magical signature you're seeing."

"Irremovable? Hm, well, we'll see, won't we?" He chuckled and it was a thoroughly unpleasant sound. "Oh, I'm going to have so much fun with you. It's like Christmas in April!" He changed the green glasses out for the orange ones. "These are new, Draco. Do you like them? I find them both attractive and practical. They detect Muggle weaponry."

Oh, God, Harry thought, Malfoy's knife! Malfoy locked eyes with him and there was a brief, still moment of silent communication, consisting primarily of, "Oh, shit." Then Malfoy blinked and everything exploded into action. Harry began throwing curses and generally doing whatever he could to draw Higgs' fire. Spells were ricocheting everywhere, toppling and exploding the boxes in their paths. Debris went flying, mostly paper and small boiled sweets that rained down like Willy Wonka's factory on crack.

Malfoy dived for cover, still bound, casting a spell from mid-air to untie Seamus. He landed in an aisle out of Harry's line of sight with an audible thud. Harry couldn't even spare a moment to hope he was all right, as he and Higgs continued to slug it out.

Freed from the chair, Seamus immediately ducked behind the next row of boxes, leaving Harry and Higgs alone. Higgs was well protected but Harry was gaining ground. He was pressing either to break through Higgs' defences or to force him to retreat outside, where the team waited. One of Harry's Stupifies zinged very close to Higgs' head, and he broke and headed for cover. But he slipped on the sweets covering the floor and landed heavily between the stacks of boxes on the row across. Before Harry could follow in hopes of catching him off guard, Higgs was throwing spells from over the tops of the boxes. His aim was somewhat random, but he came close to Harry a couple of times from sheer luck, and Harry realized it might be a good idea to take cover himself.

He went in the direction he'd last seen Malfoy going and found him pretty quickly. He'd already freed himself from the ropes and he was hunched down behind the boxes to make a smaller target. He was wearing a very cross look and holding a hand to his right upper arm. Hexes continued to fly overhead from across the aisle, lighting the shadows of the gloomy warehouse in an eerie green glow and provoking an occasional cloudburst of boiled sweets as another box exploded.

"Are you okay?" Harry asked.

"Fine. Couldn't catch myself as I fell because my arms were tied down, but it's not serious. Probably just a bruise. Looks as though the back-up plan was more of a back-fire plan. Sorry."

Harry shook his head. "We weren't getting out of this without a fight, and everyone knew it going in. You and Seamus head for the exit. I'll be right behind."

Malfoy ground his teeth. "Only because I don't have a proper wand. Otherwise I wouldn't leave you here to clean up my mess."

"It's all our mess, but fine, objection noted. Seamus," Harry called, "run for it, I'll cover you!"

"Fuck that!" Seamus shouted back. "Shit, he's getting away! Oh, no you don't, you fucker -" The muffled thump of two bodies hitting the concrete floor sounded, just before the distinctive pop of a portkey. Harry ran around the side of the boxes to where the sound came from, but no one was there.

"Fuck!" He screamed. "Fucking fuck!" He stood there wanting to kill something, trying to decide if he should shout some more or report in. "Team," he said after a moment, "Finnigan's gone. Higgs slipped out of the portkey net somehow, and Seamus went with him."

"Potter, we copy that," came the answer in his ear. "All personnel converge in front of the building. Anti-Apparation/anti-portkey net is now lifted."

He started walking back to the front door, and Malfoy joined him. "Gryffindors," Malfoy said, with a shake of his head, and that was all.

When they got out to the front of the building, they found a circle of dumbfounded Aurors looking at each other. In the middle was Seamus Finnigan standing over the prostrate, bruised and bloody form of Mortimer Higgs. Seamus had Higgs' wand in one hand and lifted the other to show skinned knuckles.

"Sometimes you just have to do things the old-fashioned way," he said. "Right, Harry?"

Everyone cheered and began talking at once and Harry was first in the queue to give Seamus a welcoming pat on the back. Malfoy stood back and watched but Harry could have sworn he saw a little hint of a genuine smile lurking at the corners of his mouth.

They debriefed back at the Tactics Room, and the atmosphere was considerably less tense than earlier in the morning. Seamus was sent off to St. Mungo's for a full check-up, where Higgs was also getting a patching up under heavy guard. Moody assigned paperwork to everyone, most especially Harry, and he publicly thanked Malfoy for his part in the operation. The Aurors even applauded in response, though Harry had to admit it was a rather subdued applause. Still, considering that they had been ready to feed him to his own eagle owl that morning, it was progress.

The meeting broke up, and Moody asked to speak to Malfoy for a moment as the team filed out. Harry said he'd just dash upstairs to his office to get Malfoy's wand and meet him back there in the Tactics Room. When he came back, Moody and Malfoy were gone. He wandered over to the little kitchenette adjacent to the Tactics room and there Malfoy was, standing in front of the sink and staring at the Malfoy Ring on his hand. He'd taken off his formal robe and laid it on the counter top next to his dragon-handled knife and the small wooden box the ring had come in.

Harry walked over to him and handed him the wand. "Are you okay?"

Malfoy nodded. "Just tired. I'll just take care of this last thing and then we'll be off home?"

"Sounds good to me. What -"

But before Harry could finish his sentence, Malfoy waved his wand at his right hand, said "Torpeo," picked up the knife, laid his right hand on the counter, and sliced the ring finger clean off his right hand.

"Oh my God!" Harry screamed. "Malfoy, Jesus Christ!"

"Potter, for the love of Merlin, don't shriek in my ear." His hand was spouting blood into the sink where the finger once was. "Desino cruror," he waved his wand and the bleeding stopped. He calmly took the ring off the dismembered finger, and Harry felt very seriously ill. Then Malfoy put the finger back upon the severed joint. "Hold this in place for a moment, would you?"

Harry could feel all the blood draining out of his face, but he gingerly set a trembling fingertip against the digit to hold it still.

"Iunctus," Malfoy said, and there was a flash of amber light in a ring around the joint. "Thank you." Harry let go of the finger. Malfoy held up his healed hand to examine it, and seemed satisfied with what he saw. "Finite Incancatem." The finger began to pink up, and Malfoy wiggled his fingers experimentally. "Hmm, seems good as new, except for the scar." He held the finger out for Harry to see the thin, silvery band around the finger. "My great-great-grandfather, my namesake whose knife that was, had three of these scars on his ring finger. I don't believe any of them were self-inflicted, though." He wiggled his fingers again then turned to rinse the blood off his hand and the ring. He splashed some water around the sink to rinse the blood out of it too, then put the ring back in its box and slipped the box into his trouser pocket. He rinsed the knife and dried it with a paper towel before slipping it into the sheath in his boot. "Well, a rescue, a dismembering, and a new scar, all in a morning's work," he said cheerfully. "I'm knackered. Let's go home, shall we, Potter? You look like you could use a nap."

Malfoy Manor
3 April, 2000, 10:00 a.m.

Dear Sev:

Merlin, I have so much to tell you. It feels like those nights during the War, when I'd wake up from a dream and have so much information I needed to give you that I worried I'd run out of time to write it down before I had to make my appearance at breakfast. It feels like it's been two weeks since my last letter instead of two days, so forgive me if this runs long.

First of all, you should know that I'm fine. All the dramatic events I'm about to report resulted in nothing more serious than a very small scar on my right ring finger, for which I hope you have some remedy. It's only a tiny thing, but you know how vain I am; it's always been my dearest ambition to leave a good-looking corpse. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Yesterday my gate guard, Jack, was suborned. He knocked his partner William out and tied him up behind a tree so that he would be free to attempt to shoot me with a Muggle handgun as we were coming back. Fortunately, Potter's reputation as an Auror is well-earned. His quick action saved me from receiving unnecessary ventilation and we both Stupefied Jack before he had a chance to do anything else. When we revived him for questioning, however, he had just enough time to implicate Mortimer Higgs before he began convulsing and died. Irritation and blisters on his right hand, particularly on the index finger, suggest a contact poison on the trigger, probably one with a medium to fast rate of onset. The gun is with the Ministry being analysed, so I imagine we'll find out what it was eventually. I didn't have time to get the N.U.P.A. into him before he expired, which is really unfortunate. It would have been fantastic to get a field test on its effectiveness against contact poison. And, of course, a witness against Higgs would have been a nice bonus (although that turned out to be unnecessary - more on this anon).

Potter spent the day justifying himself to his superiors, and then he and I had a lovely semi-formal Italian dinner. He was charming, actually, Sev; you would have been shocked. Just as we were finishing pudding (chocolate cheesecake), he got an owl from the Ministry saying that Seamus Finnigan had been kidnapped and Raven was claiming responsibility. They ordered him to report to the Ministry building at once, and requested that I come along to help them formulate a plan since I had some contact with Raven during my days as a spy. Naturally, I agreed. So instead of toddling off to bed with a full belly and a head full of wine, as had been my intention, I ended up sitting through an all-night planning session with a room full of hostile Aurors.

Our trusting friends at DMLE neglected to mention in their letter that the requirement for Finnigan's recovery was special delivery of yours truly. Nor were they inclined to listen to my advice, not about Raven or much of anything else. They mainly seemed to want me to sit still for a haircut. But I made the point that even if Raven were the responsible party (and I was certain it was Higgs the minute I saw the ransom note), I was too well-known in Death Eater circles to make Polyjuice impersonation practical. And that was how I ended up in my first field assignment since the War.

I followed Potter in as bait, bound and wandless though not unarmed. I had my dragon-handled knife in my boot, and I owled home for the Malfoy Family Ring to use for a focus since I couldn't take a wand. I have since removed the Malfoy Family Ring as the feel of it against my skin was nauseating. Thus, my new scar, caused by the ring's removal and the healing of the wound with Iunctus. I know scars of this nature are particularly difficult to erase - Old Draco had three, as I recall - but being a genius, surely you'll find a way to restore my right hand to its previous, unmarred state. I'm counting on you, Sev.

Ironically, the Ring stood me in good stead but my knife gave me away. Higgs developed a new technology to detect Muggle weaponry, and our ruse was found out. Potter and I traded hexes with him for a few minutes then Finnigan, model of Gryffindor idiocy that he is, saved the day by leaping upon Higgs unarmed and pounding the shit out of him with his bare hands. Higgs is now in custody (though still unconscious last I heard), everyone is safe, and the Ministry is thrilled beyond the telling of it. Moody even thanked me personally for my part in the rescue before asking me to submit a full report of events in triplicate.

Now that Higgs is in custody, assuming that Finnigan's pummelling left some portion of his brain unscrambled, I imagine he'll confess under Veritaserum to the attempts on my life and the Malfoy Manor Contingent of Aurors will be gone in a day or two.

So there it is, all tied up in a neat little bow. The most shocking part of the whole experience was not having to cut off my own finger (which I certainly had not planned for at breakfast yesterday), nor even that Higgs was willing to expose himself to capture just to get his hands on me, but that Potter actually apologised to me this morning for his fellow Aurors' behaviour. He's not so bad, really. It's going to seem very dull around the Manor when he goes, and for once I'm not referring to his decorative appeal, substantial though it may be.

You'll be interested to know, as both my confessor and my sick-nurse, that my nervous system held up nearly perfectly during the ordeal, with only some minor trembling at the start. After that, my hands were as steady as they ever have been. I grant you that a single, short-lived battle is less stressful than some of the situations I've survived in the past, but I don't expect to have to endure months of deep-cover spy work or days of torture ever again. In every way that matters, my nervous system is entirely functional. I have you, Poppy, and Dr. Barthelmy to thank for it, and I do thank you, with all my heart and steady hands.

That concludes my report. Let the nagging commence!

Your (only slightly marred) Draco Jacques

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
3 April, 2000, noon

Draco -

Words fail me.


Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
3 April, 2000, 12:30 p.m.

Dear Draco:

I take it back. I found a few words after all, none of which are suitable for broadcast on the WWN.

Whenever you exhort me not to worry, I know that horrible things are afoot. This last letter may represent the world record for highest number of horrible and potentially fatal events reported in a single missive. This is not something of which you should be proud.

It's annoying enough that your carelessness afforded someone the opportunity to shoot at you with a Muggle gun. The average suicidal ninny would consider that sufficient danger for the day and wander off for a lie down. But not you. You spent the rest of the night trapped in a room full of people who hate you, and capped off your schedule with a starring role in unarmed combat planned by said hateful people. Let's not even mention the fact that your nervous system and metabolism are still dodgy from what happened two brushes-with-death ago.

Jacques, you must realize that there's no excuse for this. What is the point of all my efforts to keep you alive when you hold your life to be so very cheap? During the War, there was a purpose to your recklessness. But the War is over now. You've done your part, and you deserve better than continuing to act as cannon fodder for a cadre of ungrateful arseholes who have never appreciated your sacrifices. You've been wilful all your life and never hesitated to say no to anyone. Why is it that whenever the Ministry comes calling you bend over and invite them to have at it, and never mind about the lubricant? Testify in every Death Eater trial for the next three years? Surely, why not? Offer yourself up as bait to a man who would love nothing more than to take you apart slowly? Well, all right, nothing else in the diary for the day.

Merlin, I don't even know what to say to you about this! The sheer folly you've perpetrated in the last forty-eight hours is beyond the scope of my ability to scold you.

Oh, and Potter actually offered a polite apology? Let's call the Prophet, shall we? I would have preferred that he were rude to you but kept you out of harm's way! That is supposed to be his job, isn't it? Guarding you? Not luring you into some ill-conceived scheme to regain a person who is too stupid to realize he's being rescued!

That you are still alive is a testament only to your freakish luck and Potter's.

Send me no more letters with cheerful exclamations that I shouldn't worry. The mere words in your handwriting make me violently ill. Each repetition of them whitens yet another hair. I long to keep you safe but without your cooperation I am impotent. I can only drink myself to sleep and hope that I receive one more letter from you in the morning, one which does not include the words "don't worry."


When they got back to the Manor, breakfast was already set out on the parlour table, either through some prescient house elf knowledge of when the Master of the House would return, or from sheer habit. At the sight of the table covered in food, Harry suddenly felt ravenous. He sat down immediately and began making up his plate. Malfoy went just as quickly to his escritoire and pulled out parchment for a letter.

"I'm starving so I know you must be, too," Harry told him. "You should eat something."

"Perhaps in a while. I need to get a letter off to Severus first. He'll be apoplectic by now." And with that, Malfoy began to write. He had a lot of ground to cover, so it wasn't surprising that he was still writing when Harry finished his breakfast.

"Don't forget to eat when you're done," Harry said as he pushed back from the table. Malfoy's only comment was a graceful wave of his hand and some irritated muttering.

After a long, blissful shower, Harry changed into a clean set of Auror's robes and went back downstairs. Malfoy was nowhere to be seen, having evidently disappeared into his suite. Harry sat at the escritoire to start on his paperwork, and when he looked up again it was nearly noon.

"I've decided to eat something; I wanted you to be the first to know." Malfoy's voice floated over the quiet parlour. Harry twisted around in his chair to find him leaning in the doorway, wearing loose grey trousers and a generously cut white shirt with French cuffs. And, of course, no shoes. "I might take out an ad in the Prophet next, just to make sure that everyone else has been alerted. It seems to be a topic of great interest, after all."

"Smart arse."

"You say that as though you're surprised."

Wilson the House Elf appeared behind him, laden with an enormous tray overflowing with lunch things. Malfoy made room for him and he set the tray down on the table, before making a solemn bow. "Owl for you, sir," he said and pulled a sealed letter out of thin air.

Malfoy took it and sat down at his usual place at the table. "Thank you, Wilson." The house elf began unloading the tray as Malfoy hefted the envelope in his hand. "Apoplectic," Malfoy said with a note of clear dread. "If he wasn't angry with me it would be much heavier." Malfoy opened the letter and took only a second to read the contents. Then he sighed, refolded it and set it on the table. "I expect a more extensive bollocking to arrive within the hour, after he's calmed down a bit."

"Something to look forward to," Harry said.

"Well, come on, Potter, sit down. It's been nearly two hours since your last meal, I'm sure you're feeling faint."

Harry made a face at him but complied as another house elf appeared in the doorway. "Master Draco," she said in a voice resonant enough for the RSC, "Catherine Tayce is here to see you."

"Really. That's . . . unexpected. That's all right, Isabelle, you can send her in." Both elves disappeared with a small flurry of sparks.

As Malfoy picked up a spoon to start on the soup, Harry noticed his cufflinks glinting in the light. On closer inspection, Harry saw that they were silver snakes decorated with emeralds for eyes. One corner of Malfoy's mouth twitched in a vaguely embarrassed smile but he didn't look up.

Isabelle reappeared and announced solemnly, "Dr. Tayce." Catherine came into the room behind her, carrying a large manila envelope. It was the first time Harry had seen her wearing wizarding clothing. Her robes were a dove-grey brocade - beautifully tailored, of course - and she looked perfectly at home in them.

Malfoy smiled his being-charming-for-company smile but didn't get up. He waved a hand toward the table. "Catherine, we've just started lunch. Join us?"

She looked over the extravagantly full table and raised an eyebrow. "Well, since you seem to have plenty, sure. Thanks." She sat down, set the envelope on the table and began filling up a plate. "Draco, I have to ask. What on earth did you do to your house elves? I haven't mentioned it before because it didn't seem polite, but they really freak me out."

"Lucius did it. Not an appropriate discussion for mealtime, believe me." His expression was bland, but it was the second time he'd refused to answer the question.

"Ah. Fair enough." She held out the envelope to him across the table. "I was running some other errands, so I thought I'd drop by with the ritual for the switchover and some background material. Look at it when you have a second and let me know what you think." He reached over the table to take the envelope with his right hand, his left being occupied in holding his soup spoon. But he winced as he raised his arm, and put the spoon down to switch to his other hand. "Did you hurt yourself?" she asked.

"Just a bruise," he said. "Potter and I went out to play last night with Mortimer Higgs."

"It's more than just a bruise, if you're having trouble lifting your arm." She got up and circled around the table to stand next to him. "Unbutton your shirt so I can see."

Malfoy looked amused and a little taken aback. She laughed. "I never thought I'd have reason to call you a prude. I'm not your type, I know, but I have some first aid training. Let me see your shoulder."

"I wouldn't say that you're not my type," he purred. "It would be more accurate to say that you are my type but with a variation on the standard equipment."

"I bet you say that to all the girls. Unbutton your shirt and stop trying to distract me."

Malfoy smirked and undid his shirt, just slowly enough to tease without her being able to call him on it. But as Catherine was standing slightly behind him, it was Harry that he was smirking at, sitting across the table. Harry could feel himself colouring and envied Catherine's amused, sophisticated calm. He poured himself a glass of water.

When there were only two buttons left, Malfoy slipped the shirt off his shoulder without taking his arms out of the sleeves, exposing a narrow swath of smooth, pale chest. All that swimming looked to be doing him some good. Not that Harry was looking. He tried to find somewhere else to put his attention, but Malfoy was sitting there right across the table from him, right behind the French bread. Harry forced his eyes to his soup and pretended that he didn't need another piece of bread.

It wasn't until Catherine tsked and began murmuring things to herself that Harry remembered that the whole exercise was about Malfoy's shoulder and glanced up. It did look bad, joint clearly swollen and upper arm a massive, deeply coloured bruise.

"Well, you've got a bruise, all right," Catherine said, "but I think the real issue is in the joint." She took her wand out of her pocket to hold in one hand while she put the other on the shoulder joint. Her hand seemed to belong on Malfoy's skin - the colour almost the same shade of delicate pale, the fingers long and graceful, her touch light and sure.

Something twisted unpleasantly in Harry's gut as he realized that she really would be a perfect candidate for Malfoy's Lady of the Manor, and that Malfoy had undoubtedly considered that fact long before it occurred to Harry. He pushed the feeling away; if they wanted to lower themselves to a sham marriage, it was no concern of his.

Catherine closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them. "I'd say you dislocated it but it popped itself back into place."

"It made a somewhat disturbing sound when I fell," Malfoy admitted. "But it didn't seem that anything was broken."

"So you were just going to let it heal on its own?"

"I was going to get some rest, and see how it felt tomorrow. I've lived through far worse without resorting to medical intervention, I assure you. I typically do my own healing but the shoulder's rather awkward."

"Hmph." She waved her wand over him. "Curatio."

Malfoy moved his shoulder a bit. "Oh, that's much better. Much. You're a woman of many talents."

"Hold still. I'm not finished." She repeated the spell and the bruises vanished. "There. Got any other problem spots you want me to attend to?"

"All my other parts are in perfect working order. But thank you." She rolled her eyes at him and went back to her seat as Malfoy buttoned up his shirt.

"So, you boys were playing rough with Mortimer Higgs last night?" she asked as she ladled some soup into a bowl. "What happened?"

Harry gave her the abridged version between bites of lunch. When he finished, he asked Malfoy, "Did I forget anything?"

"Other than the fact that the Aurors were all hoping I'd meet a messy end and I was driven to slice off my own finger? I don't think so."

Catherine stared at Malfoy's hands with open curiosity. "They're all there now."

"I put it back. After I removed the irremovable ring."

"Ah," she said. "A minor inconvenience after everything else, I guess."

"Well, The Hero of the Wars over there nearly passed out, so there was some entertainment value. But it was not an experience I'm eager to repeat."

A quiet knock sounded and Harry looked up to find Janice standing at the open doorway. "Pardon me, sir, but an owl's come from Secretary Moody." She held it out as though she were reluctant to actually cross into the room.

"Please come in, Janice. Would you like to join us?"

She walked over to the table, carefully ignoring Malfoy as she passed him. "No, thank you, sir. I've eaten already." She handed Harry the envelope and then took another, thicker one from her robe pocket and turned to Malfoy. "This came for you."

"Oh, joy," Malfoy said as he accepted it and tucked it into a pocket. "The bollocking I've been waiting for. Thank you, Janice. Are you sure you won't sit down? Have a bit of soup, perhaps?"

"No, thank you."


"No, thank you."

"Cup of tea?"

"No, thank you very much." She was grinding her teeth with frustration by then, and stalked out of the room.

As her footsteps faded down the hallway, Malfoy looked over the table mildly. "I get the feeling that she doesn't like me."

Catherine chuckled and took another piece of bread. "That's kind of like asking the fox to guard the henhouse, isn't it?"

"She's a good Auror," Harry protested. "She would never let her personal feelings get in the way of her work. She's just . . . "

"Narrow-minded? Self-righteous? Impolite?" Malfoy suggested with his haughtiest arched brow.

"Young. She had a very protected childhood."

"How terrible for her," he murmured. "Well, go on, Potter. Open your letter. Perhaps it's an update on Higgs."

Harry did. It read:

Dear Auror Potter,

Please be advised that, due to this morning's successful capture of Mortimer Higgs and the elimination of the threat to Mr. Malfoy, your team's orders have changed. All personnel will report to the Ministry building tomorrow for resumption of their usual shifts.

Mr. Higgs remains unconscious and under medical supervision at St. Mungo's. Secretary Moody says he will inform you when Mr. Higgs is well enough to undergo Veritaserum interrogation so that you may attend.

Congratulations on another job well done.

Auror Pamela Hamilton
Assistant to Secretary Alastor Moody
Department of Magical Law Enforcement

"They're pulling the team," Harry said, the realization running like ice water over his skin. "But it's too soon! We don't know for sure that Higgs was behind the poisoning, and we won't until he wakes up. Damn it, I am not leaving you here unprotected, not until we have a full confession."

Malfoy looked remarkably unconcerned. "That's very thorough of you, Potter, but it wouldn't appear that you have any choice. Hero of the Wars or not, you're still subject to the chain of command, am I right?"

"Sort of. Technically, but not always practically. If I'm discreet, I can get around Moody by going directly to Arthur, and then Arthur pretends to have decided to intervene on his own. Moody likes me though, and he's damn good at his job, so I don't have to do it very often." Harry pinched the bridge of his nose behind his spectacles. The last forty-eight hours were finally catching up with him. "Bugger, I'm in no shape to Apparate this afternoon; I'd hate to even Floo. I'll have to go see Arthur first thing in the morning. Even if I can't keep the whole team, maybe I can convince him to leave myself and a few key people. I mean, I'm sure you'll be glad to have your house back, but I want to make certain you're safe."

Malfoy shrugged, and Harry wanted to shake him until some expression began showing on his face. "You do what you need to. Having you here for another day or two is very little trouble in the grand scheme of things."

Catherine wiped her mouth daintily, set the napkin down, and pushed back from the table. "I'd love to stay and enjoy all the life and death drama around here, but I'm afraid I have a few more things I have to do this afternoon. Thank you again for lunch, Draco. And let me know what you think about the ritual. I know it's probably dull for you, since there's no possibility of dismemberment . . . "

He arched a teasing eyebrow. "Well, there's always the chance of an accident. The old wards could go up in a blaze of pyrotechnic glory."

"Not with me on the job, there's not. Any injuries you receive from me will be deliberate." With a last flirtatious smile, she took her leave.

The Daily Prophet
3 April, 2000

Harry Potter Turns Tables On Kidnapper and Crime Kingpin

by Staff and Magical Press Agencies

The Ministry of Magic confirmed reports this afternoon that suspected crime lord Mortimer Higgs was captured during the rescue of kidnapped Auror Seamus Finnigan. The operation was led by none other than Super Auror and teen heartthrob Harry Potter, who is said to have apprehended Higgs barehanded. According to reports, Higgs sustained a severe head wound during the fight and is in critical condition at St. Mungo's Hospital under heavy guard. Auror Finnigan was recovered unharmed.

Higgs has been on DMLE's Most Wanted List for years, but all previous attempts to bring him to justice had proved futile. He is expected to undergo Veritaserum interrogation when his condition improves and will likely be charged with other crimes in addition to the kidnapping of Auror Finnigan, including criminal conspiracy, a number of underworld assassinations, and the recent attempts on the life of Ministry informant Draco Malfoy.

A DMLE press conference concerning Higgs' capture and the particulars of the case against him is anticipated in the next few days.

Even the rococo moulding on the ceilings at the Manor became boring if you stared at it long enough, Harry discovered. It was three a.m., and his body was giving him no signs of being cooperative and going back to sleep. His sleeping schedule had evidently been completely bollocked by too many adrenaline-fuelled hours awake followed by a too-early exhausted collapse. It would probably be days before he was set right again, and there was little to be done about it. He sighed and lit the bedside candles with his wand, then dug around in the table drawer for the latest copy of Quidditch Weekly. He'd just finished an article about the Cannons' new seeker when he heard Malfoy's bedroom door slam. By the time he got up and checked the hall, it was empty. He Accioed his robe to him from the doorway and headed downstairs to see what was going on.

The light was on in the parlour, and he stepped inside to see Malfoy standing at the escritoire frantically scribbling on a small sheet of parchment. He was wearing nothing but a pair of black silk pyjama bottoms, and his feet were bare. His skin was amazing in the candlelight, an even, glowing expanse of ivory, so smooth the light just bounced off of it. He had a dusting of fine, honey-coloured hair over his chest that Harry had somehow missed noticing that afternoon, and a light trail leading into the pyjamas. There was just a hint of stubble shadow on his face, and his hair was falling into his eyes as he wrote. The planes of his face were sharp and utterly perfect. He was the very definition of sexy disorder, and Harry felt as though he'd been knocked to his knees. Malfoy half-dressed in candlelight was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.

I want that, he thought. He wanted to know what that skin felt like. He wanted to explore every inch of it with his fingertips and see where the texture shifted. He wanted to taste the graceful curve along the nape of Malfoy's neck, and test the feeling of the jawline against the back of his hand. He wanted to take those slim fingers and entwine them with his own, like he had outside the courtroom, but he wanted to really pay attention this time. He wanted to memorize the swirls of Malfoy's fingerprints, and measure the lengths of his eyelashes. He ached with wanting, so much he couldn't even understand it. All he knew was how much, how suddenly, how completely, he wanted them and how utterly impossible it was.

It took only a split second for all this to wash over him. Less than a second for everything to explode and rearrange itself in Harry's head, and Harry was reeling.

Draco looked up and saw him standing in the doorway. With an expression of terrible panic, he turned and pointed to the overstuffed chair with the footstool, Harry's favourite chair. "You must never sit in that chair again!" he declared with what appeared to be genuine alarm.

It was clear that the whole world had gone barking mad. How nice that he and Malfoy could coordinate their nervous breakdowns. Perhaps they could be roommates in St. Mungo's, though the thought of sleeping in the same room as Malfoy was doing strange things to the pit of Harry's stomach. "Draco, what's wrong with the chair?"

Malfoy took the parchment he'd been working on and a pin from the desk, marched over to the chair in question and pinned the parchment to the back. The sign read: "Chair Closed for Suspicion of Evil - DJM." Harry wanted to laugh but it was clear from Malfoy's demeanour that he was in earnest and actually quite upset.

"I should tape it off or something, shouldn't I? To keep people from sitting in it." He dashed back to the desk and started digging through the drawers until he came up with a roll of spellotape, which he began running from one arm of the chair over the other, cordoning off the seat so one would have to break the tape to sit down.

Harry felt rather at a loss, so he sat down on the couch and waited for a useful idea to occur to him. All the ideas he had at the moment involved very confusing impulses. He was hoping that those might go away, or at least fade somewhat, so that something of greater practical value could appear. Something that might cure both of them of their rapid-onset bouts of insanity.

Malfoy finished taping off the chair, and appeared to relax a little bit. He came over and sat down next to Harry on the sofa, with a friendly distance between them. Harry inched closer before he could stop himself. "Do you want to tell me what this is about?" he asked gently.

"I had a dream about that chair."

"What kind of a dream?"

"A dream dream. A prophecy. But it was all really weird and vague. It was here in the parlour, and there was this thick mist around it, like a fog. And I just got the most horrible feeling." He shuddered. "Doom, misery, death. Someone else dying, not me. Well, perhaps me too. Maybe everyone, I don't know. It was bad."

"And then what happened?"

"That's it."

"That's it?"

"Yes, that's it. I told you, it was vague."

"Are you sure this was a dream dream, and not just a normal nightmare? You've had a difficult couple of days."

Draco gave him a withering look. "Yes, Potter, I'm sure. It's completely different. The feeling is completely different. And the feeling is what matters, more than what I see, it's the gut reaction that's important. If something changes to make reality different from the dream, I feel it in my gut. I can't interpret the dream without the gut reaction, and the gut reaction never lies. Never. This is a prophecy, it's going to come true, and there's something really wrong with that chair."

Harry sat there for a moment trying to digest the events of the last three minutes. He found he couldn't. "Well, maybe we should destroy it? Or put it somewhere else? Like in the dungeons or something?"

"I had the dungeons filled in with concrete."

Harry blinked.

"After the War. Part of the rehabilitation of the house, you know," Malfoy added. "I couldn't see sleeping here if the dungeons were still there. And I don't think I want the chair off in another room where it could be up to anything and we wouldn't see it."

"Draco, you do realize that we're talking about a chair? An inanimate object? With no previous record of evil deeds?"

"You think I don't know that this sounds crazy? Fine, you can just scurry along with your army of Aurors and leave me here to deal with the evil chair. But when you have to explain to the Ministry why they don't have a witness because I'm dead in my own house with chair marks around my neck, you'll wish you'd listened to me."

Harry had no idea how to argue with logic like that. "What about destroying it, then?"

Malfoy nodded energetically. "I thought of that, and then I wondered if it might be able to reform itself. What if I cut it to pieces and when my back is turned it reassembles itself and attacks me? It's not unprecedented; certain demons can do that. The demons can be eliminated by burning, but I don't know about burning the chair. Usually when I have a dream like this and I think about how to prevent it from happening, I get a certain feeling when I've come across the solution. It's like the dream feeling weakens or becomes less substantial. When I think about destroying the chair, nothing changes. I don't think it's going to have any impact on what happens."

"Okay. So we monitor the chair. It's going to be a little weird to give an order to my team to keep an eye on a chair, but it can be done. What else do you need from me?"

"I don't know. That's all for now, I think."

"All right, then. I suppose I'll go back to bed. And I think you should try to get some rest as well."

He nodded. "I'll try." He suddenly leaned forward and hugged Harry. Harry's hands came up of their own volition and brushed against Draco's warm skin. It was so smooth, soft like it had never been exposed to air, and he could feel Draco's ribs beneath his fingers. Holding him felt like tasting a favourite food for the very first time, simultaneously new and familiar. Harry's skin was tingling madly everywhere it touched Draco's and his heart was racing. The impulse to flee in terror warred with the desire to pull Draco closer into him, leaving him immobile and teetering on the brink of something huge and invisible.

"Thank you for believing me," Draco said.

Finally the fear that Draco would notice the effect that their embrace was having on Harry broke through the impasse and Harry pulled away. "You're welcome," he whispered. "I just want you to be safe. I'm going to make sure that you're safe."

Malfoy Manor
4 April, 2000, 5:30 a.m.

Dear Sev:

I imagine that you're still furious with me, and I wouldn't trouble you with my prattling except for two things. One, I know you worry when you don't get a letter, so I was planning to send you a short note at least. But secondly and most importantly, I had a significant dream this morning and I'm in dire need of your counsel. The dream was deeply worrisome, and even more deeply strange. I know it sounds as though I've lost the plot entirely, but please don't haul me off to St. Mungo's. (If you feel you must confine me, lock me in the Manor attics, as is traditional.)

I dreamed of the large chair in the parlour, you know the one I bought with the fleur-de-lis pattern on it and the matching footstool? My reading chair, though Potter's taken it over of late. It was surrounded by a dense fog, and I had a strong sense of danger and foreboding. Not quite apocalyptically strong, but just short of it. This was a level of dread surpassing my run-of-the-mill death dreams, more like that warning of large numbers of people dying, or presaging the death of someone I care about very much. For that reason, I would ask you to take extra precautions toward your safety for the next few weeks until the matter is resolved.

What's strange is that this was the whole extent of the dream. Chair, fog, parlour, feeling of utter panic. Something significant is on its way, and it centres around that chair, but I wasn't given anything more than that. The idea of removing or destroying the chair does not lessen my feeling of foreboding. Have you ever heard of a person transfiguring themselves into furniture? Sort of like an animagus, only an inanimagus or something. Fuck, I sound as if I've gone mad. Perhaps I finally have, Sev. Perhaps the years of stress have finally taken their toll, and you'll be locking me in the attics in no time. What possible menace could a chair offer?

Regardless, I've cordoned off the chair and Potter's told his people to be especially wary of it. That's going to do my reputation wonders, I'm sure. Draco Malfoy: Death Eater, killer, Voldemort's third-in-command, afraid of his own furniture. It would be funny if I weren't so bloody scared that I'm going to end up taking people with me when my time finally runs out.

In fact, to that end, I really think you should stay away from the Manor until this whole business is finished. I don't mind dying, Sev, you know that. I'm resigned, and I have been for years, and perhaps you're thinking that it's made me reckless, and perhaps you're right. But what I remain afraid of, what still fills me with speechless terror, is the thought of anything happening to you. So please be especially careful and give the Manor a wide berth for now.

Potter's been fantastic during all of this. It's almost as though we're striking up a friendship after all this time, and he's been extremely understanding about the weirdness with the chair. He really was quite manly and heroic during the business with Higgs. Plus, he looks hot in green. But I'm not going there. Not, not, not. I have my moments, like when his hair is sticking up in an especially adorable way, or when he gets that cute, confused look on his face - which, all right, I admit is rather often. But then I get a firm grip on my emotions, and on other parts in the privacy of my bedroom as necessary. I know my crush is nearly as ridiculous as owning a killer chair, but at least it gives me something to think about other than studying and the unrelenting cavalcade of doom that makes up the rest of my life.

Right, but I'm not feeling sorry for myself here. I swear, Sev. I know you're probably still angry with me, but write back and tell me what a fool I am for lusting after Potter some more, won't you? You always manage to make it very entertaining and I could use the reminding.

Draco Jacques

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
3 April, 2000, 7:30 p.m.

Dear Exasperating Pest:

I doubt there's much else I can say. I'm sure whatever common sense you may occasionally manage to apply to your situation was completely destroyed by Potter's "manly heroics." I really expected more from you than abandoning the notion of intelligence in a partner in favour of fetishising Gryffindorish recklessness. But no, he takes one look at you, with his idiotic hair and his big green eyes and you're hanging all over him like a fan begging for an autograph. Clearly it is your karma to embarrass yourself over Harry Potter. When you were in school, nothing could induce you to the heights of stupidity faster than an altercation with Potter, no matter how I begged you to restrain yourself, and clearly little has changed. Perhaps it was sublimated desire all along. You might as well start writing him love poetry; it's obvious you're a lost cause.

Silliness with Potter aside, I am extremely concerned by your report of your dream. I have never heard of a successful case of human-to-inanimate transfiguration, but I'm not as well versed on it as I might be. I will begin researching the topic and enlist Minerva's assistance. I'll keep you informed if we uncover anything.

In the meantime, regardless of how peculiar it may seem, I think you're taking exactly the right precautions regarding the chair. If moving or destroying it doesn't seem to make any change in the timeline per your gut feeling, which I would remind you has never once failed you in the past and has indeed saved many lives, then leaving the chair where it is seems the most prudent course. I agree that it's better to have the cursed thing monitored than try to make yourself feel more comfortable by getting it out of your sight.

And, as you say, your reputation is already shot. Adding insanity to your other supposed attributes isn't going to do you any harm. In fact, it might provide a handy alibi should the need arise. This is the glass-half-full approach to the issue, which I don't generally advocate but it has its uses.

Regarding your touching concern for my safety, I have no plans to visit the Manor in the next few weeks, but should you need me I will be there. I would be a truly pathetic excuse for a godfather if I left you alone to face these dangers with no support or assistance. My life wouldn't be worth living after such a miserable performance, I assure you. I can take care of myself, Draco, as you well know. I will do my poor best to take care of you as well.

I cannot save you from your own heart, though, nor your strangely-Gryffindor impetuousness, so I beg you - as usual - to be careful.

As to my temper, I am nearly always furious with you, Draco. You are impetuous, thoughtless, impatient, immature, rash, and many other synonyms for spoiled, highly intelligent, and twenty years old. I frequently believe that Lucius could have devised no greater punishment for my treachery than making me your godfather. But no matter how angry I might be, if you need me for anything, you must never hesitate to owl. The only thing worse than receiving your daily inventories of recklessness is not receiving them at all.

Headmistress MacGonagall is well aware of your situation and has given me carte blanche to hand my classes off to Professor Vector, at a moment's notice if necessary. I'd welcome an excuse to abandon the brats to someone else for a time.


Oxford Institute for Scientific and Magical Research
4 April, 2000, 9:45 a.m.

Dear Harry:

I haven't heard from you in a couple of weeks and I wondered how things were going at Malfoy Manor. Strange rumours have been flying this morning, that someone shot at Draco with a Muggle machine gun, that the Ministry was going to trade Draco to a group of leftover Death Eaters in exchange for some forgotten prisoners of war, that Draco's gone insane and is chucking all his furniture onto the lawn - surely this is all ridiculous. What's going on over there? I know there may be things that you can't tell me, but are you okay? Is Draco okay? Has he been a total wanker? How much longer will you be staying there, do you think? And what on earth were you doing involved in the rescue of Seamus when you already have a high-profile case going? Are they working you triple-time now, or what?

I've been working triple-time myself on this latest project, though I'll spare you the details. I know arithmancy was never your favourite subject. It should be mostly finished in another week or so and I'll have more time. Would you like to get together for dinner then? I might be persuaded to make spaghetti sauce if you'll bring some wine. I haven't seen you for ages; it would be good to catch up. Ex-boyfriend or no, you are always one of my favourite people, Harry. I don't want us to lose touch.

Crookshanks sends his love, as always. Say hi to Arthur for me when you see him, and Sirius and Remus.



Harry sighed and stared at the woefully blank piece of parchment. He knew he needed to write to Hermione right away or she'd start to fret. But what could he say? Malfoy's fine, I'm fine, I might be developing a strange attraction to him. Do you think the fact that I want to lick his nipples means that I'm gay? Hope it doesn't bother you that I've got a hard-on for the person you hated most all during school. He's still more or less a tosser; I'll be bringing him for dinner next week. See if you can make something that requires a lot of forks.

He was doomed.

No, he thought, just because he was developing odd impulses didn't mean he had to do anything about them. He just had to pull himself together. Start by answering the letter a point at a time. Hermione didn't know how weird things had become. He could just pretend everything was normal, and maybe by the time he saw her in person it would be. He read over her letter again, and then began with point one.

He put a heading and date at the top and wrote, Dear Hermione: I sometimes forget how fast the rumour mill can churn. It's true that there was a shooting at the Manor, but it was a handgun not a machine gun. I was able to cast Contego to stop the bullets and no one was hurt. Malfoy volunteered to act as bait when Seamus was kidnapped by Higgs; there was no coercion on the Ministry's part, and no prisoners of war, only Seamus. Everyone (except for Higgs) came out of that one just fine, too.

So far so good. Just pretend that everything's normal. It would be his new motto.

Draco has certainly NOT gone insane.

He looked over at Malfoy, who was reading on the sofa. He was wearing Muggle clothing, which he often did when he was revising for his Muggle Studies exam, a pair of black jeans and a red jumper that was slightly fuzzy. Probably made of cashmere and worth a bloody fortune. Bare feet. Draco's idea of casual. Insanely sexy, maybe, but not insane. Argh, that wasn't helping.

And okay, maybe Draco wasn't entirely stable, what with the whole thing with the chair. But Harry really thought there could be some mystical happenings afoot to eventually explain it.

He's a bit eccentric maybe. But, you know, he was always like that. He is NOT throwing his furniture onto the lawn. If there were throwing of furniture to be done, he'd hire someone. But he hasn't.

The truth but not the whole truth. That brought him to the reassurances of everyone's safety. Easy.

I'm fine and safe, and so is Draco. There have been a few scary moments, but we've muddled through.

Gods, what to say about how they'd been getting along? If he admitted they were becoming friends, Hermione would think he was under Imperio. Not to mention the rest of it. Literally - Harry wasn't going to mention the rest of it.

He hasn't been bothering me too much.

Except for when he stands in the window and lets the sun bounce off his hair, or wiggles his toes while he's reading, or smiles at me as though he's genuinely glad I'm there. Then I get very bothered and I have to go have a lie down.

I reckon he's changed somewhat since sixth year.

Into a courageous, smart, funny, self-sacrificing man who's so beautiful he makes apparently straight Gryffindor boys want to touch him in bad places.

I suppose I have, too.

Draco suddenly laughed and Harry started as if it was possible to read over his shoulder from across the room.

"Potter, have you ever seen a television?"

"Why, yes, Malfoy. I have seen the bizarre contraption called the television. In fact, I own one."

Draco leaped out of his sprawl on the sofa and sat up. "Really? And they have little plays in there and things? Do you ever see them?"

"Frequently. When I'm home and not looking after aristocratic weirdos in their gothic estates."

"Let's go to your house and look at the television!"

"Malfoy, it's not safe. We agreed you wouldn't leave the Manor until we found out about, you know." Harry gestured with his chin toward the Chair of Doom.

"I'm bored, Potter. Even I can only read for so long. I've been cooped up for weeks. Have mercy."

"Ministry employees have no mercy. And I have to finish this letter to Hermione before she comes marching down here to find out what's going on. She worries about me."

"I can understand why. You should tell her I'm taking seven N.E.W.T.s. She'd really want to know that. I know, I'll help you write your letter and then we can go to your house and see the television."

"We're not leaving the Manor."

"Potterrrr." His whine brought back memories of childhood, much like the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard.

"Grow up, Malfoy. We're not going."

"Well, let me help you with your letter, at least. What have you written so far?"

"I'm not going to tell you."

"I'll have to make something up, then. Dear Hermione, Yes, all the rumours about my passionate affair with Draco are true. We've decided on a summer wedding. Would you be willing to be my bridesmaid? Love, Harry."

Trying not to smile, Harry turned back to his letter and wrote, Malfoy has a wicked and weird sense of humour and he's often very annoying. But he can be funny, too, and one thing you can say about him, he's never dull.

"What did you write?" Malfoy asked.

"I said that you'd finally driven me around the bend and all further letters should be owled to St. Mungo's."

"Don't quit your day job."

"Go back to your book."

Draco pouted but laid back down on the couch and resumed reading.

I'm back at the Manor now and will be for a few days more at least. Confidentially, the team here has been reduced to a skeleton crew of six Aurors and myself. Everyone else has gone back to their other duties, and it took quite a bit of convincing on my part this morning for Arthur to keep those six on. My shadow Janice volunteered to stay, as did Anna and Hydrangea. I don't think you know the other three. I've got some good people watching my back and you don't have to worry, okay?

The Finnigan incident was just a side-project. I've been on duty nearly every waking moment since I took on the Malfoy case, so I don't see how they could work me much more than they are already. It's not so bad, though, as things are quiet at the Manor most of the time. I've caught up on a lot of paperwork.

I'd love to have dinner when this situation is resolved. I'll owl you next week with an update.

Don't believe the rumour mongers. Everything here is fine.



P.S. Malfoy really wants me to tell you that he's taking seven N.E.W.T.s.

He folded the parchment and sealed it with wax and his fingerprint, then went to search for a house elf to take it to the owlery.

When he returned to the parlour, Malfoy was sitting up and staring balefully at the Chair of Darkest Evil, which was clearly missing its spellotape barrier. Harry sat next to him on the sofa, carefully allowing a friendly distance between them.

"What happened to the spellotape?" Harry asked.

"The house elves keep removing it. They have very rigid notions about housekeeping. I've tried to explain it two or three times, but they just 'Yes, Master Draco' me in that creepy, grammatically-correct way they have and then as soon as my back's turned they pull it off again. I'm lucky they're leaving the sign alone."

"Hard to get good help, I suppose."

"They're spoiled. They were terrified of Lucius, but I mostly leave them alone to run things however they see fit. I don't think they respect me." He sighed and rested his face in his hands. "My household's a disaster," he said without looking up.

"Hey, you should see my apartment. The dust bunnies are on the verge of staging a coup d'etat. At least you have someone picking up."

Malfoy sat up again and pointed a tapered finger at Harry. "Yes, but you're a straight twenty-year-old bachelor. Your apartment is supposed to look like a troll's been nesting there. I'm the master of a centuries-old Manor, and I'm gay besides. I'm supposed to have all this under control and the house elves cringing at my every whim. Instead I'm in fear for my life from my furniture and my house elves are flipping me the bird behind my back."

Harry couldn't help laughing. "Now there's a mental picture I'll treasure always."

Draco frowned at him and turned back to regard the chair. "I just don't get it. I've had this chair for more than a year. It's not supposed to be Dark - I bought it to replace the Dark chair. It's got a fleur-de-lis pattern on it, for fuck's sake. It's very comfortable for reading. I love that fucking chair!" His voice broke and he cleared his throat.

Harry patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. The cashmere sweater was soft beneath his palm, and Harry tried very hard not to compare the texture to that of Draco's naked skin.

Harry realized with a flash of regret that he was supposed to be providing comfort, not thinking about how he copped a feel the night before. Draco was more distressed over this chair business than he had been any of the attempts on his life. It seemed that the stress was starting to get to him. And he didn't have anyone to count on, since Snape had gone back to Hogwarts. He only had Harry. Just because Harry's hormones, for reasons entirely unclear to him, had abruptly decided they were all about the boys, or at least all about Draco, was no excuse for acting like a sex-crazed maniac. He would marshal his professionalism. He'd comforted crime victims many times. This was just like that. He could handle this situation. "Maybe you should lie down and take a little nap, eh? You haven't been sleeping well, and you're probably tired." There, perfect. Exactly the right tone of caring but impersonal concern.

Malfoy sniffed. "Good idea. Sorry."

"It's okay, really."

"It's just you don't expect to be betrayed by your furniture, you know? Dark lords and bastard fathers, yes. You know where you stand. But to go through all of that, six months recuperating at Hogwarts with Sev bitching at me to eat whenever I was conscious, putting up with the trials, the dreams, the constant impending death, and then the instrument of my ruin turns out to be my favourite chair?" He sniffed again. "Really, how fucked up is that?"

"It lacks dignity," Harry agreed.

"Exactly. That's exactly right." Harry thought Malfoy would go upstairs for his nap but he continued to sit on the sofa looking at the chair.

After a few minutes he said, " What are you going to do after all of this is over?"

"You mean after we defeat the evil chair and you're safe from everyone who's trying to kill you?"

The look Draco gave him seemed so packed with contradictory emotions that Harry couldn't even decipher it. "Yes."

"Go on to my next assignment, I suppose."

"Why? You could do whatever you want, you know. You've got the money. You could take a leave of absence and go back to the Ministry later if you wanted. Weasley would take you back whenever you liked, I'm sure."

"I guess that never occurred to me. I spent my whole life fighting the Big Evil; I don't know what else I'd do with myself. I think I'd get bored living a life of leisure. What about you? What would you do, if you could do anything?"

He sighed and sat back on the couch, allowing his head to flop back onto the back of the sofa so that he was staring at the Manor's astonishingly interesting moulding. "I don't know. Leave the house. Look at a television. Fall in love, maybe? Or deeply in lust."

"Have you ever? Fallen in love, I mean?"

"No time," he answered. "You?"

"Nah. I mean, I love Hermione, but we were only together because of Ron's being gone. Once we realized that, we stopped trying to force it. We were never in love. And as you said, there wasn't much time for such things, and now. . . "

"Now, what?" He sat up again and looked at Harry.

"Ah, I don't know. It sounds stupid but there's all this media tripe, and I never have any privacy. People are disappointed when they realize that I don't live up to my PR. They expect The Boy Who Lived and they get The Bloke Who Needs Someone To Choose His Clothes For Him."

"Too right you do. But I'd say you live up to your PR. You've saved my life twice - that's pretty much as advertised."

Harry felt his face colouring. He couldn't remember Draco ever really giving him a compliment before, and he felt strangely moved by it. He wanted to say something nice in return, but what came out of his mouth was, "In sixth year I envied your skin."

"You what?" Draco laughed.

His face felt positively aflame now, but he couldn't back out. And it was true, anyway. "I was horribly jealous of your skin. You never even had a spot. It drove me crazy. Hermione was always mixing up potions for me to try, but that whole year my complexion was terrible. Yours was always perfect."

"Potter, if a sixteen year old has perfect skin, that's a pretty good indication that he's dabbling in the Dark Arts."

"Oh." Harry supposed that would explain it.

Draco looked pleased, though, and smiled at him warmly. "Thanks for telling me. It's oddly satisfying to know that there was a time when I had something that you wanted, no matter how trivial."

Harry nearly choked at the thought of what Draco might still have that Harry wanted. But he said, "At sixteen, good skin is not trivial."

"Probably wasn't worth what I did to get it, though."

"Maybe not. Don't tell me what you did, okay?"


They sat in silence for a while again, companionably, but Harry felt Draco's body heat calling to him from across the sofa. He remembered the feeling of Draco's cashmere sweater beneath his hand, and the softness of Draco's skin under his fingers from the night before. He imagined the shifting of textures he'd feel as he slid his hands beneath the sweater and then pulled it over Draco's head. And how Draco's hair would look all messy from it, but he'd be too busy with his hands in other places to bother setting it right.

These images were pulling a very unwanted reaction from Harry's body and he coughed and shifted in his seat. There was something wrong with him, he realized. This couldn't be normal. He couldn't go from being completely straight to having such vivid fantasies overnight, could he? How could he want Draco so much, so suddenly? Something must have happened to him. But, other than spending so much time with Draco, the only changes he'd made in his life were his continuing work on wandless magic and the small amount of experimentation with Exanimus that he'd undertaken in spite of Draco's cautions against it. Could that be it? Could this be the emergence of the dark desires that Draco had warned him about? Unfortunately, there was only one person he could really talk to about it.

"I have something I want to ask you about," Harry said suddenly, "and you're going to get mad at me, and in fact, you were going to go take a nap and we'll just talk about it later." He groaned inwardly. What was it about Malfoy that made Harry's mouth engage without input from his brain?

"Oh, no, Potter. You don't get to open something up like that and then take it back. Spill."

If he was turning into some kind of Dark Arts monster, Harry supposed it might be important to know about it. This could be the first symptom of some kind of horrible personality shift. He steeled himself to ask. "Wandless magic isn't Dark, is it?"

"No, not unless you're using it to cast Dark spells." Draco narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "People often think of it as the hallmark of a Dark wizard, just because you have to be quite powerful to manage it. But it's no different than using a wand, only more difficult."

"Okay, good. That's what I thought, but you know, good to check." He cleared his throat nervously. "Um, I was also wondering. When someone starts using the Dark Arts, maybe just experimenting or dabbling or whatever, does their behaviour change right away? Or maybe just their impulses, their desires? Does the person realize they're changing, or does it sort of sneak up on them?"

"Potter, you idiot. You've been practicing Exanimus."

"Only on bugs. Very, very small bugs."

"It starts with small bugs but it always moves on from there." He sighed. "I would have been very surprised if you could have let it alone. You're too curious and it's too intriguing. But I had hoped. Are you having problems with impulse control, then?"

"Not impulse control so much as new impulses. Or previously unrecognised impulses."

"Violent thoughts."

"No. Actually. Um. Sexual. Sexual thoughts."

Malfoy laughed and looked relieved. "I think you've just hit puberty, Potter. There's nothing inherently Dark about sexual thoughts, you moron. Unless you're fantasizing about hurting someone, or raping someone, or something like that. You aren't are you?"

"Oh, no! No. Nothing like that."

"Well, then. That's good. When I spoke of dark impulses, I was thinking more along the lines of violence, extreme greed, ruthlessness, treachery, that sort of thing. If you've suddenly developed a fantasy life, it has nothing to do with Exanimus. And you're rather a late bloomer, aren't you?" He laughed again. "Gryffindors," he shook his head.

"It's not that I didn't have a fantasy life before, it's just that it's, um, shifted somewhat."

Draco looked at him very closely, as if he had suddenly recognized something he hadn't seen before. "Really." The full weight of the Malfoy intellect poured over Harry, and he shivered. He felt completely exposed and wished fervently that he'd never begun this conversation.

"Well, they say variety is the spice of life," Draco said at last. "A few new kinks might do you some good. If you want to talk about it . . . "

"God, no!" Harry practically shouted. "No. Thanks anyway. But very much no."

Malfoy looked both relieved and somehow disappointed. "Don't think this means I approve of your Dark experiments, though. If you suddenly did develop an impulse control problem, it could be a real disaster. History has proven that very powerful wizards with weak impulse restraint can be hazardous to the health of those around them. And also those far away and minding their own business. Given time and motivation, you might give Tom Riddle a run for his money."

Harry shuddered. "But if the Dark Arts weaken your impulse control, how you could have spent sixth and seventh year doing nothing but Dark magic and still be one of the most self-possessed people I know?"

"Potter, that's why. To use Dark magic successfully you have to be able to look at your darkest impulses and master them."

"Voldemort seemed pretty out-of-control to me."

He nodded. "And he was eventually destroyed. He was not a successful user of Dark magic. Almost no one is. The more you delve into it, the more power you gain, the harder it is to keep control. And that's why I am the most successful sort of Dark Magician, one that stops using Dark magic. As a strategy, I recommend it."

With that, he stood up and stretched. As he lifted his arms above his head, his sweater rode up and exposed a little strip of his taut belly, and that fine, sexy line of hair trailing into his black jeans. Harry swallowed.

"I believe I'll be off for that kip," Malfoy said. But he didn't move, just stood there looking Harry over. "You're playing with fire, Potter. I'd be very careful if I were you." And he leaned over and gently ran a thumb across Harry's cheekbone. He held it up so Harry could see a smear of black ink, evidently the remains of his letter to Hermione.

Malfoy smirked at him and sauntered out of the room. Harry released the breath he was holding and laid back on the sofa to stare hopelessly at the very interesting moulding. There was no question about it. He was doomed.

Sun King Antique Furnishings
Invoice No. 4890
Date: 18 November, 1998

To: Draco Malfoy
Address: Malfoy Manor

Qty: 1
Item No: 7832
Item Description: Victorian Button-Back Chair circa 1878, reupholstered with fabric no. 1872
Cost: 2,234 Galleons

Qty: 1
Item No.: 7833
Item Description: Victorian Footstool circa 1878, reupholstered with fabric no. 1872
Cost: 746 Galleons

Subtotal: 2,980 Galleons

Delivery Costs (2%): 60 Galleons

Grand Total: 3,040 Galleons

Thank you for your patronage!

Handwritten on the invoice: Mr. Malfoy, Apologies again for the delay on the upholstering, and thanks for your custom. This is the last item. I trust the Manor looks just as you had hoped, and send my best wishes for a fresh start. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you need anything else. Benedicia Allen, Proprietor.

They ate dinner together that evening as usual and, though Draco seemed distracted, it was pleasant enough. He claimed exhaustion and retired to his bedroom early, leaving Harry to play cards with the other Aurors in the large North Wing dining room where they generally gathered.

After everyone had gone to bed, Harry set a silent alarm on Malfoy's bedroom door, so he'd be alerted if it opened. He didn't want him having another dream and going downstairs to break up the rest of the furniture without his knowledge, much less someone - or something - coming into the room. Around 1 a.m. the alarm sounded in Harry's head. He'd been up reading Quidditch Weekly again, so it didn't take him long at all to grab his wand off the nightstand and get his robe and slippers on. In just a few seconds he was peeking around his bedroom door in time to see Malfoy slip down the stairs dressed in Muggle clothing and a black leather coat.

Harry waited a few seconds and then followed. Malfoy went down the stairs, down the hall, and into the parlour. Harry paused in the hallway, listening at the open parlour door but staying well out of the doorway, and heard the parlour's French doors open and shut. He went into the room and could just make out Draco's outline through the windows as he made his way through the garden toward the Eastern side of the estate. Harry Accioed his invisibility cloak from upstairs and transfigured his nightclothes into a pair of jeans, a warm sweater, and a sturdy pair of hiking boots. Then he put the cloak on and followed Malfoy out into the night.

Malfoy's stride was purposeful and it was obvious that he not only had a destination but that he knew exactly where it was. He crossed the estate to the Eastern boundary, about fifteen minute's walk from the Manor house, and when he came to the fence he reached up and turned one of the bars in the metal fencing. A section of the fence disappeared and he stepped through it, turned the bar back and the fence reappeared. He was through the wards now, and Harry reckoned he'd be Disapparating any minute. Thinking quickly, he cast a tracking spell and felt it connect just as Draco disappeared.

Harry repeated Malfoy's actions at the fence, and the fence let him through just as it had Draco. Once he was outside the wards he opened the connection to the tracking spell. He felt the ghost of a second heartbeat in his chest, Draco's heartbeat, and he had an instinctual knowledge of where Draco was. He centered himself to Disapparate and followed the feeling to Draco.

When he Apparated, he found himself in an alleyway in what looked like a Muggle area. He caught the swirl of Draco's black leather coat vanishing around the corner of the alley, and pursued. On the street, he saw they were in a neighbourhood dense with nightlife and dance clubs, on a cobbled pedestrian mall, mostly gay if he were to judge by the look of the patrons and the rainbow motifs here and there. A block down, Draco disappeared into one of the clubs. Harry felt a cold fury descend upon him. Malfoy was going clubbing. He was risking his life, sneaking out from under Harry's nose, not to mention the other Aurors who had volunteered to continue disrupting their lives just to keep him safe, all for the sake of a drink with an umbrella in the glass and the possibility of a shag. Evidently he hadn't changed as much as Harry had thought.

Fuming, Harry followed Draco inside. Still invisible under his cloak, he carefully followed a patron through the doors, and then found his way to the toilet. He found an empty stall and locked himself in. Then he took off his cloak, Reduced it and put it in his pocket, then transfigured his clothing again, this time into something that wouldn't be too conspicuous in a nightclub. Black t-shirt and black jeans, with black motorcycle boots. It was a little monochromatic for Harry's usual taste, but it was sure to blend in. He cast a glamour to make him appear ordinary and just slightly unattractive- he didn't want anyone to remember him and he didn't want to have to fend off any unwanted offers, either. He conjured himself some Muggle money so he could buy a drink for camouflage before he slid his wand into his boot top. He'd have to be careful to stay out of Malfoy's line of sight, since the low-level glamour wouldn't hold up to scrutiny by someone who knew him, but the club was far too crowded to make wearing the cloak practical for long - someone would bump into him and he'd end up having to Memory Charm the whole place. Not exactly inconspicuous.

So he lurked in the shadows along the walls of the club, sipping a beer that was as much a comfort as it was a prop. Harry had only been inside a Muggle dance club twice, both times with Hermione and one of her Muggle-born colleagues at the Institute. This club seemed pretty typical of what he'd seen before, dark, with a cavernous dance floor, and neon signs advertising different beers. The only difference was that all the people writhing against each other on the dance floor were men, who seemed rather more affectionate with one another than Harry was used to. And perhaps the music was a slightly better grade of techno.

Draco wasn't hard to spot - not only was his white-blond hair like a beacon in the whirling spotlights of the club, he was easily the most attractive man there. He'd lost the leather coat somewhere, maybe at coat check, and he was wearing a tight black sleeveless shirt in some stretchy material that glinted in the light and a pair of blue jeans that looked as though they'd been manufactured specifically to fit his form. Knowing Malfoy, they might have been. The scar on his left arm was gone, either covered over with make-up or glamoured away, leaving his perfect skin unmarred. As little as he ate, he really should have seemed thinner, but evidently the swimming really was doing the trick. While he was slight, he was also muscled enough to be masculine without taking the edge off his undeniable beauty.

And his beauty wasn't going unnoticed. The men around him had formed a worshipful circle as he stood at the bar pounding back three shots of what looked like vodka in short order. When he'd downed the last drink, he gave them what had to be the most flirtatious smile Harry had ever seen and made his way through the crowd to take the dance floor, leaving them to grin at each other and fan themselves in his wake.

It was to be expected that Malfoy was an excellent dancer. Harry couldn't envision him making a clumsy move - even dying of poison he'd been languorously graceful. On the dance floor of the club, though, Malfoy was more than lithe, he was pure sexuality. Every bit of the arch sarcasm and hyper-awareness that made Draco himself was gone, replaced with what could only be described as a pure outpouring of desire. His personality disappeared into the music, and every dip of his hips, every sweep of his nimble fingers through the air, each tilt of his head that swept his hair out of his eyes, seemed only to communicate how delicious it would be to touch and be touched by him, how much he wanted to touch and be touched.

It seemed a miracle that he wasn't mobbed immediately, but everyone looked almost awed by him. They danced around him, some watching and trying to be subtle about it, others openly staring, but no one approached. Draco danced alone, apparently lost in the music for all that his body seemed to be crying out for companionship.

As he danced, Harry could feel Draco's ghostly heartbeat in his own chest, picking up speed with the exertion, trying to drag Harry's own heart into synch with it. The tracking spell wasn't usually so insistent; the connection between himself and the person he was tracking had never been this strong before. But Harry had never had occasion to cast it on anyone he was very close to - perhaps his feelings for Draco, whatever they were, had intensified the spell.

Watching Draco dancing stirred a cauldron of emotions in Harry: fury at his irresponsibility, sadness that he seemed so alone, and a million different varieties of desire. Harry never knew there were so many different ways to want, but standing there watching Draco he felt he moved through them all. He depleted his beer faster than he'd meant to and had to go and replace it, but through the spell he could sense that Draco remained on the dance floor in the same spot, dancing with astounding stamina as if he'd been possessed. Harry vowed to take the next beer slower, and wondered if he'd be able to survive a whole night of watching Draco dance.

After close to an hour, Draco moved off the dance floor and back to the bar where he ordered another three shots of vodka and slammed them back like they were water. Harry's throat was burning by the third, and he took a generous drink of beer to ease it. At that point he realized that, despite his having used it dozens of times with no unusual effects, the tracking spell was acting in a very peculiar manner. But if he dissolved it and Draco went somewhere else he'd never find him. And Harry was determined to protect Draco whether Draco wanted to be protected or not, in spite of his reckless behaviour. So he left the spell in place and prayed that Draco's intoxication wouldn't start affecting him too. If he started feeling too drunk, the spell would become more of a liability than an asset and he'd just have to take his chances following Draco the old-fashioned way.

After his third shot, Draco ordered a bottled water and stood there sipping it and breathing hard. He looked beautifully overheated, and Harry was feeling rather flushed himself. His hormones had been in overdrive ever since Draco started dancing, and seeing him standing there looking like he'd just been fucked hard and was ready for another go wasn't doing much to reintroduce sanity to Harry's vocabulary.

Evidently Harry wasn't the only one so affected, because one of Draco's admirers finally mustered his courage and approached. He was a thin young man, in his mid-twenties at most, with black, thick, messy hair and light-coloured eyes, and black leather trousers that looked to have been painted on. More than handsome, almost approaching Draco's radiance. Whatever he said in Draco's ear must have been clever because Draco smiled at him. By now Harry thought he knew most of the Malfoy smiles, but this was a complex one he'd never seen before, part pleasure, part flirtation, part predatory hunger that was almost scary. But it went all the way to his eyes, and Harry knew that it was genuine. He felt a sudden, irrational stab of jealousy that this boy was granted a smile which Harry himself had never seen before. And the feeling didn't go away, as Draco took a last, long drink from his water, exposing his long, flawless neck as he tipped back his head, and then took the boy by the hand and led him out to the dance floor.

They danced together for a while, a matched set of light and dark pin-ups, the space between them slowly shrinking until the dark boy had his arms around Draco's neck and they were dancing perilously close. Harry could feel Draco's heart speeding up a little when the boy's fingers touched his skin, and he thought he felt a skittering of pleasure along his own neck, so faint it could have been his imagination. Draco was leaning into the boy's caress, and the boy was growing more daring. He ran his hands down Draco's shoulders, down his chest, along his waist, and back up again, and Draco's heart raced. Draco pulled the boy into him and kissed him thoroughly. They continued to move to the music as they kissed, their hips grinding into each other sensually as they explored each other's mouths. Harry watched them and wished he could force himself to look away.

All the want was piling up inside him but he didn't know what to do about it. He was so horribly confused, but there could no longer be any question in his mind that he wanted Draco. It wasn't a fluke of moonlight or timing. For whatever reason, however it had happened and whether he was gay or not, he yearned desperately to take the place of that dark-haired boy. He longed to press into Draco on a dance floor and run his hands over him possessively, to rub up against him as if there were no one else there and bury his nose in the sweaty, heady scent of his throat. But instead he was condemned to stand there watching them, pathetically hard, trying to remember to keep an eye out for danger, trying to recall that he was only there to make sure Draco was safe.

After what seemed like torturous years, the boy broke away to whisper again in Draco's ear. Draco nodded as if he were pleased, and they left the dance floor hand in hand to head toward the men's room. They were in there for a just a few minutes, and then Draco's heart rate spiked twice before settling down into a rapid but steady beat. Just when Harry was starting to wonder if he should go investigate, they emerged, both sniffing and rubbing at their noses. Harry cursed to himself silently. He couldn't believe Draco was being so careless, cavorting with strange men, doing drugs with them - it surpassed reckless and went directly to stupid. Stupid was something Harry never anticipated seeing from Draco which only proved once again that a few weeks spent in his company didn't mean that Harry knew him at all.

Draco and his toy went back out to the dance floor and proceeded to alternate between dancing and snogging in a dance-like manner for another hour or so. Harry nursed his beer and alternated between wondering which of his various sins this situation might be punishment for, and speculating on exactly how hard a man could get before he was done some kind of permanent damage.

Finally, Draco said something in the boy's ear, and the boy's face lit up. He nodded and then captured Draco's mouth for another kiss. After a minute they broke off, and the boy led Draco off the dance floor. They made another stop at the restroom and came out sniffing, then collected their coats and left. Harry followed at a discreet distance and by the time he got out the front door, they were already down the street and getting into a cab. Harry ran a hand through his hair and considered.

If he got a cab himself and gave directions to the cabby based on the feedback from the spell, it was going to seem very strange. He could wait until they arrived to the boy's house, as that was obviously where they were going, and then follow there via Apparation in his invisibility cloak, but that would likely mean Apparating into the bedroom and Harry was pretty sure that his heart couldn't take that, not to mention other equally vital organs. Or he could follow them slowly on foot, hoping that the boy lived close by and nothing happened to Draco while Harry wasn't there to prevent it. He supposed he could always Apparate if Draco's vital signs indicated he was frightened or in a panic. That seemed the most practical solution, though Harry disliked Draco being out of his sight for that long. So he walked down the street until he found a deserted alley, then expanded his invisibility cloak and put it on, and began walking toward Draco.

In his only piece of good luck that evening, the boy's flat wasn't too far, less than half an hour's walk. Harry found a surveillance position across the street and settled in to wait for Draco to come out.

Standing there with nothing to do but stare, Harry began to notice certain things. Draco's heartbeat had been slowly but steadily gaining speed, and it was very hard to ignore it. It kept trying to drag his own heart's rhythm along now that he had nothing to distract him from it. Harry began breathing a bit hard. His imagination kept returning to the sight of them on the dance floor, crawling all over each other, and the look on Draco's face, lips slack with desire, his eyes free of the weight they always seemed to carry. He looked almost happy, or the closest to happy that Harry had seen him, and Harry felt simultaneously guilty for wanting to deny him any joy and furious that he'd gone to find that happiness with someone else. He was trying desperately not to picture what they were doing up there, but images of elegant naked limbs tangled together, and clever fingers winding through dark, messy hair kept assaulting him. Ghostly sensations ran along his skin, perhaps just the products of over-stimulation and sheer boredom, or perhaps the result of a particularly ironic and intimate betrayal by a spell he used many times before as a matter of routine.

He rested his head against the wall behind him and squeezed his eyes closed, trying to will all the feelings away, the arousal, the jealousy, the confusion, the phantom smatterings of pleasure along his nerve endings, all of it. He wanted to go back to his boring, normal, mouldering bachelor flat and watch a bad movie on telly. He wanted to catch up on his paperwork. He wanted to run away and never see Draco Malfoy's too-beautiful face again.

But he was stuck there, for even if he hadn't felt a duty to ensure Draco's safety, he had such a hard-on he wasn't sure he would ever be walking again. The caresses which had started out ghostly and insubstantial seemed to be growing less ephemeral, leaving him panting against the limestone wall behind him, stifling a groan. He couldn't decide if it would be better if they went away or if they became material enough to allow him some release. Not that his wishes in the matter had much bearing on things. His only recourse was to dissolve the spell, which would leave Draco alone and completely defenceless in the flat of some supposed Muggle, who could be a plant or God only knew what else.

He felt warm breath on his neck, and the distinct outline of fingers trailing up his inner thigh. He banged his head against the stone, hard enough to jolt his awareness away from what wasn't happening to his body but certainly felt like it was. His head cleared for a moment before the sensations were back. He caught himself moaning aloud and bit his lip hard enough to draw blood. The pain didn't help that time, though; the feelings had gained too firm a hold on him. All he could think to do was lean against the wall and ride it out. They whipped him to a fever pitch and then eased. Harry's heartbeat, synched entirely to Draco's by now, began slowing, but his erection was still straining painfully against his fly. This struck Harry as monstrously unfair, but he'd be damned before he'd have a wank on a public street, invisibility cloak or no. He still had the shreds of his dignity and he intended to keep them.

It was easier to wait when he wasn't being assaulted by phantom fingers in unexpected places. He felt calmer, no doubt because Draco had dozed off. The hard-on from hell began to dissipate, and Harry began to feel better about the situation, though he was still absolutely livid with Draco. He'd make sure Draco got home safely and then they'd be having a serious talk. He passed the time by constructing his tirades in his mind. He'd shock Draco into contrition with his rage, and Draco would be caught without a smart remark for once. He'd lower his stormy grey eyes in remorse, and apologise. He'd ask Harry to forgive him in his sweetest voice, and ask if there was anything he could do to make it up to him. That train of thought led to some very bad places and Harry felt arousal stirring again. That was when he realized that Draco had woken up and was evidently all about having another go.

Harry suffered through another forty-five minutes of torment, trying all manner of minor personal injuries to distract himself to no avail, and was left at the end of it as he had been before, hard and frustrated.

It began to spit rain. The cloak was weatherproof and warm, but standing in the rain with a steely erection wasn't Harry's idea of a good time. If Draco stayed all day to shag, Harry just might leave him to his fate. Let his little boy toy stab him in the throes of passion, Harry was beginning not to care.

The sun was rising behind the clouds, casting weak light into the street no brighter than twilight. Harry felt Draco dozing off again, and his own weariness began seeping into his bones. He stood there half-asleep for a few minutes, trying to decide if he would wait or just give up, when he suddenly felt Draco's heart racing in terror. But before Harry could dash across the street, he began to calm. A nightmare, Harry realized, or maybe even a prophecy. A few more moments of quiet, and then Draco's heart rate spiked twice, just as it had in the club. Harry began adding sections to his rant about the evils of drugs. A few minutes later, Draco was moving toward him. He exited the building and crossed the street toward a nearby alley, presumably from which to Disapparate. Harry followed, wand in hand.

When Draco had reached the end of the alley, he turned around and scanned the alley, looking right at Harry. Harry stopped dead in his tracks, and ceased to even breathe.

"Whoever you are, you could have attacked me long before now, so you must be friendly. Not that I'm entirely toothless you understand." Draco's wand appeared in his hand. "But it does make me wonder who you might be. Let's see, whom do I know with access to an invisibility cloak?"

Harry grimaced under the protection of his cloak.

"Someone who might follow me around and spy on me? Someone who might cast spells on me without my knowledge or permission? Hmmm, no, I can't imagine anyone friendly who might do something like that. Certainly not my good friend Harry Potter."

He pocketed his wand and leaned down to lift up the cuff of his left jeans leg. His silver knife protruded from a sheath in the top of his Doc Marten boots and he pulled it out and brandished it.

"You know, Potter, it's not very Gryffindor of you to be hiding like this. I'm disappointed." He played idly with the knife as if considering what to do with it. "Dear, dear Harry. Gorgeous, green-eyed Harry. I'm afraid I'm not feeling quite myself right now. Or perhaps I should say I'm feeling woefully myself, more myself than usual. It may have escaped your attention, but I'm not a very nice person. And I dislike talking to thin air." His voice was as menacing as Harry had ever heard it, and his eyes wild.

"You're so brave, my dear Harry, such a martyr. I could threaten you all day long and it wouldn't move you at all. As stubborn as you are beautiful, that's you, Harry." He pushed his coat sleeve up past his elbow with the hilt of the dagger. "But you're not exactly sanguine about someone else's blood being shed, are you? It bothers you quite a lot, in fact. Who would have thought the Hero of the Wars would be so squeamish?" He set the edge of the knife against his bare wrist. "I, on the other hand, am completely unmoved by the sight of blood, be it my own or anyone else's. All that exposure, you know, one builds up a tolerance. So here's the arrangement: you're going to show yourself, or I'm going to start slicing. I can get at least one good pass in before you can Accio the knife away from me and in my current mood there's no telling how deep I might cut. My skin's so thin, dear Harry. I have such a perfect view of all those blue veins. If you don't want me cutting through them, now would be a good time to remove that cloak."

Harry undid the clasp of the cloak and let it fall to the ground around his feet.

"Ah," Draco said, "there you are. I feel so much better." He slipped the dagger back into his boot sheath and pulled his coat sleeve down. Then he began stalking toward Harry, and Harry found that he was rather scared. He was evidently having a rendezvous with Draco's inner Death Eater, and that wasn't someone that he'd ever cared to meet. His knuckles whitened around his wand.

"Or I would feel better," Draco continued, "if I didn't have this strange feeling that someone's cast a spell on me. Some kind of surveillance spell, perhaps? Maybe a tracking spell? It really has been a most disconcerting distraction this evening." He covered the ground between them like a cat on the hunt and began invading Harry's personal space. Harry backed up, nearly tripping over the cloak, but Draco kept advancing.

"One of the funny things about Seers, my darling Harry, is that magic done upon their persons is enhanced. Another funny thing about them is that they are very aware of the magic around them. It's very difficult to cast a spell upon a Seer that they don't know about. And I always know when you're around, Harry, you have so much magic wound up in that sweet little body of yours. Whatever you cast on me tonight outside the Manor gates, I felt it, and I could feel you with me all night. And if you don't remove the spell now, Harry, I'm going to be extremely cross." Draco had backed Harry all the way to the wall of the alley and Harry was left with no where else to run. He did as Draco asked and ended the spell.

Draco sidled up to him and laid a hand on the wall next to Harry's shoulder, effectively trapping him with his wand hand at his side against the wall. Draco rubbed his cheek against Harry's and whispered in his ear. "Did you feel me enjoying Eliot this morning through your spell, Harry? Did it make you hard as you waited in the cold? Did you come when I came, Harry? Do tell, it doesn't seem fair for the secrets to be flowing only one way."

The whole length of Draco's body was pressed up against Harry, and although he was panic-stricken, Harry's body responded. He felt completely out of control, violated, like Draco was pulling responses from him that he didn't want to give. But Draco's body felt so good against him, like water on parched earth, like a thing he'd been craving forever but didn't know how to get, or think he could ever have.

Draco slid his free hand along the nape of Harry's neck and continued down, over his nipple, which hardened under the black t-shirt, then all the way down between their bodies to cup him through his jeans. Harry bit back a groan.

"Oh, you're such a little cock tease, aren't you, my precious Gryffindor hero? Terrified, but you're hard as a rock." Draco rubbed his hand up and down and Harry did groan this time, and bucked into Draco's palm against his will. "You want me but you're too embarrassed to admit it. What would your adoring fans think if they knew you were a poofter, hmm? What would all your friends think if they knew you had a hard-on for Draco Malfoy? Death Eater, evil bastard, outcast. Not the proper sort of consort for the Prince of the Wizarding World, now am I?"

As he spoke, Draco kept touching him slowly, expertly, every stroke winding Harry tighter. "Please stop," Harry whispered, even as his traitorous hips lifted to meet his hand.

"Just barely good enough to rescue, aren't I, Harry? Good enough to follow, and spy upon, and want secretly, but not good enough to treat with a modicum of respect."

His hand moved more insistently, and Harry's body responded. Harry closed his eyes and tilted his head back against the wall, utterly at Draco's mercy.

"It was because of you, Harry, that I left tonight. But you knew that, didn't you? You knew I was drowning in the scent of you, in the green light of your eyes just the colour of the killing curse. So beautiful. I could barely sit through dinner without putting my hands on you, exactly like this. But I respected you. I respected our friendship."

He chuckled bitterly and ground his hips into Harry's as he continued to stroke him. "I wanted your friendship from the moment I saw you, when we were children. It wasn't until later that I realized everything else I wanted from you as well, everything that I would never have. To see your face like this, needing me, needing my touch, no matter how much you loathe it."

His hand moved faster, and Harry's body spasmed and he came and came, making a sticky mess inside his clothes.

Draco kissed his open mouth, plundered it with his tongue, and Harry kissed him back. It was an angry, desperate kiss lasting only a few moments before Draco pulled away.

"For everything I've done, I deserve to die a thousand deaths," he said softly into Harry's ear. "But I've sacrificed my life for you lot, and for that you owe me some consideration and a modicum of kindness."

And with that he turned and walked away, Disapparating when he hit the end of the alley.

Harry slid down the wall to the wet ground, buried his face in his hands and tried hard not to weep.

He sat there for a minute or two, then realized that Draco was heading back to the Manor unguarded. He hastily stood up, gathered his cloak, Reduced and pocketed it, then Disapparated to the Eastern fence line from where they had left. Through the fence Harry could see Draco walking back toward the house, casually, with every appearance of a man out for a casual dawn stroll around his grounds.

Harry activated the spell that gave him voice contact with the Aurors on duty and let Hydrangea know that Malfoy was wandering the grounds by himself. He told her to keep a discreet eye on him, but otherwise not to approach him and to give him his space for the rest of the day. She knew better than to ask questions, just acknowledged the order and signed off.

There was no way that Harry could face Draco again that morning, possibly never again in his life. If he'd felt confused before, now he was past confusion into some whole other, more intense state for which no one had yet invented a name. They could name it after him, he thought. Potterism: the extreme state of confusion, embarrassment and terror one reaches just before one's head explodes. If he went into the Manor now, he would certainly spontaneously combust. He needed help. He needed someone to talk to about this. Someone sympathetic, who would understand what he was going through. His godfather would be perfect, if it weren't for the fact that Sirius hated Malfoy almost as much as he hated Snape. Maybe he could catch Remus alone, or something. Even listening to Sirius shout would be better than trying to muddle alone through the mess he'd made of his life.

Satisfied that Malfoy was safe for the time being, Harry Disapparated to the Black-Lupin cottage near Hogsmeade, hoping that at the very least he could get some coffee and a fresh change of underwear.

Malfoy Manor
5 April, 2000, 7:45 a.m.

Dear Sev:

I've made a dreadful hash of things, I'm afraid. Not that you'll be surprised. You're a Potions Master, after all. Take one Draco Jacques Malfoy, stir counter-clockwise and add one Hero of the Voldemort Wars, stand back and wait for explosion. Solution will be pear-shaped when finished. Do not store under pressure.

How does one apologise for sexually assaulting someone? I've never had to apologise for it before, since all my previous victims were dead by someone or other's hand in fairly short order. Is there a greeting card? I'm at a loss.

He'd been looking at me, Sev. That's no excuse, and Merlin knows that people look at me all the time without me going around attacking them for it. I'm just trying to explain to you, or maybe to myself, how it happened. I'm not sure how long he'd been looking at me like that, as I'd been rather preoccupied by matters with the Chair. But I finally noticed it, and then he made some comments which hinted that he wasn't quite as heterosexual as he'd once imagined himself to be. You know how I feel about him. Felt about him. Bloody hell, how I still feel about him, regardless of what I've done.

We had dinner together as usual, but the cat was out of the bag and it was utter torture. My fingers cramped from aching to touch him. I could barely choke down my food. He is so beautiful, Sev, and so oblivious to it. Retaining such innocence after seeing the darkness of War seems superhuman to me. And on top of it all, I can feel the power dancing off of him in waves. He's everything I could never be, the antithesis of what Lucius would have wanted of me, but never weak. He really is the leonine protector of anyone more vulnerable than he - which is everyone, of course. Seeing just a tiny answering spark of interest in his eyes, I came completely undone. I got through dinner as best I could and bolted to my room to stew.

After a few hours, it was obvious that I was never going to be able to speak to him again unless I got some of my frustration out of my system. I'd promised him I wouldn't leave the Manor until the matter of the Chair was resolved, and I promised you too, but I couldn't stay there. I'd been caged too long and behaved myself too well; I was boiling over with energy for which I had no outlet and I had to get out. I thought I'd sneak out to go dancing, drink a bit, get a leg over and be back to my room before anyone noticed I'd been gone.

I should have realized that Potter would be monitoring my bedroom door, to make sure no one came in or out without his knowledge. It's just the sort of intrusive, Gryffindor-earnest impulse you'd expect from him. Respecting people's privacy is a foreign concept, especially when balanced against the imperative to save everyone from everything, including themselves. He followed me in his invisibility cloak (and did you know he had that thing while he was a student - explains a lot, doesn't it?) and cast a tracking spell on me when I Disapparated to Manchester.

I felt him behind me, of course - no one that powerful could hope to creep up on me unawares - and I could feel him through the spell he cast. I knew he was there. But I thought he'd either confront me or leave me to go about my business when he realized what I was after. But the bastard did neither, and as the evening spiralled further and further into the miasma of alcohol and hormones I decided that if he got an eyeful, or whatever, it was his own fault.

The longer he kept following me, the longer he left that horrible, invasive spell on me, the more annoyed with him I became. A truly lovely chap named Eliot, who bore a passing resemblance to my stalker if the truth be told, approached me and we danced and soon began courting one another with an eye toward consummating our relationship by evening's end. I thought surely Potter would take the hint at that point, and I wasn't going to pass up an opportunity as fine as Eliot just because Potter was being a prick.

In addition, and here's where things probably began to sour, Eliot was in possession of some of Colombia's finest export, of which we partook in the men's room. Good sense, on its last legs already, collapsed in a heap on the tacky bathroom floor, covered in a dusting of fine white powder.

Eliot invited me to his home, an invitation which I eagerly accepted. I was horrified when I realized that Potter had followed us to Eliot's place and was standing in his damn cloak outside the building, waiting to scold me or escort me home or some other Gryffindorish nonsense.

Obviously he hadn't done his homework about casting spells on known Seers, and the spell was far stronger than he'd anticipated. I could feel him faintly through it, and I had no doubt that he was getting the same sort of feedback from me, maybe even stronger since that was the direction that the spell was meant to go in the first place. Fun and games with a third party are all well and good when one is expecting them, but having an uninvited guest with you in the bedroom is something else entirely. Still, between the coke, the booze, my horrible sexual frustration and Eliot's truly gorgeous body, I decided that I'd prefer to give Potter the show of his life rather than go back to the Manor unfulfilled.

What I hadn't counted upon was the degree to which the emotional bleed-through from the spell would be affecting me. There was a kind of feedback loop between Potter and myself, where my desire fed his which fed mine. I was never unaware of Potter's presence, which coupled with Eliot's vague resemblance to same, put a rather unusual spin on things. I can only hope that Eliot appreciated the ardour with which I assailed him, and that I didn't leave too many marks on the poor lad. He did seem to be enjoying himself at the time.

A couple of rounds with Eliot later, I dozed off and I had the dream about the chair again, exactly the same as before but with a greater sense of urgency. It's going to happen within the next twenty-four hours, I think, whatever it is. I probably should have said that first, shouldn't I? I'm sorry, Sev - I'm still not thinking all that clearly.

So, after this charming reoccurrence of the Dream of Doom, I just wanted to go home and collapse, but I still had to face the inevitable confrontation with Potter. It seemed a good idea to indulge in a bit more powdered courage, just to power me through the journey home. As you can imagine, events would prove this to be a grave mistake.

I had planned to Apparate back to the Manor and have it out with Potter there, but hearing the scuff of his boots beneath his stupid cloak enraged me. I turned and began the confrontation in the alley of a Muggle neighbourhood. One thing led to another, which led to me pinning him against the alley wall and taking advantage of him, to make a long story short.

I can't remember the last time I allowed myself to feel that furious, Sev, or the last time that I acted so completely without restraint. I was livid with him for following me, for wanting but not wanting me, for being so wholly out of my reach. Every bit of anger I had toward the tossers who needed me to do their dirty work during the War but wouldn't soil their hands with me after poured out and I took it all out on Potter. Who, granted, had not behaved entirely with honour but did not deserve to be treated in so beastly a manner. I used him shamelessly and left him sticky and panting in a filthy alley while I returned home.

That was more than two hours ago and I have not seen him since. I am beginning to wonder if I shall. I couldn't blame him for packing up his toy soldiers and leaving me to face my demented furniture alone.

So there it is. The chronicle of my fuck-ups continues. Having a friendship in my grasp which I once desired above all else, I allowed my outrageous libido free reign to destroy it. Lucius himself couldn't have been greedier or more destructive. I am become the thing I loathe.

I'm tired, Sev. Not just because I haven't slept and did too much coke and made a horrible mess of my life. I'm tired of the struggle. I'm tired of carrying on at a forced march knowing the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train. I'm tired of the burden of all my flaws. I was hoping for a death somewhat less laughable than at the hands of my reading chair, but perhaps it's all for the best.

At the very least, you've never allowed me to ruin the closeness between us and for that I am truly grateful. I hope when you read back over these years of letters, you'll remember not only the litany of my mistakes, but also how very much I cared for you.


Harry had to knock several times before the door was finally opened by a very sleepy-looking Remus in his bathrobe.

"Goodness, Harry, you look dreadful. What's wrong?"

"I need a cup of coffee and a clean pair of underpants." Harry was too tired to try to be subtle about it. He reckoned home was where they had to give you underwear when you asked for it.

"I'm sure there's a universe in which there's a logic to that sentence. But it wouldn't be this one. Come in and you can try to explain what's going on."

Remus put a pot of coffee on, not conjured because he preferred the taste of coffee made by hand. "Sirius is still asleep. Sleeps like the dead, that man. Do you want me to go wake him?"

Harry shook his head. "No, let him sleep. I'm sorry to bother you, Remus."

"Nonsense. We're family. Coffee and undergarments provided at all hours, free of charge. I'll just go rustle something up for you and I'll be back."

Harry sat at his usual place at the kitchen table, and tried to keep his mind from replaying the scene in the alley over and over.

Remus returned with a pair of boxers in hand. "Here, Harry. You go put those on if you want, and we'll try to work everything out once we've had some coffee." Remus smiled reassuringly and shooed him off to the bathroom.

Harry got undressed, cleaned himself up and dressed again. He Reduced the soiled underpants and shoved them in his jeans pocket, with a view toward possible burning later. On his way out of the bathroom, he glanced in the mirror. There were huge dark circles under his eyes, and his hair was plastered down from the damp. He looked ragged and depressed and exhausted. Awful, in other words, and pretty much exactly how he felt. He left without bothering to run a hand through his hair.

When he got back to the kitchen, the coffee was already made and there was a full cup sitting next to his place, milk and sugar evidently already added. He wrapped his hands around the steaming mug and sighed sadly.

Remus took a long drink of coffee and said, "So, you're having a problem involving caffeine withdrawal and underpants?"

"It's about Draco Malfoy. Or maybe me. Either way, the underwear was more of a side effect."

"Hmmm. I see. Or rather, I don't. Can you be a little more specific?"

"It's all my fault. I hurt him and I didn't mean to, Remus."

"You hurt Malfoy?" His tone was gentle but Harry could tell he was very worried.

"Not physically hurt. I just . . . I know Sirius doesn't like him, but he's not a bad person, aside from the strangely-hidden scary dark side and the constant sarcasm."

"Okay, he's not a bad person, but he's sarcastic and you hurt him, but not physically. I think we're still a bit short on explanation here, Harry. Can you start at the beginning?"

"I cast a spell on him, a tracking spell. But because he's a Seer, the effects were intensified, so he could feel me spying on him all night, and I could feel him, well, everything. I could feel what he was feeling, certain things he was feeling anyway, it tended to sort of fade in and out. And God, was he brassed off about it! With reason. I mean, I was just trying to keep him safe - someone's trying to kill him you know - but I can see where that would seem a little invasive, given, you know, what he was doing. And then . . . "

Harry's voice trailed off and he took a drink of coffee.

"Harry," Remus said, "what happened this morning?"

"He's so poised, you know?" Harry said into his coffee cup. "Even when he's enraged and kind of frightening, he's just so graceful. He chooses his words so carefully, without seeming to at all. And he's funny. Extremely funny. He'll say anything he thinks is amusing, and he couldn't care less whether it's polite, or if people aren't going to get it. People say Gryffindors are brave, but he's the bravest person I've ever met. Every day he wakes up with a target on his back and keeps going. He sacrificed himself to save Professor Snape. He keeps giving his life away, as though it doesn't mean anything. He's taking seven N.E.W.T.s and he kept reminding me to tell Hermione because she only did six, and one of his N.E.W.T.s is Muggle Studies. He likes the Beatles and he said that "A Day in the Life" was worth dying for, and he hates himself for what he had to do during the War but he never talks about it. He thinks he's going to die, and he still studies for his exams all the time. And he thinks I hate him. He said he thinks I loathe his touch."

"You're in love with him," Remus said quietly.

Harry looked up at Remus with tears brimming in his eyes. "I am? Is that why I feel like this when I think about what I did to him? I didn't mean to hurt him, honestly. I would never intentionally hurt him."

Remus stood up and hugged Harry to him.

"He thinks I don't respect him, Remus. How could I not respect him? He's just so . . . so Draco. I respect him utterly. How could he think that?"

"Perhaps it's just what he expects from people, love," Remus said. "And when you did what you did, he put the worst possible interpretation on it."

Harry nodded, and tears trickled down his cheeks. He wiped them away furiously with the back of his hand. "I wish I'd never learned that fucking spell. But he sneaked out of the Manor, didn't tell anyone where he was going, went out clubbing when he's nearly been killed twice in the last three weeks and he's having all these bizarre dreams about a killer chair - I was worried about him. I wouldn't have been able to follow him to keep him safe if I hadn't used the spell. I didn't know he'd be able to feel it, or that I'd be able to feel him. God, everything's so fucked up now, Remus. After this morning I don't know if I'll ever be able to look him in the face again."

Remus gave Harry a last pat on the back and sat down again. "Harry, tell me what happened."

Haltingly and with great embarrassment, Harry did. By the time he was finished with the story, his face was burning red, and even Remus was looking a little pink around the ears. "What do I do to fix this, Remus?" he asked. "Please tell me because I haven't the smallest clue."

"What would you fix it to be? If you could have anything, what would you want?"

"God, I don't know. I suppose I want him to look at me like he did yesterday morning, as if he's pleased to see me coming down for breakfast. I want to coax a genuine smile out of him. I want to chase that haunted look out of his eyes. I want to touch him. I want him. I know it's weird, and wrong, and everyone's going to be disappointed, but I just. . . I can't imagine going back to a life that doesn't have him in it."

Remus shrugged. "Well, there are definitely going to be people who would rather you were dating a woman. And there will be people who would rather you were dating anyone except Draco Malfoy. And there will probably be a few people who would rather Draco Malfoy weren't dating you."

"Professor Snape being in the third category, and Sirius being in the second, with the rest of the world weighing in for option number one."

"Not the whole world, I'm sure. There are a few of us around who don't have an agenda about your love life."

Harry gave him a weak smile. "I appreciate that, Remus."

Remus' gaze shifted focus, and Harry twisted in his chair to find Sirius standing in the kitchen doorway, yawning in a tattered bathrobe.

"Harry, what are you doing here so early? You look wrung out. What's going on?"

"Long night," he sighed.

"Auror duties?" Sirius crossed the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee.

"Sort of, but really it's more of a personal thing. I heard that confession was good for the soul, so I thought I'd give it a try."

Sirius laughed as he added sugar to his coffee and took his seat at the table next to Remus. "If Remus and I are your father confessors, I'd say you're in deep trouble. Fall in love, then, did you?"

Harry nodded somewhat miserably.

"Well, who is she?"

"He, actually."

Sirius raised his eyebrows and glanced over at Remus briefly before turning back to Harry. "Really? That's. . . new. Well, who?"

Harry made a silent appeal to Remus for help, who obligingly stepped in. "Sirius, I'd like to remind you that we have a rule prohibiting shouting in the kitchen. And that Harry is a grown man who is perfectly capable of making his own decisions and that our jobs as his godfather and godfather-in-law respectively are merely to be loving and supportive."

"Merciful gods, who is it? Voldemort's resurrected corpse?"

"Draco Malfoy," Harry said.

Sirius stared at him for a long moment, open mouthed, then burst into laughter. "That's a good one, Harry. You had me there for a second. No fair catching me before my first cup of coffee though."

"I'm not joking."

Appalled only barely began to cover the expression that slowly stole across Sirius' face. "Remus, can I see you in the living room, please?" He said through a clenched jaw.

Remus patted Harry on the shoulder as he passed and followed Sirius out. Harry could hear furious whispers being traded back and forth but couldn't make out what they were saying. Not that it was really necessary to hear the conversation to know how it was proceeding. Sirius was preparing to call St. Mungo's and Remus was trying to talk him out of it.

After about fifteen minutes or so, during which time Harry helped himself to another cup of coffee and wondered obsessively what Draco was doing and if he was okay, Sirius and Remus reappeared.

They resumed their places at the table, and Sirius took a long drink of cooling coffee. "Remus informs me," he said, "that I may discuss this matter with you as long as I don't raise my voice or act in any way which might be considered offensive by a reasonable person. The reasonable person being, in this case, Remus."

Harry tried not to smirk.

"So I would like to open the discussion by stating in the kindest way possible that you're either out of your fucking mind or you're under some sort of compulsion. Harry, you've always hated Malfoy, with good reason. Last time we talked about him, you said he was irritating the shit out of you. And until about twenty minutes ago I was labouring under the distinct impression that you were heterosexual. What the hell is going on?"

Harry sighed and resisted the urge to rest his head on the kitchen table. "I started to get to know him. Sirius, I can't explain this to you. I don't exactly understand it myself. I mean, I know the things I like about him, but I can't say why I suddenly saw it now, or what makes me so physically attracted to him."

"Have you ever been attracted to another man before?" Remus asked.

"I didn't think so, but the last few weeks have had me wondering. There were some boyhood enthusiasms that might have been crushes. Oliver Wood, for one."

Sirius smirked. "And Ron."

Harry's blush returned. "Um, maybe. In retrospect, and God, would he ever be upset if he could hear me say that."

"Remus and I had a standing bet about you two."

Remus gasped. "Sirius! Don't tell him that!"

"Why not? We're being open and honest here, right?" Sirius' eyes were twinkling. "Remus now owes me the sexual favour of my choice."

It was Remus' turn to blush. "Like you don't get enough of that as it is," he muttered.

Harry gave an embarrassed cough, and Sirius slapped him on the back a few times.

Sirius said, "I don't really care which gender you're shagging, Harry; it's all the same to me. But did you have to pick Draco Malfoy, of all people? He's a Slytherin, he's Lucius' son, his closest relative is Severus Snape, he's got a nasty disposition and a reputation for being a slut. There's not much to recommend him."

"He's incredibly good-looking," Remus chimed in.

"Okay, I'll give you that."

"And rich," Remus added. "And intelligent."

"All right, but he's still not trust-worthy. He's sneaky, and devious, and who knows what kind of appetites he picked up in his years as Voldemort's flunky. In addition to his confessed Death Eater activities."

Harry suddenly got the feeling that they'd forgotten all about him and were having this argument by themselves. He gave up and rested his head on the table. His eyes closed of their own accord.

"Dark deeds all done in service of the greater good, one could argue. And it's not like you've never done anything that you were ashamed of doing later."

"That's not fair!"

"I'm just saying that making mistakes doesn't make someone a bad person. You don't really know him, and I don't either. If Harry is fond of him, he must have some good qualities somewhere."

"Harry's thinking with his dick," Sirius murmured.

"I am not!" Harry's head shot up. Sirius and Remus looked at him with surprise.

"Well, maybe I am a little bit," Harry added. "But not entirely. Look, why is it so hard to believe that there's more to him than his reputation? I can't understand why no one wants to give him any credit. In spite of the way he was raised, he risked everything to do the right thing during the War, and came very close to dying for it. He just keeps paying and paying, and everyone still hates him but he never even complains. And I'll tell you something else: he's not afraid of me. He's not impressed by me. He rolls his eyes at me and tells me that I'm full of shit half the time. Do you know who else will do that for me?"

"Hermione," Sirius answered.

"Sirius," Remus said at the same time.

Harry nodded. "Sirius and Hermione. And you, Remus, in a very polite and loving way. And Severus Snape when he's willing to stoop to talking to me. That's it. Everyone else treats me as though I know better than they do what's going on. Even Moody and Arthur tend to defer to me. My relationship with Hermione didn't work out, and the other three are out of the question for obvious reasons."

"What about Seamus Finnigan?" Sirius asked.

Remus rolled his eyes. "Seamus is straight, Sirius. I keep telling him this but he never listens," he said to Harry.

Sirius shook his head. "I just can't believe that boy is straight. Are you sure?"

"Pretty sure," Harry answered. "Though I would have said the same thing about myself three weeks ago."

Sirius pointed at him. "There you go! Maybe you should try doing your experimenting with Seamus. He's a nice Gryffindor boy, you'd be well-suited for each other."

Harry shuddered at the thought. Seamus was so hyper that Harry used hide in the library to read his Quidditch Weekly just so he wouldn't have to be in the room with him. "I'm not looking for someone to experiment with, really, Sirius. The thing with Draco just happened. I don't see myself chasing after anyone else at this point."

"Your father would be rolling in his grave to see you with Lucius' slimeball son," Sirius muttered.

Harry groaned and put his head back down on the table. Sirius was probably right about that. He certainly knew Harry's father better than Harry did.

For the first time in his life, Harry was caught between everyone's expectations of him and his own desires. Always before, his duty came before anything else, including his own dreams. There had never been any conflict because he'd always surrendered to what he thought of as necessary and inevitable. But Draco made him feel . . . rebellious. Draco made him want to fight the inevitable and have something of his own for once, and the disapproval of the world seemed minor when balanced against Draco's fingers on his skin. The disapproval of the world wasn't the disapproval of his beloved father though, and the idea of disappointing James tied Harry's stomach up in knots.

"Good work there, Padfoot," Remus said as he ruffled a hand through Harry's slowly-drying hair. "Go take your shower, lummox. I think you've done enough damage for one morning."

Sirius touched Harry's shoulder. "I just don't want to see you get hurt," he said apologetically.

Harry stayed where he was and didn't open his eyes. "No matter what I do I'm going to get hurt," he said.

Sirius sighed and made his retreat. Remus petted Harry's hair and said, "If James would be disappointed in you for loving someone, Harry, then James would be wrong. Even if he were still here, you couldn't live your life to please him. And you certainly shouldn't spend your life trying to please a memory."

Harry opened his eyes and looked at Remus. "I've always done what was expected. The stakes were always too high and it didn't seem that I had any other choice. And now the War's over and I won it, just as I was supposed to, but the expectations haven't stopped."

"Perhaps it's time you starting doing what makes you happy, then." Remus gave Harry's hair a last little rub and then sat back.

"I don't know if I've ever been truly happy, Remus. I'm not sure I know what happy is."

"Now might be a good time to figure it out."

"I don't even know where to start," Harry sighed, and sat up again to run his hands through his hair. "Fuck, this is confusing! Does this mean I'm gay?"

Remus laughed. "I think straight people get confused too, Harry." Harry gave him a tired smile and Remus shrugged. "Bisexual, maybe. Straight but not narrow?"

"Straight but not impervious to the Malfoy charm? God, Ron really would have had a heart attack if he'd lived to see this. And then when he got out of hospital he would have beat the shit out of me and Draco both."

Remus just sipped his coffee and didn't say anything.

"I've been trying to deny it and hide it from myself, but I've never felt this way about anyone, Remus. I don't want to give this feeling up just because it means I don't fit into a neat category anymore. And I'm beginning to think that I don't care what people say about it, either."

"Well, it certainly isn't like you to run from anything, no matter how frightening."

"Run toward it, more likely," Harry said wryly. "What if I've finally found someone that I want, someone who doesn't think of me as The Hero of the Wars or a PR opportunity? Someone strong enough to lean on. That's a rare thing, something precious. Maybe too precious to be thrown away just because people disapprove."

Remus got up to pour himself another cup of coffee. "If you're happy, the people who care about you will come around eventually. But the rest may make things difficult, at least for a while."

"I'm used to things being difficult."

"I'm not saying you can't handle it, or that it should keep you from following your heart. I'm just saying that you and Malfoy together will create a scandal, likely of epic proportions. You should be prepared to face that." Remus finished adding milk to his cup and sat back down.

Harry found his head back on the table, seemingly of its own volition. "I know. I'm not even sure that Draco wants to be with me after this morning, or that he would want anything more than a casual night together. Like Sirius said, monogamy's not been high on his list of attributes."

"I should think that talking to him about it might be the first step, then. Just one thing, though, Harry. I trust you to look after yourself, but what happened this morning concerns me. Regardless of his hidden depths, Malfoy's got his dark side and I don't like the fact that he was willing to unleash it on you."

"There were mitigating circumstances."

"Perhaps. But promise me you'll keep an eye on it, anyway."

"Draco and I can do a deal," Harry said as he closed his eyes again. "I'll keep an eye on his dark side, if he'll keep an eye on mine."

Canine Cottage
31 July, 1980

Dear James,

Congratulations to you and Lily on the birth of little Harry. You must be beside yourself with happiness. Remus says he sends his fondest wishes also, and he'll write to you later when I'm not hogging up all the writing desk.

Why you would want me as Harry's godfather, I have no idea. Are you sure you don't mean Remus? But if it's really me you want, of course, you've got me. Heaven have mercy on us all. Per tradition, here are my promises - with Marauder modifications, of course:

I, Sirius Padfoot blah blah Black, Heir to a Great Load of Nonsense, promise you, James Prongs blah blah Potter, Heir to a Big Palatial Dwelling and a Tonne of Cash, and your son, Harry James blah blah Potter, Heir to the Heir of a Big Palatial Dwelling etc.:

To guide his way in causing trouble and not getting caught.

To shelter him with all the resources of my House and Person, should he be crazy enough to want them.

To teach him to ride a motorcycle.

To tutor him in Special Transfiguration at the appropriate time.

To guard his life with my own.

To adore him as much as I adore his ridiculous father and his much more sensible mother.

May your house grow ever stronger in fun and love, but I'm not bleeding for the sake of a stupid tradition. Signed in ink and sincerity,

Sirius Padfoot Black

Remus made him doze on the couch before he would let him Apparate back to the Manor. "You're knackered and you'll end up splinching yourself if you don't get some rest first," he said. When Harry woke, Remus and Sirius had both gone, leaving a note on the coffee table that said, "Stay as long as you like, just lock up behind yourself when you go. There's food in the pantry if you're hungry - help yourself to whatever you fancy. We love you, S & R." Harry smiled and put the note in his pocket. It was kind of them to try to look after him, but the thought of food made him rather queasy. He locked the front door and Apparated to Malfoy Manor.

On the walk from the Manor gates (properly staffed with two apparently non-lethal guards) to the front door, Harry tried to imagine what he'd say to Draco when he saw him. Nothing sprang to mind. "Sorry," seemed pathetic and inadequate, but he didn't know how he could explain to Draco how he felt about him. A bald "I think I'm in love with you," would surely seem to come out of the blue, and perhaps even appear cruel given the events of the morning. He needed another few hours of rest before he could possibly deal with the situation. In the best of all possible worlds, Draco would have gone to bed himself and Harry could sneak into his own bedroom and recuperate before having to face him.

He let himself in and waved to Janice but didn't stop to chat. The door to the parlour was open, and as he passed he could see the back of what could only be Professor Snape, dressed in his voluminous black robes as usual, with his arms around Draco in a comforting embrace. Draco's cheek was resting on Snape's shoulder and his eyes were closed. Harry had never seen his face so unguarded, nor ever looking so unutterably sad. He hurried past to retreat to his room, glad at least that Snape was there to look after Draco for a while until they could get the whole mess sorted out.

Once in his room, he un-Reduced and un-Transfigured all his things, took a quick but very hot bath, put on a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants and climbed into bed. He was unconscious before his head hit the pillow.

Some time later, he woke to the sound of insistent knocking at the bedroom door. He pawed blearily for his glasses as he sat up and said, "Come in."

The door opened to reveal Professor Snape looming menacingly in his trademark fashion. He stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. He didn't look pleased and Harry found himself rather concerned that the room was completely lacking in an alternate escape route.

"Are you all right?" he asked flatly.

"Um, yes, I suppose so. Bit knackered, but . . ."

Snape rolled his eyes and spoke very slowly and carefully as if to a child or an idiot, in a tone Draco evidently learned from him. "Did. He. Hurt. You?"

"No. He didn't hurt me, Professor."

Snape looked relieved. "Forgive the personal nature of the question, Potter, but I'm afraid I must ask. Draco's convinced that you were wholly unwilling in the events of this morning. Is that so?"

"No." Harry shook his head. "It wasn't what I would have chosen for our first . . . you know, but I wasn't unwilling."

Snape paused and seemed to consider him for a moment, his expression growing darker with every passing second. When he finally spoke, it was in the quiet, deceptively calm tone that was more frightening than his shouts and curses, as it meant that he was deeply, deeply angry. "Are your Auror duties not stimulating enough, then Potter? Having half the wizarding world after your scrawny carcass isn't enough for you, so you toy with the affections of those whose safety you're supposed to be ensuring? I've learned not to expect good sense from you, but I did expect a certain level of professionalism, not to mention some common decency."

"I don't - I didn't - It's not like that!"

"Isn't it? What is it like then, Mr. Potter? Enlighten me, I beg you."

Harry ran his hands through his hair. "I care about him, all right? I really do. Not just . . . I never meant to hurt him; I was just trying to keep him safe. The spell, it was a mistake, a miscalculation, but I only did it because I wanted to make sure he was okay."

"The spell," Snape sneered. "Mr. Potter, I'm sure this has escaped your notice, as so many things do, but Draco has particular reason to value his privacy. Voldemort used to spy on his followers using the Dark Mark, and he had a special fondness for watching people in their most intimate moments. I imagine your schoolboy hijinks this morning brought back quite a few unpleasant memories for Draco. Not that invading anyone's privacy in so flagrant and unnecessary a manner would be acceptable under any circumstances."

Harry blanched and said nothing. The thought of it, of being like Voldemort, of reminding Draco of his life then, made him feel truly ill.

"Why didn't you end the spell when you realized its effects? Why didn't you stop him from leaving the Manor in the first place? You're supposed to be looking after his safety; allowing him to roam all over Manchester picking up boys and snorting cocaine doesn't seem to me to fall into the province of safe, even by your suicidal standards."

"I don't know! I don't why I didn't end the spell. I was distracted, exhausted, panicked, furious at him for being so reckless. I should have tried to find another way to track him, I suppose, a weaker spell, but it didn't occur to me at the time. I didn't stop him at first because I wasn't sure where he was going or what he was doing, and after that, things just developed a momentum of their own."

Snape scowled at him, and stalked toward Harry to tower over him at the foot of the bed. His voice was a low, menacing, velvet rumble, at once beautiful and terrifying. "Listen to me carefully, Potter, and try to absorb my meaning in your dull, Gryffindorish way. Draco's time is almost up. He says there's something coming, and these premonitions of his are never wrong. He's spent the last eight hours as miserable as I've ever seen him and you will make it up to him or face my wrath. There is nothing that I would not do to protect him or avenge him. And if his last days on earth are spent in a turmoil of confusion and pain, you will wish that Voldemort had killed you the first time. And that is not a threat, Mr. Potter. It is a promise."

And with that, he turned with a swirl of black robes and stormed out of the room, shutting the door behind him with a quiet click that echoed in the still bedroom. Harry shivered beneath the heavy blankets, and wondered if composing a "great and terrible vengeance" speech was a Death Eater prerequisite or it was just a Snape-Malfoy thing. He threw the covers back and went to change clothes. If time was as short as Snape had said, it might be prudent to have his talk with Draco sooner rather than later.

Rockcliffe Cottage
County Donegal, Ireland
1 April, 1980

My Beloved,

Congratulations on the birth of your son and heir. Please pass along my love to Narcissa and the boy. I can hardly wait to see you all in a few weeks. Thus does your empire unfold as you'd always planned, an auspicious beginning.

It would be my honour to serve as godfather to little Draco. I'm deeply touched by your faith and love. (You know how I feel about the name, but there's nothing to be done about it now.) And so, to the traditional promises.

This do I, Severus Semotus Caligo Harrison Snape, Heir to House Snape, pledge to you, Lucius Pertinax Anguis Harrison Malfoy, Head of House Malfoy, and to your son, Draco Lucius Severus Fornet Malfoy, Heir to House Malfoy:

To guide his way to the best of my abilities.

To shelter him with all the resources of my House and Person.

To grant him freedom to make his own mistakes.

To teach him the beauty of knowledge.

To hold his life more precious than my own.

To love him as though he were my own son, for he is the child of my own heart.

May your House grow ever stronger in power and in love. I sign this with the blood that binds us.

Severus Semotus Caligo Harrison Snape

(Your Ves)

Dressed in Muggle jeans and a t-shirt, Harry made his way downstairs, with really no better an idea of what to say than he'd had that morning. He was hoping something would come to him, but he didn't want to wait any longer. He paused in the parlour doorway, and saw Draco sitting on the couch, staring idly at the Malevolent Chair and eating a petit four cake from a plate holding a dozen of them. He'd changed into a pair of black trousers and a cream-coloured cable-knit jumper, and his hair was styled to its usual perfection.

Harry stepped into the room and cleared his throat to announce his presence. Draco turned to look at him and Harry gave him a feeble half-wave. The tension in the room was palpable, and Harry really wished he'd taken the time to figure out beforehand what he was going to say.

"I'm glad to see you're eating something," he finally offered, and then mentally smacked himself in the forehead for being such a prat.

But Draco shrugged amiably. "They're a childhood favourite. Cook used to make them for me sometimes, but the house elves can't seem to get the texture right. Sev brought them from the bakery in Hogsmeade."

Well, at least they were being reasonably civil with each other. Even if they were restricted to baked goods as the only topic of conversation. "Would it be all right if I came in and sat down?"

"Please do. Help yourself to a cake, if you'd like." He popped the last bite of his cake into his mouth casually, but Harry noticed the slightest tremor in his hand. Draco set the plate on the coffee table, and Harry closed the parlour doors.

He sat down on the couch. He didn't really want a cake, but accepting Draco's hospitality seemed the friendly thing to do, so he chose one and took a bite. His mouth was dry and he could hardly taste the sweet.

Harry had been in uncomfortable positions before. He'd had to tell Arthur Weasley that Ron was gone. He'd been surrounded by enemies in situations where escape seemed impossible. But never in his life had he sat in a silence that so completely sucked the air out of the room. He scrabbled around in his brain for something he could grab hold of, but nothing seemed right. If they sat there without speaking for too much longer, Harry was sure he would suffocate. He seized his Gryffindor courage and plunged ahead, with no idea what words were going to come out of his mouth.

"Draco. I just wanted to apologise. For this morning. I shouldn't have, you know. I invaded your privacy, and that was wrong. I didn't mean to hurt you, and I'm sorry." Harry winced. The word pillock came to mind. But it was still better than sitting there not breathing.

Draco looked at him with frank surprise and a touch of suspicion. "I was just sitting here wondering how to compose an apology to you, since it's generally considered good form for the assailant to apologise to his victim, not the other way around. Sev talked to you before he left, then? Gave you some bullshit about how these were my last days on earth and you should be nice to me regardless of how frightfully I've treated you?"

"No! I mean, yes, Snape came and talked to me, but he didn't. . . you know, he was mostly checking to see if I was alright, which I was. I am. You weren't frightful. Frightening, maybe. At times. But not. It wasn't. Bloody hell!" He took a deep breath and tried again. "Draco. I'm apologizing because I hurt you, not because Snape forced me into it. No one's forced me into anything, do you understand? Not Snape, and not you this morning."

"Really? So that request for me to stop touching you was just for entertainment value?" It seemed impossible that there was room in the human voice for that much self-loathing and bitterness.

"It was out of confusion, and shock that you were acting that way. But Draco, my wand was in my hand the whole time, and I've got at least a stone and a half on you besides. Do you really think I couldn't have stopped you if I wanted to? Will you accept my apology?"

Draco shook his head. "You should not be apologizing to me. I should be begging your forgiveness, and you should be telling me to go to hell."

"Can I tell you you're forgiven, instead?"

Draco's calm mask broke into shards of furious self-hatred. "It isn't just that I acted utterly without restraint or conscience. It's that I enjoyed it. Do you understand that, Harry? Do I need to spell it out for you?" His voice dropped to just above a whisper and ran over Harry like broken glass in velvet, smooth and sharp and merciless. "Seeing fear in your eyes and knowing that I put it there made me hard. I loved touching you against your will, the way your hips bucked against me and how you writhed beneath my hand. I loved pulling responses out of you that you didn't want to give me. When I made you come standing up against that filthy alley wall, I felt powerful and more alive than when I'd fucked someone completely willing just a few minutes before. That's who I am, Harry. I took your friendship and that's what I made of it. Can you look me in the face now and tell me you still forgive me?"

Harry shuddered, but it wasn't out of revulsion. "Draco. I - " His throat was parched, and he swallowed and tried again. "It's not that I don't see the darkness in you. I do, but I also see that for the most part you control it ruthlessly. And I see the darkness in myself as well. I stood across the street and got off on someone else's sex life, your sex life, without even a thought of ending the spell. How could I have the right to judge you? And if it's wrong for you to enjoy having power over me, is it less wrong of me to enjoy feeling powerless? Can't you see what just hearing your voice does to me? I can barely think about what happened without getting hard, and hearing you talk about it - it's just . . . " Harry took Draco's hand and pressed it against the rock-hard erection in his jeans. "You want proof that you didn't force me this morning? There it is."

Draco pulled his hand away like he'd been burned. "Harry, don't. Don't play with me like this."

"I'm not playing. I wouldn't." He took Draco's hand again. "Just let me hold your hand. Let me touch you."

Draco didn't say anything but he didn't pull away. Harry twined their fingers together. "This feels good to me. Your fingers and mine, skin touching skin, it feels like something's complete that was only half-finished before. I don't loathe your touch, Draco." He lifted their hands and ran the back of Draco's hand along his own cheekbone.

"Oh," Draco breathed.

"I do respect you. A great deal. If it seemed I was ashamed of you, or didn't want to admit how I felt, it was only because of me, because I didn't know who I was or what I wanted, not because of you. Never because I thought you were anything less than amazing. And I am so sorry that I gave you reason to think otherwise."

"And what happened to being Teen Witch Weekly's straightest pin-up boy?" The words might have had the patented Malfoy sarcasm, but his voice was lacked its usual biting assurance and his hand was shaking under Harry's.

"You happened, I suppose. Look, I don't know what label to assign myself. But I do know what I want. And that's you. I want to peel your clothes off you and touch every inch of your body. I want to make you come as hard as I came this morning in the alley, but I want to do it in a bed and I want to see a genuine smile on your face as you fall asleep after. I want to prove to you, over and over, that I hold you in the highest regard."

Draco jerked his hand away again. "Don't, Harry. Just. I'm about to die, and you tell me this now? How can I possibly do this now? I can't get involved, why would you even want to get involved with me? Even if I weren't about to meet a violent end. It's. Just. No. Impossible."

"I do the impossible all the time, haven't you heard? Draco. Do I need to spell it out for you? I want you because you're brilliant, and sarcastic, and braver than possibly anyone else I ever met. You have the sexiest toes and you wiggle them when you're reading. Deep down, you're noble and good and utterly self-sacrificing but you like to pretend that you're not. You can read three books a day, and you've never watched television but you want to. You aren't intimidated by anyone, including me. You remind me that I'm only a human being with a lot of power and that I need to be careful with it. You give me hope because if you can look at your darkness and overcome it, I feel that maybe I can look at mine, too. You make me laugh. I'm pretty sure I'm falling in love with you already.”

"Oh, Harry." Draco raised his eyes to meet Harry's, and they were shining but there were no tears. "Don't do this. Don't. It's cruel, giving me just what I always wanted and no time to enjoy it in."

"I've told you before I'm not going to allow you to die."

"And I've told you that you're not going to have much say in the matter."

"Can we go back to the part where you say that I'm just what you always wanted?"

Draco laughed, but his voice was drenched in sadness. "Harry Potter. You're entirely insane, and you're just what I've always wanted."

"Oh." Harry sat there feeling rather stunned. They seemed to have come to some sort of agreement, in an improbable roundabout fashion via detour through I-Hate-Myself Lane and over the I'm-Probably-Dying Motorway. But Draco did want him, and he'd admitted that he wanted Draco, and now he wasn't sure exactly what they were supposed to do. He had hoped that kissing might figure into things somewhere. At the very least.

“Sometime,” he said, “I'm going to give you the lecture about sneaking away from the people who are supposed to be guarding you and going off with strange men and doing their completely untested drugs, but I'll save it for later.”

“I got Sev's hour-long version this morning already.” Draco waved a hand languidly, but Harry could see it still shaking.

“Oh, well. He probably did it better than I could anyway.”

“It was impressive. A virtuoso performance in diatribe.”

“He cares about you very much.”

Draco nodded and smiled a little shyly. “I know. I'm very lucky.”

“I care about you, too.”

“Do you.”

“Yes. In fact, I think this is where I'm supposed to show you how much,” Harry moved closer to him on the couch, and Draco shivered all over.

He pulled up his sleeve to bare his arm. “I've got goosebumps,” he said in a tone of awe. “Something's coming, Harry. I feel it.”

“Maybe it's just this.” Harry leaned over and kissed him. It was soft, and sweet, and shot sparks all along Harry's nerve endings. It was like fire in winter, or shade in summer, or both at the same time, all over Harry's body. Draco pulled him closer and deepened the kiss, and Harry let his fingers steal beneath Draco's jumper to play along his back. Everywhere their bodies connected, it was like coming home. Time stretched to fill what seemed like hours.

Then everything came apart.

The parlour doors flew open, with a tremendous bang and a flash of green light, and Harry and Draco jumped apart and began scrambling for their wands. Janice came flying through to land flat on her back in the middle of the room, unseeing eyes staring at the Manor ceiling. A heavy fog rolled into the room from the hallway, pouring around them and seeping past as Harry stood in a duellist's stance with his wand pointed at the doors.

"Check Janice; I'll cover you," he said, though he was certain just by looking at her that she was dead.

Draco felt at her throat and shook his head. "She's gone." He closed her eyes gently. "I'm sorry."

"Shit," Harry whispered. "We need to get out of here. We'll take the way out to the garden, head to the exit you used last night and Apparate from there."

But before they could even turn around, they heard a woman's voice behind them, shouting, "Haec expelliarmus!" Their wands flew out of their hands and across the room. Harry turned to find Catherine Tayce standing in front of the Chair of Doom with her wand pointed toward them.

"The fog," Draco murmured in an awed tone. "Harry, the vision was about the fog I saw, not the chair." He raised his voice enough that Catherine could hear him across the room. "You're an Inanimagus."

She nodded, but her face didn't seem triumphant, only tense. "I am. I'm also Gregory's cousin Katie. Though she did her best to forget it, my mother was born a Goyle. Which makes me your cousin, too, in a roundabout way. And your executioner."

Something inevitable had clicked into place. Harry was no Seer, but he could feel it - cold, implacable, smothering. This would be Draco's death, unless Harry could find some way of doing the impossible. "Catherine, you don't want to do this - " Harry began, but she cut him off.

"You're right, Harry, I find that I really don't. It's ended up being a lot more complicated than I imagined. And if I was smart, I would have killed you both before you even turned around but I don't want to be responsible for murdering the Hero of the Wars on top of poor Janice. So please, Harry, go. I can't let you retrieve your wand, but it will be here tomorrow when you come to get Malfoy's body."

"I'm not going anywhere, Catherine. You know I can't." He wouldn't shiver in front of her, he refused. He wasn't thinking fast enough, he knew. He wanted to shake himself but all his stupid brain could seem to generate was gibbering terror that yet another person that he loved was about to die. Panic was not conducive to planning. He tried to force himself to calm down, to consider the situation logically.

Draco took a step away from Harry and Catherine moved her wand to cover him. "Don't move," she said.

He raised his hands in the universal gesture of surrender. "All right. Not moving. But at least tell me why you're doing this. Because of the testimony?"

She shook her head. "Not the testimony. The damage you did was finished long before Greg was captured. Roll up your left sleeve."


The wand twitched slightly to point directly at Malfoy's heart. "Roll up your left sleeve."

Draco pushed his sleeve up to expose the pink death's head-shaped knot of scar tissue that remained from his Dark Mark.

"You carry that and you have the nerve to ask why I have to kill you." Her voice was shaking with scorn. "If it weren't for you, Greg never would have worn it. The things he did, he did because of you. The innocents he killed, he killed because of you. He was punished, but you never were. You got your life and your fortune back, but Greg's gone forever."

Under cover of their conversation, Harry cast his eyes around for their wands. If he could somehow rearm at least one of them, they might stand a fighting chance. Draco was playing for time, if Harry could only find a way of using it.

"Dr. Tayce, with all due respect," Draco said calmly, "Greg's father and that whole side of his family were Death Eaters. I didn't recruit him, any more than he recruited me."

"He didn't follow his father, Draco - he couldn't stand him. He followed you. He worshipped you. You were all he ever talked about when he came to visit in the summers. If you'd taken a stand and rebelled against your family, if you'd even told him you were spying for the Order, Greg's life would have been completely different. He was a good kid. He just needed direction. I tried to give it to him, my father tried to give it to him but he wouldn't listen to us. It was you who held his loyalty, into Hell and beyond."

Draco nodded sadly. "You're right. I don't know what else I could have done, but you're right, of course."

Ah, Harry thought in triumph, there it was, his wand, behind the front right leg of the escritoire. He felt fairly sure he could Accio it wandlessly, but getting it to his hand before Catherine threw the Killing Curse was another matter. They needed a distraction, something more than just the bitter conversation going on.

Catherine ran a trembling hand through her long blond hair. "You're a seducer. I can see why Greg was so enthralled with you. I actually wondered at times what it would be like to be the mistress of this huge house, to claim some portion of you for myself. You've got a cutting intellect, but also an air of tarnished radiance. You reek of tortured victim of circumstance, of abused but worthy heir to a Dark legacy. Maybe it's even sincere, I don't know. It doesn't matter."

She cocked her head, as if she was listening to something. "You can't hear, him, can you? I don't think anyone can hear him but me. He whispers all the time, ever since his execution. I can't leave him like that. He was angry with me that the poison didn't work. He won't be able to rest until you're dead."

"The poisoning was you?" Harry asked, surprised. For all that he'd wanted to make sure, he had more than half believed that Higgs had done it.

"Fog on little cat's feet," she said with a tight smile. "The house elves open the wards to take the guards their meals. I slipped into the kitchen at breakfast and poisoned the tea. You're lucky you drink coffee, Harry. I suppose the rest was Higgs; who knows? Killing Draco Malfoy is a popular pastime. I probably should have just been patient and let someone else take care of it, but Greg didn't want me to. He wanted it to be me. Once I cracked the wards, getting in today was child's play." She shook her head as though to clear it. "Time is short. He tells me. Harry, I'll ask you one more time. Go. Blame Higgs for this, blame Janice. Blame me if you want and spend your days trying to track me down. But I wouldn't have killed Janice if I'd had any choice, and I really don't want to kill you. Do us both a favour and walk away."

Harry wanted to scream in frustration. He could feel that Catherine was running out of patience; he could feel Fate breathing on his neck, and for once he wasn't ready. He didn't have an impossible stunt at hand. He didn't think he could get to his wand before Catherine killed either him or Draco. He could agree to leave, hope to stall for time that way, try to sneak back in. But he was dead certain that as soon as he crossed the parlour threshold, she'd throw the killing curse at Draco and that would be that. He hesitated.

"I'll take that as a no," she said. "Avada Kedavra!"

Adrenaline flooded Harry's body and time slowed. Before the curse was fully out of Tayce's mouth, Harry cast Accio wandlessly and his wand flew into his hand. At the same moment, Draco pushed Harry aside and took the full weight of the killing curse to the middle of his chest. He crumpled to the ground.

Some part of Harry's mind began wailing, but he ignored it, and threw Stupefy at Tayce. She suddenly melted into mist and the curse passed harmlessly through.

As the fog coalesced into Catherine Tayce again, Harry was filled with a black, roiling rage as great as any he'd ever held for Voldemort. He pointed his wand and, with every cell in his body, hated. "Exanimus!"

Tayce dissolved again, but the spell sank into the fog and began glowing with an eerie, icy blue light. It grew brighter and brighter, until a beam shot out and struck Harry on the forehead, right over his scar.

He grew warm, and he could feel the extra magic beginning to swirl around inside him. That indefinable, magical part of him grew tighter and fuller, stretching uncomfortably, mixing with all of his grief and horrible frustration to expand so much he wasn't sure he would contain it. It hurt in an indescribable way, like a pain in the soul instead of the body, or an ache in the air around him. The light brightened until it was almost unbearable, and then it disappeared. Tayce's lifeless body lay on the floor, and Harry's hands were swollen with blue light.

He dropped to his knees and placed his hands over Draco's heart. Harry willed the spell to work with his every ounce of despair and love and terror - the past to be undone, Draco to be whole, the fabric of his life restored and mended. You have to come back, Harry thought. You can't leave me here. He felt the power building inside him to a white-hot spark, and released the spell. "Perfundere!"

The light began sinking into Draco, and his whole body began to glow. The extra fullness, the tight pain, flowed away from Harry and into Draco. The glow increased until Harry had to close his eyes against it, and then it was gone.

After a moment, Draco's body arched and he took a gasping, choked breath. His heart lurched to life under Harry's hands, and Harry began to laugh in relief.

Draco's eyes fluttered open. "Exanimus?"

Harry nodded.

"Fuck." Draco said distinctly, and passed out.

April 23, 2000, 3:45 p.m.
Castello di Usignuolo - Portofino, Italy

Dear Sev:

You've probably been wondering where my letter was this morning. We've only just woken up, and yes, it is necessary for me to be so smug about it. I'm only out of bed to write to you so you won't worry. Harry's still snug under the sheets waiting for me, and I'm disinclined to keep him waiting for long, so I'll make this brief.

We arrived in Portofino yesterday evening, with no troubles. What we saw of it in the dark last night and through the window this morning was lovely. We may try to do some sightseeing tomorrow. Or we might just stay in bed for two weeks. (See above comment re: smugness as needed.)

Harry says to tell you that the exercises continue to be useful. He calls it "Death Eater yoga" and makes annoying Muggle references I don't understand, but he's been very diligent about practicing every day. Changes wrought by Dark magic are such subtle things; I haven't seen any new evidence of Darkness in his behaviour at all, but I trust that he's telling the truth when he says his temper is still shorter and his self-control weaker than they once were. Providing that he doesn't do himself any further damage, I remain confident he'll be able to master these problems, as you and I have done for the most part - cocaine binges not withstanding. Of course it's harder for him because he has so much more power to channel, but as you said, any wizard operating at the level of a Dumbledore or a Potter will face this possibility eventually, unless they are born into unusually peaceful times. And I think it's good for him to be forced into a measure of self-discipline. His power's only going to be greater as he grows older, and even power based in Light can corrupt. He says he's lucky to have my "deflating influence." Thus, the sarcasm I've so carefully cultivated (with your shining example, of course) is finally coming to good use.

Most difficult for him has been his guilt over saving me and not Janice. I've told him repeatedly, as I believe you did, that Janice was likely dead too long for Perfundere to have made any difference, but he still feels responsible. Yet another phantom for his collection, he says. Well, we all have those, I suppose, and manage to keep marching forward in spite of them. The sting of it will fade with time.

Harry also says to thank you for Back Door Men: A Guide for Gay Wizards. How you managed to sneak it into his trunk, I'll never know, but he turned a most appealing shade of crimson when he saw it. The inscription was inspired hilarity, but it means a lot to me that you've gone out of your way to accept him. I know he's not exactly what you had pictured for a son-in-law. Perhaps Black will eventually get over his loathing of me, and the two of you will make up, and we'll all be one big, happy, queer family. Yes, you're right - giddy from the Italian sea air and the exquisite sex.

You'll be interested to know that last night (or rather this morning) I had my first prophetic dream since my death. It was trivial, involving a piece of fruit that had gone off and two cats screaming outside the window at daybreak. I'd rather hoped that I'd lost my "gift" altogether, having proved quite conclusively that ignorance is bliss, but I'm hopeful that having died once I've fulfilled my contract and won't be receiving any more visions in that direction.

Only time will tell, of course, and if they come again, then so be it. In the last three weeks I've had more happiness than I could expect to pack into three lifetimes, and whatever happens, I am content. I know that you'll look after Harry for me, and keep him from doing anything foolish.

But the Italian sunlight is far too beautiful, and Harry looking far too fetching in the altogether, to sully the day with such dark thoughts. You really should be awarding points to Gryffindor for services rendered to your godson (especially since their new seeker is completely hopeless and they have no hope of beating Slytherin for the House Cup anyway). Perhaps I'll send you a daily tally, with a specific list of benefits conferred and points to be awarded. Would that be bragging about my happiness overmuch? Can a Slytherin really be too smug? I shall ponder these questions between transportations of delight and let you know my conclusions tomorrow.

Always your brat, no matter the country or companionship,

Draco Jacques


Author's Note: This has been a far more titanic undertaking than I ever would have dreamed when I began this story so many months ago. I have so many people to thank, my acknowledgements would be as long as the story if I did them properly. So let me thank my livejournal crew for as a group for their continuing interest and encouragement - you all know who you are. Zahra, Kassie, Phineas Jones, and Camilla Farfalla deserve a special mention for their often extreme expressions of love and support. Greatest thanks to Willysunny for ongoing Silververse dramaturgy. To my partner in perv, Fay Jay, words cannot express how much you mean to me, as a writing colleague and a friend. And lastly, but most importantly, my deepest gratitude to A.J. Hall, beta and brit picker far beyond the call of duty, without whose wisdom and insight this story could not have been written.

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