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Nightcall

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Part One

Blood. Thick and crimson, spreading wetly across his shaking hands. The scent, sharp and sweet, is almost overwhelming, catching in his throat with the bitter bite of an ancient iron sword. He can't look down; he knows what he'll see, what he always sees: her slender, too fragile body sprawled across the polished wood floor, blood from the jagged, torn flesh of her left breast seeping into the grey silk of her evening gown and staining the white-blonde curls that have fallen loose from her soft chignon. Fat droplets slide through his fingertips to strike along the curve of her pale throat, grisly jewels of death that glisten and shine against her skin like her favourite ruby necklace.

A keening howl rises from deep within his chest, rushing through him in a roar that knocks him to his knees. Her beautiful grey eyes are blank and open. In death he can still see her terror frozen in their lifeless depths, can smell it on her skin, can taste it, bright and harsh at the base of his tongue. He loathes himself for drinking it in, eager as a drunk beggar in the piss-stained alleys of Whitechapel. Even in his grief, he can't stop himself.

She feared him. Her son.

"You fool," his father says from behind him, and the silver serpentine head of a walking stick strikes heavily across his shoulders. He turns with a cry, and he catches sight of himself in the mirror above the mantel, unrecognizable, his face smeared with his mother's blood, his eyes bright with an unholy glow. The walking stick flashes in the firelight, arcing towards him, and crashes against his face in an explosion of pain.

Draco wakes with a gasp, the rumpled white sheet falling from his naked body as he sits up. Moonlight still floods the bedroom from the wide window, casting faint shadows across the shoulder of his bed companion, but through the half-open casement, Draco can hear the early morning rustle of London as it begins to wake: the creak of the milk carts bringing their morning wares to the fashionable houses of Mayfair and the quiet work of kitchen servants rising to cook their masters' breakfasts.

His temple throbs, and he presses his fingertips against it gingerly. The scar's faded now, nearly a decade old, but its last vestige still snakes its thin, pale way across the high ridge of his cheekbone. He's been told it gives him a rakish look, a dangerous edge to his appearance that a certain type of young gentleman finds attractive. He always smiles at this flattery, but deep inside he despises the souvenir of that night. How could he not?

The bottle of absinthe sits on the dresser across the room, and Draco stands, pulling his dressing gown loosely over his arms and shoulders as he strides towards it. He pours la fée verte into a cut-glass goblet and watches it sparkle in the moonlight before setting a sugar cube on the filagree spoon perched on the rim of the glass. With a snap of his fingers, the water in the carafe beside the bottle chills, and Draco drizzles it over the sugar, concentrating as the louche forms, clouding the glass. He sets the spoon aside and uncaps another bottle, this one smaller and darker, with Blaise's spidery writing scrawled across a small cream label crooked on the black glass. Four drops fall into the absinthe and hang in the louche for the briefest moment, perfect dark spheres against shimmering cloudy green before dissolving in a soft burst of colour. Draco sips the drink slowly, and the mixture of liquor and potion calms him, soothing the shivery ache that's settled into his bones.

Moonlight draws him to the window, prickling across the nape of his neck. The waxing moon hangs low above the roofs of the white rowhouses that line the street, a pale, growing swell. Draco eyes it balefully, still bitter that the silver orb rules his life. He hates the nights now, hates the way he feels the fecund moon against his skin, pulling at him, the same way it tugs at the tides.

His twice-great-grandfather Brutus, shortly upon inheriting the title of marquess of Avebury, had purchased the townhouse nearly a century and half past to house the family during the ton's seasons. He'd grown tired of the countryside; to be honest, Draco doesn't blame him. Wiltshire is dashed dull once one leaves the thrill of childhood behind, and the Manor had been a lonely place during school hols, so far separated from the houses of his friends. Draco watches as a horse and cart stops three houses down, the milk boy in his striped apron and wool cap hopping down from his perch. A door opens, beneath the wide, curved steps leading to the home's main entrance, and a girl--barely old enough to have her hair twisted up in the wide pompadour dictated by fashion--comes out with a yawn and a bright smile for the lad. Draco snorts into his glass as the boy straightens up, smoothing out his ridiculous apron. At thirty years of age, Draco's jaded to the fancies of youth.

A movement in the shadows catches his eye, a rustle of leaves as a shape, long and lean, slides through the bushes in his neighbour's front garden, moving towards the couple. He tenses, his fingers tightening around his glass, relaxing only when a mangy dog slips through the wrought iron fence and lopes down the street beneath the flickering gaslights.

"Malfoy."

He glances towards the bed. Potter slides out from under the green brocade bedspread, his tall body lanky and beautiful beneath the thick mass of dark Byronic curls that falls over his forehead. This is only the third night he's had Potter; Draco's still certain he's making a tit of himself in regards to his school nemesis. Or so Blaise told him bluntly when he'd first discovered Draco had buried himself balls deep in Gryffindor's favoured son. He'll never hear the end of it now, he's certain. Blaise doesn't care whom Draco takes to bed, or what they have between their legs; he'd grown up in his mother's rather scandalous household, after all, and there'd been rumours circling through Hogwarts that Blaise has Veela blood in his lineage. Even today, Draco doesn't know if that's entirely true. Any time he asks Blaise, he just gets an annoyed look from his friend and the subject gets changed.

Still, Draco had wanted Potter even back in school; he'll be damned if he's fool enough to turn the idiot down now. He'd been shocked when, two weeks past, Miles, his favourite waiter at Lyons Corner House in Piccadilly, had seated him beside Potter in the restaurant's so-called Lily Pond, a section of tables tucked away from the rest of the room where men of Draco's particular sexual appetites could have, as Miles put it, private conversations of a more intimate nature over a glass or two of Lyons' best wine. Whilst Draco had bedded more than one acquaintance from the Pond, it had been the last place he'd expected to see Potter, of all people. Gryffindor Golden Boy and the Pride of the Auror Force, sitting awkwardly among London's invert elite? It was as if all his schoolboy fantasies had come true in one fell swoop, and when Potter had eyed him up and down, with that smouldering emerald look that said he knew exactly what Draco wanted from him, well. Draco has never considered himself a saint. It'd taken him ten pounds on dinner and wine and less than an hour to get Potter back to Berkeley Square and into this very bed, discovering in the process Potter's extraordinary, very unexpected talent for cocksucking. Frankly, Draco considers it quite a solid investment.

Potter walks over to stand behind Draco, his hands settling heavy on Draco's hips. "Trouble sleeping again?" Potter's breath is warm against Draco's ear, and Draco shrugs and finishes his absinthe, letting Potter pluck the glass from his fingers and set it on the window casement. Draco can feel the liquor buzzing in his head, pleasant and warm.

"Bad dreams," Draco says, as dismissive as he can be, knowing Potter won't press him. Talking isn't something either of them engages in; they'd both rather rut against one another, immersing themselves in the glorious delights of the flesh. Who needs inane conversation when he can have that lovely, soft mouth of Potter's occupied in a far more pleasant task? And, if Draco's honest, they do tend to argue terribly still when they're not fucking, which rather dampens the mood.

Draco can see his own reflection in the window panes, can see Potter's hands as they part Draco's dressing gown and slide down the smooth stretch of his belly, down to the swell of his rising cock. He wonders idly if the couple in the street might look up, if they might see him standing here, leaning back against Potter whilst he strokes Draco to completion, if they might hear Draco as he cries out when his hot spunk spatters against the cold glass of the window, if they might send for the constable in horror. The world has changed greatly in the nine years since Victoria Regina's death, but not even society's loosening morals would be accepting of his particular perversions; he knows that full well. Still, there's something dangerously exciting about spending himself between Potter's legs, and the possibility of imprisonment for his perversion is more of an enticement than a deterrent, particularly given Potter's line of work. The thought catches his breath, and he turns his head, seeking Potter's mouth.

"Eager, are we, milord?" Potter asks into the kiss, his mouth curving against Draco's. Draco turns in his arms and pushes Potter back towards the bed, falling on him with a soft groan.

"No more than you, Inspector," Draco says, trailing his hand down Potter's muscular belly to where Potter's thick prick is waiting for him, hard again and wanting. Draco loses himself in the study of the other man's body, blocking out the dreams of blood and death with Potter's whispers of pleasure and ragged, begging breaths of want.

He shags Potter senseless against the ornately carved French headboard of his bed, Potter's oil-slicked thighs spread wide, his hands slipping across the damp skin of Draco's back. Potter is hot and tight, and Draco struggles for control as Potter bucks against him, his green eyes unfocussed, his mouth wet and gasping, feet pressing into the mattress. For the briefest of moments, Draco closes his eyes, willing his body to stay human, to keep the beast at bay. It's harder in moments like this, when he's so close to release, so detached from his mind. It'd been worse the first few times, after the change, when he hadn't expected the rush of lust, the need to claim, to lock his body with another's. He'd accidentally terrified a shag or two--not to mention himself--those first times when it happened; he still has a few small scars to remind him of their futile struggle to get away from him. Desperate to keep his secret, he'd Stunned them instead, letting them lie silent beneath him until he could free himself; once separated, he'd Obliviated them and sent them home, none the wiser about the night's activities. Since then he's taught himself to stay in control, to fight the primal pull of the beast with each press of his hips.

"Malfoy," Potter says, his voice tinged with desperation that makes Draco's cock twitch. Draco catches Potter's hips, holds them as he tries to argue the beast away.

Control, Draco tells himself, letting his body still. He can feel the throb of blood through his limbs, can smell the heady scent of Potter's need. You have to stay in control, you twat.

Draco doesn't want to to have to Obliviate Potter. He wants Potter to remember this night. To remember him. Draco draws in a slow breath, willing away that small swelling at the base of his prick. Desire curls deeper inside of him, tendrils sneaking their way across his flushed and sweaty skin; Draco's found the very act of holding the beast back intensifies his pleasure, particularly with a partner like Potter spread wide beneath him, rocking his arse against Draco's hips, his cock lying heavy and red and swollen across his belly.

He groans when Potter's nails dig into his shoulder blades, when Potter's teeth scrape across the length of his throat. He lifts Potter's arse off the bed, his hands gripping tight enough to leave bruises.

The base of his prick aches with the effort of holding himself back, of not burying himself in Potter's beautiful arse and staying there, locked together, their bodies shuddering with wanton delight until the frenzy of passion finally fades.

Potter's scrabbling at the headboard now, struggling for purchase as he rolls his hips against each of Draco's thrusts. He's beautiful like this, flushed and sweaty, lost in the pleasure of being fucked. His cock slaps against his belly, the wetness at the head smearing across his pale golden skin. He's muscle and sinew, hard against Draco's body, and this is exactly where Draco needs to be right now.

He gasps as Potter's arse tightens around him. Draco can't help himself. He reaches for Potter's prick and pulls, his mouth pressed open against the curve of Potter's neck, teeth pressed lightly against his skin.

"I--" Potter starts to choke out, and then spunk's spattering between them, coating Draco's hand, his own prick thrusting deeper into Potter with each stroke of his fingers across Potter's shaft. Potter's shuddering against Draco, crying out, and with one last jerk of his hips, Draco lets himself go, spilling himself inside Potter, his breath hot against Potter's ear.

They fall to the mattress. Draco, loath though he is to separate from Potter, slides out of him, rolling onto his back and staring up at the ceiling. His heart's still pounding, his body tingling. He wants to fall on Potter again and suck the spunk from his softening prick, lick the smears of it from his belly. He doesn't. Control, he reminds himself. Control is always necessary.

"Jesus," Potter says, after a moment, and Draco just laughs. He can't disagree. If there's one thing he and Potter both excel at, it's fucking. They may drive each other mad outside of bed, but here, with the sheets tangled beneath them, they fit perfectly, their bodies moving in just the right ways to bring them both to the brink of the little death.

Draco gets up and walks to the water carafe. He splashes some out onto a flannel folded next to it and cleans himself off. A bit more water, and he brings the flannel back to the bed, pushing Potter onto the pillows as he drags it across his belly and prick, then down between his thighs.

Potter looks at him with hooded eyes. "I don't think I can do another round," he says, and there's regret in his voice.

"Neither could I," Draco says, but he's lying. He wants Potter even now, his body already sated. It frightens him a bit, if he's honest, but Draco's quite good at lying even to himself, so he ignores that fluttery, uncertain feeling deep inside.

He tosses the flannel onto a side table and crawls back into bed. Potter's already beneath the sheets, and he rolls towards Draco, warm and sleepy. Draco lets him press against his side. He'll wake Potter in an hour or two, early enough to send him back to his flat for fresh clothing. Potter murmurs something against Draco's shoulder that Draco can't quite make out, but he doesn't care. He's tired himself, his mind finally free from the dream that had awakened him.

Draco closes his eyes and settles back against his pillow, Potter breathing softly beside him. He barely hears the howl of a wolf in the remnants of the night.

He sleeps.

***

The Squib is where they said he'd be, stumbling down a set of steps in front of a Brick Lane gambling house, half-pissed on cheap wine and unexpected luck.

Shadows conceal the Beast, his magic calling to them, blending them into the dark grey of his cloak. He lives between worlds, the voices in his head always whispering, always buzzing. There are things he can recall, things he once was, but they're gone now, overwhelmed by those quiet, insistent words, remaking him, renewing him, recreating him into a stronger creature. Harsher. More likely to survive.

This is what he asked for, what he wanted. A burden taken on willingly, a voice murmurs, drifting through his mind. It's been so many years that he's carried this load, though.

He used to be something else before. He scarcely remembers that life now; he's been the Beast so very long. He's old and tired, and his bones ache in this barely new century with its electric lights and motorcars, but there were once summers in the country and winter hols skating along the curves of a river in Bavaria. He had a family then, he thinks. Friends. He remembers a warm laugh and gentle brown eyes. The flash of ginger hair in the sunlight and the ripple of golden ringlets caught by the wind. Angry words and then a body falling, falling, striking the ground with a dull thud and shouts echoing in his ears. That memory hurts him, sudden and clenched in his chest, and for a moment he can't breathe. He balls his fists by his sides, sharp fingernails digging into his palm. When he looks down, there are drops of red on his hands. He wipes them away, but the scent's in his nose now, making his mind hum with anticipation. His mouth waters. He wants it all again, the feel of flesh ripping beneath his teeth, the satisfaction of a life pumping away, the taste of blood.

An uneven breath, then another, and the lust settles. The voices lead him, as they always do, one more insistent. The words are foreign to his ear, and yet so close to his mother tongue. He understands them, though, knows what they require of him.

He steps into the glow of the street lamp and lets the shadows slide from him. They twist away from the light with the faintest whisper of complaint, disappearing back into the darkness.

"Oh," the Squib says, and he stops and blinks up at the Beast. There's fear in his eyes, but an eagerness as well. He looks the Beast up and down, then licks his bottom lip. The Beast can smell his uncertainty. "The note? It said you'd find me..." He trails off. The street is silent around them. The voices are keeping the people at bay. Drink, they whisper to some; others they tell to sleep or to fuck or to stay inside where it's warm and safe.

The Beast nods. "Yes," he says in a voice like the metallic rasp of a key in a rusted lock. He doesn't care to speak often, not any more. He places a hand against the Squib's chest, his long, curved fingernails pressing into the brocade of the Squib's waistcoat. He can feel the accelerated beat of the Squib's heart beneath his palm, the solid, steady tempo of life that he wants to crush in his fist, watching as it seeps through his fingertips. This won't work; he's already told them that, but they claim to know better than him. The voices tell him differently. Two Muggles down, and now they've moved to a Squib in the hopes that his body will be a better vessel for the Beast's lycanthropy. The voices recede, their whispers telling him that this turning is futile.

"I'm ready," the Squib says. He reaches for his cravat, but the Beast knocks his hand away. A growl rumbles in the back of his throat, and the Squib flinches. His fear is delicious, hot and savoury in the Beast's nostrils. He pushes the Squib's head to one side; the pulse of blood along his throat excites the Beast, deep in his belly. He can feel the first shiver of the change ripple through him, the voices twisting through his mind in a frenzy, urging him to bite, to rip, to destroy.

For a moment, he expects the Squib to flee, footsteps pounding across the paving stones. He wants it, wants to chase his prey, to hunt him down, to tear him open, hot blood spraying across his face. His body tenses, his hands curl, fingers lengthening, turning, tawny hair covering the claws that dig into the Squib's flesh. He can smell the Squib, the stink of ale and tobacco on his breath, the reek of his stale sweat. The Beast fights for control of his body, shuddering with pain as his shoulders expand, his neck thickens, his teeth push through his gums, sharp and hard. He feels invincible, powerful, the way he was promised when he first took this burden on. Joy spills through him--this was what he was meant for, what he was destined to be.

"Say it," he snarls, his voice nearly swallowed by a guttural roar.

The Squib's eyes gleam in the lamplight, narrow and piggish, already shadowed. "I take this duty willingly," he gasps out, pressed against the Beast's side. "Please--"

He cries out when the Beast's teeth tear into his skin, his hands twisting in the Beast's cloak, his body jerking once, then twice.

The Beast lets the Squib fall to the street, blood streaming from the wound in his throat. He waits, watching the man writhe at his feet, his fingers scrabbling at the ragged flesh, choking on the thick scarlet wetness that begins to trickle from his mouth. The Beast steps closer and squats beside the man. It takes all his strength to keep his bloodlust in check. He clenches his hands, shoulders tight and hard. Another breath, then another. Waiting to see if the voices were wrong. They seldom are.

The Squib arches, his entire back coming off the paving stones, eyes wide and horrified. "No--" He grabs his throat with one hand, his fingers sinking into the wound, pulling at it, tearing it wider. His words dissolve into gurgles as his other hand digs into his belly, fingers ripping through the thick waistcoat, pressing into his skin. The Beast watches, a faint disappointment rising. Perhaps it's for the best he'd turned those two children six, seven weeks past. Their bodies had taken the change eagerly, their magic drinking in the wolf magic, just as the voices had told him they would. The others never bothered to listen though. Once they had, but now they think of him as a liability, a withering mind needing to be replaced.

Perhaps they're not wrong.

With a wet, sucking pop, the Squib's belly explodes, skin splitting, organs spilling over green brocade. Blood sprays through the air, glimmering like tiny rubies in the light from the street lamp. The Beast leans into it, letting it fall against his skin, a warm spatter of crimson rain on his face that he breathes in, a rush of contentment going through him. The voices were right, as always.

The Squib stills.

Pity, though, the Beast thinks as he drags the limp body into the alley. They had hoped this one might have promise.

He sniffs the air, smells the scents of dawn. The night sky has lightened; pale pink streaks are on the horizon. The change is settling again, his bones and sinews shifting back, a deep weariness pushing down on his shoulders. He looks down at the mangled corpse at his feet and growls.

Perhaps next time.

***

As he threads his way down the dank alleys of the East End, Harry Potter finds his mind drifting back to the night before and his delicious debauchery with his arrogant, aristocratic school rival. Mi-bloody-lord Malfoy had outdone himself this time. Perhaps it was the black-market potion Malfoy took with his absinthe which Harry wasn't supposed to remark upon, but three times in one night was a record for Harry's conquests, even from ten years ago. This close to thirty, he wasn't that young anymore. His arse is still uncomfortably, yet pleasantly, sore, despite the usual remedies and herbal creams. With a faint smile, Harry straightens his cuffs and gives a careful tug to his blood-red waistcoat. He'd barely had time to arrive home and change for work before Kingsley had firecalled the flat, demanding his and Ron's presence in Brick Lane. The murder scene must be horrible, if the grim scowls of the on-duty constables are any gauge. Harry tamps down his more vivid memories of the night before and puts his policing face on.

The tight knot of uniforms begins at the pavement well before the actual corpse. In Harry's experience, this is never a good sign. Ron holds back the Auror team in their charcoal and red overcoats, letting Harry step towards the Muggle force alone. No sense in setting the constabulary at any more unease than they already are. Scotland Yard never enjoys the cases that require Auror oversight.

With a displeased nod towards Ron and a curt Inspector thrown Harry's way, Farthingham from the Brick Lane Station pulls Harry into the middle of the scrum, and several blue-suited forms shuffle to the side, making room. In their midst, a suited body lies prone on the paving stones in extreme rigor mortis, its abdomen burst and fluid leaking on the pavement.

Listening to the terse comments of his Muggle counterpart, Harry allows his eyes to adjust to the dim of the alley. The body was discovered at daybreak, and no one heard the altercation, although two streets over had reported a feral dog to the night watch. Harry takes in the rich tailored silk at the victim's throat, the weight of the wool in a bespoke cuff, the fine leather of the gloves and shoes. A watch chain hangs from the pocket of the waistcoat, the winding knob of the watch itself barely visible.

Not a rentboy killing, then, Harry thinks. Or a robbery gone wrong, judging by the pocket watch. But how did this gentleman end up dead on a filthy East London street? And in such a fashion?

The body is in terrible shape: the face is swollen, tongue distended and purple, and the nostrils and mouth are ash white and flecked with bloody foam. Black veins are visible on victim's neck and at the temples. Harry motions towards Ron, not even bothering to see if he steps forward. Harry knows he will. There is a large bite on the victim's upper neck, where the shirt is curiously unbuttoned. The legs are twisted in an unnatural manner which, combining with the trail of fluid, suggests that the body had been dragged across the street. Along the pale throat Harry recognizes unusual teeth marks and a few slashes, possibly left by claws. The wounds certainly aren't the cleft of stab wounds or narrow gouges of human fingernails. He stops short of examining the profusion of pink and bile on the paving stones, already gnawed by enterprising dogs. Padma will have to do the rest.

"What do you think, Inspector Potter?" Farthingham asks, breaking Harry's reverie.

Ron whispers in his ear, "Harry, we need to start working the scene."

Harry stops cataloging the details for the present. He doesn't need further diagnostics to know this isn't a mundane murder. Whether the handiwork of creature or madman, it reeks of magic.

"We'll take this off your hands, Farthingham," he says, and he's not entirely sure whether the flicker of emotion that crosses the other man's face is annoyance or relief. Probably a mixture of both, if he had to guess. Scotland Yard may resent the Auror force, but at least it clears them of impossible cases. "If you'd be so kind to have your gentlemen let the rest of our group through."

The mass of blue moves back reluctantly and is replaced by a smaller group of muted reds and charcoals. This is Auror business now, and Harry's heart beats with the rush of the chase. He orders Ron and Dawlish to follow the tracks as far back as the evidence allows. Sweeping up her skirt to avoid the blood, Padma comes in to survey the scene with Harry, much to the displeasure and criticism of the Muggle constabulary who, despite their snide remarks about the place of women and foreigners, can't seem to take their eyes off Padma's trim, booted ankles when she calmly flips her pin-tucked petticoats up to step over the sprawled, blood-soaked legs, avoiding the pools of bodily fluid on the paving stones.

Ignoring the rumble of mutters, Padma and Harry take turns cataloguing the information whilst Baddock records it in his neat script on a Muggle-style ledger. They've learnt just how far they can stretch the imaginations of their counterparts, and the traditional quills and parchment rolls are too much. No one blinks an eye if the pen keeps writing without the nib being dipped or ink refilled, however.

"Harry, could you give me a Specialis Revelio and a Conspectus?" Padma asks quietly, glancing up from her inspection of the ripped torso. The single black ostrich feather from the sedate hat tilted over her thick pompadour brushes against her cheek. She blows it away with an annoyed huff.

With stiff lips, Harry mutters the first spell, eyes locked to the side of the scene. He purposely doesn't pay attention to the results whilst Padma breathes out a small, surprised oh and looks a bit closer, eyes narrowing. He's the only of his team who can reliably cast wandlessly, one of the reasons Kingsley prefers him for Muggle liaising. His upbringing among Muggles is another. As a part of his Auror training, Harry even went undercover as a Muggle recruit in the Metropolitan Police to learn the process from the ground up. Farthingham had been in his cohort back then. He'd liked the bastard, rather a lot. Their friendship had only shifted when Farthingham had climbed further up the Scotland Yard ladder and learnt Harry was one of that sort, the odd group of men and women who took on the more curious cases.

Harry prepares for the second incantation, but before he can utter the Conspectus, the roar of a motorcar echoes through the quiet street. Harry looks up with a frown as the crowds of constables and Aurors draws back, the few horses on carts whinnying nervously under the anxious grips of their handlers. Harry doesn't care for automobiles; he finds them loud and grating and ridiculously dangerous. It's a broom for him or a Floo or Apparition, please. Tradition, not flash, and less likely to spook the horse-drawn carriages that, even a decade after the turn of the century, still share London's streets.

A sleek, open-air green Daimler with glistening spoked wheels and bright, round headlights rumbles towards them. A hefty man in a brown coat and wide goggles sits on the high, tufted leather front seat behind the windscreen, his dark hair flapping in the breeze beneath the brim of his tweed motoring cap. Harry's heart sinks when he recognises him. With each blare of its horn, lamp posts and buildings jump out of the motorcar's way, none of the Muggles the wiser. It rolls to a stop a few feet away from Harry, and a familiar, tall, blond figure steps out of the back and shrugs off his linen duster off, handing it, along with a grey felt trilby and his own pair of goggles to the driver.

Fuck, fucking fuck, Harry thinks, his whole body tensing. It's as if the bloody universe itself hates him.

"Thank you, Greg," the Viscount Malfoy says, smoothing back the long forelock that's fallen into his face. Ron swears beneath his breath; Harry can't blame him, even if Padma's nearby. Not that he'd say the latter part aloud, mind. Somehow Hermione'd find out, and he'd never hear the end of it. Ron's learnt most of his most colourful swears from her anyway.

"What the bloody hell is he doing here?" Padma says, voice sharp and carrying.

Harry privately wonders the same, his cheeks reddening with suppressed fury.

The Viscount Malfoy's mouth twitches in amusement. He smoothes down the front of his charcoal sack coat with gloved hands and straightens his tie, a narrow strip of dark grey silk knotted four-in-hand. Harry frowns and casts an eye to the constabulary, who're still goggling at the motorcar. It does provide a decent distraction, he'll grant milord that. Heaven knows he can use a preoccupied audience at the moment; this was not exactly where he planned their reunion.

"Healer Patil." Malfoy bows in her direction. "Bringing beauty to a dismal scene as always."

Padma rolls her eyes. "Milord. How very lovely to see your Grace in our unworthy midst."

"I'm terribly afraid I've only been granted Excellency for the nonce," Malfoy shoots back with a warm smile that makes Harry's stomach flip over. Baddock chews on the end of his pen, glancing back and forth nervously between Padma and Malfoy. "Unless, of course, our new king should choose to elevate Father's standing at court." He tilts his head, eyebrow raised. "Although I suspect that will have to wait until after our dear monarch's coronation, whenever that may be. Nineteen-ten has been a rather difficult annus for the country, has it not?"

"Poncy prat," Ron says under his breath, and Harry concurs. Although, honestly, the last thing he needs at the moment is for Ron to annoy a lord of the peerage and future member of the Wizengamot, much less one who just shagged Harry rotten last night. Harry shudders to think what might be revealed if Malfoy's temper is aroused, although he finds his own rising further with Malfoy's intrusion on his work.

Still, with the possibility of his making Deputy Head Auror on the line, Kingsley's already warned Harry to keep his nose exceptionally clean this year. There are those in Fudge's Ministry who think him too young for the position as it is, and Harry doesn't want to give them any further hesitation about his fitness for higher office. He's sure they'd have his warrant card if they knew of his private habits of enthusiastic sodomy with debauched aristocrats. Instead of answering Ron, Harry turns back to the savagely ruptured corpse, keeping his voice as flat and neutral as possible. "I suppose you're here to see the body, Lord Malfoy."

No one quite knows why Kingsley's allowed Malfoy to work cheek-by-jowl with the Aurors lately. The gossip in Auror headquarters has it that the viscount must have something to hold over the Head Auror. There have even been rumours of an intimate friendship between Kingsley and Malfoy's widowed aunt, Andromeda, to which the Head Auror refuses to lend credence. Malfoy hasn't confirmed it in his clandestine meetings with Harry, and, honestly neither one of them was really much interested in talking anyhow, but Harry has his suspicions. Then again, he's in no position to throw stones at the moment. He can't afford being the focus of the whirlwind of whispers surrounding Malfoy, although he richly deserves it.

Even in the face of violent protestations from the force, Kingsley continues to point out that Malfoy--who already holds a post-Hogwarts First in Greats from Oxford, as the viscount had pompously informed Harry during their first dinner at the Pond--recently finished a course of study at the University of Lausanne under Archibald Reiss, learning wizarding techniques for modern criminologists. It doesn't matter. None of the Aurors care for Lord Malfoy, who's known about the office as "the posh git."

Watching Malfoy walk towards him, Harry suddenly remembers the viscount of his Hogwarts youth, squirmy and pale and pointy-faced, always sneering at Harry and his friends. Harry's previous best (or rather, non-naked) memory of Malfoy from his school days was of Hermione punching the snotty-nosed viscount in the face. She'd nearly been sent down for it, but she'd sworn afterwards it'd been worth three months detention with McGonagall. Frankly, Harry thinks it couldn't have been that bad; she'd been seen more than once eating cream puffs with the Deputy Headmistress instead of studying or polishing the trophy cases. Malfoy hadn't been well loved among the non-Slytherin faculty or the students, for all that his father, the marquess of Avebury, was a governor of Hogwarts.

At Harry's nod, the Aurors pull back to allow Viscount Malfoy closer access to the body. Harry finds himself standing shoulder to shoulder with his new lover in front of his colleagues. Malfoy squats down to look at the carnage, blond forelock flopping into his inscrutable face. He draws off his gloves, handing them to Greg, who silently disappears back into the throng of Aurors. Malfoy pulls a pen from the pocket of his coat and uses it to lift up a flap of ripped skin above the sternum. Blood drips down the barrel onto the tip of his thumb. He wipes it away with a crisp white handkerchief, wrapping the pen in the linen before tucking the crimson-stained square back in his pocket. Harry wants him then and there, on the paving stones, in the alley, anywhere that Malfoy should demand. The intensity of it makes him quake with trepidation and longing alike. That realisation only irritates Harry more. He doesn't like the way he feels around Malfoy, doesn't like the way he loses control. He's always been so damned careful about this side of him, the bent Harry, the one he keeps tucked away, only to be brought out when the curtains are safely drawn. And now Malfoy's here, his very presence threatening to throw them open, to reveal Harry for the invert he is. To be bluntly honest, right now, Harry'd just like to hit him, hard and repeatedly. He pushes that urge away, too.

"Not a human attacker," Malfoy says after a long moment, eyes darting up to Harry's.

Harry isn't surprised to hear Malfoy uttering his own thoughts. He knew the bastard would be clever enough to see the bite radius and the claw marks. "Perhaps. Although that wound's not what he died of exactly, is it?" Harry's astonishment at the situation causes him to neglect etiquette and speak bluntly in public to Malfoy as he would to Ron or another member of the Aurors. His lack of manners doesn't seem to alert anyone else's suspicions.

Malfoy just frowns back down at the body, studying it as if committing it to memory. "A Muggle didn't cause this butchery. Nor any of the non-magical creatures of London. Wizard?"

"There's no magical signature detected," Harry says.

"As of yet." Malfoy taps his fingers against his thighs. His frown deepens, and Harry's annoyance flares up again.

"An enormous dog, perhaps," Harry begins to say, but at Malfoy's incredulous look he stops. "Those do resemble flesh wounds made by canines."

"Not a Grim, though. They tend to paralyse their victims. More perimortem rigour, less blood."

Harry meets Malfoy's thoughtful, grey gaze. He scowls, but admits the point. "Agreed." He doesn't think it's a dog either. Not a normal one, nor a supernatural one.

Malfoy turns back to the body. He passes a hand over the distorted face, almost as if he's casting a spell. Harry watches him, heart pounding in his throat. He knows Malfoy's not registered for wandless magic, so he's more than a bit curious, although he's not about to ask here.

Malfoy drops his hand, steadying himself against the paving stones. "Perhaps lupine."

"Perhaps," Harry says. A breeze ruffles his hair. It's still cool in the mornings, even though it's June. Not cold enough, though, for the shiver that runs through him. He'd rather it be an animal, not what Malfoy's suggesting. He'd also rather Malfoy weren't here. He'd rather he fuck off and stop playing the dilettante detective. Too much bloody Conan Doyle, Harry thinks. He's seen the damned books on Malfoy's bedside table.

Malfoy exchanges a long glance with him, one that Harry can feel burning across the entirety of his body, then stands and looks back over his shoulder at the other Aurors. "Have you said anything to the others?"

The question makes Harry bristle, particularly given the double meaning. "I'm afraid this is Auror business, Lord Malfoy. I'll say what I wish to my team--"

"Don't." Malfoy brushes invisible dirt from his palms. "As I recall, your lot hasn't done well with the past two attacks, or so the Daily Prophet would like to remind us all in its headlines."

Harry's face flushes with anger again, a welcome distraction to the pounding of blood in his loins. Malfoy will be the death of him. "It's only been two months. And the Prophet's only a broadsheet, after all. It's not quite factual, the gossip they spread." Harry's had his own run-ins with the poison pen of Miss Rita Skeeter, outspoken critic of the Auror force and of Harry in particular. She simply adores the Viscount Malfoy, however, brushing aside even Malfoy's most scandalous affairs--like the alleged one with singer Celestina Warbeck, nearly twice his age. Harry dreads to think what she'd make of the viscount's current dalliance.

Malfoy just tuts quietly, circling the body. "It's gaining in respect. Besides, the public doesn't like madmen roaming the streets, Inspector Potter. Puts them off their dinner, and, really, the papers do love whipping us all up into a proper righteous outrage. Or didn't the Aurors learn from the Ripper?" He looks over at Harry, a small frown twisting his thin lips. "Couldn't hide that one from the Muggle world, nor could the force track him down. And that was even before the modern popularity of newsprint. Imagine what a spectacle that would be today."

"It's been twenty-two years," Harry says in a casual tone, although his stomach tenses. He was only eight when the Ripper was cutting his swathe through these very streets in the East End, but he remembers the panic and fear that had reached even into the safe albeit harsh confines of his aunt and uncle's Muggle house in Surrey. It'd only been in his Hogwarts years that he'd learned the murders might've been magical in nature; he'd spent most of his Auror training studying the case and where the Aurors had gone wrong. He can feel the Aurors behind him, shifting from foot to foot, curious as to what they're saying but too well-trained to listen in. "Our policing methods have changed."

"Have they?" Malfoy pats his pocket, as if feeling for his pen. His mouth is a sardonic curve, and Harry wants to knock that smirk off his face. "Well, I suppose in certain ways." He turns to Padma, stepping towards her and away from Harry, who's disturbed to find himself annoyed by the move. "Have you recorded Conspectus yet?"

Harry answers instead. "Not as yet. I was about to when your motorcar arrived on the scene." He focuses back on the task at hand, ignoring Malfoy's raised eyebrow. "I suppose I'd better before more time passes."

Without waiting for Malfoy's answering mutter, Harry composes himself and casts a wandless Conspectus. It's not complicated, exactly, but it does take a bit of focus as an Auror-level spell.

Malfoy lets out a low whistle and, when Harry glances over, he gives him an approving nod. Harry tries not to let it go to his head, but he has a slight flare of irrational pleasure that he's impressed Malfoy. The odd touch of sentiment unsettles him. He reminds himself that Malfoy is trespassing on his scene, and that even in their private moments, he's only receptive flesh to the viscount, nothing more. That thought annoys him, and he frowns down at the body, his irritation at Malfoy suddenly back again.

To his relief, Harry's soon lost in the traces that he, Padma, and to his surprise, Malfoy read off for the record. Padma's the quickest in finding the new evidence, but Harry and Malfoy go neck in neck in uncovering additional items of interest. Between them, Baddock's pen never leaving paper, they note several sticky footprints, a patch of pale hair caught in the brickwork of the neighbouring building, more traces of fluid leading into the alley, and a new, tiny piece of fabric that seems connected but is an odd grey-ish color. It is indubitably stained with blood, however, linking it back to the scene at hand.

When Harry straightens up from the alley, his neck stiff, he realises that the light is at least that of the noonday sun. They've been crouched among the refuse for over an hour, gathering the traces. Malfoy is still there, one pace away, surveying the dank scene in front of them.

"I think we should stop for lunch," Harry says. Malfoy hums, but doesn't move. He's looking at some sort of fluid on a pile of dirty stone.

"I say," Harry says a bit more loudly. "Perhaps we should stop for lunch."

Malfoy doesn't move until his driver comes up behind him and reaches out, grasping Malfoy's shoulder. The grey eyes blink slowly, coming back to the faces looking at him. "Sorry. What?"

"Lunch, Draco." Greg looks at Harry. "You have to shake him out of it. It's really the only way."

"Right." Harry watches, bemused as Malfoy pushes himself to his feet, hands on his back, stretching. "Thanks…" He stops, uncertain what to call the behemoth of a man in public, particularly given that he's not supposed to know him.

"Goyle," the man answers, his expression placid, though Harry catches the gleam of amusement in his eyes. "Gregory Goyle. We went to school together."

"Oh. Yes." Harry is grateful for Greg's playing along that they've just met and not crossed paths in Berkeley Square at Malfoy's townhouse. Greg'd been part of the circle around Malfoy at school, tightly formed, and as Harry eyes the broad shoulders and firm jaw of the man in front of him, he can see traces of the younger Goyle. There's far more muscle than fat now on his large frame, and despite his low brow and obviously once-broken nose, there's also something oddly attractive about his flat, square face. When Harry'd first seen Greg again, the week before last, he'd been reminded of the bits of rough to be picked up from time to time in certain specialised Muggle clubs hidden away behind closed London doors. "My appreciation, Mr Goyle."

Once set in motion by Greg's familiar grasp, Malfoy beats a hasty retreat to his motorcar, perfunctorily thanking the assembled Aurors but clearly still absorbed in thought. Greg strides cautiously behind, yet still manages to reach the door of the Daimler ahead of Malfoy, who pauses on the motorcar's wide running board, halfway to climbing into the mechanical beast's enormous seats.

"Healer Patil, a copy of your reports would be most appreciated. You're acquainted with Healer Zabini at St Mungo's, I'm certain?" At her slight nod, Malfoy smiles. "He'd be more than happy to pass them along."

His eyes find Harry's, and his smile widens into a dangerous flash of white teeth. "Inspector Potter, a pleasure as always. I'll be in touch, of course." He touches his coat pocket again. "Perhaps with some information of my own." He swings himself into the back seat of the Daimler, hand raised in farewell, as Greg cranks the engine with a discreet flick of a wand. It roars into life, carrying Malfoy as far from Harry as possible, or so he hopes. He could cheerful go for Malfoy's throat at the moment, especially after the double entendre of his parting words.

"I don't trust that posh arsehole," Ron says from Harry's shoulder. "Reckon you shouldn't either."

Harry watches blankly as the motorcar rounds the corner, a post box skittering out of its way. He wonders how much his oldest friend has picked up from this far-too public interaction between himself and his lover. He's done his best to keep his sexual activities away from Ron's attention. Hermione knows, thanks to a drunken conversation that Harry regrets bitterly, but she'd promised to keep his secret. Harry thinks she has; Ron's never said anything to him about it, much to Harry's relief. He doesn't want anyone to know about his perversions. "Wise words, I'm sure." He returns to his team. "Half-hour for lunch, lads." At Padma's cleared throat, he adds, "and Padma."

"I'll send the body to the morgue," Padma says, "if you'll spare me a man or two for a moment."

Ron nods. "Fair enough. "Goldstein and Tyburn'll do?"

When Ron looks away, Harry leans against the wall of the alley, ridiculously grateful that he didn't provoke a fight or worse in front of his colleagues. His double life can't be lived in public, and Malfoy had come dangerously close to connecting more than Harry wants to have joined. He'll have to have that out with him. And soon, damn it. He's not looking forward to that particular conversation.

Watching as his Aurors help Padma weave the preservation spells around the body, Harry doesn't want to admit it, but he's certain Malfoy's right. This wasn't the work of a dog. Or a human.

A cloud passes over the sun, sending shadows lengthening across the paving stones.

The back of Harry's neck prickles, and he has a sudden, uncanny feeling as if he's being watched from the shadows of the alley, but when he pivots on one booted heel, eyes searching the dark corners, no one's there.

He tugs at his gloves, frowning. "I'll find you," he murmurs. For a moment, he thinks he hears the barest rumble of a growl, carried on the breeze.

Unsettled, he turns away. There's work to be done, and a viscount who requires a good bollocking.

Still, he can't help thinking there's something lurking. Waiting. Biding its time.

"Harry?" Ron says from the top of the alley, breaking the moment's spell. "Ready?"

Harry's not so certain he is.

***

When Draco opens the door to a bedraggled and furious Inspector Harry Potter, he somehow isn't surprised. The rain had come on late in the afternoon, and Potter must have been outside without a mackintosh.

"Come in and get dry, Potter. There's tea in the library." Draco sees cold annoyance in the pinched lines of Potter's face, and also an apparently unwilling desire in the flush of his high colouring. Interesting. He closes the door behind them and strides towards the library, expecting Potter to follow him.

"I'm not actually paying a social call, milord. What the bloody devil were you thinking, coming to my crime scene like that?" Potter's dripping onto the parquet of the entryway. Draco stops, looking back at him. Potter looks delectable, wet and dishevelled, dark curls plastered to his damp cheek. Honestly, Draco wants to strip him here and suck the rain off of his skin, but that wouldn't do with the street just outside. Or perhaps it would - the moon is close and Draco can feel it peeling away what tatters of civil behaviour he has left.

"I wasn't aware it was your crime scene," Draco says, looking back at Potter. "Unless you have a deed from the City of London, of course, granting you sole access to that particular alleyway."

Potter scowls at him. "Sod off, you pointy bastard." Rain drips into his face, droplets spattered across his round glasses. "You know exactly what I mean. You had no damned right to be there, harassing me like that."

Draco quirks a smile at the evidence of Potter's filthy mood. He's always appreciated Potter's temper and the way it makes his green eyes darker. Of course he'll deny it with his dying breath, but he'd passed most of their school days tweaking the prat, hoping to raise his ire for the very fact that Draco finds an irritated Potter undeniably attractive. Most of his fifth year had been spent wanking to fantasies of Potter shouting at him, but Draco's come to terms with his erotic peccadilloes, with much gratitude to his illuminating conversations with Professor Freud. He crosses his arms, leaning against the fluted marble door frame. "Oh, I see. Have you come to apprehend me, then?"

Potter visibly bristles at Draco's presumption. He steps forward menacingly, fists balled at his side. "This isn't a joke, Lord Malfoy. I'm up for Deputy Head Auror this year, and Kingsley says they're looking for any excuse not to let me advance."

My, but he isn't half-delicious when he's furious, Draco thinks.

Out loud, Draco pretends to consider for a moment. "I don't think I've ever had one of those before. What do they taste like?" He knows he's baiting Potter, but it's too exquisite to stop, especially as the flush rises on his neck and his lips grow red and his green eyes bright with rage.

Potter presses him up against the door frame, mouth inches from Draco's collar. "Milord, I assure you, I'm in bitter earnest. There's no room for inversion, not even on the twentieth century Auror force. We're not that radical."

Draco leans in then, his lips brushing the shell of Potter's ear. "There's always room for inversion, Potter. As I recall, your arse had plenty of room for it last night. Three times even." When Potter punches him in the gut, Draco isn't surprised at all. Potter is a man of action, not words; Draco's not entirely certain the twat knows how to string them into a coherent sentence. He is, however, surprised that he enjoys the pain as much as he does. Well. That, he thinks, is new and unexpected. Exhaling, hair in his face, Draco rubs the spot for a moment. It's tender and sore; he suspects it'll bruise for a bit before fading, and it perturbs him how much he likes the idea of being marked even temporarily by Potter, who has stepped back and now looks uncertain whether to flee or to carry on.

"I suppose I deserved that," Draco admits, straightening up.

"I'm sorry, milord." Potter looks anything but sorry. As much as Draco half-wishes he'd hit him again, Potter looks like he wants to.

"I'm not," Draco says. "Sorry, of course. You're absolutely magnificent with your bum in the air, even if you are a bit of a prig in public."

Potter runs a hand through that lovely dark tumble of curls, distraught in his anger. "Merlin, what have I done? Of course you wouldn't understand what it is to be compelled to work for a living."

It's Draco's turn to be coldly furious. "I may not understand, Potter, what bedevils an Inspector such as yourself, but I very well do know what an honest day's work is. My father cut me off for a time after Oxford."

"Oh, heaven forfend. Were you forced to live off of investment income?" Potter doesn't roll his eyes, but it's a near thing.

"Dragon keeping wasn't terribly lucrative, but it kept a roof over my head until I was summoned home." Draco is irrationally proud of the time he spent in Hungary, and not only for the occasion it afforded of learning the joys of physical exercise as well as liberal doses of fellatio and fresh air. Dragon keepers are a friendly lot, and they share willingly. Cold showers or the smell of straw give him a terrible hard-on, even now. "A few bad burns on my side that the Healer's salve couldn't entirely mend, but I've never regretted the experience."

"I thought those must have been from a potions accident," Potter saying, lifting a grazed fist to his mouth. His temper's fading into unwilling interest.

Draco knows he has the upper hand now. Potter's curiosity about Draco often trumps his irritation. He points in turn to his side and back, "Liondragon. Horntail. Ironbelly--that one smarted for months."

"Oh." Potter is awkward in the foyer now, no longer enraged but still stubborn as a mule. Draco can see it in the uneasy twist of his mouth. He's looking down at the floor as though it contained vipers. "I hate to ask, but how in the world did you come to be keeping dragons?"

"In the way that all great stories begin," Draco says. "I met a boy. I shagged a boy. He kept dragons." It's much more complicated than that, really, but he's fairly certain Potter's not ready to hear about how his father shut the wards to the Manor on him and closed off his access to the Gringotts account not long after his mother's death. Draco supposes he doesn't quite blame Lucius; matricide by way of lycanthropy doesn't quite endear a son to his father, particularly when he's always been quite the filial disappointment. Draco'd run for the Continent afterwards, and he'd always be grateful for those weeks spent with Vilmos and his herd.

He sighs. "Listen, would you like to hit me again and then come in to have a wet? I left some very good scones and a fresh pot of Lapsang Souchong behind, and I'm eager to return." Draco searches for a glimmer of agreeability in Potter's posture.

He gets something else entirely.

"You're a strange one, you know," Potter says, his voice quiet. He looks over at Draco. "I don't quite know what to make of you. You drive me mad, and then I…." Potter huffs, almost a laugh, and he looks away again, his brow furrowed. "Christ."

Draco feels strangely unsettled. Potter does this to him; he always has, but it's stronger now that they're older. He's always supposed that it was just lust. Now he's not so certain. He'd honestly thought that after their first, brilliant shag, this would be over. Potter was just an itch to be scratched, one night of pleasure. He hadn't meant to bed him again and then again. Draco's never done a proper relationship; he supposes Vilmos is the closest he's ever had. He fucks someone once, perhaps twice, but never more than that, unless he's paying them. He should tell Potter to leave, that whatever this is between them is done.

He find that he can't, he's trapped by Potter, by his need for Potter's hands on his hips, Potter's mouth against his skin. "You should leave," Draco says, but he's not certain he wants Potter to go.

Potter knows. There's a spark in his deep green eyes, a slight narrowing that sends a shiver through Draco's body. "I should."

"Yes," Draco manages, but he doesn't move towards the door. He stays still, his back against the wall. His throat's tight; he can smell the arousal rolling off Potter in waves. It's just this between the two of them, he thinks. Some desperate need of his to be touched that only Potter can do properly. He swallows, his eyes fixed on Potter's. "Leave." The word's barely a whisper.

"I will." Potter's bruised knuckles graze Draco's cheek, and Draco's breath catches. "In a minute."

Draco licks his bottom lip. Potter's thumb drags across Draco's wet mouth, and Draco nips at it. "All right," he says against Potter's calloused skin.

And then Potter drops to his knees, his plush mouth inches from Draco's prick through a layer of wool. Dark lashes thick behind his round spectacles, Potter looks up. "May I?"

Draco is blindingly hard in an instant, his stiff length brushing Potter's cheek as Potter noses against his hip. This is mad, and Draco knows it. He can't stop himself; he wants Potter too damned badly. At least his Great-great-great Grandmother Althea's sleeping in her portrait frame across the foyer. She'd be terribly scandalised, Draco thinks. And then Potter licks his bottom lip, and any self-control Draco might have disappears.

"By all means," he says, the words nearly catching in the back of his throat.

This is how Draco finds himself braced against the wall in his own foyer with his trousers around his ankles and the wizarding world's finest Auror sucking his cock for all he is worth. Reaching to stroke the hollowed cheek and thick curls of his once-rival, Draco marvels that some things don't fade with age but rather improve. Spilling oneself down the throat of Harry Potter must be ranked among those rare pleasures that time cannot spoil.

Control, he reminds himself, the base of his prick aching to pop, to fill Potter's mouth. He breathes out, his body tensing, until he hears a faint tread of boots on the stairs. For a moment Draco worries that they might be interrupted, but if Greg can see them, he's too discreet to make his presence fully known.

And then Draco's past all caring, climaxing in a speechless flash of brilliance with Potter swallowing around him the entire time, Draco's body curling forward, his fingers digging into Potter's shoulders as he cries out.

Potter pulls away slowly, his thick lips wet with spit and spunk. Draco can barely stand upright; he's grateful for the wall to slump against and Potter's hands gripping his hips, keeping him on his feet.

"Well," Draco says after a moment. His lip stings from where he's bitten it, and he can taste the faint tang of blood. He drags a hand across his mouth, wiping it away. His heart is pounding against his chest walls, an angry, primal call, and he wants nothing more than to push Potter to the floor, bending him over and fucking him hard and fast, two animals in wretched heat, unable to control themselves. He can't, Draco knows that full well. There are still ways in which he must hold himself back, keep himself in check. It's been years since Draco's given in to that baser instinct, the one that urges him to take, to maul, to conquer. He draws in a ragged breath, his cock swelling slightly as he looks down at Potter, still on his knees. Potter turns his head, presses his mouth to the still-red, still-wet tip of Draco's prick, and Draco groans.

"You'll be the death of me," he says, his fingers smoothing Potter's hair back from his temple.

Potter gives him a lazy smile. "Maybe that's my goal."

Draco pulls Potter to his feet, tugging him closer. He doesn't even give a damn that his flies are still wide open. "Murder by orgasm?" he murmurs against Potter's jaw. "How very deviant of you." Potter's smile falters slightly, and Draco feels an inexplicable stab of annoyance. "You're a brilliant cocksucker, Potter," he snaps, pushing Potter away from him. "Revel in your aberrance."

"I'm not a cyprian like you," Potter says, his jaw tightening. "And if you think I'm willing to put my work with the Auror force on the line--"

"But you're here." Draco steps forward, fists clenched; Potter raises his chin. "On your knees on my floor, my cock in your mouth."

Potter looks pale but defiant. "We're not at a crime scene, are we?"

A sharp, fiery flare of anger goes through Draco, and he doesn't know why. Nothing Potter's said is wrong, after all. "You want me to walk away from the case," he says after a moment, and the guilty look on Potter's face makes him swear. "You bastard. What? You think I'm going to shout to all your Auror mates that I've had you on your back, legs spread, begging for my cock?"

"That's not--"

"That is what you think." A chill spreads across Draco's chest. He knows he shouldn't care. It's just a fuck, really. That's all Potter is. A brilliant shag who'll walk out of Draco's door and never look back. Draco shouldn't give a damn what Potter truly thinks about him. He does.

The rage that consumes him burns like ice. Draco pulls his flies together, pushing his half-swollen prick back into his trousers as he does the buttons up. "Fucker."

"Malfoy--"

Draco shoves at Potter then, sending him stumbling backwards even though Draco didn't use his full force. "Get out."

Potter hesitates.

"Now," Draco says, and he strides past Potter, throwing open the door. "And if you think I'm a bloody juggins willing to be browbeat away from my work, you're off your damned nut."

For a moment Draco thinks Potter's going to protest. Instead he pulls himself together and nods curtly. "Good evening, milord," he says, chilly polite, and he sweeps out the door into the dusk.

Draco slams the door behind him and leans against it, breathing hard. It's almost like a shift; he's so angry. He puts his hands to his cheeks, checking to make certain his face is still fully human. It is, for now at least. His skin is crawling; the wolf inside is desperate to be released.

With a snarl, he pushes it down again.

"Everything all right?" Greg asks from the hallway to the kitchen. "Bit of shouting out here. It's keeping me and Mills from our tea."

"It's fine," Draco says, but he's still shaking with fury. "Go back to Millicent."

Greg gives him a long, even look, but he goes. Even he knows to leave Draco alone when he's this angry.

Draco draws in a deep, ragged breath, then exhales. He shouldn't have expected anything more from Potter. It was a good fuck, that's all, and the arrogant arse can go to hell for all Draco cares.

He pushes himself off the door and heads for the library. He's a pot of tea and a book waiting for him. Much better company than Potter ever could be.

***

In the gloaming, no one sees him, hiding here in the shadows of Mayfair, at the corner where the large, stately stone housefronts meet.

He watches as the Auror storms through the glossy black door, his coat drawn tight around him. The Auror looks angry, his mouth a thin, tight line. The Beast's curiosity is roused, if only for a moment. He once understood humans, but that knowledge is almost gone now, replaced with a sharp impatience for their foolishness. The Auror is one to watch, though. He reeks of danger and baser scents. The raw smell of sexual desire drifts across the kerb, and the Beast growls. The voices hum and whisper in his head, warning him of powerful magic, and he draws deeper into the darkness as the Auror passes him by, so close the Beast could reach out with one claw, ripping through the sinew and muscle of his throat.

A light goes on in a window of Number 23 Berkeley Square, illuminating a tall, thin shadow behind the curtain. For just a moment, he can see the man standing there, looking out on the street, watching the Auror stalk down the street. And then the figure moves, leaving behind only a stirring of gauzy lace in the open casement.

Malfoy, the Beast thinks. Filthy little pervert. He can smell him on the breeze, sharp and familiar. What would Malfoy's father think of him tonight, his body pressed against that foul Auror's? The Beast has seen them before, mouths on one another, disgustingly unnatural. He wants to punish the brat, to force him back to the fold he'd abandoned so long before, to strike out at the Auror for daring to pollute the dissolute little lordling who should be his rightful heir.

He growls, his body tensing for the pounce. The Auror rounds the corner, a light breeze ruffling the hem of his coat.

Not yet, the voices murmur in the recesses of his mind. Soon.

He turns away with a reluctant step. There's other prey to stalk tonight. There'll be time to discipline that depraved sodomite later.

The shadows wrap him in their silent comfort.

***

Greg sets the blue enamelled tin tray down on top of Gravin Westervelt's Symbolica Magica and Lagrange's Potioneer's Companion and strides across the library to throw open the curtains at the tall windows overlooking Berkeley Square. Late morning light streams through the wide panes, spilling across the lanky body sprawled on the tufted leather chesterfield. Draco groans and rolls over, burying his face against one of Millie's needlepoint cushions. An empty bottle of cognac lies on the floor next to him. Greg's fairly certain it'd been unopened last night.

"Go away, you wretch," Draco says into his elbow. He snaps his fingers and the curtains swing shut again. Greg just rolls his eyes and opens them once more.

"Stop it," Greg says, before Draco can raise his hand again, and Draco mutters something Greg suspects is highly uncomplimentary, if not outright obscene.

His foul mood doesn't faze Greg; Greg's seen Draco at his absolute worst, and a night of drinking in solitude barely touches the tip of that particular iceberg. Instead, Greg just pours a cup of strong Turkish coffee from a small copper pot, adding a few drops of potion to it before stirring with a silver spoon, and sets it on the side table nearest Draco's head along with a small plate of toast, cut into triangles and buttered. It's been Draco's hangover cure since fifth year at Hogwarts.

Draco turns a bleary face towards him; there's a crease in his cheek from the edge of the cushion he's slept on. "I'm not in the mood."

"You never are," Greg says, pouring coffee for himself and settling into the upholstered armchair near the fire. "Drink up. It'll help your head."

"Only death will, at this moment." Draco sits up slowly, carefully, and for a moment Greg's certain Draco's going to sick up on the carpet. That'll be unfortunate; last time he'd had to use a Scourgify on the Qashqai, the colours had bled in the corner. Still, Draco manages to down the steaming coffee in two gulps, then he staggers over to the pot to pour more, a triangle of toast between his teeth. He drops down into the chair opposite Greg's after a moment's pause to remove a giant beetle in a jar from the side table between them. The beetle clacks its mandibles against the glass, annoyed at being shifted to the chimneypiece. Draco flicks his fingers at it, and it falls back, segmented antennae waving sullenly. "I hate you," Draco says.

Ah, good. He's feeling better. Greg smiles into his cup. He prefers a milky tea to this thick, bitter beverage, but it does the job on mornings like this.

"Potter didn't stay," he says finally.

Draco gives him a baleful glare. "No."

Greg doesn't push. That never works with Draco. He settles back in his chair, enjoying the warmth of the small fire in the hearth. There's still a touch of chill in the air some mornings, even this close to the summer solstice, and this bloody townhouse can feel like a mausoleum. Greg prefers the Manor, surrounded by green countryside, windows thrown open to fresh air, but Draco tries his best to avoid going back to Wiltshire. It's partially his father, Greg thinks. Half-mad with grief after Narcissa's death, Lucius had locked himself in a wing of the house, tossing his son out on his ear for months and burying himself in his whisky, books, and the few friends who'd stop by from time to time, all of whom Draco had disliked during his time at Oxford. He still doesn't care for them, even if he hasn't seen them in years. Greg doesn't know why, and neither does Draco, not really. He just says the very thought of them disturbs him. They seem fairly innocuous to Greg, just old men with old attitudes, rather a lot like his father's gang. Still, Draco refuses to leave London unless Lucius is travelling. Rather a pity, Greg thinks. A son shouldn't dislike his father so, even if he finds him difficult.

The coffee is warm and a little sweet. Millie's made it the way Greg likes, with a nice round spoonful or three of sugar. Greg smiles, thinking of his wife. Draco mocks him for believing in true love and all that bollocks, but he wouldn't trade what he has with Millicent for the world—certainly not for Draco's endless string of sexual liaisons. Doesn't even matter that both their families have disowned them because he got her up the duff and cut off all their funds. They're happy, and the baby's happy, and he's not the one waking up alone with a pounding head and sick stomach and a ridiculous pash on the next Deputy Head Auror. Honestly, Greg feels sorry for Draco, more than anything. Not that he'd say so, but he reckons it must be hard to be the Viscount Malfoy. Eventually Draco'll have to grow up, settle down with a proper girl and have a son or two who'll inherit the titles. Greg knows that's not really what Draco wants. He likes women well enough, but he prefers men. If he's lucky, he'll find a wife who'll look the other way whilst Draco slips in and out of places like the Lily Pond, having assignations with other blokes like him. Then again, he could end up married to someone who'll hang him out to dry, packing him off to prison for his so-called depravity. That's not what Greg wants for Draco, either.

But there are also other delicate matters Draco will have to reveal to a wife. It'll take a woman with great fortitude to accept the proposal of a man with his particular condition—and to keep his secrets from the Ministry.

"I assume that was you on the stairs last night," Draco says after a moment. Greg sets his empty cup aside and waits, his hands folded over his thick chest, and Draco scowls at him. "Yes, fine. I realise I was indiscreet, and that it could have been Millie coming down—"

"Or Ellie," Greg points out. His daughter's not even three, but she sometimes escapes their rooms and gets lost in the upper floors. He's not angry at Draco: it's not his house, after all, but Draco forgets sometimes that Greg has a family now.

Draco has the grace to look guilty. "I wasn't thinking."

"I know." Greg watches him. Draco looks pale and tired, dark circles like bruises beneath his eyes. "It's close, you know." The moon's coming up, and despite Blaise's potion, the pull gets stronger, harder for Draco to control. Greg knows it's responsible for last night, at least in part. He's seen this so many times before. Still, there's something about Potter that's different, that sets Draco more on edge.

"It's not that." Draco pushes himself out of the armchair and walks over to the fire. He looks oddly young and vulnerable in his untucked shirt, bare feet, and mussed hair, the way he had back in their school days. Greg almost can't see the pale, silver scar on Draco's throat or the matching one across his cheek, remnants of the May that had changed Draco's life a decade ago. He wonders how Potter hasn't noticed it yet, or if he has and Draco's spun a gossamer lie, the way he does with so many of his curious lovers. Draco runs his hands over his face and breathes out, always a sign of his frustration. "Or maybe it is. Maybe I'm moon mad. Maybe I ought to do what the prat demands and recuse myself from this case."

Greg shifts, crossing one leg over his knee; the chair creaks beneath his weight. "But you won't."

"No." Draco looks over at him. There are lines of worry scoring his face. "I think it's a were of some sort, Greg. I can feel it in my bones in a way I can't explain to the rest of you—certainly not Potter." He wraps his arms around himself and paces, fingers twisting in the white cotton of his shirt. "I can smell him on the body, that faint scent of marking that still lingers."

"I reckon you should know." Greg considers for a moment. "Wolf?"

Draco snorts. "Well, I hardly think it's a wererabbit." He bites his lip. "I can't say any of this though. Not without—" He breaks off with a huff.

"Without revealing yourself," Greg says. Draco just looks at him; there's nothing else he cans say. "That's not information Potter needs, given you're unregistered."

Draco's mouth quirks to one side. "An understatement. You see my dilemma."

Greg does. "It's shifting outside the moon then." They both know what that means. Not many weres have that ability.

Draco does.

"Yes." Draco studies the beetle in the jar. He looks grim again.

"You should talk to Blaise, then," Greg says calmly. "If he's speaking to you at the moment, that is. He's still miffed about that stunt you played at Margaret's dinner party."

Draco drops back into his chair. "I did him a favour. She was duller than dross, that one. He can do better."

"But he liked her." Greg gives Draco an even look. "Well enough, for Blaise." Draco just rolls his eyes. Greg sighs. "You have to tell Potter what he's up against, you know. If they don't figure it out—"

"They will," Draco says. He stares into the fire. "He will. For all his faults, he's not a complete fool. It's more a question of whether I can keep him from stumbling into something that'll get him killed. I can't have the blood of Gryffindor's favourite son on my hands." He pinches the bridge of his nose. "That's why I can't walk away from this case."

Greg wonders if Draco knows how much he's revealing by that admission. He suspects he doesn't. Draco's clever, far too clever for his own good sometimes, but Greg thinks Draco's thick as a plank when it comes to understanding himself. Greg knows Draco; he's spent most of his life studying him, and right now, right here, he's terrified for his childhood friend.

"So you're planning on hunting it, then?" Greg doesn't know why he asks; he already knows the answer, even as he desperately wants it to be a resounding no. "Whatever it is?"

Draco meets his gaze. "Do I really have a choice?" His voice is resigned.

Greg knows Draco doesn't. Not with everything he's been through. That doesn't mean he has to like it, though. Greg'd barely passed Divination, but he reckons you don't have to be a seer to know this is going to go tits up. Fast.

They sit together in silence, lost in their own thoughts, the fire crackling in the hearth in front of them.

***

Somehow the Head Auror manages to be unavailable the entire morning. Ron's rather impressed, really. Kingsley must have known Harry'd be in a tear after that prat Malfoy showed up in Brick Lane yesterday, and Ron feels rather sorry for poor Boot, Kingsley's personal secretary, who'd obviously been instructed to keep Harry at bay. Still, there's only so far Kingsley's luck could hold, and at ten to one that afternoon, Harry'd breached the Head Auror's office, slamming the door behind him before Boot could stop him.

Ron'd just shrugged at Boot, who'd thrown up his hands and stalked off. It's not that Harry'd wanted Ron there, really, but Ron's seen Harry's occasional fits of rage since they were eleven, and honestly, there's nothing that'd set him off faster in school than Malfoy and his gang. Better to sit out here and wait for Harry to reappear than to leave him on his own, terrorising the Ministry at large.

He checks his favourite pocket watch, left to him by Uncle Bilius when he died after seeing that Grim back when Ron was barely thirteen. Brilliant uncle, the old sod was, but only when he'd laid off the gin. Pity, really. Ron sighs and tucks the watch back into his jacket.

What worries Ron Weasley isn't the raised voices that had echoed at first from behind the heavy, closed wooden door of Kingsley's office. Harry has quite the temper, after all, and Ron's used to Kingsley shouting, particularly when a nasty crime is committed. Everyone knows that Kingsley has a soft heart for such a stern bastard, and the more severe the crime, the more intense the bollocking from the Head Auror can be. Raised voices are business as usual, at least in Auror headquarters.

What worries Ron is the current silence. According to Ron's pocket watch, Harry's been in there for fifteen minutes, the raised voices stopped after five or six minutes, and now it's been about nine minutes of intense quiet punctuated by the occasional noise from the corridor. In Ron's experience, this is never, ever good.

When the door opens--flies nearly off its hinges, really--with Harry's face looking like a thunderstorm in a bottle, Ron knows it's worse than he expected. He stands up from the wide brocade armchair where he had been sitting in the outer office, nods to Kingsley, who looks equally wrathful as Harry, and slides out after his partner, needing to move his legs at a fair clip even with their differences in height to keep up with him.

"Harry, wait up, mate," Ron says, still trailing him. It's amazing how fast Harry can walk when he's got his temper up.

Harry slows down, then stops next to the heavy wood panelling across from the Night Floo. He waits for Ron, mouth pursed into a firm line.

"I don't want to talk about it," Harry says.

Ron thinks he actually does. Still, he's not fool enough to say that, not when Harry's eyes are sparking and that forehead scar he's had since he was a wee one is a frighteningly pale lightning bolt against his flushed face. "Right, then. Let's go not talk about it down the Cobblers Arms. There must be some pie we could not talk over." Ron's hungry, and really, this meeting could have been held at a better time than lunch. It's at least half an hour past when he should have been tucking into something nice and warm in the mess.

Harry shakes his head. "Not there. The Merman's Line would be better at this hour. And we can stop by the newsagents to check the afternoon edition."

The Merman's Line is quite a bit further to walk. They only go there when Harry doesn't want to say things around other Ministry officials or Aurors. This is particularly dreadful news, then, or Harry's ready to do something a bit mad. With Harry, especially when he's buttoned up into his future Deputy Head Auror mode, it's sometimes hard for Ron to tell the difference. In the flat, at night, Ron has an easier time reading him. He retains the qualities of the Harry he remembers from school: funny, quiet, a bit sarcastic, oddly shy.

"Right," Ron says agreeably. "The Line it is."

They retrieve their hats and set forth from the back entrance, signing out with the porter on the way. Ron tries to chat with Harry on the staircase to make it a bit less awkward that they're setting out in the middle of the day on a contrived errand. Not that the others don't spend whole days this way sometimes, but Harry's being too quiet, and Ron doesn't want that noticed either.

The back streets are bustling with deliveries, foot traffic, and daily business. Ron steps around a handcart of bottles coming into a dry goods shop, manages to stop a rolling apple from a fruit and vegetable display, and keeps two urchins out of the path of an oncoming carriage with a strong tug at the back of their shirts. Harry strides along beside him, apparently lost in contemplation in the midst of modern London street life.

It's only when they've entered the pub, and they're seated at the wide, scarred oak table, glasses in hand that Harry finally speaks. "He says I have to work with Malfoy on this case."

Ron stops on the way to taking his first sip of bitters. "Rough luck, mate. Malfoy's a nasty piece of work, he is. I don't care how blue his blood is."

"You'll have to work with him too." Harry spares Ron a wry grin.

Ron takes a deep drink from his pint. "That's unprofessional is what it is. Why do we have to work with, what does he call himself now, a consulting crim-in-o-logist?" He draws out the last syllables of the bizarre word in mockery of its aristocratic user.

Harry doesn't roll his eyes, but you can see the effort on his face. "Something asinine like that. It doesn't matter what he calls himself, I really don't see why Kingsley has him in our investigation."

The barmaid, pink and pretty and oh-so-blonde, catches Ron's eye as she sets the plates on the edge of the bar. "Back in a tick," Ron says to Harry, and he goes off to get their food. Ron likes flirting with Annabeth, even if it makes him feel a bit awkward given his relationship with Hermione. He's been trying to get her to marry him for years now, but she claims it's an outdated way of keeping women men's property and refuses, each and every time he asks. Ron doesn't agree, not really, but it does mean that she approves of him flirting with pretty barmaids. Or at least she says it's fine by her, free love and all that. He's his own man, she points out, and she's not about to cage his sexual desires. Ron doesn't quite think she means it, though. Not entirely. He doesn't really care to find out.

Ron puts the plates on the table in front of Harry-- steak and kidney pie for himself and a ploughman's for Harry. Ron tucks in whilst Harry toys with his pickle and sets his knife down, then arranges the cooked egg to slice and eat.

Harry reaches for his pint. "I told Kingsley I wouldn't do it. I think this is the longest staring contest we've ever been in. I even thought he might pop a blood vessel."

Ron shakes his head with his mouth full, then swallows. "Don't provoke the Head like that. He has trouble enough as it is with the new Baltic Sea wizarding movement showing up in Tottenham."

They're both hesitant to say the word "anarchist" in public, but an exchange of glances gets the point across. Tensions have been running high in London and not just about murder -- Ron's heard that laws to ban anarchists were under discussion. The funeral of Edward VII had been an enforcement nightmare, and there's still George's coronation to look forward to. Political divisions are no less fierce on the wizarding side of things as on the Muggle.

"Well, I don't know why he has to include Malfoy in the mix." Harry stabs at a piece of cold meat fiercely, nearly pushing it off of his plate.

"There's no accounting for it, but as usual, we have to follow orders," Ron says. He knows his place when Harry's like this: the cool voice of reason to talk him off whatever mad idea he's concocting. "Just because we have to work with Malfoy doesn't mean we have to like working with him." He swallows a mouthful of pie.

"I don't like him at all." Harry chews a slice of egg, looking petulant.

Ron eyes him. There's something Harry's not saying, he can tell. Ron's been an Auror for twelve years now, if you count training, and Harry's friend for seven years more than that. He's not a fool, as much as Harry might think him to be. He saw the way Harry looked at Malfoy yesterday, standing in the middle of the bloody street surrounded by Aurors, halfway between fisticuffs and a fuck. Harry's never told him certain things about himself, about whom he shags, but Ron suspects. Partially from what Ginny had said when Harry'd broken off their courtship, and partially because he's got bloody eyes in his damned head. And it worries him, the look Harry'd cast Malfoy's way, like the sodding viscount was a Christmas hamper from Harrods. Harry's his best mate; Ron doesn't care if he prefers cock or fanny, but the last thing he wants is for Harry to end up in prison over some aristo twat like Malfoy. He's seen what that had done to Harry's godfather. Sirius might be settled in Berlin now with his friend Matthias--or whatever they're calling themselves these days--but Azkaban had nearly driven him mad. Ron doesn't want that for Harry. Besides, Ron hedges a secret suspicion that Malfoy's an actual law breaker. It's based not entirely on factual evidence, more on gossip and surmise, but Malfoy just always has a whiff of the indecent and the rule-flouting about him.

Malfoy's dangerous, and that sets Ron's nerves on edge.

"You didn't come home last night," Ron says after a moment, not looking at Harry. Or the night before, for that matter, but he knows not to push too far.

"Slept in the office." Harry sets his cutlery aside. Ron studies him thoughtfully over the rim of his pint glass. Harry's a good liar, Ron thinks. Pity about the dark edge of that fading love bite where his collar bends. No one else would notice, but Ron knows him too well by now. "Reading up on the old Whitechapel case."

This gets Ron's attention, whether or not it's true. The Brick Lane business has the whole force on edge. It's too close to what happened nearly a quarter-century ago with the Muggle whores they'd found in the streets, mangled and bloody. Ron's not so sure, though. He's looked at the old files, from Scotland Yard and the Auror archives. They all have by now. There's a difference between the surgical precision of the murderer back then and what's been happening on the streets lately.

"It hasn't been women this time," he points out.

Harry raises a shoulder in a shrug. "I know."

"It's not the same at all, whatever the lads are saying."

"I know," Harry says again.

"But you still think something's connected." Ron's bitters are gone. He regards the empty glass mournfully, aware that he can't order a second until he's off duty.

Harry nods, his mouth a thin line. "Something. Yes." He sighs. "I can't put my finger on it. It just seems…" He frowns. "Familiar."

Ron hesitates, then asks, "How are you going to find out?"

Harry smoothes a hand over his trousers and stands up to settle their check. When he returns, he says simply, "I'll be damned if I know."

The yet hangs in the air between them, underscored by the stubborn set of Harry's jaw.

With a sigh, Ron sets his hat back on his head, tugging it down over his eyes as he stands.

"When will the viscount be joining us?" he asks. "Should we put out more flags? Hire a brass band to play Rule Britannia?"

"I don't think he stands on ceremony," Harry says drily, but his eyes are a bit too bright as he glances away.

Ron is terrified suddenly for his old friend, and he couldn't say why. Malfoy's not to be trusted. This needs to be brought to a quick close before Harry gets his heart stomped on.

Or worse, he thinks grimly, and he follows Harry out into the street, a chill going through him, despite the warmth of the June sunlight.

***

The most annoying part of being dead, in Severus's opinion, is the utter boredom. Well, that and forever being trapped as one's seventeen-year-old essence, complete with spots and inconvenient arousals.

He rubs at his spectral skin, eyeing his reflection in the small mirror on the wall of Potter's office. He finds it absolutely unfair that his death came before the Bubotuber Pus potion Evan Rosier brewed for him took effect. Nevermind that he's thirty-three years past death, he'll forever be scrawny and pale with the greasy hair and oily skin of adolescence. He wrinkles his large nose and glares at himself, not for the first or last time cursing Tom-bloody-Riddle into oblivion. Try to stop one utterly mad Defence Against the Dark Arts professor from imploding the Hufflepuff common room and what do you get? Avada Kedavra'd in the hallway just outside the headmaster's office, that's what, and it still irks Severus to no end that he'd died protecting Hufflepuffs, for Christ's sake. Not that it would have done any good if he'd made it inside the headmaster's door. Dumbledore would only have eyed him over his spectacles and offered him sherbet lemons and inanely obscure, utterly useless advice while letting the bloody madman destroy Hogwarts. Most likely. Severus had never cared that much for the headmaster. All up Gryffindor and that shite. The whole Hogwarts staff were off their chump. Really, Severus blames the headmaster's inane hiring practices.

To be honest, Severus has never cared much for anyone at all, save Lily. He wonders sometimes if she hadn't found him in the hall, Riddle's steps still echoing down the staircase, whether he might have gone over to the other side, or whatever Elysian Fields wizarding souls fade into. Oblivion, perhaps. Some kind of stupid, misty veil to pass through, if the poets are to be believed. He thinks he might quite have liked that particular option, really. Instead he'd imprinted upon his ridiculous childhood pash, a ginger-haired nymph talented in spiritualism and divinatory techniques and the one bloody person capable of keeping Severus's shade tethered to this horrible, uncharitable, thoroughly maddening terra firma. Pity that a stupidly sentimental promise he'd made as she'd died a few years later, sprawled across the bloodied floor of her sitting room, her messy-haired child spawned with that arrogant fool of a husband mewling by her side, had tied him to said imbecilic offspring. Whose hair is still disgraceful, mind. Absolutely untameable by comb or house elf magic.

Severus glides over to Potter's relentlessly untidy desk and sits. The chair's comfortable at least, he'll give the twit that. He sighs and taps ghostly fingers against the desk blotter. Potter's distress had come across their connection quite clearly, interrupting him as he'd drifted through the potions laboratory in the Ministry's bowels. His only bit of fun to be had for the morning was in breathing over the shoulders of the idiot potioneers down there, whispering unseen in their ears until, nerve-wracked, their potions explode over burners.

But now he's here because his human needs him. So where the hell is the wretched brat?

Severus hates the apprehension that builds in him. He allows his mind to touch lightly upon the connection to Potter. The irritation is still there, crackling and snapping at the edges of Severus's mind. Still, it takes him by surprise when Potter's door flies open and the man himself is there, frowning at him.

"Harry?" Severus asks, and it's only his concern for the idiot that causes him to use the familiarity. If ghosts could flush, he would, particularly at Potter's raised eyebrow. Severus can't help an occasional flare of protectiveness. It doesn't matter that Potter's almost thirty now; he'll always be the small child Severus had watched over from the shadows.

"Stop poking at my mind," Potter says, but there's a rumble of affection in his complaint. "And get out of my chair."

Severus lingers just long enough to make it clear he's not compelled by Potter's demands, but he gives up the comfort of tufted leather for the rougher edge of Potter's desk. "It's your own bloody fault," he points out as Potter settles in the chair and reaches for a stack of parchment. "You think too loudly. Surprising, since you so rarely use your intellect."

That earns him a venomous look. Severus smiles. Merlin, but annoying Potter brings him such joy.

He waits, but Potter's not forthcoming. Surprising, that. Usually he's more than willing to complain.

"Well?" Severus demands after a moment, and at Potter's questioning look, he glares. "One o'clock, you fool. I thought for certain my head was going to explode with all your rage."

Potter picks up a quill and fiddles with it, testing the nib with his thumb. "Oh. That."

"Yes. That." Severus narrows his eyes at him. He finds it excruciatingly irritating when Potter takes that ridiculous adult tone with him, as he has so frequently since he'd passed the grand age of twenty. Severus's form might be forever stuck in adolescence, but his mind has aged over the past three decades, whatever Potter might think. "Don't patronise me." He knows he sounds sullen, but he doesn't care.

"Just an annoyance," Potter says, and he scrawls his near-illegible signature across some Ministry form. Really, the boy might have paid better care to his penmanship in school. Now Baddock, there's a lad with excellent script.

"An annoyance." Severus knocks the quill out of Potter's hand, just for the hell of it. "Would said annoyance be that person you've been shagging lately?" At Potter's outraged glare, he shrugs. "What?"

Potter picks the quill back up. Ink smears across his thumb. "I thought we had an arrangement? You stay out of my private affairs, and I don't exorcise you?"

"You can't," Severus points out. "Dying vow to your mum and all. Besides, I get bored in the evenings, and at least your sexual adventures keep me entertained. Well done the other night, by the way. Very enthusiastic performance with the viscount."

"I truly hate you," Potter says, which pleases Severus to no end. "And haven't we discussed more than once how inappropriate your stalking me through London is?"

Severus shrugs. "Blame your mother. I promised her I'd keep you safe."

"Fairly certain that doesn't mean prying into my private life."

"It does when you're fool enough to bed a Malfoy," Severus says sharply. "The whole damned family's bloody mad, you know. Has been for centuries. Don't even get me started on Lucius."

"Malfoy's father?"

For Merlin's sake. "You're shagging him, and you don't know who his da is?" Severus doesn't bother to hide his disdain. "Honestly, Potter, your mother would be horrified to discover she'd birthed such a trollop as you."

"Sod you," Potter says, but his mouth quirks up in a half-smile. Severus's criticisms of Potter's supposed whorishness have fallen on deaf ears for years now; Severus rather thinks Potter's amused by them. He'd had the gall in their last argument to say he thought Severus was just jealous. As if that were possible. The handful of erotic nights Potter indulges in each year cause no envy in Severus. He'd never really cared that much for the simple pleasures of the flesh detached from emotion even when he was alive; he was too stupidly idiotic to be anything other than arse over tit for Lily Evans. More fool him, he thinks with a sigh. Look how that had turned out. Still, he's concerned about Potter and the Malfoy brat. Even after all these years, Potter's never spent more than one night in the same man's bed.

Potter hesitates, twisting the quill between his fingertips, then admits, "The viscount and I don't really talk much."

"Obviously."

Potter rolls his eyes. "Oh, shut it." He drops the quill onto his desk and wipes his ink-stained thumb against the blotter. "So you don't particularly care for the family, I take it?"

"Lucius was an enormous prat in school," Severus says with a scowl. "He was a seventh-year when I was a firstie. Pompous and cruel. He enjoyed humiliating us in the common room. Rather a lot, really." Not that Slughorn had cared, Severus thinks bitterly. As prefect, Lucius had been given free reign with the younger students; only Narcissa Black had managed to keep him humane, and in Severus's opinion that had been by a thread.

Potter leans back in his chair. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree then."

"I assume you're talking about the viscount?" Severus settles himself on the desk, as cheerfully as he can manage. He'll be the first to admit ghosts and shades of all sorts are terrible gossips. Not that they can be blamed, in his opinion. There's not a great deal to converse about once you're dead, other than the goings-on of the living.

Potter nods, mouth tight and eyes flashing. Now there's an interesting emotion, Severus thinks. Definitely more complicated than Potter might like to admit. Perhaps it's not just la petite mort that Potter's been chasing those nights spent in the Malfoy brat's bed. Perhaps he's developing an emotional attachment to the viscount. Severus files that knowledge for future exploitation and possible blackmail. It wouldn't surprise him, to be honest. At school, Potter had always hated the Malfoy boy with a curiously furious intensity.

"Obviously he's a product of that awful family," Severus says, swinging his legs into Potter's desk and ruffling the papers in the closed drawers. "The Malfoys were known to be aristo arseholes, bragging about their pure bloodline." He snorts. "As if any of those lines were free of Muggles. One would sincerely hope not, given the incestuous alternative. The Blacks weren't half bad, though. Talented at the Dark Arts, to be sure, but they weren't really awful people." He pauses, considering. "Well, Cissy's sister was terrible, come to think of it. Bellatrix. Never knew her, but the upper years had their stories." He shudders, remembering the blank horror he'd seen in their eyes when her name was mentioned. "She married a Lestrange. I think they're in Paris now."

"What about the viscount?" Potter asks, leaning back in his chair and watching Severus with that shifty expression he gets when he doesn't want to admit his full interest in a subject. For a moment, Severus considers winding him up a bit, seeing how far he could push him about Malfoy, but the last time he'd gone too far, Potter'd had a magical explosion that'd caused Severus to be incorporeal for weeks. It's no fun picking up parts of your ghostly aura over Soho and half of Fitzrovia, ta ever so.

"The Viscount Malfoy," Severus drawls. "Did you know Lucius's father purchased that subsidiary title? Thousands of pounds from Canadian timber into the eastern campaigns. It's not really done, of course, but he wanted it. They're Marquesses as well, of course, rather new creation." He sniffs, as only a Yorkshireman can. He may not have come from anything posh himself, but he also doesn't give himself airs above his station. Unlike some. "They have the land from William the Conqueror, but the title is much more recent. Sixteenth century at the earliest."

Potter just looks at him. "And? The viscount himself--what about him? I mean, not at Hogwarts. I already know about that. After." He bites his lip, and Severus knows what he's going to ask next. "Any rumours from the spirit world?"

And there it is. Severus exhales in annoyance. "I hate it when you ask me that."

"Come on." Potter gives him a winning smile that only increases Severus's irritation. "I'm sure Mum would want you to check him out."

"That's blackmail." Severus hates it when Potter uses Lily against him.

Potter just raises an eyebrow.

"Oh, fine." Severus crosses his arms over his chest, pulling his frock coat tighter and closing his eyes. Sometimes it's hard to concentrate and pull details out of the ectoplasmic ether. He's brilliant remembering his past, but anything more recent gives him all sorts of trouble. He pushes a bit deeper into the spirit world, listening to the whispers swirl around him. It takes a moment, and Potter's watching him intently, which Severus finds distracting. He lets his mind drift into the shadows. A voice whispers to him, soft and light, and for a moment, Severus thinks he recognises the cadence and tone, but another, harsher voice drowns it out before he can place it--or make out what it's saying.

"Malfoy the younger was brilliant at Oxford," Severus says finally, eyes fluttering open, "although there was something odd about his career there. Went just out of Hogwarts--rather rare, that. Must have had better marks than you." Severus glares at Potter. That had been a bone of contention between the two of them during Potter's school days. Honestly, if it weren't for Granger, Severus suspects Potter barely would have made it through his O.W.L.s, much less his N.E.W.T.s. "He had some sort of nervous collapse and took a year off, but was allowed to return for his exams. Took a first in Greats. He must be far cleverer than his stupid father."

"That's all?" Potter asks, his disappointment evident. "I already know most of that."

Severus's temper flares. He's used to Potter using him like this for information; it's how the prat's made it this far in the force, after all, and for all he whinges about it, Severus enjoys being needed. But just because Severus is dead doesn't mean he hasn't any feelings.

He goes half-transparent, swishing around Potter's office in a vortex. And if he happens to upend an inkwell into Potter's lap, well, it isn't really intentional but he enjoys it anyway. And then of course Potter's spitting mad and cursing with ink dripping from his trousers, and it's a much better idea to retreat into the roof with the pigeons and that weird old spirit from the 1760s who died in a lightning strike and still looks a bit twitchy and half-charred.

The dome of St. Paul's shines in the afternoon sun. Severus finds himself looking past it, out over the rooftops of London to the sinuous, grey curve of the Thames. There's a darkness spreading over the city. He can feel it in the ether, cold and clammy and all too familiar, and for the briefest, clearest moment, he wonders why Potter didn't ask him about the Malfoy family's connection to the Beast. He draws in a ragged breath, ready to slink back and apologise, to tell him there's more than he knows.

Over the city, the darkness shifts. Voices whisper, carried faint on the wind.

And Severus forgets.

***

If he's honest, Draco doesn't care for the inside of the Ministry at all, much less the drab, dingy set of rooms the politicians have set aside for Auror use, tucked away in the far back corridors of power. The desk Dawlish has led him to is the worst of the lot, battered and musty, with one leg propped up solely by very wobbly cushioning charms that Draco's certain a first-year at Hogwarts could have exceeded.

Dawlish waits for him to complain, so Draco merely smiles at him and sets his satchel on the desktop scarred by a generation of quill nibs. "Thank you," he says politely, and it warms the cockles of his soul when Dawlish is set on his back foot. Honestly. They act as if he's going to respond like his father sometimes, which annoys Draco to no end. He's spent the past decade of his life proving he's nothing like Lucius Malfoy, only to discover not a damn person's been paying attention. No matter what he does, they still assume he's his father's son.

"Have we a name for the victim, yet?" Draco asks as he takes the stack of parchment Dawlish hands over.

"Bertram Frobisher Clarke." Dawlish scratches the tip of his long nose. There's a smudge of ink on his left cheek and another across his worn cuff. "Bertie, to what friends he had."

Draco glances over the first parchment. "Not a social butterfly then."

"On the contrary," Dawlish says. "Had quite a circle of acquaintances, but not many of them cared for him, it seems. He was half-American and a Squib. Came back to Cardiff from the States to study at the university, but he was sent down after two years for gambling. Never went back."

"Poor bastard."

Dawlish snorts. "Not really. His father's one of those industrialists across the pond. Plenty of money in the family, and his mother was a Urquart. A second daughter, but still social capital to be had."

"Quite a bit," Draco says under his breath. The Urquarts might not have the financial resources they'd been known for a century or two ago, but they were an old, respected, touted pure-blood family--at least to the extent any of the old families could claim a bloodline without Muggles. All liars, the lot of them, as Draco knew full well. There were at least one or two halfblood skeletons rattling around in his own ancestral closet. He was certain the Urquarts had a few.

"Eh? What was that?" Dawlish asks, but Draco just waves him off. Dawlish doesn't seem to want to dwaddle--they never do around him, Draco notes with satisfaction--so after making certain Draco doesn't require minding, the older man takes his escape, mumbling something about a meeting he has to attend.

For half an hour or so, Draco sits quietly with the files Dawlish has provided him on the recent murder. He sorts through Padma's preliminary reports, checking and then double-checking the data against Baddock's neatly recorded evidence list. She doesn't state it directly; she couches it in potentiality, focusing on the possibility a shapeshifter was responsible, but her suggested conclusions fall into line with what he's suspected, what his senses told him the moment he bent over Clarke's mangled body. It was plain, honestly, from the nature of the slash patterns and the radius of the bite.

A were was responsible, and now Potter will be charging in blindly, making of muck of things as usual.

"Damn it." Draco sets his quill aside and pinches the bridge of his nose. There'd been part of him that hoped he was wrong, that he'd misread the signs. This will make everything more complicated, he knows. People fear the dark and the creatures that roam in the moonlight. He ought to know, really. He's spent enough time in the shadows himself. Still, the last thing he wants is to direct the Auror spotlight on his own condition--nor does he want Potter caught up in this mess, possibly even killed. "Damn it, damn it, damn it."

"Something wrong?" Dawlish comes back into the room with two mugs of tea. He diffidently sets one near Draco's elbow, but his eyes are Auror-sharp.

Draco calms himself, taking a slow breath before he leans forward, elbows on the scarred wood of the desk. "No more than usual." John Dawlish isn't a fool; he's been an Auror since before Draco started Hogwarts. Draco eyes the tea. It's sludgy and overbrewed, and likely hot as Hades if the steam is any gauge, but he appreciates the gesture nonetheless. He changes the subject. "What do you make of the Stella Matutina cufflinks?"

"The what-now?" Dawlish sits back carefully in his chair, balancing the mug in his heavy hands and blowing on it occasionally. "I don't go in for that Muggle religious business."

"And yet you know it's religious."

"Stella Matutina, Morning Star. Got something to do with Mary, ain't it?" At Draco's raised eyebrow, Dawlish shrugs. "I remember my Hogwarts Latin, and Mum was Catholic from Dublin, what can I say?" He watches Draco over the rim of his mug, more closely than Draco likes. "The cufflinks?"

Resisting the urge to talk about Muggle-magical koinonia and oecumenical tradition, Draco raps on the list of the personal effects. "They had a rayed star on them." He barely manages to keep from rolling his eyes at Dawlish's blank look. Honestly, basic occult education is appalling in wizardom. "The Morning Star, also known as the Stella Matutina. I noticed them at the scene. By itself, it can be a Catholic symbol of the Virgin Mary, as you said, but in today's London? It's also an occult symbol in the extreme."

"Right. I get you. It's Crowley and that bunch, then." Dawlish nods as he sips his brew with utmost caution. Well, that's a relief. At least he's in the vicinity of a right answer. "Reckon it makes sense for a Squib to be playing around with that lot. Best he could get to magic, eh?"

Draco makes motions to touch his own mug without really drinking. He'll have to find a plant to pour it into when Dawlish isn't looking. Perhaps there will be one in Potter's office? He wants to hide this from the Auror because of the courtesy he's showing him; normally, he'd do it quite openly if he were displeased.

"Close, but not quite." Draco settles back into his chair. "Crowley's bunch are now the A.A. and no one's quite certain what that is, beyond a load of bugg-- Ehm, hogwash." Draco resists the urge to use coarse language; what he's learned of some of the Golden Dawn successors in recent cases has been unmentionably cruel. "Mather's still got the faithful chained to Alpha et Omega, but a lot of the high profile literary sorts are with the splinter sect, Stella Matutina. Judging by the cufflinks, our victim was one of those."

"A right nutter, you mean?" Dawlish keeps drinking that awful tea; Draco suspects he has a oesophagus lined with asbestos. "All spooky-ooky mumbo-jumbo?"

Draco tries not to sigh. "I rather doubt they'd call their belief system that."

"If he's hanging around Crowley's lot--" Dawlish gives him a pointed look. Religious tolerance is obviously not a talent of his, Draco notes. To be honest, Draco rather likes Crowley; the man comes from a Squib family, but Draco suspects he has a bit of magic in him. Enough to impress the Muggles at least, and Draco can't blame him for that, really. It's not as if Pansy doesn't do the same with her seances and divination, aimed at taking a bit of the Muggles' gold. Keeps her in velvet and satins, as she points out.

A blond head pops around the corner. "Sorry, Dawlish, but you said to tell you when those Renshaw reports came back in." The Auror gives Draco a curious glance, but otherwise doesn't acknowledge him.

"Right." Dawlish unfolds himself, stretching as he stands. "Obliged, Smith. Viscount, do you have what you require for the nonce?"

Suppressing the habitual urge to correct the address, Draco smiles. "Quite, thank you." He waits until Dawlish disappears down the corridor before picking up his mug and making his way towards Potter's empty office. A single lit sconce flickers just inside the open door, inviting him into the room beyond. Potter works in the dark in more ways than one, Draco thinks. He'd never be able to live without the light of his library windows.

Potter's desk is a disaster, parchment scattered across the ebony top, and Draco watches in surprise as an inkwell moves on its own, tipping over just at the edge of the leather-edged blotter. Draco lunges forward to catch it and brushes an oddly cold surface.

"What the--" He breaks off as a ghost pops into view, young and frightfully scowly.

"You're not supposed to be in here," the ghost says, and he drifts towards Draco, his dark hair hanging in his face. "Potter'll be furious." Given the pleased smirk on the ghost's face, that option doesn't seem to disturb him all that much, Draco suspects. He sets the inkwell down.

Draco turns, watching the ghost float past him. "Who are you?"

"Severus." The ghost pauses, then tilts his head as he studies Draco. "Usually people can't see me, though. Not unless I want them to. Except for Weasley and Granger, of course, but they've been attached to Potter's side since Hogwarts."

"I'm quite aware," Draco says wryly. "Severus, you say?"

"Are you deaf?" Severus frowns at him. "Or merely stupid?" He looks disappointed. "Potter always has dolts for friends."

Draco thinks he likes this particular shade. "I'm not a friend."

"I know. I've seen you." Severus narrows his eyes, and Draco wonders exactly how much of him the ghost has seen. "You're the Malfoy boy."

"Man, I'd rather think." Draco stills as Severus circles him. He can feel the ghost's cool dampness brush his skin. "You're tethered to Potter, I take it?" This isn't something Potter's mentioned yet, although Draco supposes they've been otherwise occupied. He's intrigued--once again Potter proves more interesting than he'd suspected.

"Protector shade," Severus says, voice glum. "My wretched destiny, fortunate me." He stops in front of Draco. "All because of a girl. Stay away from the lasses, my mum warned me. Should have listened to her, really."

A sound in the hall distracts Draco from a witty and rather inappropriate retort, and he turns just as Potter pushes the door open, files stacked in his hands. He draws up short, his face a thundercloud.

"What are you doing here?"

Draco looks back towards Severus, but the ghost is gone. Wretched coward, he thinks, then he holds up the mug of lukewarm tea. "Thought I'd share?"

The look Potter gives him is wary and closed-off. "Thanks, but no." He walks past Draco, and he reeks of rain and mud. Draco wonders where he's been. "You can go."

For a moment, Draco considers it. He's tired and not in the mood to deal with a crotchety Potter. Still, there's no good in letting the bastard think he can boss Draco about this early in the game.

"It's a were, you know," Draco says, his tone flat. He doesn't care at the moment if Potter believes him; he's seen the careful notations in Padma's neat script, and he recognises the description of his own pathology. He's seen it in Blaise's notes for the past decade. "Even in a preliminary report, Padma's conclusion is clear."

Potter looks at him blankly, then he sets the parchment on his desk. "Right."

Draco's taken aback. He thought he'd have to argue a bit more. He's disappointed, really. "You don't seem surprised."

"Honestly, not much would surprise me at this point," Potter says. He sits in his chair, then jumps back up with a bloody hell, Severus that echoes in the small room. He picks up a pyramid paperweight and tosses it back on the desk where it lands with a thud. "I'm going to kill that damned ghost," he mutters beneath his breath, rubbing his backside. There's a spectral glow faint behind him, and Draco winks at it before it fades away. Potter falls back into his chair and looks up at Draco, face weary. "It wasn't the full moon."

"No," Draco says. He rubs his thumb across the rim of his tea mug. He's treading near dangerous quicksand here. "Not all weres shift only then, or so I've been told." Somehow, he doesn't think Potter would appreciate his own personal experience as a reference. One shout from Potter would bring the whole of the Auror force running in, and Draco'd rather not spend months in Azkaban or be tracked by that damned Werewolf Registry. He's worked far too hard over the past years to keep his freedom.

Potter looks sceptical. "They teach you that at Lausanne or Oxford?" Before Draco can reply, he shakes his head. Draco hates how ridiculously attractive the idiot looks, his dark hair tumbling over his high forehead. It's unfair, really. Someone so utterly odious should look like a troll, with terrible skin and warts sprouting unfortunate hairs. "Weres are tied to the lunar calendar; everyone knows that, or weren't you paying attention in History of Magic?"

"No one managed to stay awake in that class," Draco points out. Binns's droning had been the vocal equivalent of the River Lethe, carrying one straight into the cave of Hypnos. "Besides, Binns was a complete idiot. Weres are shape-shifters, not that different from Animagi, and some can control when and where they shift."

"An Animagus isn't ruled by a baser animal nature," Potter snaps. His lip curls. "They're nothing like weres--"

"Really?" Draco's voice rises. He can't help himself, no matter how much he wants to keep his calm. It feels as if Potter's lashing him to the bone, even as he knows he's overreacting. Potter's disdain still feels like a betrayal. "So shall I tell that to your friend Remus Lupin, then? He's merely a beast held captive by his darker side?" His cousin's married to Lupin; he can't help but wonder at the irony that his family is double-tied to lycanthropy. He'd blame it on the Black family legacy, but the thought of putting the fault of his own condition on his mother turns his stomach. He could never do that to her. Not after everything.

"That's not what I said--"

"It's exactly what you said!" Draco hates that his hands are shaking. He sets his mug of tepid tea on the edge of Potter's desk before it sloshes out. This is precisely why he ought never to have brought Potter back to his rooms from the Lily Pond that first night. Potter's always been thick-headed and obtuse, prejudiced in every way possible against anything with which he has no familiarity. He's dangerous--and a fool to boot.

Potter's jaw tenses. "You're twisting my words the way you always have done."

Draco might have known Potter wouldn't understand. Horrified, Draco realises he actually wanted the arse to. His heart sinks. He ought to have known better. He ought to have been more careful. It'd been Potter, for Christ's sake; nothing more than a brilliant shag with an old school enemy, a chance to have what he'd lusted for all those years past. That's what he'd told himself at least. He hadn't meant to let Potter get under his skin. Not like this. And now he wants to stomp his feet like the petty schoolboy he once was. Potter has a terrible effect on him, throwing him right back into that appalling mindset he'd had as a youth, where he'd like nothing better than to deck Potter, or better yet kick that smugness off his face again. Perhaps St. Augustine was right about children and original sin. Had he had his way back then, Draco would gladly have helped Potter shuffle off this mortal coil.

To be honest, he still might do.

"You're an utter imbecile," Draco says before he can stop himself.

"What the bloody hell is wrong with you?" Potter asks, voice rising as he pushes himself out of his chair. "Why are we even arguing about this? Is this about the other night?"

Heat spreads across Draco's cheeks. "No. I think I've made my opinion perfectly clear on that point."

"Yes, well, I'm stuck with you, aren't I?" Potter runs a hand through his unruly hair, leaving it standing on end. "Christ, I never should have gone back to Berkeley Square that first night. I knew it was stupid. You could ruin me without a single care. Oh, Lord Malfoy, he can do whatever he will, and it'll be chalked up to his rakish nature, whilst I'll be dragged through the filth--" He breaks off, looking at the closed door of his office.

"They can't hear us," Draco snaps, but he snaps a quick Muffliato towards the door anyway. "What I'd like to know is have you lost your damned mind?" He stares at Potter, flabbergasted. "The Golden Boy who can do no wrong, up for being the youngest Deputy Head Auror in decades? And you think I could bring you down. What? By walking out there and shouting about how I've bummed you? Merlin's balls, Potter." He wants a drink, now. Preferably absinthe; the full moon's soon, and he can feel it's pull across his skin, making him want to bare his teeth, press them against Potter's throat. Baser nature be damned, and he knows why Potter's words stung. They're too close to the truth for Draco's comfort, too close to what he thinks himself. He hates what he is, what he's become, what he can be without the constraints of Blaise's potion, holding him back, tempering his need to rip and tear and inflict pain. Potter has no idea how Draco struggles, every day, every night.

No one does.

He turns away, composing himself as best he can under the circumstances. "Right. Ta ever so for the chit-chat. It's been most illuminating."

And if Draco upends the inkwell again by accident, straight onto Potter's trousers, leaving the young ghost tittering in the corner, well that couldn't have possibly been on purpose.

He doesn't stick around to find out what Potter makes of it.

***

Harry's still fuming when Dawlish knocks on his door a few hours later. There's something about Malfoy that riles him on the best of days, and he's still annoyed that Malfoy seems not to have the faintest care that his presence on this case is a danger for Harry's career. It's not as easy for him as it is for milord, for Christ's sake. Harry has more to lose if his personal peccadilloes are discovered; what little wealth his parents left him at their deaths he's tucked away in a Gringotts account, adding to it as he's been able over the years. He'd once thought he'd been saving it for a wife and a marriage. Now he's not so certain. Still, it's not enough to keep him comfortably set for life if he gets the chuck from the Aurors.

"A moment of your time?" Dawlish asks, and Harry waves him in. Dawlish takes the seat across from Harry's desk and crosses one ankle over his knee. He taps a folded sheaf of parchment against his trousers, a troubled frown creasing his face. "It's about Malfoy."

"What have you found?" Harry leans forward in his chair and folds his hands on his blotter. He's had Dawlish keeping an eye on Malfoy today, in the hopes that the viscount will cock up, necessitating Kingsley's dismissal of him from the case.

Dawlish tosses the parchment on Harry's desk. It skitters across the blotter, stopped only by a pile of paperwork. "He left a note before he packed up for the day."

Harry's name is scrawled across the parchments' fold. He picks it up with trepidation, not entirely certain it's not hexed. "And?"

Dawlish meets Harry's gaze. "Read it. He's not wrong."

"Is this about his theory that we're looking for a were?" Harry's exasperated. Honestly, he doesn't know why Dawlish of all people is falling for Malfoy's supposed charm. John's too blunt for that sort of thing, or at least Harry'd thought.

"He's gone through Padma's report," Dawlish says. "Makes a good case, I think." He traces a fingernail along the stitches that line the gussets of his boot. "Something magical exploded Bertie from the inside, but those bites are canine."

Harry unfolds the parchment and glances over it. Malfoy's pulled from Padma's report, underlining passages he's found significant. Bite radius and claw marks jump out at him, along with shifter and magical signature. Harry chews his bottom lip. "It could be an Animagus."

"Could be," Dawlish agrees. "Probably is, but…" He trails off with a sigh.

"What?" Harry asks, his heart sinking. Surely Dawlish can't be supporting Malfoy, of all people.

Dawlish takes a moment before he answers. "Milord's a clever one, Harry. Bit of a prat, sure, but he's not one to go off on an unsubstantiated theory, yeah? He's kept it to himself until now, and it's not as if Padma's saying anything that different."

"She's not saying it's definitely a were," Harry points out.

"True." Dawlish shrugs. "But she's not saying it's not, either." He stands, the chair creaking as his bulk lifts out of it, and glances back at Harry as he pauses in the doorway. "I don't like Malfoy much, but I reckon we might want to listen to what he has to say, right?"

Harry hates it that he has a point. "I'll think about it."

"Good lad." Dawlish's craggy face cracks into a smile. "Might make a decent Deputy Head out of you, after all."

"Out of here with you," Harry says, trying to look stern, but he's too pleased by Dawlish's flattery. Having the man on his side will go a long way in the other lads accepting his authority. If he doesn't bugger up this promotion, that is--figuratively or literally. "Go spend some time with that wife and boy of yours."

Dawlish tips two fingers to his eyebrows in a salute. "Aye, sir."

Harry sinks back into his chair as Dawlish closes the door behind him. He studies the note lying across his desk, the bold strokes of Malfoy's pen dark against the creamy parchment. If it were anyone other than Malfoy, he thinks, he'd be less quick to judge, he knows that full well. It might be an outlandish hypothesis, but Harry's seen stranger things in his days as an Auror. It's not even that wild of a theory: Harry's seen the Ripper files; Malfoy's same suggestion had been thrown about at the time, particularly after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly. There'd been barely anything recognisable left of her mutilated body. No one had wanted to think a human was responsible for that sort of destruction.

Perhaps Malfoy's not so far off, Harry thinks, and his stomach churns. He doesn't want him to be, and he's not certain why.

Harry stands and reaches for his coat. He doesn't even care if it's still drizzling outside. He needs to be out in the air, away from the stifling confinement of his office and this case. Almost without thinking he picks up Malfoy's note and folds it into thirds, stuffing it into his pocket.

As much as he hates to admit it, Malfoy's given him something to think about. He stops and scrawls a quick note to Padma, dropping it into the owl post for the next morning. If nothing else, he should stop by the morgue tomorrow to check in on her progress.

Placing his hat firmly on his head, he strides out of his office, the sconce on the wall flickering out behind him.

***

It's well past tea when Hermione Granger steps out of her boyfriend's Floo, purple, green and white banners still draped across her breasts. She's tired and all she wants is to be out of these wretched boots that have been pinching her toes all bloody afternoon. If she hadn't been meeting with Mrs Pankhurst and the other Muggle leaders of the Women's Social and Political Union, she'd have cast a few comfort charms, but dear Emmeline always gets tetchier than usual when Hermione lets on that she's not quite normal in front of the others. Hermione had met Emmeline's daughter Sylvia at Hogwarts; they'd both bonded over being both Muggleborn and the only witches in their families, and it'd been Sylvia who'd spurred Hermione to fight for better suffrage in the wizarding world, including Squibs and the Muggleborn, earning the right five years past from the Wizengamot, although they'd been unable to gain voting rights for those under the Beast division, including werewolves. Hermione's still upset by that, every time she has tea with Remus and Tonks. Still, their success had inspired Emmeline, and the following year she'd pulled both Hermione and Sylvia into leadership roles in the WSPU, hoping to use their experience to inspire her Muggle suffragettes.

Hermione's not quite certain she wants to. Sylvia's already threatening to break with her mother, frustrated with Emmeline's narrow focus when it comes to the rights of women. Hermione herself has reservations about some of Emmeline's tactics: whilst she's perfectly willing to send herself to jail for slapping a police officer or chaining herself to a carriage, she's objected more than once to the hunger strikes the Muggle suffragettes have undertaken, and to the violent countermeasures of the police at the urging of the Liberal government. The escalation of tactics and brutal suppression aren't the fault of the suffragettes, of course, but the entire issue has become too extreme for Hermione's comfort. She must be getting less radical in her old age, but she does have a position to maintain at St Hilda's and students to worry about, after all.

The kitchen is warm and small and cosy, rather like the flat itself. Ostensibly Hermione shares a flat with her friend Luna and her father near Russell Square, and there are always her rooms at St Hilda's, of course, but she spends most of her nights here in Soho with Ron and Harry. Her mother would be shocked, she supposes, but Hermione doesn't see the point of pretense. She's careful in sleeping with Ron, always making certain her potions are up-to-date; the last thing she needs is an unplanned pregnancy up-ending their lives. The St. Hilda's dons are progressive in their attitudes towards women's rights and education, but she rather thinks even they'd balk if she got herself up the duff as an unwed mother, more likely over the potential loss of research time than the social scandal, really.

She drops into a chair at the table and unbuttons her boots, kicking them off with a relieved sigh. She rubs at her burning toes, cracking them with a wince.

"You're back," Harry says, coming into the kitchen behind her. He's in just a shirt and trousers, the collar open, his dark hair touselled and unruly.

Harry, she thinks, never knows how attractive he is and never has, really. Hermione's dead in love with Ron, has been since fifth year, and she adores Harry like a brother, but she has moments of fleeting regret about Harry's interest in men rather than women, mostly for his own comfort and well-being. He'd barely wanted to admit it to her, that year after Hogwarts, and she'd had to pry it out of him in the wake of his tempestuous breakup with Ron's younger sister. It'd taken nearly an entire bottle of gin before he'd finally given in and confessed what Hermione already suspected. Harry's always had a prudish streak--something about being raised by those horrid Surrey relatives of his--and he hadn't been able to admit, even to himself, that he wasn't interested in women in that way for the longest time. Although the laws aren't enforced as frequently in the wizarding world, invert wizards are still frowned upon in most circles in England, despite their obvious presence in all levels of society. Everyone suspects about Albus Dumbledore, and Harry's own godfather had gone to Azkaban for an improper relationship after his own mother had brought him before the Wizengamot. Sirius was in Berlin now, happily away from England; Hermione'd joined him for tea on a recent trip for an International Witches' Congress.

At times, Hermione wonders if her irregular status with Ron isn't also cloaking Harry. She's heard a few odd snippets of conversation that have made her wonder what people assume about the romantic arrangements of the three friends. They've always been her boys, since Hogwarts, and the loose tongues can wag all they want. The world is changing, and there are more important causes to fight for than conventional social morality.

"Make us a cuppa, will you?" Hermione asks, doing her best to look pitiful. Harry just laughs at her and snaps his fingers at the kettle sitting on the cooker. She can see the red flare of hot coals through the slats of the firebox beneath the range, and it only takes a moment before steam starts drifting from the kettle's spout.

Harry drops a folded parchment on the table and opens the cabinet, pulling out a crazed pot and a tin of Darjeeling from the grocer's. He makes the tea by rote, settling the leaves into pot and filling it with steaming water, then covering the pot with a worn off-orange cosy from the hands of Molly Weasley, a reminder of the level of domesticity Hermione knows she'll never achieve. Balancing pot and cups, Harry sets the tray down on the table between them, then pours for Hermione, knowing exactly how she prefers it with a single sugar cube and a goodly splash of milk.

"What's this?" Hermione asks, picking up the parchment Harry'd discarded. He doesn't stop her from opening it, instead setting her cup of tea in front of her as she skims the spiky handwriting scrawled in thick black quill strokes. She raises an eyebrow. "Lord Malfoy? Really?"

"Ron and I are working with him," Harry says, a grim tinge to his voice. "Kingsley's orders. There's a new murder, this one near Brick Lane."

Hermione sets the letter down, feeling as if she should scour her fingers now. "And Malfoy's assisting?"

"More or less." Harry moves the parchment, resting his elbow near it. He hesitates. "Well. You've read it. He thinks it's a were."

"Yes, I see." Hermione picks up her tea and sips it, collecting her thoughts. "And you?"

Harry doesn't answer for a long moment, then he sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "I don't know yet. Maybe? Maybe not."

A typical Harry answer. Hermione hates it when he refuses to take an opinion. "What does Ron think?"

"That Malfoy's full of shite," Ron says from the doorway. He's jacketless as well, and there's a Daily Prophet tucked beneath his arm, suggesting that he's been visiting the loo. He leans down and kisses Hermione's forehead before dropping into the chair next to her. "Can't be a were. Full moon isn't until tomorrow."

Harry doesn't look convinced. "Those wounds weren't made by knife. Or a regular dog."

Ron shrugs. "Another animal or weapon then. Or some nutter trying to make it spectacular." He swipes Hermione's tea and takes a swallow of it. "Malfoy's just trying to make himself look important."

"But Padma's preliminary report agrees with him," Harry says, nodding towards the parchment. "At least he's suggesting it does." He sighs. "I'll need to talk to her in the morning."

"She'll clear it up." Ron shakes his head. "He's pulling one on you, mate. I'll wager a Galleon she says it's an Animagus. Makes more sense."

Harry gives him a faint smile, the one he always uses when he's placating Ron. "You're probably right." Hermione raises an eyebrow. Interesting, that. So Harry's wondering if Malfoy has a point then.

Ron just snorts and nods. "'Course I am. Malfoy's wanting to send us on a wild goose chase. We're distracted; he goes off and finds the Animagus murderer, and we look right tits with egg on our faces. What an arsehole."

"Wasn't Malfoy involved in that poisoning case in Manchester?" Hermione knows she'll touch a nerve, but sometimes her boys need that. As much as she dislikes the Viscount Malfoy, she does respect his intelligence, something that she suspects Harry and Ron overlook because of their territoriality. "His methods do appear to work, you know."

"He was lucky," Ron says with a dismissive wave. "And Crispin Hawes says he was an arse the whole way through the investigation."

Harry smiles, a genuine curve of his lips this time. "Not that Crispin isn't an arse himself most of the time."

"True." Ron shrugs and leans back in his chair, draping an arm over Hermione's shoulders. It's heavy and comforting. "Doesn't mean I want Malfoy sticking his pointy little nose in our case though."

It's hard to argue with that. Still, something doesn't quite sit right with Hermione. She frowns, recalling a conversation she'd had last week with Tonks over tea. "But Tonks said something recently about shifting outside of the full moon. It wasn't Remus, of course, but there was something odd in that benevolent society they're a part of. That one or two of the younger ones have had irregular shifts. I thought St. Mungo's was trying to help with it."

Harry turns his teacup between his hands, frowning into it. "I haven't heard about this. Aren't they supposed to report that sort of thing to the registry? I don't think it's been in any of the werewolf cases the force has handled as of late."

Of course not, Hermione thinks and tries not to let her annoyance show. Lately Harry has barely listened to anything or anyone outside of the Auror headquarters. He's been far too focused on his possible promotion to Deputy Head.

"You should visit them more frequently," she points out. "It's not as if you aren't Teddy's godfather." She rolls her eyes at Harry's scowl and sighs. "It's just something Nymphadora mentioned in passing. She's been worried about Teddy; if he's going to show any wolfish traits it'll be now. He's just turned twelve this spring."

"Right," Harry says, but she can tell he's distracted. He eyes the parchment from Malfoy again. "Mungo's is working on it?"

"Supposedly." Hermione settles into Ron's side, enjoying the warmth radiating off of him. "I don't know how, though."

"Might be worth looking into," Ron says. He squeezes Hermione's shoulder "Although I have to admit, at the moment, I'm more interested in investigating what's for tea."

Harry smiles. "You would be." He glances at Hermione. "Figured you wouldn't be up to cooking tonight, so I stopped by the Leaky and ordered meat pies."

She wrinkles her nose. They're not her favourites, but anything that keeps her from having to stand over the cooker for an hour or two is worth it, even if it is her rightful night to make tea. They've had a rota for household tasks going on three years now, despite the fact that she doesn't technically live with them. It'd been her idea; she'd balked at their expectation that she cook and clean for them merely because she doesn't have a prick.

"Thanks," she says, and she means it. Harry just gives her a small smile. Even when his head's up his arse, he's still thoughtful--when he wants to be, at least. "Shall I warm them?" she asks, starting to stand, but Harry waves her back into her seat.

"Leave it be," he says, and she leans back against Ron's side, watching as Harry pushes himself up. He tucks Malfoy's letter into his trouser pocket, and Hermione can't help but wonder at the care he's taking with it. The letter hadn't been more than a few scribbled demands for a better desk space in the Auror headquarters and Malfoy's insistence that they look into werewolf activity throughout London based on Padma's preliminary reports--nothing of importance, really. She doesn't quite understand Harry's reluctance to part with it.

Except, perhaps, she does. And she doesn't entirely like the conclusion she's beginning to draw.

***

"Really, Harry, I wouldn't know," Tonks says as she steps over piles of old clothing the Werewolf Benevolent Society's sorting in her sitting room for distribution. "All they told us was that someone from St. Mungo's would be looking into the shifts, and they've collected blood from Freddy and Hestia, but I haven't heard anything else, other than it might have been an issue with their Wolfsbane Potion." She picks up a frayed shirtwaist that's draped over the arm of the worn sofa and frowns at it, her crown of braids turning from brown to a bright, angry red before fading into a dark auburn. "Honestly, the rags people give us. Barely wearable!"

Harry leans against the door jamb, arms crossed, trying to stay out of the chaos. "Would Remus know?" He wishes again that Ron would have come instead, but he'd gone off to track down another lead on Bertie Clarke's murder since Dawlish had been called into court to testify on a case they'd closed nearly a year past. It's been months since Harry's been up to Birmingham to see Remus and his family, and he feels terribly guilty about his absence.

"Probably not." Tonks bins the shirtwaist and turns back to him. "He's the one who told me in the first place. If he knew anything more, he'd say." She shakes her head, mouth tightening. "It's not right, the way they treat him. Like he's barely human at best, and most of them just think he's nothing more than a beast. They'll be more open with me, and I'm a woman, only just capable of thinking for myself." She snorts and brushes past him, leading him into the kitchen, filled with the scent of just-baked bread. "It's enough to make you loathe the wizarding world sometimes."

"Most of the time, I'd think." Harry takes in the tiny kitchen, pristinely neat with crisp white lace curtains hanging at the windows, carefully mended in more than one place. Tonks and Remus are proper poor; the prejudice against Remus's lycanthropy keeps him from steady employment, and he's forced to support his wife and son on the pittance he earns from writing and the odd job here and there. It's a fact that pleases Severus, much to Harry's annoyance, though the last time Severus had popped in when Harry was here at the cottage visiting, the reality of the Lupins' poverty had sobered the arrogant sod. It probably reminded Severus a bit too much of his own Northern childhood, Harry thinks. It was hard not to feel a twinge of pity for the family in this shabby, rundown postage stamp of a Birmingham flat, even if it is kept spotless. Still, Remus and Tonks and Teddy seem happy and content for the most part, and Tonks has thrown herself into her work with the benevolent society.

Tonks offers Harry a thick slice of warm bread, spread with butter and raspberry jam. It's delicious, and he says so. She beams at him. "Mum's old recipe, the jam is. She gave it to me Sunday last, and I thought I'd make some up this week." She eyes him. "You're not eating enough. You're too thin."

Not likely, Harry thinks wryly. He's had a few too many of the Leaky's meat pies as of late. "So tell me about these shifts then," he says through a mouthful of bread.

She shrugs and tucks a loose tendril of hair behind one ear. "Nothing remarkable about them except that one happened in the new moon and one just a few days ago. Startled poor Freddy and Hestia, of course, but they had people with them who recognised the signs early enough to lock each of them in until their shift ran its course. They're siblings, turned at the same time six weeks or so ago down near Salisbury. Their poor mum's nearly out of her mind, as you might expect, but their dad points out he's just glad to have them alive. Remus went with them to register at the Ministry a fortnight ago. It ought to have been their second regular shift tonight." She sighs. "I don't know. Maybe their bite wasn't done properly. Maybe it's because they're so young. Freddy's just six and Hestia's eight." Her eyes narrow. "St Mungo's wanted to put them down at first until one of the Healers intervened. Remus and Marcus--you remember him, of course, prints the pamphlets for the benevolent society?" Harry doesn't, but he nods anyway. Tonks goes on. "Anyway, the both of them spent a whole day shouting at the Healers before one of the researchers took an interest in their case. Came up and took some blood, did a bit of a write-up on what had happened to them, then sent them home with a new potion. It seems to have worked, so far."

Harry sits on one of the rickety chairs at the heavy wooden table where the Lupins eat. "No one was hurt when they shifted?"

Tonks shakes her head and taps her wand against a bowl filled with potatoes. The skins unwind themselves, dropping onto the countertop in neat, even spirals. "Hestia scratched her side a bit trying to get out, and they both demolished their rooms, but that's about it."

"Could the Wolfsbane Potion have caused an early shift?" Harry asks. He moves aside a vase filled with bright pink and white Sweet William plucked from the front garden.

"I don't know." Tonks drops the potatoes into a pot of boiling water, hissing when she splashes herself. "I suppose it might, if it was misbrewed, but it's not something any of us have heard of before." She glances back over at Harry. "This month's batch didn't affect the rest of the society. Remus has been fine, and he takes it from the same potionbrewer as everyone else--Edward Pembroke over in Bath. Maybe it was a bad brew, but Eddy's always been quite reliable. Why are you asking?"

Harry doesn't want to tell her, but he knows she'll keep pressing." There've been bodies found in London," he says, "with what look to be animal mutilations done to the corpses." He regrets it immediately when her mouth thins and worry furrows her eyebrows. "No one's suggesting it's a were doing the killing," he adds gently. Well. No one except Malfoy, so far. And possibly Padma, but Harry's holding off judgment on that for the nonce.

"But they will, soon enough." Tonks wipes her hands on a tea towel. Her hair darkens. "And you think it might be."

"It's a possibility," Harry admits. He leans forward, elbows on his knees. There's a spot of black rot on a floorboard near the sink where the mending charms are beginning to wear thin. "I have to at least consider it."

Tonks turns away from him, not answering for a moment. "It's not Remus," she says finally. "Or any of ours."

"I don't think it is." Harry knows she's afraid, and he understands why. There's a fear of werewolves that goes deep within wizarding society. They're monsters, or so the genteel classes would have them classified. Not really human. Harry knows even he has some prejudices, himself. Malfoy's not wrong about that. He doesn't often think of Remus as a were, not really, but he's nervous around some of the others he's met here in this flat, even when he tries not to be. Those stories he's heard since Hogwarts are still in the back of his mind, labelling them dangerous and beastly, creatures to be feared and shunned. And then he sits across the table from Remus at Christmas dinner, watching Remus laugh at Teddy's truly terrible jokes and smile at Tonks in that way that makes it clear he's still arse over tit for her, and Harry realises how utterly foolish those stories can be.

It's thanks to the efforts of Remus and Tonks and those like them that some of the more stringent laws governing werewolves have been lifted in the past decade. Remus had fought long and hard for the right to marry his wife; Teddy had been almost three before the Wizengamot had allowed their Muggle-approved marriage to be registered with the Ministry. It had only been through Albus Dumbledore's insistence that Remus had been allowed to attend Hogwarts; to this date he's the only full werewolf educated there, at least after having been infected with lycanthropy. The Board of Governors had forbidden it once they'd found out about Remus, led by Malfoy's grandfather, the former marquess of Avebury. Teddy's only been allowed to attend under his grandmother's natal surname, to protect him from idiots. The Black family still has some social status, after all.

"It'll be the Snatchers all over again," Tonks says, her voice low.

Harry flinches. The gang had been one of Harry's early cases after being promoted to Auror Inspector, Dark wizards who'd used Imperius on young werewolves, forcing sixteen-year-olds still struggling with their curse to carry out the gang's illegal activities without their leaders dirtying their own hands. The Prophet had conveniently ignored all but the werewolves, whipping the public up into a frenzy, until reality--and a series of public arrests--had forced them to look at the men behind the scenes. Still, the aftermath had been brutal; crimes against registered werewolves had tripled in six months, and even now, seven years after, fears ran high in certain quarters whenever the werewolf issue was raised.

"Tonks," he says, standing, but she holds up a hand, still barely looking at him.

"Don't." Tonks tucks her wand in the waistband of her skirt. She looks tired and wan, her shoulders slumped. Harry remembers when she was younger and carefree, sitting in the warm kitchen of his godfather Sirius's house in Grimmauld Place, laughing as she'd changed her pert, turned-up nose into an elephant's trunk just to amuse him and Ron during school hols. She's changed since her marriage, taking on the worries of her husband, fretting about the safety of her son now that he's away at school. Harry misses the old Tonks sometimes, and the way she'd streak her dark hair with pink and purple when she was happy, not giving a damn what anyone else might say.

They've all changed, Harry thinks. He supposes it comes with growing up, with bearing responsibilities that you'd never quite imagined as a youth. He can feel it in his bones, that sorrow of age. It deepens with each case he takes on, each body he finds lying in an alley. He doesn't want to admit it to anyone else--not even Ron and Hermione--but he's desperate to be promoted. He's tired of it all. He wants to sit at a desk and shuffle paperwork sometimes, to send all the young recruits out into the field to face the horrors that only human beings can inflict upon each other.

"Remus'll be home soon," Tonks says finally. She looks over at Harry. "I'd rather I tell him about this, if you don't mind."

Harry nods and pushes himself out of the chair. It scrapes across the wooden floor. "I'm sorry," he says from the doorway.

Tonks casts a Scourgify over a knife-scarred cutting board. "No reason to be," she says, but there's a tinge of reproach in her voice anyway.

There's always a reason, Harry's found. It's part of the price of being an Auror. You can't live on the fringes of the dark without being touched by the shadows, without bringing them back with you. People don't always like to be reminded how close they are to the uncivilised, to the pain and the suffering and the banal evil of life. He doesn't blame them, if he's honest. There are days he wishes he could forget what he's seen as well.

Harry steps out onto the uneven bricks pacing Brass Street. It's beginning to drizzle, the sky above grey and grim. The weather suits his mood today, he thinks, and he raises the collar of his coat.

With a heavy heart, he Apparates back to London.

***

Ron stands outside the rather dubious-looking lodgings of one Bertram Clarke. Not the sort of place he'd think a toff would live, to be honest. The building's not in the fashionable part of Piccadilly, Muggle or wizarding, and the once-white paint on the lead-paned bay window has faded to a peeling yellow-grey. Must have been the gambling, Ron thinks, and the fact that Mummy and Daddy back in the States had significantly lowered dear Bertie's yearly allowance, or so the bank records would indicate.

Up one flight of dingy steps, he finds Clarke's flat. Ron raps on the heavy, black door and waits. It takes a moment or two, but he sees a figure through the rippled glass of the door just before it's opened by a rumpled young woman still shrugging into her diaphanous dressing gown, her brown hair half down around her shoulders. She blinks at him, then shrugs the gossamer silk over her shoulders, wrapping it closed around her chemise and corset.

"Who are you?" she asks, in a decidedly American accent. There's a wand tucked into the pocket of her dressing gown; Ron can see the carved tulip hilt.

Ron hesitates for just a moment, then pulls out his warrant card. "Sergeant Weasley of the London Aurors," he says, and she takes her time looking at his credentials.

"You're here about Bertie then," she says, turning back into the flat. "Shut the door behind you."

He does, following her into an unkempt sitting room. There are teacups piled on the side table and newspapers scattered across the sofa and floor. "Might I ask whom you are?"

The woman blinks back at him, a cigarette in her mouth. She lights it with the tip of her wand, then sits in an armchair, one leg crossed over the other, her dressing gown opening to reveal her beribboned pantaloons. They're expensive, Ron can tell. He's used to Hermione's plain, serviceable pants, their only adornment neat rows of pin-tucks. This is silk and heavy cream lace that a pale blue ribbon is woven through.

She exhales a stream of smoke through her nostrils. Her eyes are red and there are faint purple smudges beneath them. "Cordelia," she says finally. "Clarke. Bertie's cousin." She looks over at Ron. "Twice removed."

Bollocks, Ron thinks. Common-law wife, more likely. There's a small fading bruise at the base of her throat, and Ron'd put Knuts to Galleons that it would match Bertie's overbite. He glances around the sitting room. There are still a few trappings of wealth: the furniture is solid and comfortable, well-made. A coal fire burns in the hearth, taking away a bit of the chill from the rain, and the oil portraits that glower down from the wall are old and obviously ancestral. At least one of the old bastards is a dead ringer for Bertram. Or at least as far as Ron can tell, given that half the poor sod's face had been gouged away.

"Nice place," he says, almost serious, but Cordelia gives him a baleful look. She's obviously used to something a bit more.

"Bertie never could keep his money," she says after a moment. She taps ash off the end of her cigarette; it vanishes into thin air. "Couldn't stay away from the gambling pits, damned fool." Her voice catches; she looks away, her rosy lips pressed together. Even in her dishevelled grief, she's lovely, Ron notes. Full breasts, pale, smooth skin, perfectly arched brows. Bertie Clarke was a lucky bastard.

He moves a crumpled newspaper and perches on the end of the sofa. "How long had the two of you been together?" he asks, holding out a handkerchief.

Cordelia laughs, but it's swallowed by a sob. She takes the handkerchief and twists it between her fingers. "Aren't you the blunt one?"

Ron shrugs. "Not a fool," he says, and he waits.

The fire pops and crackles across the room. It's heavy and hot and stuffy, but Ron thinks Cordelia might need it that way. There's something a bit otherworldly about her, a flash of fey that he catches in her bright green eyes.

"Four years." Cordelia presses the handkerchief to her nose. "But he was my cousin."

"Twice removed," Ron says with a small smile. Her mouth twitches slightly, but sadness settles over her, slumping her shoulders and bowing her head.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she says, voice quiet. She folds the handkerchief and sets it on the arm of her chair. "His mother and father cut him off because of me, you know. Well, me and the gambling. I never knew which of us was worse. I think his mother blamed me for the wagers he'd lose money on, but it wasn't me. I never wanted him to go to the cards. At least it wasn't whores and opium like his brother."

Ron just watches her. She shifts in the chair and takes another drag on her cigarette. She closes her eyes and exhales, grey smoke drifting up to the yellowing ceiling.

"Do you know who did it?" Cordelia asks.

"We're still looking." Ron leans forward. His boots have left spots of mud on the rug, but Cordelia doesn't seem to have noticed. He feels sorry for her, if he's honest. If anyone understands the difficulties of unconventional relationships, it's him. "But I have to ask--why was Bertram out that night? Was he gambling?"

Cordelia breathes in, ragged and raspy in the silent room. She stubs her cigarette out in an empty teacup and stands, her dressing gown swirling around her as she strides to the cabinet beneath one of the paintings. An old, wrinkled man watches her sympathetically as she opens it, pulling out a cut crystal decanter filled with a dark red wine. She pours two small glasses and hands Ron one. The scent of Madeira drifts from it, woody and warm. He takes a sip.

"Good," he says, and Cordelia gives him a faint smile.

"Bertie insisted on the best, always." She walks over to the window and looks out through the lace curtains, her glass cupped in between long fingers. Sunlight warms her pale skin and reveals the curves of her body through her chemise and pantaloons. Not even Hermione's that comfortable with her body, Ron thinks, and there's something about Cordelia that he likes. She's strong, probably stronger than Bertie thought her to be. "I didn't care that he was basically a No-Maj, you know. My parents were just as horrified as his were, but only because he couldn't do magic. They wanted someone more appropriate for me. Someone better." Her face crumples a bit. "They never understood why I chose Bertie, but he was kind. He made me laugh." She presses her lips together, then draws in a slow breath. "I don't know what I'll do without him."

"You'll survive this." Ron sets his wine down.

Cordelia looks back at him. "Maybe." She studies him for a long moment, as if weighing a decision, then she sighs. "He'd changed lately. Not so much that you'd notice, really, but I knew Bertie. I knew him so well, and I could tell. There were people he was seeing. Men who--" She breaks off and bites her lip.

"What kind of men?" Ron keeps his voice gentle, careful. He doesn't want to unsettle her, not any more than she already is. "Criminal types? Anarchists?"

"I don't know." Cordelia downs the rest of her wine in one long swallow, then presses the empty glass to her damp lip. "Maybe. I just know they were…" She sighs and sets her glass down on the mantel. "They made me uncomfortable the one time they came by. They were Muggles, I think, but they were talking about magic. Not in the way that we do magic, mind. Not spells or potions, but rituals and invocations. Bertie said it was all just a lark, just him having fun with them, but I didn't like it, and he never let them stop by again."

Ron stands up, reaching for the notepad and quill he keeps in his jacket. "Do you remember any of their names?"

"Richard, I think one was." Cordelia pushes her hair back out of her face. "The other...Mick, maybe? Or Nick? I can't remember, but--" She holds up a finger. "Bertie had a box that he didn't like me touching. I did once, when he wasn't here, and it felt wrong. You know? I can't quite explain it. I wasn't the best witch at Salem Witches' Institute, but I know damn well when something's dark, and this was."

"Can I see it?"

Cordelia nods. "Wait here."

She's only gone a minute or so, and when she comes back in, she's holding a wide walnut box away from her body, balanced gingerly between her trembling hands. It's covered with carvings, the most prominent of them a rayed star, black and deep on the centre of the lid. She thrusts it towards Ron. "Take it. I don't want it in the flat any more."

The box is heavier than it looks. Ron opens it with one hand; there's a sheaf of papers on top, covered in more symbols and spidery writing. He closes it back up again. "You're certain."

"Absolutely." Cordelia's at the decanter again, pouring more Madeira for herself. "Get rid of it. Please."

"Thanks," Ron says, and she just nods, not looking at him. He tucks it under one arm and turns to leave, stopping at the door. "Cordelia." She glances up, her face drawn. "St Hilda's College," he says. "In Oxford. Go there and ask for Hermione Granger. She'll help you however she can to get back on your feet."

"I'm not a whore in need of rescuing, Sergeant Weasley," Cordelia says, but one corner of her mouth curves the slightest bit.

Ron shrugs. "Never thought you were, Miss Clarke. But some families turn their backs on their girls like damned fools, and I don't want to see you go through that any more than you have. It won't hurt you to talk to Hermione."

"A knight in an Auror uniform, are you?" Cordelia's voice is light, but she nods. "St Hilda's, you say?"

"Yeah." Ron thinks she'll go. He hopes she will. There are more options for women in the wizarding world than the Muggle, but one still needs introductions and assistance. Someone who's willing to strongarm others to help, and Hermione's brilliant at that. He tips his hat. "Until later, ma'am."

As he lets himself out of the flat, he thinks he hears a faint sob from the sitting room. He closes the door behind him and sighs.

***

Harry comes into the cool, tiled basement room at St Mungo's to find Padma arguing with Blaise Zabini over a large brass-fitted microscope.

"It's clearly a massive die-off of red blood cells," Padma's saying as the heavy wooden door closes quietly behind Harry. "You can see the exploded platelets in the smear."

"They could have become altered by the fixing medium. I'd like to take another sample and see if the new slide has the same results."

"Zabini, you know as well as I do that the slide prep has nothing to do with it. But in case it did--" Padma's heels click as she storms over to a large wall cabinet, extracting a small lettered black box. "I made several. They have the same results, as you can confirm yourself."

As Harry watches, silently amused at the tension between the two scientific experts, Zabini fits his eye to the lens. Padma crosses her arms over her chest.

"Oh, well, that's interesting." Zabini curls his body towards the device with practiced ease. "It does look to have happened almost simultaneously. This might be one of the most violent reactions I've witnessed."

"I hate to say I told you so, Zabini. But I told you so." Padma makes a moue of triumph as Zabini shifts the array of lenses for greater magnification.

Just as Harry is wondering whether to advertise his presence, Padma looks right at him. "Oh there you are, Harry. How are the investigations coming on the street side of things?"

"Hullo, Padma. Zabini." Harry stops a few paces off, shifting his weight. He doesn't want to get too close to the microscope in case he might affect the light or the spell Padma's cast on it. "Ron's been by to visit the widow. Turns out our man was living in sin with a second cousin. American too, by the sound of it."

"They've recently spent time in Ohio." Zabini's voice is muffled. "There was a tag in the victim's shirt."

Harry takes out a small notebook and writes in it. "Was it legible?"

"R. Goff Tailors, Cleveland." Padma leads Harry over to the collection of strange items in glass dishes. He tries not to look at the body draped with a white sheet. It looks much better here, covered and cared for, than it did in the alley recently. The morgue smells of cleaning fluid, chemicals, and something like gunpowder. The clinical presence of death always makes Harry feel a bit odd, almost as though they're all just visitors in death's antechamber, waiting for their own turn in the morgue. He shakes off the cold fingers of fear that trace his spine.

"What do you make of the clothing, Padma?" Harry's grown used to the keenness of the forensic analyst's observations and her remarkable ability to identify unusual substances, both Muggle and magical.

"Rich stuff, well mended. He had a common law wife?" At Harry's nod, Padma purses her mouth. "Well, she or her maid have a fine sewing hand. The boots are unremarkable, a bit worn at the heel but nothing unusual or overworn."

Harry nods again, making a few jots of his own but knowing that he'll receive a meticulous report from the source herself. Padma's made quite a name for herself recently and has helped Harry immensely with his caseload. He privately worries that she could be wooed away to Switzerland or France by a university position and makes a note to ask Kingsley about this when next they speak. If he's not getting another bollocking over Malfoy, that is.

"The plant residues are rather ordinary as well," Padma says. "There's pollen that indicates an afternoon in the country, but the botanical spells place most of the victim's recent travels in London. There's brick dust and street grime, of course. He had very bad taste in establishments, judging from the muck on his trouser hems. Oh, and this." She points to a small glass jar that contains the fragment of dull, silvery-grey cloth they'd found at the scene. It's hovering in midair, circling slowly, a ball of light shining directly on it. "Very odd. It's old, incredibly so, if my diagnostics are correct. And there's a charm of some sort woven into the fabric itself. Watch."

With her wand, Padma moves the light so that shadows stretch out along the edge of the jar. To Harry's surprise they move, sliding towards the scrap of fabric and enveloping it until it disappears into them. "Strange," he says.

"I know!" Padma sounds delighted. She puts the light back into place. "It's some sort of invisibility charm. I think our murderer must have a robe or coat made of it. That's probably why we have no witnesses on the street. If the shadows covered him…" She raises a shoulder.

"Though I walk the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil," Zabini intones from his corner. "Didn't quite work for Bertie, did it?"

Padma rolls her eyes. "Shut it, Blaise."

Harry's rather surprised at Zabini's use of the holy writ. "Wouldn't have taken him for a religious man," he says.

"Don't," Padma says drily. "He's much more a Mass on Christmas and Easter sort. If that, even."

"I can hear you, you realise," Zabini says. He doesn't bother to turn around. "I learnt my catechism when young, thank you very much, unlike the rest of you lot." He peers into the microscope. "Although that might well be because my mother was bedding a seminarian at the time."

Harry ignores him. "What about the other evidence from the scene? The hair?"

"Not Bertie's," Padma says. "But I don't know that it belongs to the murderer either. That alley's used for whoring, and it could have come from an assignation earlier in the evening."

"Oh, aren't you a pretty one?" Zabini mutters to the microscope. With a start, Harry realizes he must be talking to the slide. He has a wand out, and a strange diffuse silver light is illuminating the glass underneath the long lens.

"Are you ruining my slides, Zabini?" Padma turns to chide her colleague. "I'll have you know, those do not make themselves."

Zabini straightens up. For the first time, Harry sees his handsome brown face and high cheekbones. "Good morning, Inspector," Zabini says pleasantly.

From the slight quirk at the corner of Zabini's mouth, Harry assumes that Draco has shared confidences with his old friends. He'll need to have a word with the viscount about who exactly is aware of their assignations, although Harry knows it's utterly futile to ask the old Slytherin network not to gossip.

"Anything out of the ordinary in the tissue sample?" Harry gestures vaguely to the microscope stand.

Zabini and Padma trade looks, and it must be something unusual from the unspoken disagreement. Harry waits for them to decide to talk. He's naturally impatient, but he's often found the ability to stay silent a boon in figuring out information from suspects and colleagues alike.

"Zabini thinks the killer must be a werewolf." Padma gestures with her chin toward the body. "I believe the physical evidence could indicate Animagus or some other shifter—" She holds her hand up against Zabini's protest. "Yes, possibly a were, given the nature of the claw marks and the bite. However, there was some sort of event that precipitated a mass destruction of the victim's blood cells. There's further evidence of clotting in the organs as well."

Harry frowns. "Does that mean the victim didn't die of the bite?"

Padma sighs and glances over to Zabini, who is cleaning his wire-framed glasses with a cloth. "I'm not entirely sure. Zabini has an alternate theory."

"I'll need further samples and a bit of lab time, but I think I can isolate an infection in the victim's blood." Zabini wears a smug look that is natural to the denizens of the Slytherin dungeon. Harry wonders when it stopped irritating him. He finds it maddeningly attractive on the face of a certain aristocratic wizard. From the frown on Padma's face, Harry can tell that Padma is both intrigued and unconvinced by Zabini's theory.

"So he died of an infection?" Harry's pen hovers over the paper of his notebook.

Zabini steeples his fingers. "In a manner of speaking. But it's werewolf-related. The only question is, which werewolf?"

Judging from the frown on Padma's face, she's not entirely convinced. "You can't deny that the timing makes it highly unlikely to have been an ordinary were. The phase of the moon was entirely wrong for what you are suggesting."

To his own surprise, Harry pipes up with the counter-evidence. "Actually, I've been learning recently that there are weres known who don't need to shift with the full moon phase. Tonks mentioned it when I went to visit."

Zabini nods slowly and leans his head towards Harry. "This is entirely true," he says. "I was trying to convince our esteemed colleague of this when you came in."

Padma just raises a sceptical eyebrow. "Please, would one of you show me the evidence? You can't claim to have knowledge of something which you have not entirely verified through scientific procedure. I am more than happy to imagine you are telling the truth as you see it, but I've seen nothing in the literature which suggests such a thing." There are two spots of colour high on Padma's cheeks. Her primary passion's scientific accuracy and objectivity, and Harry knows she'll take convincing. He treasures her keen mind and careful process, so unlike his own impulsive tendencies in fieldwork.

"I have samples in my own slides," Zabini says smoothly. "I'm more than happy to share. It will take a special preparation and a bit of chemical reagent work to prove it. Also, the spell for the last step needs to be done at the full moon to compare them to the usual lycanthropic infection. I can work on it tonight."

"Very good," Padma says. "Do you think we should do anything else to establish your theory?"

"We might have Draco--" Zabini catches himself. "--I mean, the Viscount Malfoy, examine the body. He's had experience with this sort of were."

Harry blinks. "How so, if you don't mind my impertinence?"

Zabini's smile is feral. "Not in the least, nor should Viscount Malfoy, I imagine." Harry rather thinks differently. "The Marchioness Avebury was killed by a were shortly after the new moon."

"His mother?" Harry's astonishment must show on his face. Even Padma looks a bit sympathetic to his plight, and Harry reminds himself to ask her later about her understanding of his private affairs. He's fairly certain from her demeanour she's deduced the situation to some degree, which makes him highly uncomfortable, but he doesn't want to seem overtly suspicious. He really would prefer to keep the information about his private life confidential, but he doesn't know how much control he has over his and Malfoy's social circles, particularly as they overlap in cases like this one. Still, he hopes Zabini has enough damned sense to keep Harry's secrets; surely, Harry thinks, Zabini would rather keep Draco out of Azkaban as well. Harry clears his throat. "He never mentioned."

"I see," Zabini says. His face softens, almost imperceptibly. "You really didn't know, did you? That's why he's so well versed about werewolves." He hesitates, then says, "Draco's the one who found Narcissa."

As Padma lifts a hand to her mouth, it occurs to Harry that although he knows the viscount intimately, he also doesn't know him at all. "That must have been dreadful," he murmurs. He'd known Malfoy's mother had died, but the family had kept the cause of death secret--or at least well away from the Prophet's rumour mill. He wonders how much the marquess had paid Rita Skeeter to keep her quill dry; most certainly a pretty penny.

"It wasn't easy for him." Zabini looks away, his fingers tapping against the microscope. "But it's fueled his interest in weres and other shifters." He glances back at Harry. "So yes, Lord Malfoy's had a bit of experience when it comes to werewolves who shift out of phase."

"He might have said." Harry's a bit annoyed, even as he realises he's not a leg to stand on.

Zabini curls his lip. "Suppose he should trot out his family tragedy for the Auror force at large, then?"

"Of course not." Harry's uncomfortable beneath that keen gaze of Zabini's. He feels as if he's been read down deep into his soul. "But it might have been helpful to know he had knowledge--"

"As if you'd trust him," Zabini says, and Harry's certain Zabini's heard something from Malfoy. Brilliant. His face heats, and his palms sweat. He doesn't like the idea of others knowing about him and Malfoy. The viscount may trust his friends, but Harry bloody well doesn't.

Padma glances between the two of them, her arms crossed tight against her chest. "Blaise," she says, "I'll send you those samples you'd like later this afternoon, but only if you get the hell out of my lab right now."

Harry will admit to a modicum of relief, although he does his best not to show it. Zabini, on the other hand, doesn't bother to hide his amusement. "Shall I not play with your puppy, Paddie? He's rather toothless, really. Not a lot of bite."

"Blaise," Padma says again, and at her warning look, he raises his hands.

"Right then. I'm off." Zabini slides off his stool and straightens his pristine sack coat, giving Padma a short bow. "I'll await your samples with baited breath, milady." He tosses a sharp grin Harry's way. "Inspector, always a pleasure."

Harry watches him stride out of the morgue; when the door swings closed behind him, Padma relaxes. "Brilliant mind, but rather a bit of an arse," she says.

"To say the least." Harry glances over at her. "Thanks for stepping in."

"Didn't want a wand duel in the middle of my morgue," she says lightly. Her fingers brush over the pile of effects in the tray next to Clarke's body. "But if he's right about Malfoy--"

"We should have him come take a look at the body, really. I'll find a way to contact him."

"Mmmm." Padma examines a shred of cloth, turning it with a set of forceps. "I'm certain he'll come if you firecall." The look she gives him is pointed.

Harry resolves not to worry about her inference for the moment. "Not bloody likely, but I'll try," he says. Whatever Padma thinks she knows, he's going to assume she hasn't the whole of it, and even less proof. As long as he doesn't give her any acknowledgement, he'll be safe. He's learnt that much over the years. People may suspect he's an invert, but they don't really want to know. Besides, this evidence she's provided is good enough that it might just advance the case. He can almost see the daylight at the end of his professional collaboration with Malfoy. He tucks his notebook back into his coat pocket. "Send me a copy of what you and Zabini find, will you?"

"Always, boss." Padma smiles. "Although I rather doubt we'll agree."

Harry sets his hat back on his head. "Oh, but I'm sure you'll enjoy fighting over it."

Padma's laugh follows him out of the morgue and into the hallway. Harry can't help a smile of his own. He can't explain why, not exactly, but he feels lighter than he has in days.

His cheery whistle echoes as he strides down the tiled corridor.

***

Ron stretches his long legs out in front of the hearth at the Leaky Cauldron as he settles into his chair, a frothy pint on the table. It's been a long day and he's ready for the midsummer holiday and two days in Devon celebrating his mum and dad's fortieth wedding anniversary. Hermione'll be going with him, of course, but Harry'd sent his regrets to Mum last week. Even after all these years, he's always careful not to make Ginny uncomfortable. It doesn't matter that she's been married to Neville for six years now and is a mum twice over. Hermione says it's sweet; Ron thinks it just gets Harry out of a bloody good lot of family gatherings, the lucky sod.

Dawlish sets his empty pint glass down on the table with a pleased grunt. "That's it for me, then," he says, as Harry sits back down with another round of beers in his hands. Dawlish waves him off. "I need to get my arse back home to Gwennie." He eyes the glass Harry pushes towards him regretfully.

"One more, then you're off," Harry says. He seems chipper again, Ron thinks. Has done since this afternoon.

"Someone came back from the morgue in a good mood," Ron says over the rim of his glass. He takes a gulp of beer, then licks the froth from his upper lip. "Especially for finding out Malfoy might be right."

Harry shrugs a shoulder. He's on his fourth beer of the evening, with only a spoonful or two of Ron's stewed cheese spread on toast to offset it, and his eyes are starting to take on that glassy fondness he gets when he's pissed. Harry's never been a mean drunk, not really. More of a soppy, affectionate mess. "At least we're getting answers now."

"For what good they do us." Dawlish nods to a passing Auror who lifts his glass in return. Thanks to the holiday, the pub's more crowded than usual for a Tuesday night, and Ron thinks half the Ministry must be piled into the tables and booths, all loudly chattering about the trials of their short work week. "I have the lads going down the Werewolf Register to find out where each of them was the night our friend Bertie was…" Dawlish slashes a finger across his throat. "No joy so far."

"How far through it are they?" Harry asks. His mouth is wet with beer and he drags the back of his hand across it, wiping it dry. He's already given the Register a skim himself, but he didn't see any names that had jumped out at him, outside of the usual ones they pull in from time to time. With luck, the other lads might stumble across something a bit more interesting.

Dawlish scratches the back of his neck, face scrunched. "Halfway, perhaps? There's been a spike in registrations the past ten years, you know. Didn't really notice it before, but the Beast Division claims they notified us." He looks sceptical.

Ron snorts. "That lot can't find their arses with both hands."

"Maybe Remus is right," Harry says, leaning back in his chair. "He's always on about werewolves needing proper support from the Ministry. Reckon we should have a department that actually does that."

"Now you sound like Hermione, mate." Ron laughs, flicking some of the froth from his glass at Harry's head. "Banging on about how the government should aid house elves and beasts, keep them from being oh-pressed and all that. Give them the vote, even."

"She has a point," Harry says, and Ron rolls his eyes. Harry's always been a bit too soft for an Auror, Ron thinks, even though he'll never tell him so. He's less law-and-order than some of the lads would like in a Deputy Head, and Ron wonders how Harry'll deal with that. They all like him, of course, but it's different when you're the boss. Things that people joke about when you're their mate on the force turn a bit sour when you're a step up the ladder from them and have a say in how they do their job. Harry never has been good with having people dislike him.

Dawlish drains his glass and sets it back down with a thud. "I mean it, lads, that's me done for now. Gwennie'll have been holding my supper for an hour. Can't push her goodwill too far or I'll never get a good suck and a tug, now will I?" He winks and chuckles. "Not that you heard that from me, mind."

"Never a word, John." Ron raises a glass to Dawlish. "Cheers, then, and I'll hope I don't see that ugly mug of yours until Friday?"

"Your mouth to God's ear." Dawlish pushes himself up, his chair scraping across the Leaky's dirty wooden floor. "No dead bodies turning up until then, I say." He claps Harry on the shoulder. "Best make sure this one gets home all right, though."

"I'm good, I'm good," Harry mumbles into his glass. "Perfectly fine." His words are only slightly slurred. Still, Ron thinks it might be best to cut Harry off now.

"Happy Midsummer, lads," Dawlish says, and then he's gone. Ron studies Harry. His tie is loose, and his hair is falling into his eyes, over the dark wire rims of his round glasses. Ron sucks on his bottom lip for a moment, then sighs and leans forward, elbows on the table. "Everything good, Harry?"

"The best." Harry takes another gulp of beer, the muscles in his throat working as he swallows it down. "Never been better." His eyes crinkle in the corners as he gives Ron a wry smile. "Why?"

"Don't know." Ron turns his glass between his hands. "You've just been a bit…" He hesitates. He knows they can't really be heard; the clatter of dishes and conversation that swirls around them drowns their voices out. Still, he briefly considers a Muffliato. "A bit off."

Harry doesn't look at him. "Have I?"

"Yeah." Ron glances away, terribly uncomfortable. He doesn't want to have this conversation, but he thinks they should. "Malfoy and you…" He trails off, not certain what to ask, how to say it.

"It's nothing," Harry says, a little too quickly. "He just drives me round the twist, yeah? He's a fucking tosser, you know that."

"Yeah." Ron knows Harry's deliberately misconstruing his question. "Of course he is, but…"

Harry finishes his beer. "Maybe I should pop around his, though. Apologise for being a bit of a prat yesterday." He looks past Ron, his gaze on the hearth, but Ron suspects Harry barely notices the glowing embers. He's thinking of Malfoy, that much is obvious. "We could share a bottle of wine. Peace offering of sorts?"

They'll share something, Ron thinks, and he's fairly certain he doesn't want to know exactly what. He just hopes Harry knows what he's doing. Ron'll protect him every way he can, but there's only so much he can do against Malfoy. "Be careful," he says, a heavy ball of worry settling deep in his chest.

"Aren't I always?" Harry's smile is wide and genuine. The worry tightens, making it hard for Ron to breathe. He takes a drink instead, not bothering to answer as Harry stands, only wobbling slightly. "Reckon Tom has a good bottle he'll sell me?"

"Nothing that Malfoy'll drink," Ron says. He catches Harry's hat before he knocks it off the table and hands it to him. "I'm sure you can see what swill he'll part with, though."

Harry sets his hat on his head. "Excellent idea, my friend." He squeezes Ron's shoulder. "Don't wait up."

"Never intended to." Ron reaches for his pint glass. It's as close to an admission as he'll get from Harry, that much he knows. "Firecall me if you need help hiding the body."

Ron watches as Harry pushes his way through the throng by the bar. He's a bad feeling about all this, and he considers sending an owl to his mum, begging off for the holiday. It won't do any good, he knows. There'd have to be a dead body involved or his brothers would show up on his doorstep and frog-march him to Ottery St Catchpole.

He sighs and lifts his glass to his mouth, downing the rest of his beer in one long guzzle. Harry's a bloody grown man and can do whatever the fuck he wants, yeah? Ron just wishes it wasn't with that pointy little ferret-faced prick. It'll end in bloodshed, that much is certain. It's only a question of when.

With a sigh, he heaves himself out of his chair and heads for the Floo. All he wants right now is to bury himself in Hermione and not think about the trouble his best mate's about to get into.

Somehow he's not certain that'll help.

***

It's late when the dark-haired Auror leaves the Leaky Cauldron alone, a bottle of wine in hand, leaving behind the broad-shouldered ginger. He's pissed, that much the Beast can tell from his vantage point in the shadows. Not terribly, just enough to keep him from Apparating, or using the Floo. The Beast smiles, a painful twist of his stiff lips, as he follows the Auror down the alley and out onto Charing Cross Road.

His head is buzzing with the voices tonight, bright and sharp, the way they always are when the moon is high and full. They urge him on, give wings to his steps as he tracks the Auror, watching as he makes his way down the street, stumbling every few feet.

Tonight, the voices whisper, and the Beast's heart pounds wild in his chest. He can already taste the Auror's blood on his lips, his tongue, his teeth.

He lets the shadows surround him, pulling him silently through the streets, his eyes fixed on the man in front of him.

Finally, he thinks. A suitable punishment for the little lordling''s betrayal.

A chuckle rumbles through his chest, unexpected and heavy. The voices are happy tonight, and moonlight prickles cool against his skin, sending shudders of delight through his body. It's the perfect time to end a life, the perfect time to show Malfoy his mistake, to leave His Excellency a lovely bloody calling card sprawled across his front steps.

What a violently lovely evening this will be.

***

The moon shines round over the rooftops of Piccadilly Street. The crisp night air is clearing a bit of the drink from Harry's head; he's glad for the walk, even if perhaps he ought to have found himself a hackney cab, as much as he hates motorcars. Still, he's found his legs again, and he stops for a moment as he passes by the green windows of Fortnum and Mason to glance at the elaborate towers of hampers and neatly labelled jars of pheasant in aspic the stockist has arranged beneath flickering electric lights. Despite the hour, the street's still busy: one of those new double-decker buses turns from St James Street, nearly running into a horse-drawn carriage in the process. Harry waits for it to pass before crossing Piccadilly over to Berkeley Street; his boot sticks slightly in the mud along the kerb. The sky's clear, mostly, and the rain's cleared off for the nonce. It's a beautiful night, even in the grime and grit of London.

Harry can't help humming a song from Our Miss Gibbs as he hurries through Mayfair; Hermione's a great admirer of Gertie Millar's performances, and Harry's been dragged to more than one evening of musical theatre in the West End on nights Ron's refused to go. He's feeling oddly chipper as he makes his way to Malfoy's townhouse, despite the fact that he thoroughly expects a chilly reception. To be honest, he supposes he deserves it. He's been a right prick lately, even if he's had reason for it.

Still, he wonders if he can talk Malfoy into a bit of rough play tonight or if the viscount will toss him out on his ear. He's prepared for the latter, but he's learnt enough about Malfoy over their past few shags to know that if he plays his cards right he can appeal to milord's delightful cock, increasing his chances of getting a leg over before morning. Tom's only bottle of rosé Champagne should help with that.

And frankly, whatever Harry's protests might be in the sober light of day, right now, with a slight drone of alcohol pleasant behind his eyes, Harry's more honest about what he wants. Malfoy. He'd watched the viscount throughout their school days, studying the planes of his cheek, the angles of his jaw, looking from the corner of his eye at the fine figure he cut on a broom in Quidditch matches. He'd hated Malfoy, and he'd wanted him, even before he knew what it was exactly that he'd desired. Malfoy has always drawn Harry into his orbit, sharp and shining, a cold, bare silver-gilt moon that lights up Harry's life. Harry feels strangely alive around Malfoy; he'd forgotten the way Malfoy makes him feel, as if a thousand cursed scarabs are scuttling beneath his skin, terrifying and yet excruciatingly exciting.

A shadow moves alongside him, and Harry turns, oddly unsettled, as if something is stalking him. There's nothing there; it was just a carriage passing beneath a street lamp. Still, Harry touches the hilt of his wand in the wand pocket of his coat. The carved holly beneath his fingertips is warm and comforting. With another wary glance around the street, he moves on, drawing closer to green patch of garden in the centre of Berkeley Square. A motorcar rumbles by, and in the fading roar of its engine he can hear the trill of a nightingale, trying to sing over the noise of the city. It makes him smile, and he relaxes just enough to feel a gentle prod at the edges of his mind.

"Stop that," he says, and Severus pops into view, his feet floating a few inches above the pavement.

"Going to see Lord Malfoy, are we?" Severus cleans ectoplasmic grime from his ghostly fingernails. He drifts through a heavyset gentleman in top hat and frock coat; the man shudders and mutters about the chill of the evening.

"Not that it's any of your business, but yes." Harry eyes Severus. The ghost's hair and clothes are rumpled. "Where've you been?"

Severus shrugs. "Somewhere." He looks a bit sleepy. "In the ether," he says through a yawn. "Thought I heard you shout."

"Obviously not." Harry grins at him. "Or not yet, at least."

"Disgusting," Severus says, but he doesn't look that put out, Harry notes. He yawns again, a wide stretch of his mouth that shows off his spectral teeth. "You really are perverse, Potter."

"Never claimed not to be." Harry crosses the street into the central garden of the square, a wide swathe of green grass and tall trees, wide branches heavy with leaves. A few lamps light the crushed stone paths that criss-cross from one side of the square to the other, circling Alexander Munro's statue of the Samaritan woman and her water jar.

A step on the path catches his attention, and Harry turns. The shadows twist and move beneath the trees, undulating, and Harry's hand moves for his wand. "Severus," he says, but there's nothing the ghost can do before the shadows rush towards Harry, shoving him to the ground, the breath knocked out of him. His wand skitters across the path, and something heavy and solid is pressing Harry into the stone and dirt, crushing his windpipe with a massive hand. Harry jerks to one side, and the creature loses its balance, giving Harry a moment to roll from beneath him. He swings the bottle of Champagne, but it misses, connecting with nothing but air.

Claws stop him, digging into his shoulder. Pain shudders through Harry, and he shouts, his eyes meeting Severus's horrified face. The bottle drops from Harry's hand. "Go," Harry says. "Get Malfoy--" But he's cut off by fingers tight around his neck, breath hot on his ear.

"I think not," a voice growls, and Harry fights to get away, punching, writhing, kicking, but the creature's strong. Powerful. Blood pours down Harry's throat, hot and slick, and the pain's nearly unbearable. He's jerked around, and the face that meets him is barely human. He'd been handsome once, the creature had, with blond curls that are now streaked with grey, matted and filthy. Stormy blue eyes study him, cold and calculating, and the creature's features are sharp and angular, his nose almost a snout. He bares pointed, yellowing teeth when he smiles at Harry. His thumb strokes across Harry's jaw, claw dragging through Harry's skin. It hurts, and the creature chuckles. "Not much longer, little Auror," he says. His voice sounds rough, raw, as if he barely uses it any more.

Harry glances towards his wand. It's several yards away, and he needs to do something now. He draws in a ragged breath, ignoring the pain that shudders through him, and pushes his hands against the creature's chest, tangling them in the woolen cloak, calling on every frisson of wandless magic he has in his body. "Sectum--"

He chokes on blood before the word can get out. His breath wheezes through his windpipe and out the hole the creature's left in Harry's throat. He's going to die, Harry realises. Blood gurgles in the back of his mouth, bitter and rusty.

"Petrificus Totalus," the creature murmurs, and Harry's body stiffens.

The creature pulls a claw away and sucks it clean. He drags Harry into the shadows, tossing him beneath the trees, and looks down at him, his snout wrinkling. "I can smell Malfoy on you," the creature says. He drops to his knees and places a hand against Harry's chest. "Pity. It's your death sentence." His claws sink into Harry's flesh, slicing through his clothes. "Say goodbye."

The pain is the worst he's ever experienced, hot and agonizing and interminable.

Harry refuses to close his eyes. He'll face death like an Auror; he's that dignity at least. The last thing he sees before the darkness takes him is the moon, shining through the branches of the trees, a pale, round glimmer of silver in the velvet sweep of night.

Chapter Text

Part Two

Golden afternoon sunlight casts dappled patterns on the wall across from the bed. Harry turns his head; it throbs dully. His mouth is dry; his vision blurred until he blinks again. The world slides into focus. It takes him a moment to realise he's not wearing his glasses.

Something's not right.

He sits up, familiar white sheets falling to his waist. He's in Malfoy's bed, stripped to his drawers. Thick, raised pink scars rope across his bare chest, and he touches them. They hurt, but only barely.

"You're awake then," a woman says from the doorway. She's thick-waisted and pretty, her dark curls caught up in a loose knot at the nape of her neck, her cheeks plump and rosy. Harry recognises her, he thinks. He's only seen her once, maybe, down the hallway one morning when he'd stumbled out of Malfoy's room just after dawn.

"Greg's wife?" he asks, and his voice is raspy, raw and painful. He licks his lip; despite the soreness in his body, his throat hurts worse than anything. He touches his neck lightly, and his fingers slip over the slickness of a scar there as well. He pulls the sheets back up over his chest, slightly shocked by her presence.

"Millicent," she says, and she strides over to the cabinet near the window and pours a glass of water from the carafe, then takes a phial from her pocket and tips a few black drops into the water, swirling the glass until they disappear. She hands the glass to him. "Greg's wife, and I run Draco's house for him whenever he's in town."

Harry eyes it sceptically. "What's this?"

"Potion," Millicent says. "Blaise has had me dosing you with it every four hours. And we went to school together, you and I." She shrugs. "Well, all of us, really, if you consider Greg, Draco and Blaise, as well."

"Oh." Harry drains the glass. It tastes foul, but it quenches his thirst somewhat. He holds the glass out for more. He remembers her, in a way. Plump, dark curls, always scowling. "You were Slytherin? Bit of a foul temper?"

Her mouth twitches. "Something along those lines," she says quietly. "We all grow up, though, don't we? Or at least most of us." She glances over at the chair beside the bed. Harry's surprised to see Severus curled up in it, sleeping, his head settled on his hands folded on the arm of the chair. He's even more surprised that Millicent can see him as well. Severus usually doesn't care to reveal himself to people; he's the most misanthropic ghost Harry's ever met. Not that he knows many shades, to be honest.

"He's been like that since they brought you in night before last. Wouldn't leave your side--threatened to have Blaise's knob if he made him." Millicent smiles faintly. "Never knew a ghost could sleep, if I'm honest. Poor thing must be knackered."

"Severus isn't your usual ghost," Harry says. Severus's hair has fallen over his spotty cheek; Harry feels a wave of affection that he's certain the ghost would be horrified by. "I thought I'd be dead." His voice catches in the back of his throat, rough and scratchy. He coughs a bit, his eyes watering.

Millicent hands him another glass of water, this one without the potion. Harry gulps it; the water's cool and sweet this time. "You would have been if it weren't for him. He half terrified Draco to death when he showed up in the library, shouting about you bleeding out in the square." She doesn't look at him when she mentions Malfoy; Harry's face heats up, thinking about the last time he was in this bed only a few days past, Malfoy fucking him into the solid headboard he's now leaning against. His stomach flips; something deep inside him shifts and uncoils, and Harry doesn't think he likes it.

"Is it Wednesday still?" he asks. He eyes the clock in the corner; it reads nearly half-five. He doesn't think he's slept more than a day, if that.

"Yes." Millicent fluffs up his pillows." Blaise poured a sleeping draught in you after he got you stabilised. It was touch and go for a bit. We thought we'd lost you at one point." She walks to the wardrobe and ruffles through a drawer or two before she glances over her shoulder. "Don't think any of us slept much before dawn."

"I'm sorry." Harry finishes the water, then passes it back to Millicent, taking the undershirt she holds out. It smells like Malfoy, and he feels that strange tug in his belly again.

"Not your fault," Millicent says. She hesitates, twisting the glass between her hands. There's something she's not telling him. He can feel it, and he's not sure why. "Blaise asked me to get him when you woke. He wants to speak to you. And I'll send a house elf up in an hour or so with dinner, if a rare roast beef sounds acceptable?"

Harry nods. "The rarer the better," he says, which surprises him. He usually prefers his meat cooked through, but right now he's craving the taste of blood and juices. Odd. Harry tugs the long-sleeved undershirt over his head as Millicent slips out the door. He crawls out of bed and stretches, then glances around the room, taking in the thick green brocade curtains framing the window and the heavy, dark furniture that fills the room, large and low. There's nothing dainty in here except a delicate bone china teapot on the mantel, white with pale pink cherry blossoms twining around the round bowl and up the spout. Harry walks over to look at it; it's incongruous in such a masculine space.

"That was Narcissa's," Zabini says, closing the door behind him, loudly enough that Severus startles in the chair, eyes blinking open sleepily. "I'm surprised you've only just noticed it, given you've been here before."

Harry meets Zabini's gaze as evenly as he can with his face flaming hot. Well, that answers his question about exactly what Zabini knows concerning his interactions with the viscount. "I suppose I was otherwise occupied."

"Obviously." There's a stethoscope draped around Zabini's neck; he pulls it off and tucks the earpieces in his ears. "Turn around."

Severus drifts over as Harry turns his back to Zabini. "You're alive," he says, his eyes fixed on Harry's. There's a curious, almost wistful look on his face.

"Yeah," Harry says. "Thanks to you." He flinches as Zabini presses the stethoscope to his back; for some reason he feels it shuddering through his body. "Careful," he says.

"Interesting." Zabini moves the stethoscope below his shoulder blade. "And don't thank that bloody ghost; all he did was scream and flail, from what I understand. You should actually be prostrate at my feet, praising my skills as a Healer, ta ever so."

Harry rolls his eyes, quite aware Zabini can't see him. He's not certain he'd have the balls to do so if he were facing him.

Severus pulls at his hair, a troubled look on his face as he studies the scar on Harry's throat. "Your mum would be quite cross at me if I'd let you die." He hesitates, head tilted to one side. "I don't think she's very happy with me as it is, though. A proper shouter, Lily is, let me tell you. Practically a Howler in human form."

"Why's she angry with you? I think she'd be relieved that I haven't yet joined her and Dad on the other side." Harry's used to Severus referencing his mum in the present tense; he knows Severus sees her from time to time in the spirit world, and every so often she'll pass a message through him to Harry, usually around his birthday, almost always referencing the impossibility of his hair. She's never come to see Harry herself, though, at least not in corporeal form, but Severus tells him it's harder for spirits who've crossed to make themselves manifest to the living. Harry breathes in as Zabini instructs him to. He feels ridiculous standing here like this in his undergarments, being prodded by Zabini when, really, for what he's been through, he feels great.

"You haven't told him?" Severus asks, his eyes flicking towards Zabini.

Zabini removes the stethoscope from Harry's back. "I've only just come in," he snaps. He turns Harry around to face him and jerks up Harry's undershirt, studying the scars on Harry's chest, the ones across his throat. "Dittany and silver powder did well enough, I suppose. You'll still have the marks, of course, but they should fade some over the next few weeks as long as you keep using the salve."

"Tell me what?" Harry looks between them. Severus tugs his hair over his eyes again, floating away towards the window. "Severus."

Severus hunches his shoulders. "Not my place." He looks grim, his wispy skin more pallid than usual.

Harry glances back at Zabini who sighs and points him towards the chair.

"Sit," Zabini says, and Harry does. Zabini runs a hand over his mouth, pulling it across his chin before settling on the edge of the rumpled bed. He frowns at Harry. "What do you remember about Tuesday night?"

"Not much." Harry wishes he had clothes right now, but he supposes his have been ruined. It's bad enough he's in Malfoy's undershirt; it's probably better that he doesn't have the smell of the prat surrounding him. That might be a bit too overwhelming. He sits forward, his bare toes digging into the soft wool of the rug. He swears he can feel every fibre brushing against his skin. "Basically just having my chest ripped open, then I must have passed out." He keeps his voice light. "Or something."

Zabini grunts. "Or something." He glances over at the carafe of water. "Did Millicent give you--"

"She potioned me," Harry says. He's starting to have an uneasy feeling tighten in his chest. "And she did that because…"

Severus and Zabini exchange a long, sober glance. It starts to come together for Harry. He slumps back in the chair, the breath knocked out of him.

"The full moon," he says, hand over his eyes. "If that was a were, and I'm alive, not lying half-exploded in the middle of Berkeley Square…" He looks up at Zabini. "You're giving me Wolfsbane, aren't you?"

"Not exactly." Zabini stands and paces the length of the bed, his arms crossed over his chest. "It's similar, but it's my own brewing. A bit Wolfsbane, yes, but also a bit more modern of a recipe. Takes into account some of my other research. It seems like Damocles wasn't as well-versed on the variations of lycanthropy as he might have assumed himself to be when he brewed the first Wolfsbane batch."

Harry feels ill. His entire world has shifted, up-ended itself in ways he'd never expected. "They'll never allow me to be Deputy Head Auror," he says. "Not after I register--"

"You don't have to," Zabini says. He doesn't look at Harry. "There are some who stay unregistered."

Harry's horrified. "It's the law. And I'm a--" He draws in a shaky breath. "A werewolf." The word feels wrong in his mouth, and he wants to laugh, wants Malfoy to storm in and tell him it's all a giant joke on him.

The door stays shut.

Zabini spreads his hands. "Yes. As you so keenly observe, you are a werewolf. And at the moment, you need to come to grips with your new condition."

"Condition? It's not like he's up the duff," Severus chimes in.

Harry glares at him. "You. Silent."

Severus looks annoyed. "It's also not as if I saved your damned life last night, or anything."

For what reason, Harry wants to shout at him. To live like this? Half-man, half-beast? With great force of will, Harry controls his rising temper. "Thank you." He catches a glimpse of misery on Severus's face as the ghost turns away and drifts back to the window, hands shoved in his pockets. Harry feels a stab of grief. Severus has always done his best to protect him, and perhaps in this instance nothing better could be done. After all, his parents hadn't been as lucky when it came to their carriage accident. At least Harry'd survived last night.

"I don't know how to do this," Harry says after a moment, and his raw, painful voice catches in the back of his swollen throat. He doesn't want to show weakness; every fibre of his body is screaming at him not to, but he knows that'd be foolish. He feels Severus's fingers brush against the back of his neck, and he leans into the careful, cool touch. Severus glides around the other side of the armchair. He doesn't look at Harry, but he doesn't really have to. Harry knows what that brief moment of contact means. He's not alone. Not entirely.

"That's quite all right, Potter. To be expected even." Zabini's voice is measured, and not without compassion. "I've had unusual clinical experience, and I'll be monitoring you closely over the next weeks. You've also got friends who will take care of you whilst you're recovering your strength. And you've even got a guardian ghost. What more could you want, really?"

Rather a lot, Harry thinks. Starting with not being a bloody werewolf. He presses his lips together, fighting back the urge to fling himself across the bed like a morose teenager. He's not been conscious long, but he's finding his moods much more mercurial. He remembers feeling like this at Hogwarts. He feels oddly numb at the same time, his mind unable to truly encompass the enormity of what this means for him. He's not sure he'll ever be able to understand it, not entirely, and a wave of exhaustion washes over him. He sags against the arm of the chair.

"You're tired," Zabini says. He touches Harry's arm, and Harry wants to snarl at him, to snap his teeth in frustration. Instead he forces himself to stay still, but Zabini still seems to know. He moves his hand away slowly. "Your body's still adapting. The changes will be subtle at first, but you'll find yourself stronger, your wounds healing more quickly." He gives Harry a small smile. "I suspect you're not needing your glasses right now, are you?"

Harry touches his face, aware again that he can see across the room for the first time since he was a child without squinting. "No," he admits. He thinks he should be happy about that--Zabini certainly seems to believe he should--but Harry misses the weight of the wire frames on his face, the way the legs dig into the back of his ears. He feels odd without his glasses, as if he's not himself any more.

In a way, really, he's not.

He rubs a hand over his face, pushing his hair back from his forehead. "I want to sleep," he says, even though he's not certain he can. He just wants Zabini out of the room, wants those sharp, keen eyes away from him. Zabini sees too much, and it makes Harry uneasy, like he's a specimen splayed out across one of Zabini's worktables to be methodically dissected for the benefit of mankind.

Zabini nods. He grips both ends of his stethoscope in his hands and rocks on his heels slightly. "I'll have Millie bring in some raw beef tea, shall I? You'll be wanting something a bit bloody soon."

Harry wants to object, but his stomach rumbles. "I suppose." He can almost taste the tang of rare beef in his mouth. He doesn't like it--except he does. Dreadfully. His heart sinks. This is how his life will be now.

"You won't lose control," Zabini says, as if that thought had even crossed Harry's mind yet. He gives Zabini a dismayed look, and Zabini has the grace to seem a bit contrite. "Sorry. I don't mean to jump ahead, but you will be wondering soon. My potion will help with those sorts of cravings."

"Is Viscount Malfoy planning to padlock me in the bedroom then?" Harry asks, with a touch of melancholy.

Zabini flashes a bright grin at him. "Not unless you've both agreed to that particular game, which, frankly, is none of my affair."

Severus snorts from behind Harry. "Sorry, Potter. You earned that one."

Harry rolls his eyes and suppresses a bitter remark about Slytherin solidarity. He pushes himself out of the chair and crawls back into the bed, his body weary. "Go to hell the both of you," he mumbles into a pillow.

"I'd rather the kitchen," Zabini says. He pulls the sheets up over Harry's shoulder. "Rest, Potter. I'll send Millie up shortly."

"With any luck I won't savage her," Harry says, and Zabini laughs.

"I think Millie can handle you." His footsteps are soft on the carpet; the door creaks when he opens it, then closes it behind him.

"Severus," Harry says.

The ghost drifts across the bed. "What?"

Harry stretches his hand across the mattress, palm up. If there's been one constant in his life since he was a child, it's been Severus, as cranky and irritable as he might be. "Don't go," he says quietly, and he can barely glance Severus's way.

Severus is silent for a moment, then the coverlet dips ever so slightly as he stretches out alongside Harry, his cold hand covering Harry's palm. "I'm here, Harry," he says. "Whatever happens."

Harry's eyes close.

He hopes he doesn't dream.

***

Ron stares at Malfoy, not even reaching to touch the steaming cup of tea Hermione had just set before him. The noise from the rest of his family is muffled in the Burrow's kitchen, although Ron knows Fred and George are probably attempting to listen at the door, despite the Muffliato Charm Malfoy had cast when they'd shut it behind them. "You must be joking."

The viscount leans back slightly in his wooden chair, crossing one long leg over the other and dusting an imperceptible bit of fluff from his impeccable summer weight trousers. "I assure you, I am entirely in earnest."

It's like something inside Ron explodes then. He slams his fists on the table and shouts at the diffident blond wizard in front of him. "Harry Potter can't possibly be a ---"

The Stunning Charm hits him smack between the eyes and he goes down like a sack of potatoes onto the cool wooden floor. As he lies there for a moment, he hears Hermione shouting that there are more decorous ways to achieve the desired effect. Ron doesn't really mind. It gives him time to think. He's been on this floor many times before, as a victim of the pranks of one brother or another; once even Ginny'd left him tied to the kitchen table for Mum to find. It's oddly comforting, especially as his mind races to take in the bizarre news Malfoy has brought to the Burrow.

Harry's a werewolf. He was turned last night. He's lucky to be alive. Malfoy found him through that bloody annoying ghost that follows Harry around. Ron knows Harry was headed to Malfoy's last night after the pub for God knows what. Malfoy's left the bit about why Harry was there in the first place out of his account, and Ron almost feels sorry for him for a moment. It passes.

To be honest, Ron doesn't know what to think. He knows he's supposed to be supportive, supposed to have it in him to be sympathetic toward the plight of England's weres. He is. He's great mates with Lupin, after all. He's a good man. A solid man.

But Harry's a hero. Harry Potter is the most powerful wizard of his generation. Harry won the Triwizard Cup a year before he was even eligible. Harry's one of the best Seekers Gryffindor's ever seen, one of the best Aurors in the department, set to be the youngest Head Auror in history.

He's also a git who's shite at wizarding chess. And then there's the bit about being a poofter. Not that Ron cares about that. He doesn't think. It bothered him when they were in their early twenties, but he's long over that now. Mostly. As long as Ron doesn't have to think about Harry with Malfoy, for Christ's sake.

Harry's his best mate, practically another brother to him. He would have been, if he and Gin hadn't given up on each other. There's no bloody way he's a werewolf. And if he is, Malfoy's to blame. Somehow. Ron knows he is.

An Ennervate racks Ron's body, pulling him to his feet with a gasp. The kitchen's almost silent now, the Muffliato drowning out the shouts and laughter of the whole Weasley clan out in the garden. Ron wonders if his brothers have managed to take apart Malfoy's Daimler yet, although he suspects that even they don't have it in them to take on Goyle.

Wordlessly, Hermione hands Ron his tea. He rubs his fingers a little to get the blood circulating, then lifts it to his mouth. Still hot and milky the way he likes it.

"Ta, love." He doesn't know what else to say, so he keeps his peace.

Hermione sits back down, gathering her skirts around her. She fixes Malfoy with a steely look. "How did this happen?"

Malfoy colours but holds her gaze. It reinforces Ron's utter certainty that Malfoy is guilty of something, and if it's of harming Harry, Ron'll have him in Azkaban sooner than you can say habeas corpus. "He was attacked on his way to see me."

With a subtle frown, Hermione scans his face. She's better than Veritaserum, Ron thinks privately, although she's nothing on his mum.

"I see," she says after a moment. "And where were you when Harry was attacked?"

Malfoy rests an arm on the back of his chair. He looks defiant, and yet slightly shattered. Ron doesn't quite like that, if he's honest. "I was in my flat on Berkeley Square. I'd no idea Potter was stopping by. He hadn't owled ahead."

"Does he usually let you know by owl post that he's..." Hermione pauses delicately. "Stopping by?"

Hermione knows very well that Harry doesn't, but Ron suspects she wants to hear Malfoy ramble on. If he were anything other than deeply shocked, he'd be proud of her interrogation form. Maybe she'd be willing to work with them sometime on the force.

Malfoy shakes his head and lets his chin fall a bit before he looks away. "No." He chews on his bottom lip. "The hour's often too late to do so."

Oh, ho. Ron thinks. So he does have feelings for Harry. Or something. Ron isn't quite certain if milord actually experiences emotions like a normal human being or, should he do so, if having any for Harry, whatever they might be, makes things better or worse. He suspects worse, definitely. This is Malfoy, after all. The man's been a bloody thorn in Ron's side since they were eleven.

"And you say he'd been attacked?" Hermione picks up her teacup and takes a sip. Her eyes never leave Malfoy's face. Ron wonders if she's thinking about decking milord again. That thought cheers him up immensely.

"Yes, quite near to the flat." Malfoy's hand shakes a bit as he reaches for his own teacup. Tea splashes out of it, and he sets it back down with a sharp clink against the saucer. "I think he might have just crossed the green. We found him on the pavement across from my house." His face twists in a grimace of remembrance. Ron feels a bit sorry for him. He can't imagine how awful that must have been. He doesn't want to imagine it. He still sees Clarke's body in his dreams at night, mangled and bloody. Christ. He looks away, out the window. He catches a flash of brightly coloured robes as his nieces and nephews zip by on their brooms; Roxie comes dangerously close to the lopsided tower of his mum and dad's anniversary cake.

For a moment, Hermione is silent. When her voice comes, it's somehow smaller than before. "And when you say we, you mean?"

"Myself and Greg, who keeps house for me. His wife Millie stayed indoors with their daughter, Ellie. And Severus, the--you do know that Harry has a ghost following him, do you not?" Malfoy almost smiles.

"He's had him as long as I've known him," Ron says. He's surprised that Snape actually showed himself to Malfoy. He doesn't like doing that unless he has to, and usually it's only to people Snape thinks are going to stay in Harry's life for some time and whom he knows he'll be forced to endure. To be honest, Ron suspects he does so in the hopes that he can drive them off eventually. It hasn't worked yet. "Poncy little bugger. Drove me half-mad when we shared a dormitory at Hogwarts, but Snape's viciously protective of Harry, even when he's being a little shit. Snape, that is, not Harry." Ron considers. "Although Harry can be a shit too, sometimes." It feels almost like a betrayal of sorts to admit, but, hell, Ron's not at his best at the moment, and it's not like everyone in the room hasn't gone through one of Harry's shouty rants at one point or another in their lives.

Malfoy nods in acknowledgement. "In any case, it was Severus who came in and roused me, and Greg came with us to help."

"Weren't you afraid? If there was a bloody great beast attacking people on the green." Hermione has been sipping her tea delicately. Ron pours a bit more into her cup when she sets it down and she shoots him a small smile.

"I suppose I was more concerned about whether Potter was still alive," Malfoy says. Ron wonders if Malfoy knows the cards he showing with that statement. "I thought that the werewolf would flee if it saw a number of people. I did have Greg tuck in a pistol too, loaded with silver bullets, but, contrary to popular opinion, that's not much help against a were. Just annoys them, really."

And that's interesting, Ron thinks. It's not unheard of for wizards to keep Muggle firearms in their houses, but it's damned unusual. Also, Malfoy seems to know quite a bit more about werewolves than your average citizen. He's solved some unusual cases according to Kingsley, but familiarity with werewolves should probably be put in his profile at headquarters.

"You'd already loaded the pistol?" Hermione asks. Her eyebrow rises. "How fortuitous."

Malfoy looks at her evenly. "I have been insisting for days that the Aurors are after a werewolf. It seemed best to be prepared, all things considered."

"So what do you want with us, then?" Ron asks. He's tired, he's worried, and if this is true, the consequences are going to be fierce.

"Aside from a lovely country drive?" Malfoy leans forward in his chair, his hands gripping the rough-hewn tabletop. "Help me help Potter. Intercede with Kingsley. Stall him for a bit whilst Potter's getting used to it. The first week is the worst, Blaise says, but the entire first month is difficult. He can stay at my flat until he's able to control himself--"

"It's not the full moon, any longer," Ron says. "Why should he have trouble?"

Hermione watches Malfoy. "This was a solstice moon though. Does Zabini…? Is it?" At Malfoy's nod she goes on. "Does Zabini think that might intensify the effect of the lycanthrophy bacterium?"

"Something like that," Malfoy says, but there's a shiftiness about him that Ron doesn't like at all. "In any case, he requires medical supervision and safe harbour. I'd bring him back to Soho, but I've people who can watch him during the day. Greg's already volunteered to help." Malfoy gestures out to the garden where Greg is standing by the motorcar, talking avidly to Bill and his daughter Victoire. He lifts Vic up to the driver's seat and lets her pull a lever or two.

"He'd be fine here." Ron doesn't quite know why he's arguing. Malfoy has a point; Zabini obviously knows something about werewolf transformations, but still. "This is Harry's home too, and I'm certain Remus would come--"

Malfoy gives him a cool look. "You'd put your family in danger, would you? If Potter's temper flared--"

"That's not how a transformation works. I know, I've read all of the literature," Hermione says. She narrows her eyes at Malfoy. "There's something you're not telling us, isn't there?"

Malfoy's jaw tightens, then he sighs. "I can't be certain until Blaise does a full evaluation, but…" He trails off and stares down at his untouched tea.

"But what?" Hermione's voice is sharp.

"He suspects it's a different strain," Malfoy says. "One that allows for shapeshifting outside of lunar phase."

Hermione draws in a quick breath. "He's been working on Freddy and Hestia's case, hasn't he?" She glances over at Ron. "Remember? We talked about it the other night. The children Tonks spoke about?"

Ron doesn't, but he can tell by her frown it means something quite clear to Hermione. "Not really."

She looks exasperated. "Honestly, Ron, you never listen to me. They'd shifted outside of the full moon. The Werewolf Benevolent Society had to intervene to keep them from being put down." Her brows draw together in fury; Ron knows that look all too well. "They were children."

"They won't do that to Harry!" Ron sits up, a chill going through him.

"You'd be surprised what's allowed against werewolves." Malfoy's expression is cold and grim. "After Umbridge's Anti-Werewolf Legislation in the nineties, almost everything counts as self-defence, including hunting and ensnaring. And almost anything can be used as grounds for destruction, including medical anomaly."

"That's barbaric," Ron says. He always knew that there were tough laws on the books, and he knew Remus and Tonks struggled, but he'd never been faced with anything quite so close to home.

Hermione's eyes are proud as she looks at him. "Yes, it is. But first, we have to help Harry. What do you suggest, milord?"

Ron knows how much the honorific costs her as an anti-monarchist, and he finds himself concerned for all of their well-being if they've come to a pass where Hermione is following social conventions and deferring to Malfoy.

Relief spreads across Malfoy's face. "Thank you," he says, and Ron believes he actually means it.

Things, he realises, must be dire indeed.

***

Zabini's hands are warm against Harry's skin. "Breathe in again, and hold."

Harry breathes in, whilst Zabini palpates and taps his abdomen. Harry watches the late morning shadows on the ceiling; Zabini mutters beneath his breath. The bed is soft beneath his back, and he's in a calm state today.

"That's feeling better then. Turn over."

Zabini's remark seems to be about Harry's internal organs, so Harry's pleased. He supposes it's better to have things improving than not.

Harry shifts under the untucked sheet. Zabini turns back the fine cotton covering Harry's back, and swears.

"What's wrong?" Harry twists a little to look back over his shoulder.

Zabini stills him with a hand to his shoulder blade. "Lie back."

Harry tries to be still as Zabini pokes and prods along his spine. He can sense tension in Zabini's posture, even without looking. In fact, he can almost smell it on him. Harry wonders if this is the heightened sense perception that's mentioned in case files about werewolves.

"Is there something wrong with my back?" Harry stays as calm as he can, breathing deeply as Luna taught him back in sixth year.

Zabini's fingers smooth across the skin over Harry's left shoulder blade. He straightens up. "No, Potter. There is nothing wrong with your back. I'm just looking at your birthmark."

"I don't have a birthmark." Harry is a bit stunned by this new development. Really, what else could go wrong?

"You do now, Potter. You're in a brave new world of werewolf physiology." Zabini settles the sheet across Harry's arse. "Anything can happen."

"Everything hurts." Harry hates the whinging tone that creeps into his voice, but he does feel like he's sixteen again, complete with temper surges and growing pains.

Zabini returns with his stethoscope and listens to Harry's breathing again, then taps carefully, then listens once more. "Other than the bone and muscle aches, does anything else hurt?"

Harry has goosebumps and he really wants lunch soon. Hunger rises suddenly in his belly, sharp and fierce. "No. I take it back. Nothing hurts. I'd just like to eat."

"Mmmm." Zabini takes the hint. "I'll finish up quickly and get you to your luncheon." He eyes Harry. "Any requests in particular?"

"Steak," Harry says immediately, his mouth watering at the thought of a thick cut of meat. "Maybe some kidneys too, and a bit of waterfowl?"

Zabini snorts. "There's the wolf showing. Never fear, I've told Millie to stock up at the butcher's for the next few days. You'll be craving the blood, I suspect, and the flesh. No lentil soup for you. Has she been giving you raw beef tea before bed?"

Harry nods. "Foul stuff, the first time, but it's growing on me. The elf brought up beef on toast last night as well." Harry hasn't had that since he was ill as a child and his aunt reluctantly made it to nurse him through the sickness. Invalid food, all of it, but it's kept his hunger at bay. Somewhat.

"Good." Zabini looks pleased. "The more the better; it'll help ease you through the transition."

After a full scan of Harry's ears, nose, throat, and eyes, followed by a few cryptic jots in his leather bound notebook, Zabini sits down on the edge of the bed. An elegant man, Zabini doesn't have what Harry thinks of as a good bedside manner. He's nowhere near as comforting as Madam Pomfrey, or as even-tempered as Healer Snodgrass, the Auror physician. No, Harry decides, Zabini has neither of those temperaments. What he has is knowledge and power. Harry can sense about him the strength of someone exceptional. In his own right, Zabini is an incredibly powerful wizard.

"I need to draw blood." Zabini holds out a hand to Harry. "May I take it from your arm?"

Harry nods and lets Zabini tie a tight tourniquet around his upper left forearm. Zabini makes a swift, small cut and swings his wand almost simultaneously. "Haemo relicta."

Drops of blood gather in the glass tube Zabini has prepared. Once it is three-quarters full, he closes it with a circular metal cover. Zabini then replaces his wand in its holster and set to untying the cloth around Harry's arm. With a shock, Harry realizes that the cut is already healing. Pink welts form angrily around it, then subside as the skin knits. In a few moments, it looks like it was cut at least a day ago.

Zabini goes to the marble-topped side table and washes his hands in the basin with the ewer of water. Drying them, he returns to Harry, who is uncertain whether he still needs to be naked for this part of it.

"You're in good nick, Potter. You have a strong constitution, and you're still young enough to be vibrantly healthy." Zabini removes a small, dark bottle with spidery writing on a cream label. "This is enough Aconitum Allevium potion to last you for about the next month. If you run out earlier, I can replace it. When you're past your next moon, I'd like to see you drop back to six or even four drops twice daily, but for the nonce, I think we'd better keep you on eight drops three times a day."

Harry's fingertips tighten around the black glass, as his hackles rise. This is too familiar. He's seen this bottle before, and four drops measured out into cloudy green liquid. In this very room.

"Malfoy." Harry murmurs, setting the bottle aside before it shatters in his grasp. His strength is greater than he can easily control, especially when he's angry.

"I think we'd better give you some of this right now." Zabini fixes a glass from the drinking carafe, and measures eight drops from the phial. "Ideally, it should be taken with an absinthe louche, particularly the closer you get to the full moon. The wormwood strengthens this mixture, but the sugar doesn't affect the new formula in the same way as a traditional Wolfsbane."

Harry tunes out Zabini's voice and drinks the proffered glass mindlessly. The red fog covering his vision begins to fade. He's still hungry, but it's much more controllable. He wipes his mouth. "This is what Malfoy takes, isn't it?"

Zabini hides his surprise by suddenly fiddling with the cap of the phial, but Harry catches his reaction nonetheless.

"Yes." Zabini says. "I suppose you have a right to know, now that you are in a similar condition. This is a potion I developed for Draco's use."

"How long?" Harry asks. He knows he shouldn't trust Malfoy, has known this since the beginning, but this new evidence of shocking lapses in Malfoy's candour has his blood boiling.

"I'm afraid you'll have to talk about the rest of it with his Lordship. I'm not comfortable sharing any sort of detail on his condition, even between intimate... friends." Zabini fixes Harry with a formidable stare. "Now let's get you to luncheon."

Cursing, Harry dresses after Zabini leaves the room. He may have capitulated for the moment, but he's sure of one thing.

This isn't over. Not at all.

***

"You absolute bastard."

Draco looks up from his files on Bertie Clarke's case as the door to his library slams open, rattling the portraits on the wall. His grandfather Abraxas--the only one of his family Draco can tolerate, if he's honest--startles awake with a snort and a mumble about some actress tart in the Strand. Draco's not the only Malfoy with a libertine reputation; he suspects part of his father's giant stick up his arse comes from being Old Abbie's son. One can never escape the trials of one's family, after all.

Potter's standing in front of him, and Merlin, he looks positively delicious, face twisted in anger, dark curls tumbling over his high forehead. The glasses are gone, and Potter's shoulders are already broader beneath the white lawn of his shirt, open just enough at the collar for Draco to catch a glimpse of the raw scars on Potter's throat and chest. He hates himself for being drawn to them, but he supposes it's in his nature after all. Potter's only the second person he's ever squatted over like that, teeth buried into flesh, and he'd rather not think of the first again. He closes the file he's working on and steels himself for what's coming next; Potter was to meet with Blaise after breakfast, and Draco'd given Blaise his tacit permission to discuss his condition with Potter, should it come up. Potter's seen him take the potion, after all; neither he nor Draco is a fool, and a man up for Deputy Head Auror is perfectly capable of coming to the right conclusions.

"Whilst I object to your disparagement of my birth," Draco says, "I will grant that I have been known to be an enormous arse at times, or so my friends inform me. Might I inquire as to what I've done to incur your wrath at the nonce?"

Potter's fists clench at his sides. "You know exactly what you've done."

Draco's stomach drops. Potter can't know that. Only Greg and Severus saw what he'd done the night before last, and they'd sworn secrecy. There hadn't been a choice at the time; by the time they'd reached him, Potter'd been lying in a pool of his own blood, his breath coming in slow, gurgling gasps, frothy pink bubbles gathering along the torn edges of his trachea. He wouldn't have survived if Draco, still in bare feet and loosened shirt, hadn't bent over him in the middle of the pavement outside the house and done what he'd sworn he would never do. Draco'd had to fight against the potion that keeps his baser nature in check, pushing that inner beast out into the fury of the full moon's light. Had it not been a solstice moon, heavy and full with power in and of itself, Draco's not certain he would have been able to manage it. Blaise's potion is strong and designed to keep him human, his wolfish brain chained; the refinements Blaise has made in recent years have kept such accidental slips from occurring the way they had so frequently at first.

His fear for Potter had undone it all, though. Draco's fairly certain he doesn't want to examine that particular fact too closely--or the certainty Draco has that he'd do it again, if he had to.

Instead he leans back in his chair and folds his hands over his chest. The energy of the full moon lingers for a day or two on either side, and he can still feel it thrumming through him, calling out the wolf inside. He can see his struggle reflected in Potter's face, and he remembers, if spottily, how hard those first days were, when he was alone, struggling with this curse. Despite the gaps in his memory in places, most likely brought on by the trauma of discovering himself to be a werewolf--or so he suspects--Draco knows that first month had included the death of his mother. He doesn't want Potter to have to endure the burden of causing harm to someone for whom he cares. He's safer here in this house, with people who know what to expect of him, who can lead him gently through the fear and the fury every caged beast feels, who can teach him to fight the shifts, to let Blaise's potion help control the beast within.

"What is it," Draco asks finally, "you think I'm responsible for?" He lets one eyebrow quirk in that way he knows full well annoys Potter. "Just so we're on the same page, of course."

Potter's trying to keep his temper. Draco feels a flare of sympathy. He remembers the swirl of emotions that had swamped him at first, the anger, the bitterness, the need to lash out, to destroy. Blaise's potion should help, but those feelings will never go away. Not entirely.

"You're a werewolf," Potter says. "Unregistered, of course, and don't try to deny it. Two days ago, I glanced through the list of weres on the Register who have an address in southern England, and I'd damn well have recognised your name. It wasn't there."

"No." Draco stands up and walks over to the cabinet in which he keeps his firewhisky. He pours two glasses, a finger each and carries one to Potter, steam trailing over the back of his hand. "Drink," he says. "It'll steady your nerves."

For once, Potter doesn't argue with him. He sits in one of the heavy armchairs beside the hearth; Draco joins him, taking his own seat in silence.

Potter finishes the firewhisky and sets the cut crystal glass aside. It takes him a few moments before he says anything; he just rubs the scar along the center of his throat. It must be hurting, Draco thinks. Potter's voice is scratchy and raw. It'll take a day or two for the internal damage to heal. The emotional scars, however, last forever. "You lied to me," Potter says.

"I omitted." Draco lifts his glass to his mouth. The firewhisky burns as it goes down, warmly settling in his stomach. "There's a difference."

"Not by much." The look Potter gives him is venomous.

Draco just shrugs and drains his glass. "You'll learn. Unlike your Lupin, I see no sense in shouting my condition into the wind."

"You wouldn't."

Hypocrite. Draco's fingers tighten around his glass. He sets it down on the table beside him, resisting the urge to throw it at Potter's idiotic head. "And I suppose you're planning to march into Shacklebolt's office and tell him you've been turned, are you?" Potter looks away, mulish as ever. Draco's temper abates. Slightly. "I thought not. So there's no difference in what I've done. Those who need to know I'm a lycanthrope know. I don't keep it entirely hidden."

"And if you'd turned me when we--" Potter breaks off and glares at him. He gestures towards Draco's crotch. "You know. One wrong bite and where would I be? Christ, I trusted you--"

Draco can't help his laugh. "One, it doesn't work that way, and two, I'm on a potion, Potter. The same one Blaise has you on now. It effectively castrates the wolf inside of us." He hopes Potter believes him. He has to, really. It's the only way Potter will make it through this next month. He ignores the quiet whisper in his mind that suggests that such a half-truth protects Draco as well. "You were perfectly safe with me." His eyes meet Potter's. "You still are."

Potter doesn't look away this time. His mouth, full and pink, opens, then closes, and Draco wants nothing more than to push him to the floor and straddle him, leaning in to kiss those lips, to slide his teeth against the angle of Potter's jaw, to rut against him as if he belonged to no one but Draco--Merlin. Draco shifts in his chair, breath catching hard and painful in the centre of his chest. He stares into the scarlet embers of the hearth, willing the image of Potter beneath him out of his mind. It's nearly impossible.

An awkward silence stretches out between them. Draco crosses his ankle over his knee and clears his throat. Potter jumps, blinking at him. His eyes are a deep, bottomless green, and Draco can smell the musky, warm scent of him beneath the sharper traces of soap and medical potions. He wants to roll around in that smell, to burrow his nose against the curve of Potter's throat and breathe him in. The intensity of it frightens him.

"Zabini says I'm to stay here for a while," Potter says at last. Sunlight spills through the sheer curtains at the window behind him, and a few silver threads glisten in his dark hair. He scratches at the dark stubble along his chin; Draco wants to feel it against his lips.

"It would be for the best." Honestly, it's a terrible idea, Draco thinks. He doesn't know how he'll manage to be this close to Potter for this long. Even he's not rakish enough to take a wounded man to his bed. Not yet, at least. Maybe not ever, if Potter ever figures out exactly what happened the night before last. "You'll need a safe place to recuperate." He pauses. "With the midsummer holiday, the Auror offices should be staffed lightly; Weasley's going to speak to Kingsley in the morning about your absence. We thought a story about a cursed knife might gain us a bit more time--and explain your wounds, should it be necessary."

Potter nods. "Ron knows, then? About me?"

"I spoke with him yesterday." Draco tugs at the cuffs of his shirt, oddly self-conscious. "And Granger, of course."

"Thanks." Potter chews on his bottom lip. He looks twelve again. "Are they…" He stops.

Draco knows what he's asking. "They want to help. However possible."

Relief floods Potter's face, and he leans back in his chair. "Oh. That's good then."

"Yes."

A songbird trills in the tree outside the window, cheerful and light. It's an absurd note at the moment, but Draco rather likes it. It reminds him of the beauty in the world. He needs those signs. He sits in silence, allowing Potter the space he requires. He remembers his own awakening, and the maelstrom of fear and anger he'd experienced.

"So," Potter says, his voice quiet and small, "is this where I admit you were right, and that we may actually be dealing with a werewolf?" The faint smile he gives Draco is wry and regretful.

Draco returns it. "I'll refrain from pointing out I told you so."

"Appreciate it." Potter chews on his thumbnail, obviously distracted. "He mentioned you, you know. The…" He waves his hand. "Whatever he was." He sighs. "Wolf."

"Did he?" Draco stills, waiting. He doesn't know what to expect. "You remember what happened?"

Potter drops his hand and sighs. "Only fragments. He said--just before he clawed here--" Potter touches his chest with his fingertips. "He said he could smell you on me." The look he gives Draco is troubled. "Like he knew about us. About what we've been doing."

That takes Draco by surprise. "You think he's been stalking us."

"Or something," Potter admits. "He went after me for a reason, and I didn't get the sense it was just because I was working the Clarke case. I think…" He stops, frowning. "I don't know. I'm a bit hazy on the details."

"You were attacked by werewolf," Draco says dryly. "I'd be rather surprised if you weren't a bit muddled about it all."

"I suppose." Potter flexes his wide fingers against the green-vined upholstery. "I just feel as if I'm missing something. It felt like he meant to kill me, not turn me." He shakes his head and frowns. "I don't know. Perhaps I'll figure it out with some rest."

That's exactly what Draco's afraid of. He wonders if he should Obliviate Potter, but he's afraid it would show up in Blaise's tests, and the last thing he wants is Blaise asking questions. He needs his secret kept, and he's not certain that the few ethical considerations Blaise has wouldn't require him to report Draco as the werewolf responsible, if only to Potter himself. Circe only knows what would happen after that. He sits forward in his chair, his hands between his knees. "I'm certain it'll come to you in time," he says, even as he prays to whatever deity protects werewolves that he's wrong.

Potter nods, and then he stands, wincing as his muscles stretch and shift. It's not just the wounding, Draco knows. There's a physiological change in one's body; sinews and cartilage knits together differently to accommodate the transformation, should it come. The first few weeks are a reprise of one's adolescent growing pains, and the older one is, the more difficult they are, Blaise had told him. Draco'd hurt enough when he was twenty; he can only imagine the discomfort Potter's facing.

"I'll have Millicent bring you a liniment," Draco says. "It'll help with the pain, at least a little."

Potter stops at the door, his hand on the knob. "I asked her to move me down the hall," he says, not looking at Draco. "I didn't mean to evict you from your bed the past two nights. Greg said you'd been sleeping in here instead."

"It's not unusual." Draco picks up the two firewhisky glasses and carries them over to the desk. A house elf will take them to the kitchen later for washing. He can smell Potter's discomfort. "I spend more nights than not on this sofa." More so now that Potter's come into his life again, it seems.

"Still." Potter glances at him then. "I thought a different room would be a better choice for now. Zabini agreed."

Of course he did. Draco keeps his annoyance down. Potter's ability to sense certain emotions will be growing; Draco will need to be on his guard from now on. "Whatever you think best," he says as agreeably as he can. For a moment, he thinks Potter's disappointed, but surely that's his imagination. He won't tell Potter that he'll spend the next night or two on the sofa in here anyway; even with the house elves stripping the sheets, it'll reek of Potter. Draco's rather sure that would be an utterly terrible idea. He'd never sleep; it would be hours of rutting against the sheets, thinking about Potter's mouth and Potter's cock and Potter's arse and Potter's hands--

"Are you all right?" Potter asks.

Draco shakes himself to sensibility. "Of course. Yes." He swallows and stares down at the files on his desk, clearing his head. "You've moved down the hall. Brilliant idea, really. I quite approve."

"Right." Potter looks a bit put out. "I suppose I'll see you at dinner then."

"Yes." Draco just wants him to leave. Potter's overwhelming him, and Draco doesn't understand why. It's a relief when Potter closes the door behind him; Draco runs his hands over his face and groans. It's all gone tits up now, everything, and he doesn't know what to do, or who to go to.

"Chin up, lad," Abraxas says from the wall. He yawns and stretches, blinking down at Draco. "Can't be as terrible as you look, now can it?"

Draco's absolutely certain it can.

***

"You can go in." Boot steps through Kingsley's doorway, and Ron sighs. He doesn't particularly want to have this conversation with Kingsley, if he's honest. Row, more like it; Kingsley's not going to be best pleased that his top Auror isn't at headquarters, fronting such a big case.

Kingsley's office is filled with dark wood and a thick woolen rug that has orange lilies and purple bougainvillea woven into it. The window behind the huge, heavy desk is charmed to overlook a breathtaking ocean cliff; judging from the deep blue of the water, the breeze rippling through the seagrasses, and the bright sunlight, Ron suspects it's linked back to Grenada, where Kingsley's family still lives. It looks warm and lovely, and Ron wishes he were there right now, instead of standing in front of the Head Auror, who's looking up at him with a keen glint in his eyes.

"Weasley," Kingsley says, tapping his quill against a stack of parchment. "I trust you've a damned good reason for interrupting me this early in the day?"

Everyone knows Kingsley likes to shut himself away on Friday mornings to sift through the piles of paperwork that make their way across his desk each week. His stack's probably smaller this morning, though, considering how many Aurors had taken the midsummer holiday off. Ron scratches the back of his neck, not certain how to begin.

"It's about Harry," he says, and Kingsley puts his quill down and leans back in his chair.

"Might I hope you'll explain where Mr Potter's been the past two days?" Kingsley asks. "I don't recall approving his disappearance from headquarters for the midsummer; in fact, I'm rather certain he told me quite clearly last week that he'd be available since you would be busy at the Burrow."

Ron shifts from foot to foot. He clasps his hands behind his back, straightening his shoulders. Kingsley was once military; he responds better to a more respectful posture. "He meant to be, sir. It's just that Harry was attacked, you see. On his way to discuss the Clarke case with Malfoy."

He has Kingsley's attention now. "Was he?" It doesn't quite sound like a question. Kingsley's eyes narrow at him. "Where were he and Lord Malfoy meeting?"

Buggery hell. Ron's a terrible liar when push comes to shove; he always has been. Mum'd been able to suss him out every single time when he was a lad, and Hermione always knows when he's hiding something. It's not likely the Head Auror won't figure him out either. He coughs, and Kingsley's eyes narrow even more. Best to go with as close to the truth as possible, Ron thinks. Less chance of him cocking the story up in the future. "Malfoy's house, sir. That's where he is now."

"Because he was attacked." A green bird flutters onto a scrubby bush just outside the charmed windowsill, peering in at them with shining brown eyes. It preens for a moment, then sets to cleaning its feathers with its beak.

Ron tugs at his ear, scratching beneath it, just above his collar. "It was a cursed knife. Caused some damage, and Malfoy thought it'd be better not to move him--"

"As opposed to taking him to St Mungo's, where one might expect proper care for a cursed knife attack." Kingsley looks highly sceptical. "The truth, Weasley. Where exactly is Potter right now?"

"As I said, Malfoy's house, sir." Ron raises his chin. He knows full well the Head Auror can shout his subordinates into submission when he wants. He's prepared, if he has to be. "Healer Zabini from St Mungo's was called in for a house visit. Seems you can do that if you have a viscount's title and a bit of dosh to toss about."

Kingsley studies him. "You're hiding something, Ronald."

"Not that I know of, sir." Ron scratches his neck again. He feels itchy, the way he always does when he's lying. He drops his hand. Kingsley's eyes follow it, then back up to Ron's heated face. "He's at Malfoy's recuperating from an attack. He'll be back in next week at some point; I can have Zabini owl you if need be."

"No." Kingsley leans his elbows on the desk and steeples his fingers, pressing them against his mouth. He frowns. "This has nothing to do with Harry and the viscount's…" Kingsley hesitates, then continues. "Difficult relationship, does it?"

Ron doesn't know exactly what Kingsley means by that, but he doesn't like it. "Not entirely." He waits a beat, then adds, "sir."

Kingsley doesn't look convinced, but he just picks his quill up again. "Then tell Potter he has until midweek before I expect his return." Before Ron can make it to the door, Kingsley stops him. "I don't care," he says carefully, "what Harry may be doing with the viscount personally." He gives Ron an even look. "Do you understand?"

"Yes," Ron says, but he's still, waiting for what's next.

"He should be careful." Kingsley's sober, serious in a way that almost alarms Ron. "The Malfoy family is a powerful one and dangerous."

"You think Malfoy will hurt him." Ron wouldn't be surprised. He's never trusted Malfoy; he's not about to now. He's hiding something. Ron knows it.

Kingsley considers. "No," he says after a moment. "I wouldn't have Malfoy work our cases if I thought that. But I think there are others who might be willing to cause harm--whether to Potter or the viscount, I don't know. Just be forewarned. All of you."

If he's honest, Ron doesn't care for the ambiguity of Kingsley's warning. "Sir, do you have information--"

"I know how this world works," Kingsley says bluntly. "Watch your backs, Weasley. Even Malfoy's." He looks troubled. "I have my reasons for looking after Lord Malfoy, as much as you lot might question them. Trust me."

As much as he might not want to, Ron does.

***

A scream echoes through the entry hall of the townhouse, loud and harsh. Greg recognises it immediately and comes running from the kitchen, his boots slapping heavily against the marble floor. Draco storms out of the library, his dressing gown half-tied around his body, the silk gaping open to reveal his undershirt and drawers. Greg's not surprised. Draco's never been one to wake early on a Saturday.

"Breakfast room," Draco says, and Greg's on his heels, his heart pounding. Millicent doesn't cry out unless she has to; Greg's not certain he wants to see what's going on in the small octagonal room papered in peach brocade.

He draws up short behind Draco in the doorway. Millie's by the serving buffet, its bowls of sausages, kedgeree and porridge still steaming under their warming charms. She holds a set of silver tongs out, her eyes fixed on Potter across the table from her. The ghost floats around him, peevishly trying to get Potter's attention, to no avail. Potter doesn't seem to even notice him.

"Finally," Severus says, throwing his hands in the air. "He won't listen to me."

Draco snorts. "Unsurprising." The ghost makes a rude gesture, but he falls back into a corner, worried eyes fixed on Potter's back.

"Greg," Millicent says, warning in her voice, and a small, round face peers out from behind his wife's skirt, blue eyes wide.

"Ellie, stay where you are," Greg says to his daughter, as calmly as he can manage. She nods and ducks back behind her mother again. Potter's shuddering, his hand clenching the edge of the table. His fingernails are long and curved, more claws than anything now, and they're digging into the polished cherry, leaving behind wide gouges. Greg winces; that table was three generations in the Malfoy family and practically irreplaceable. He's not certain those scores in the wood can be smoothed out, although he supposes he'll have to make the attempt.

Draco catches Greg's arm as he tries to go around him. "Wait," he says, and his eyes are fixed on Potter's face. "He's fighting the shift." Potter's features are more lupine than human, but they're fluctuating, and Greg watches in fascination as the skin and bone of Potter's face ripple. He'll never be used to this, he thinks, and he darts a glance over at his daughter, his worry intensifying. Ellie's peeking out from behind Millie again, but she doesn't look frightened. She has more of her mother in her than him, thank Merlin.

"Shouldn't Blaise's potion have worked?" Greg asks, moving into the room. He wants to be closer in case he has to punch Potter in the face. His wand is back in the kitchen, but he's already set eyes on at least two items he can use as a weapon. You didn't grow up in Slytherin's common room without becoming adept at fisticuffs as well as wand duelling.

"Sometimes the wolf still breaks through." Draco's watching Potter carefully. "Especially right now when his body's still getting used to it."

Greg thinks Draco should know. Still, it worries him. He hasn't even told Millie that Draco turned Potter. She'd be furious with them both, and rightly so. Greg doesn't know how to broach the subject, but he knows he'll have to at some point. He hadn't even thought to stop Draco when it'd happened; there'd been no time, just blood on the pavement and death coming for Potter in the darkness. Draco'd done what he'd had to do, and now they're all living with the consequences.

Potter lurches forward with a growl, and Ellie shrieks, hiding her face against Millie's leg. Millie snaps the tongs together, loudly, and Potter falls back, his shoulders hunched and head dropped.

Draco moves faster than Greg's seen him before; he's around the table and in front of Potter in an instant. His hands settle on Potter's arms, gentle but firm, and he looks into Potter's face, eye to eye. "It's all right, Potter," Draco says. His voice is careful and even. Potter stills immediately, his gaze fixed on Draco. "You're fine. Just breathe through it, slow and even. Like this." He breathes in, then exhales. "You try."

Potter responds immediately. On the exhale, his face shifts back to normal, and his body sags against Draco's, tugging them both to the floor. Draco keeps him close, murmuring quietly that Potter will be fine.

"We're all right," Millie says to Greg when he pulls her to him. He buries his face in her hair, only just realising how terrified he'd been. "He wasn't going to hurt us."

Greg knows she's right. Potter'd been fighting as best he could. He glances back over at Potter; the man's leaning on Draco's chest, his whole body shuddering.

Potter looks up at Draco. "Your mother," he says in a ragged voice. "It was you, wasn't it?"

For a moment Greg thinks Draco won't reply. Draco doesn't talk about Narcissa. Ever. He's surprised when Draco nods once, then says, "I think about her every day." Potter squeezes his hand. Draco manages to extricate himself and stand, walking over to the window. He stares out it, but Greg doesn't think he actually sees anything.

"I'm sorry." Potter glances first at Draco, then over at Millie and Greg. He looks wrecked. "I didn't mean to frighten you." Ellie slides out from behind Millie, a thumb in her mouth. Potter's face falls further when he sees her. "I didn't know--"

Ellie pads over to Potter, her dark curls bouncing with each step. Greg moves to catch her, but Millie puts a hand on his arm and shakes her head, and he falls back, watching. His daughter kneels in front of Potter. "Hullo," she says, and she pats Potter's face with her plump hand, thumb still wet from her mouth.

Greg steps forward then. "This is Ellie," he says, squatting beside them both. "She'll be three in August, and she's quite brave, like her mum."

Potter smiles at the little figure in front of him. "Hullo, Ellie," he says. "I'm Harry."

"How very touching," Severus says from his perch on the mantel, but Greg thinks he sounds relieved. Millie's turned away, straightening the breakfast trays. She's far more unsettled than she seems, he can tell. He suspects they'll talk later about it, but for now she's got her stiff upper lip on, and Greg loves her for it.

He holds a hand out to Potter, helping him to his feet. "Here. You need to eat and you'll be right as rain in no time." Greg comes from a family that had strongly believed all that ails you can be fixed with food. He's yet to see a situation where it doesn't help in some way, at least.

Potter gives him a wry look. "Not so certain about that right now."

"You will be." Greg claps him on the shoulder and pushes him towards Millie and the breakfast spread. "A good kedgeree will fix anybody, and Mills makes the best."

"I think you mean Dobby does," Millie says, handing Potter a plate. "Greg always forgets the house elves do the cooking."

Greg lifts Ellie to his shoulders and glances Draco's way. "All right there?" he asks quietly, and Draco nods, pulling his dressing gown tighter.

Ellie leans over and kisses Draco's cheek. "You made him happy again," she whispers, and she pats Draco's hair.

"I suppose I did at that." Draco watches Potter scoop kedgeree and sausages onto his plate.

Greg frowns at him, then over at Potter. There's something between them that doesn't quite sit right with him, but he doesn't know how to explain it. It's almost--but not quite--soppy, and Draco's never sentimental in any fashion.

"Be careful," he contents himself with saying, and Draco raises an eyebrow.

"I'm certain I have no idea what you're on about, Greg," he says, but Greg knows he does, and that troubles him. Draco's different around Potter, unguarded in a way that he's normally not with the men and women he brings home for a night or two, and that worries Greg far more than Potter's new lycanthropy. Potter's dangerous. A werewolf Greg can deal with; he's spent years calming Draco down. Someone hanging about who can break Draco's heart, especially if Draco won't admit it? Well, that's an entirely new concern, and one Greg doesn't much care for.

He'll have to keep an eye on this, he thinks grimly. Stop it before it gets too out of hand. Except he's not certain he can, to be honest.

That worries him even more.

***

Potter's sprawled across the sofa in the library, purportedly looking through Draco's copy of the file on Bertie Clarke. Weasley'd sent a few updates to it the night before, with the promise of more once he'd sorted through Bertie's personal papers; Draco'd skimmed through the new information with little success, but he'd thought perhaps Potter might find something he'd overlooked. In any case, it's a good distraction for Potter, and Draco knows quite well how necessary those are when one's body is adjusting to werewolfery. Still, Potter's heart isn't in the task, obviously. Not even Padma's revisiting the Ripper case files and acknowledging the mutilations might have been done by a cognizant were, with a decided emphasis on the might, has cheered Potter, or even caught his bloody interest. He's been staring blankly at the same page for the past twenty minutes.

Draco pushes his parchments across the desk with a sigh. "Out with it," he says. "Whatever it is that's on your mind."

A faint flush spreads across Potter's cheeks, warming the golden skin. "It's nothing."

"I rather doubt that," Draco says dryly. "Unless you're that captivated by Weasley's interview with the lovely Cordelia, which I rather doubt, given his dull as dishwater writing style."

Potter sits up, the back of his hair rumpled from the needlepoint cushion he was leaning against. "Is it always like this?" he asks after a moment. "This anger--" He breaks off in a grunt of frustration, running his fingers through his hair, pushing it back from his forehead. "I want to rip something to shreds."

"Not the furniture, please." Draco rests his elbows on the desk and leans forward, stretching his spine. He's always in kinks the few days after a full moon, even when he doesn't shift. It's worse this time. His body's resisting its human form a bit more than usual. "Although evidently I did destroy a Sheraton chair--original, mind you, not a copy--during the first week of my transformation. My tutor at Oxford was rather annoyed with me, if I'm honest. I rather think old Riddle didn't come from money, as much as he pretended otherwise. Father had to give him a replacement the elves found in one of the closed wings of the Manor."

Potter looks interested. "Did he know you were a werewolf?"

"No one did," Draco says. "I barely knew myself; it's not as if one has a handy Guide to Lycanthropy dropped off beside one when an attack happens. Have you read Mr Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde?"

"When I was a child." Potter brushes his hair back from his eyes. His knuckles are red and raw. Draco suspects he's been chewing on them, desperate for something to gnaw at. He remembers those days, as well. "My cousin Dudley had a copy that I nicked from his room. He hated books, and I never had any. My aunt and uncle didn't much care whether I was educated." He glances over at Draco, almost as if he's wary. "They were Muggles and weren't thrilled to have a wizard as a ward."

That explains quite a lot about Potter, really. "Idiots."

Potter smiles a little. "Rather. So what about this book?"

Draco shrugs. He feels strange talking to Potter about this; he's only ever been this open about his curse to Blaise, and that had taken two and a half bottles of wine and Blaise's absolute insistence. Still, he thinks Potter of all people has the right to know. Draco's responsible for him now, and that makes him rather uncomfortable, if he's honest. "It's how I felt when I first transformed," Draco says finally. "I'd shift without even knowing it and find myself lying in a meadow in Oxford the next morning, clothes torn, damp with dew, a dead squirrel or dog beside me. Very little memory of the night before, except a blinding rage that I wanted to direct towards every creature that crossed my path."

"But you remember what happened with your mother?" Potter's voice is gentle. Kind. It's almost unbearable.

"Flashes," Draco says after a long moment, not certain he wants to admit to Potter how sketchy his memories of those first few weeks are. He sits still, barely breathing, terrified of the images that threaten to overwhelm his mind. Blood, torn flesh, the life seeping from pale blue eyes. The fear passes, settles into a heavy unease that tenses his shoulders, tightens his throat. He swallows past the pain, past the thought of his mother lying across his lap, her life ebbing away. "Most of what I remember comes from what my father screamed at me afterwards." He draws in a slow breath.

"Evidently I came home drunk on wine and the moon," Draco says. "It wasn't even full yet--not really. It would have been the next night, but it was enough for me, it seems." He doesn't want to think about it right now. He forces himself, for Potter's sake. The bastard deserves that much. "I don't know what happened really. Father says I turned on her, that I came into the room half-beast, and she was there. I don't know how I could have done it. It was my first full moon, and I'd no idea what was happening to me. Not until then. All I recall is the aftermath. Mother in my arms bleeding onto the carpet…"

He trails off, lost in the memory. He closes his eyes, as if he could blot out the image of her looking up at him, the movement of her lips as she whispered I love you even as she lay dying. He can still feel the solid, painful thud of his father's ebony walking stick across his shoulders, his own keening cry when he'd realised what he'd done…

"Malfoy."

And then Potter's there beside him, his hand on Draco's arm, squatting next to Draco's chair, looking at him with those ridiculously green eyes.

Draco can't stop himself. He knows it's mad, but he's drawn to Potter, to those soft, full lips that open slightly when Draco presses his mouth to Potter's. The kiss is slow at first, hesitant and careful as Potter breathes out, whispers Malfoy before his fingers twist in Draco's shirt, pulling him closer. Potter's teeth graze Draco's, his tongue licking away the sting before it presses deeper, and Draco gives in to the kiss, tasting Potter's sweet-sourness, his own want rising tight and high in his chest, his hands gripping Potter, holding him still as they lose themselves in one another's touch. Draco can smell Potter, sharp and spicy and sweaty, and it nearly drives him mad. He wants to press himself against Potter, to breathe him in, to rut against him until they're both wild with lust.

A sharp cough at the door sends them pulling apart, Potter tumbling back onto his arse, his cheeks pink, his trousers tight across his swelling cock. It's all Draco can do not to launch himself on Potter, pulling at the buttons of Potter's fly until his prick springs free. Potter looks away, breathing hard.

"Well," Blaise says, pulling off his gloves as he enters the library. "What a charming tableau." His eyes find Potter's flushed face before flicking towards Draco. "A word in private, if you will, milord?"

Potter pushes himself up, still refusing to glance at Draco. "I should go to my room," he says, as if he's trying to convince himself. "Rest."

"A brilliant idea." Blaise claps him on the shoulder as he passes; Potter only flinches slightly. "I'll be up to check your vitals in a moment, once I've spoken to Draco."

Potter nods, then flees the library. Draco wishes he could accompany him, particularly when Blaise turns a steely eye his way.

"What the hell do you want?" Draco asks, attempting to summon as much bravado as he can. Potter's kiss has left him shaken though, almost hollowed out inside. He smoothes his hair back with a shaking hand. His pulse still flutters in his throat; he wants to run after Potter, to push him up against the wall and claim him as his, mouth on Potter's throat. It's all he can do to sit back in his chair, flattening his palms against the polished walnut of his desk.

Blaise sits on the sofa, dropping his gloves beside him. "My apologies for the interruption, but perhaps I've come at an opportune time, all things considered. We need to talk." He watches Draco closely. "About Potter," he adds, unnecessarily.

"Yes, I'd gathered." Potter's scent is fading from Draco's nostrils; he feels as if he's coming back to himself. He's no idea what that was, but he can sense it still, deep within his belly, a slow quiver that settles into something raw and heavy. "What is it?" he asks, a bit too sharply.

Dust shimmers in the swathe of sunlight that cuts between Blaise and himself, shadowing Blaise's sober face. Blaise draws in a slow breath, then exhales, looking away. "You can't do that again, Draco," he says. "Whatever that was between you and Potter needs to stop."

Heat flares through Draco's face. "What I do privately is none of your business--"

"He has your mark," Blaise says, voice flat, and Draco's stopped short. He looks at Blaise blankly.

"I don't understand."

"Does he know?" Blaise asks. He's furious now, Draco realises, and his stomach sinks. "That you turned him, I mean? Christ, Draco, you might have told me, you know--"

Draco stands and walks to the window. "Told you what, exactly?" He looks down at the street. He's at the corner of the square; he can see clearly where he'd found Potter, sprawled bloody across the pavement. He closes his eyes for a moment, and he's there again in the darkness, Potter dying beside him, the scent of blood and wolf hanging heavy in the air, the staccato thud of Draco's heart against his chest as he realises there's only one way Potter can be saved.

Blaise is silent for a moment. "You turned him."

"How'd you find out?" Draco opens his eyes, and the image of that night fades away. He supposes he knew Blaise would suspect. Perhaps he wanted Blaise to figure it out. Behind him the sofa creaks as Blaise stands up and walks towards him.

"Besides the fact the bacteria in his bloodwork are a match for your own?" Blaise's steps stop; Draco turns and leans against the window, the glass cool through his shirt. Blaise looks tired and exasperated. "There's a mark on his back, Draco. A perfectly formed ouroboros in a port wine stain, just beneath his left shoulder blade."

Draco stills. "What?"

"It's just like yours," Blaise says, watching Draco closely. "A perfect match, even. Right down to the positioning. Potter didn't have it before; I checked his latest medical review a month past and compared it to the one he was given when he first joined the force. No birthmark. No ouroboros present. They have to mark those sorts of things in case an Auror's body comes back from a raid unable to be identified facially. So, I'll ask you, Draco, how do you think such a mark appeared on your lover's back in the past four weeks?"

"I'm sure I wouldn't know," Draco says, but he can't look at Blaise. He knows his own mark; he's twisted to see it in a mirror before. Potter's even pressed his mouth to it, running his tongue along the pinkish circle. He hasn't had it long; it'd only appeared a few years ago. Blaise had discovered it in a routine examination, and neither of them had thought anything about it. Werewolf physiology is strange at times; all Blaise could determine from the literature was that it might be an alpha mark, a pack crest of sorts that some pack leaders developed as they matured. Draco'd never intended upon interacting with other werewolves or forming a pack of his own, Merlin forbid, so he'd never cared one way or the other.

Blaise places a hand on Draco's arm. "You turned him, Draco. Look me in the eye and tell me you didn't."

"He would have died out there," Draco says, tightly, and his throat aches so very much. "I couldn't watch him bleed to death on me, just like Mother did--" He breaks off roughly, and he's pulled into Blaise's embrace, his face buried against Blaise's shoulder. He tries to pretend he's not shaking, failing utterly. He feels raw and open, and he wants nothing more than to snap back at Blaise, the way a wounded dog would try to protect itself. Blaise seems to know this, and he steps back, letting Draco pull away.

"What's done is done," Blaise says finally. "But I'm fairly certain the mark's a sigillum coniunctionis, Draco."

"A mark of union?" Draco frowns. "You know, we've already…"

"Ownership," Blaise says. He looks grim. "It's a soul mark between an alpha and his mate."

Draco can't help the loud laugh that bursts from him. "Don't be ridiculous," he says. "You nearly had me, you bastard."

Blaise shakes his head. "I'm not trying to trick you, Draco. If anything, I'm trying to help you."

Realisation hits Draco as Blaise continues to look perfectly serious and typically disapproving. He's heard of these before, once when he'd first started researching his lycanthropy. "A mate mark?" He sits in the nearest chair. He'd never thought it possible for him. Such bonds were meant for a male and female couple from all that he'd read. It was a claiming in front of a pack, a mark that raised the alpha's mate above the others. "That's mad," he says. "He's a man. And it's somewhat legendary anyhow. I haven't seen scientific verification of any recent cases."

"It happens between men on occasion," Blaise says. "No one much likes to admit it, mind, but there was a case a hundred years ago in Alsace where a sigillum coniunctionis was recorded between two male weres. They were bonded until the alpha's death. The mate didn't live much longer, it seems."

Draco presses his fingers to his eyes. He doesn't know what to do. "Can it be reversed?"

"I don't know." Blaise crouches beside him. "I can try, but you have to stay away from him. Nothing more like the scene I interrupted just now. If you take him to bed, Draco, I don't know what will happen, do you understand me?" At Draco's nod, Blaise sighs. "You're going to want to, you know. That mark's going to draw you to him; it's one of its properties. You'll have to be the better man. Resist it."

"Fine," Draco snaps. His head hurts, and he's put out with Blaise for no good reason. Blaise is right, he knows that, and there's no one less he'd like to be tied to than Potter, but deep down inside, there's a part of Draco that's angry at the idea of being separated from the once speccy git. Potter's his, and he always has been. The mark only underscores that point.

Blaise nudges his knee. "Don't get shirty with me. You know I'm right."

Draco shakes his head, clears it. That way lies madness, as he's certain Blaise would say. He rubs his hands over his face. "You're right."

"Of course I am." Blaise gives him a faint smile and stands, brushing invisible dust off his trousers. "It's for the best, for you and him both."

"I know."

Blaise looks at him, long and hard, as if he can see into the depth of Draco's soul. Draco wouldn't be surprised if he could; he gave up being surprised by Blaise back in their third year of Hogwarts.

"Are you going to tell him?" Draco asks, weariness settling over his shoulders like a heavy weight. "Isn't that part of your ethical responsibilities as a Healer?"

"It is." Blaise folds his arms; it ruins the lines of his jacket. "And I should." Draco looks up at him. Blaise sighs and settles a hand on Draco's shoulder, squeezing gently. "I won't, though. That sort of information should come from his alpha. If and when you're ready."

Draco slumps back in his chair; Blaise drops his hand. "And if I'm never ready?"

"That's your prerogative," Blaise says. "Maybe we can find a way to break the bond without him knowing. But if that's the case, I'm quite serious when I say you can't touch him."

Merlin. Draco doesn't know if he can manage that restriction. Not when Potter's in his flat, overwhelming all of Draco's senses. He draws in a shaky breath, then he nods.

Blaise relaxes, if only slightly. "Good."

"Go on," Draco says after a moment, waving Blaise off. "Go see to Potter's well-being. I'm certain your interest is piqued having another werewolf to study." He thinks he should be offended by Blaise's obvious delight. Still, it's seldom Blaise has the opportunity to work with other weres; they tend to be few and far between. He'd been thrilled when those two young weres had been dropped in his lap a few weeks past.

"Oh," Blaise says, stopping to pick up his Healer's bag. "Another interesting thing: The bacteria in Clarke's tissue are remarkably similar to what I swabbed from Potter's flesh wounds, and in turn, both appear to be quite alike to the bacteria in your bloodwork and Potter's." He raises an eyebrow. "Curious, yes?"

Draco frowns at him. "What exactly are you suggesting?"

"The obvious thing," Blaise says. "Whatever killed Clarke and went after Potter? It's the same type of were as you. And as those two children I tested recently." He purses his mouth, thinking. "Curious that it crops up all in the same moon cycle. An unknown pack sibling, perhaps? Newly created himself?"

"Or," Draco says slowly, "the were who turned me."

Blaise tilts his head in agreement. "Something to ponder, I'd say." He gives Draco a faint smile. "Odd how things come together sometimes, isn't it?"

"Quite."

"Just be careful," Blaise says. "One wouldn't want to act too quickly, particularly with an Auror in one's house."

"No," Draco says, meeting Blaise's gaze evenly. "One wouldn't."

Blaise nods. "Speaking of whom, I should track Potter down for an examination."

"He's probably in his room," Draco says, absently. "Or the kitchens. He rather enjoys the company of house elves."

"How very unsurprising." Blaise closes the door behind him.

Draco sinks back into his chair, stunned. All these years he's been searching, looking for the creature who turned him. Only Blaise's known how he wants to find the beast, to destroy it for what it made him into. Now he has a chance. Perhaps.

He doesn't know whether to be delighted or terrified.

He settles for both.

***

"Don't stop," Harry says. Malfoy's breath is hot against his skin, and Harry arches up, pressing his arse against Malfoy's thighs. Another thrust and Malfoy's so very deep it hurts. Harry cries out, spreads his thighs wider, eager to take all of Malfoy into him. He needs this, needs Malfoy to take him, to claim him, to make him his.

"God, please." Harry claws at Malfoy's back, wanting him closer. "Harder, yes, like that, please…" His voice rises into a cry as Malfoy pushes into him, his balls slapping against Harry's arse, each shove lifting Harry higher off the bed. He rolls his body against Malfoy's, pulls him down into a bruising kiss. "Fuck me," he gasps, and Malfoy does, thrusting deeper into Harry's body with small, soft grunts, his eyes closed as he leans over Harry--

Harry wakes with a jerk of his hips against the mattress, hot spunk spilling through his pants, soaking into the tangled sheet. He lies there, breathing hard, the smell of his come bittersweet in his nostrils. He's sweating and shaking, and for a moment he expects Malfoy to be next to him, pressing his mouth against Harry's heated skin.

But he's alone. Malfoy's in bed, two doors down the hallway, and if Harry lies still, he can hear the small huffs of Malfoy's soft snores. He hates these enhanced senses sometimes. He's learned quickly to ignore them, to let them sit in the back of his mind rather than focussing on them. They'll overwhelm him otherwise. He wonders if Malfoy feels this, if his every nerve burns as if it's on fire. Was it like that for him when they fucked, Harry wonders? He doesn't know how Malfoy could have stood it if so. Harry can still feel that kiss from this afternoon, Malfoy's mouth hard and rough against his, each nip of his teeth against Harry's lip like a tug on Harry's cock. Harry thinks he might have come then and there, rutting against his own hand whilst Malfoy kissed him, and Christ. He has to move his fingers from his prick right now before he rubs another one off. No wonder Malfoy'd had such stamina when they fucked. Harry's never been like this before, not even when he was a randy schoolboy eager to shag anything and everything that walked past him.

He rolls out of bed and cleans himself with a wave of his hand and a whispered incantation. The sheets take a Scourgify. It's not perfect, but it'll do until morning when the house elf comes by to tidy the room.

The moonlight draws him to the window. He stands in it, feeling it prickle across the bare skin of his chest. He's not comfortable in his body any longer; he's stopped looking in the mirror because he barely recognises himself. He doesn't want to acknowledge the changes, to watch the way his muscles have grown beneath his skin, to see the clearness of eyes, the broadening of his shoulders.

"You look different," Severus says behind him, and Harry turns.

Severus sits cross-legged over the armchair, floating an inch or two above the tufted velvet. He watches Harry warily.

"I'm not going to hurt you, you know," Harry says, and Severus shrugs.

"Not much you could do to me." Severus scratches the tip of his nose. He looks unsettled. "I'm more concerned about the harm you might do to yourself."

Harry sits on the edge of the bed, hands clasped between his knees. "I'm not going to do anything rash."

"But you've thought about it," Severus says.

Harry doesn't disagree. Of course he has. After the incident in the breakfast room on Saturday morning, how could he not? He'd been so close to hurting Millicent, closer even than he thinks she knows. It'd only been the barest thread of humanity holding him back, and if Malfoy hadn't come storming in, that ridiculous dressing gown flapping at his heels, what might have happened? Millicent dead, Ellie hurt, blood on Harry's hands--he shudders. Anyone with a conscience would have considered the option of taking himself out of the equation. A quick death, a Diffindo through one's throat, and it's over. No need for anyone else to worry.

"Don't," Severus says sharply. "I know you, Potter. You're fool enough to think it noble to kill yourself to destroy the beast inside, and I won't stand for it. I promised your mother--"

"You've kept that promise, Severus." Harry's so very tired. He wants this to be over; he doesn't think he can bear a lifetime of this curse. "Whatever choice I make, I absolve you from responsibility."

Severus flies off the chair with a snarl. "You idiot. You think your words would help? I'd be trapped here for eternity because of you, because I'd failed to protect you from your own bloody stupidity." He circles Harry, agitated. "I won't have it, I won't, you selfish, ungrateful little prat--"

"Calm down," Harry says. Severus's voice has risen, and the last thing Harry wants is the whole house in here demanding to know what the uproar's about. He sighs. "I won't hurt myself, Severus."

"Swear it." Severus gives him a mulish glare. "On your mother's grave."

Harry runs his hands over his face, exhausted, and gives in. "On my mother's grave." Severus is right, as much as he hates to admit it. That would be the easy way out, and Harry's never been interested in an effortless life. Sometimes the things most important are also the most demanding. He sighs again, a huff of frustration he can feel, tight and tense, down into the very depths of his body. "I swear."

It seems to calm Severus, at least a little bit. He settles in the armchair again, watching Harry. "I've been worried."

"I know." Harry has. Severus hasn't been harassing him; he's been practically well-behaved for days now, and that's always a sign Severus is either concerned about Harry's welfare or got the hump over something he thinks Harry's done. When he's in a good mood, he spends most of his time attempting to drive Harry round the twist in one way or another. "I'm sorry."

Severus chews on his bottom lip. "I don't like this. I don't like you staying here with Malfoy. It feels odd."

"You're just overprotective right now," Harry says, stretching back out on the bed. He can only imagine what Severus must be feeling. The last time the ghost had been this subdued had been Harry's third year on the force when a hex had glanced off his shoulder during a routine snatch-and-grab of a suspect. He'd ended up in St Mungo's for two days as they healed it, and Severus had been horrified that he hadn't been there to push Harry out of the way. Harry'd tried to explain that Severus couldn't protect him from everything, but it hadn't helped.

This time he doesn't even bother.

He can feel Severus fretting from across the room. "You're thinking too loudly," Harry says.

"I bloody well am not."

Harry smiles faintly. "It's like you're shouting in my head."

Severus tumbles across the bed, leaving a trail of spectral chill in his wake. "You're an arse," he says, but he sounds a little more cheerful. He always does better when he's insulting Harry. His face hovers over Harry's, and he frowns. "Just don't trust Malfoy entirely, all right?"

"I never do," Harry says, and Severus looks relieved.

"Fine," Severus says and he settles on the bed beside Harry. "And try not to dream about him again, please? It's rather disgusting hovering above damp sheets."

The arc Harry's pillow takes cuts right through the ghost. "Twat."

Severus just snorts and punches at Harry's arm. The chill tickles a bit, and Harry smiles again, leaning back into his own stack of pillows. He feels a bit calmer now. Less likely to be bloody melodramatic in the middle of the night, maybe.

This time, when he closes his eyes, sleep comes a little more easily.

***

Ron's tired. He sits at the kitchen table, surrounded by piles of unfolded parchment from Bertie Clarke's wooden box. He's gone through them all at least once, and the majority of what he's uncovered revolves around whatever dark magic this group was toying. The problem is, half of the material at least is in some sort of coded neo-Latin, and Ron had only just scraped through his required Latin course at Hogwarts. At least Harry'd been even more hopeless at it than Ron'd been, small relief, that. Still, not much of the language has stuck with him over the years. He can make out the gist of some sections of the parchments, especially on the pages with illustrations, but not enough to get much further with the case.

He's about ready to throw his quill at the wall when Hermione comes through the Floo. Ron perks up a bit--she's been spending a lot of time recently at work or in WSPU demonstrations, and he hadn't thought she'd get back for hours.

Ron stands to greet his girlfriend, brushing the dust from his trousers and trying to look as respectable as an off-duty Auror in rumpled clothing can. Hermione's still in her academic robe and is clutching her satchel with what he fancies is a bit of manic gleam to her eye. He kisses her cheek and gently steers her to the chair at the head of the table, only then trying to pry the well-used leather satchel from her chilled fingers. He props the heavy bag in the corner next to the window as she sits down.

"Rough day at the knowledge mill?" he says. It is a frequent joke of theirs, and a useful insight into just how bad Hermione's day has been. If she laughs, it's nothing a good cup of tea can't fix, and the evening will be jolly and relaxed. If not, something much stiffer will be required.

Her lips compress into a thin line. "You can't even imagine."

Ron puts the kettle on and then reaches for the half-full bottle of Ogden's Old under the counter. "Is it a tea with firewhisky evening, then?" He tries to keep his tone light. He's found it usually works better.

"Perhaps without the tea?" Hermione is smiling a bit, but grimly. Ron's about to turn away to pour her a glass when she catches sight of the papers in front of her. "Who's this doing the New Rite of Memphis?"

Ron nearly drops the bottle of Ogden's. "You can read it? Of course. I should have asked you. Do you know anything about…"

"The Stella Matutina?" Hermione says, leaning over the papers she has drawn closer, her brow furrowed. "I should say so. There've been rumours about the schisms in the senior common room, of course, and I believe there's rather a large following for that branch of the Golden Dawn at Oxford."

Ron sits on the edge of the kitchen table and points to a piece of parchment. "Can you say anything about them? I'm trying to find out about the group Clarke--I mean, one of our victims-- belonged to, but I couldn't read Latin as well as you can."

Hermione laughs. "No wonder. I don't think I've seen worse since we tried to help Harry with his composition back at Hogwarts. The grammar is appalling, and half the forms are wrong. The dative isn't always the same form as the ablative, particularly not in the third declension. The writer also seems to think he can interchange the future and the future perfect at will."

"But what does it say?" Ron's voice picks up a cajoling tone. If Hermione goes off on a tear about grammar, he'll never get her back on track. "You said you recognised the ritual in it. I need your help with this, love, and I'm prepared to offer anything in return." He wiggles his eyebrows. "Name your price."

"I'll think about it." Hermione leafs through the parchments in front of her, eyes moving rapidly across the scrawled words. "It's occult, obviously, and based on some of the texts I believe your victim might have memorised. The Stella Matutina are defining new rituals based on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn."

"How can you tell?" Ron asks. He leans against the back of her chair, trying to follow her jabbing finger.

"They've taken over the Rite of Memphis-Misraim, which they got from the Masons," Hermione says. "Those have been circulating for a bit among Muggles, even longer in their magical counterparts. But they're adding new language here, about the morning star, and the rule by twelve. Are you going to get the kettle?"

Ron rushes to pour the steaming water into the teapot, and returns once he's settled the cosy. Hermione already has the timing charm counting down. "So their rituals are similar to the Golden Dawn. An offshoot?"

"Something like that." Hermione leans back in her chair, stretching out her legs, her petticoats tucked up around her knees. "It ties into the Stella Matutina symbolism. But I don't think this group is the regular Stella Matutina. I'm finding references to Norse mythology in the rituals, which is odd. The Muggles tend to be far more fascinated with incorporating ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern beliefs into their magical theory. There's no mention of that here. From what I can see at first glance, it's all Yggdrasil and Odin's hanging from it to learn rune magic--the whole lot of it in the worst Latin I can imagine. Honestly, what are they teaching students today?"

"Well, he was an American," Ron says. "But it still doesn't explain the connection to werewolves."

Hermione holds up a hand, a new, larger parchment spread in front of her. "Wait, this bit involves prayers and invocations to Fenrisúlfr."

"What?" Ron gives her a blank look. "What's that when it's at home?"

"It's Fenris, the fen-dweller. Loki's son," Hermione says slowly. "A giant wolf. Many think he is the ur-werewolf. "

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised you know your Norse mythology," Ron says. He pours two steaming cups and then fixes Hermione a separate glass of whisky. She can add it if she likes.

Hermione blows on her tea, raising a small puff of steam. "If your victim was involved with an occult group who worshipped a wolf--"

"He might have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time," Ron says. "Or he might have invited something in."

"You know, there is the rumour of a Beast," Hermione says, turning to Ron. There's an odd gleam in her eye that Ron doesn't quite like. "Some people thought it was responsible for the Ripper murders when we were children. Kenany out of Cambridge wrote an entire paper on it for the Post-Napoleonic Society meeting in Vienna three years ago. If we could catch it--" She breaks off and looks away. "It'd be quite the academic coup to prove its existence."

"The Beast might not exist," Ron says quietly, eyes on Hermione. He knows the legend she's talking about, bits of it at least. Any time old, unsolved cases are brought up, especially the truly violent ones, there are whispers around the office. His jaw is suddenly tight, his body tense. He's let her get too involved with this case.

Hermione frowns at him, sipping her tea. "I've no doubt there's a Beast of some sort out there, Ronald, whatever he is, man, wolf, demon. Something is skulking about in London's shadows, killing people and attacking Harry."

"Of course, there is!" Ron's hands curl around his mug, clutching at its warmth. "There's a nutter out there. A were off its head with moon madness or something. But the Beast? It's nothing but an Auror legend. Meant to scare tots away from a life of crime and to terrify new recruits when they remember it, years later. I mean, really? A vicious creature who's evaded capture for decades?"

"Centuries, Kenany suggests."

Ron just eyes Hermione, surprised at her openness to the idea. "Oh, yes. Certainly. Let's blame all our unsolved cases on a terror who stalks the streets of London for a time, leaving behind carnage until he finally disappears weeks or months later." He snorts. "Complete codswallop. It's just poor policing, I say."

Hermione's brown eyes are steady on his. "It fits with the historical accounts, Ron. Kenany made a very good argument that we could lay the Ripper's crimes at the Beast's feet. He doesn't say it's the same Beast; in fact he suggests there might be multiple embodiments of a spirit or force--"

"Love." Ron shakes his head, suddenly afraid of naming the shadows. "I know you're not the only one to say that the Muggle's Ripper was the Beast crossing over from the wizarding world. Even Harry's thought it a time or two. But nobody's ever truly proved that, whatever your Kenany bloke might think."

"Muggle literature's full of monstrosities, Ron. Frankenstein's monster. Dracula. Jekyll and Hyde. There are myriad rumours of humans overshadowed by a creature whose appetite for blood drives them to commit unspeakable acts." Hermione's eyes gleam now, her hand clenched around her forgotten glass of whisky.

"It's nightmares come alive, is what it is." Ron bites his lip. He doesn't like crossing Hermione, not when she's already had a difficult day. But still, he can't entirely accept what she's suggesting. "It's what comes out of the shadows into daylight. But you've got to know it's nothing real. There's no actual Beast. It's all imagination. Something for your Doctor Freud to work on."

Hermione sets down her glass and sets the papers into an orderly pile. She's silent for a moment, and then she sighs. He's afraid she's angry with him. "I wouldn't be too sure. But here, let's put these aside right now. I'll help you with them again after dinner." She pauses, and the look she gives him from beneath lowered eyelashes is quite coy. He relaxes. Perhaps he hasn't annoyed her too much, then. "Or perhaps later. After all, you did say that you would do anything for my help, did you not?"

Ron finds himself rushed onto the sofa in short order, with Hermione soon groaning and moaning next to him as his hands grip and loosen across her soft skin. The scent of almond oil rises to his nostrils, and he wonders how many minutes of foot massage the remaining pages are worth.

He's willing to pay up, he thinks. Quite happily.

***

Lunch on Wednesday is the first time Harry's been out of Malfoy's townhouse in a week. He doesn't want to go, not at first, but Malfoy insists, telling him he'll have to endure the wider world at some point soon. There's only so much of an absence from work Kingsley will tolerate, Harry knows, and he's already treading on the Head Auror's goodwill. So he dresses in a proper suit and settles a proper hat on his freshly washed hair and lets Malfoy manoeuvre him into the back of the Daimler.

Greg pulls up to the kerb at Simpson's, an old chophouse next to the new Bank tube station. When Harry enters the smoky wooden interior, he sees Ron's flaming hair from across the restaurant. Not a woman is present; Simpson's remains a staunch bastion of English masculinity. Hermione would be appalled to know Ron's lunching here. The smell of meat and smoke, wood and flesh is almost overpowering to Harry's senses until he reminds himself to turn down the intensity. His stomach rumbles and despite his discomfort at being outside of the house, he's glad to see Ron.

Malfoy slides into the booth across from Ron, and Harry hangs his hat on the hooks beside their table and follows him. "Weasley," Malfoy says, rather pleasantly for him, Harry thinks. "How're things with the Aurors?"

"Decent enough." Ron's already well into a pint. He looks over at Harry. "Kingsley wants to know when you'll be back."

Harry exchanges a glance with Malfoy. "I'm not sure I'm ready yet," he says. He feels a fool for the admission, but he's still barely controlling himself, even though Zabini's upped his potion by another five drops each evening.

"Well, mate, it'd better be soon," Ron says as two more pints are placed down at the table in front of Harry and Malfoy. Fine wine isn't a choice at Simpson's during the day. It's ale or cider and you'll like it, thanks ever so. Malfoy orders for them all, though there's not much choice in there either. Steak and bread and stewed cheese are the house specialities. When the waiter walks away, Ron leans forward, his elbows on the table. "He's already mighty suspicious about your reasons for being gone. He even let me know that your unusual relationship with milord here was fine with him."

Harry opens his mouth in surprise but nothing comes out.

Malfoy, on the other hand, has no such problem. After looking around to make sure no one's listening in, and casting a quick Muffliato, he says in a waspish voice, "Although I can't even imagine that it's any of Shacklebolt's damned business, I suppose I shouldn't look support in the mouth, however misplaced. What exactly have you been telling the Head Auror, Weasley?"

It's Ron's turn to grow a little pink. "Er, this and that. Like we discussed, I notified him that Harry is poorly, and that a cursed blade was involved. He's heard about Zabini's housecalls in Berkeley Square, and he finds it damned irregular of course, but he'd not exactly pressing for details. But you have to come back soon." He looks over at Harry, his sympathy evident. "This week if at all possible in fact. Sorry, mate. He wanted you back in today, and he's not best pleased you didn't show."

Harry isn't ready at all. The panic in his chest robs him of breath. It's too hard to concentrate with all of the sounds, smells, sights, even tastes of all of the humans and all of this life around him. The city is overpowering in its intensity, and he's only just figuring out how to remain calm and composed at table with his senses on high alert. He exchanges another look with Malfoy, who tilts his head just enough to express his understanding.

"I'm sure Potter'll be able to manage," Malfoy says blandly to Ron, whilst putting a soothing hand on Harry's thigh. "Friday, perhaps?"

Harry suddenly has another point of focus, the strong beat of the pulse in Malfoy's fingertips, the pressure of his skin. Harry's fear settles instantly; he has the sudden urge to press himself against Malfoy's side. Instead he lets his hand brush against Malfoy's, surprised when Malfoy jumps at the touch.

"Yes, I'm sure I'll manage by Friday," Harry says, inhaling the cool grass and musk of Malfoy's cologne and imagining the relative quiet of Berkeley Square. It should be calm at Auror Headquarters as well. Surely he can manage. He'll lock himself in his office and set Severus at the door, inkwell at hand. One ruined suit and no one'll dare bother him then.

Ron takes another pull of his pint and wipes his mouth. "Well, that's a relief. I don't know how much longer I can hold out against Kingsley. We're at staring matches by this point, he and I."

Malfoy chuckles, and the hairs on the back of Harry's neck stand up. Not in fear. No, nothing like fear if he's honest. Even in a crowded room, facing one of his oldest friends, Harry's centre is Malfoy. Harry sees Ron watching him carefully, noting the closeness between his and Malfoy's bodies, and, though he keeps still, not wanting to move away from Malfoy's warmth, he shifts the topic. "How's Hermione?"

"Close to casting Cruciatus on Emmeline Pankhurst again," Ron says. "Or helping Sylvia to. I'm distracting her as best I can." At Harry's raised eyebrow, Ron throws a bit of bread at him. "Not like that, arsehole. She's been helping me with Clarke's papers. Her Latin's better than mine."

"Anyone's Latin is better than yours. Except mine of course," Harry says, laughing. It feels good; Harry hasn't been amused much the past few days. "Though I thought poor Flitwick was going to have a fit before you learnt the proper pronunciation of wingardium leviosa."

Malfoy presses his lips together with a slight smile. "What did she say about the texts?"

"Well, I can tell you the grammar is absolutely atrocious." Ron's imitation of Hermione on the last bit is spot on, right down to the grimace and eyeroll. "However, she did say they have something to do with the new Stella Matutina group."

"Excellent." Malfoy sounds rather pleased. "That goes along with the insignia on Clarke's cufflinks."

Plates arrive on a waiter's arm, heaped with food. They take a quick break to get settled, Ron tucking immediately into his steak and Harry not far behind. Malfoy sips at his pint, then eats a slab of bread spread with thick cheese stewed with more ale whilst eyeing Harry and Ron. He looks rather impressed with Ron's speed of consumption. Harry could have told him Ron was quick at table; Ron had learnt to be with five other brothers reaching for Molly Weasley's serving bowls. You ate fast at the Burrow or you didn't eat at all.

"So what is this group?" Harry asks, still chewing on a mouthful of gristle.

Malfoy cuts into his steak, which oozes bloody juices. Harry's mouth waters at the sight. "It's an offshoot of the Golden Dawn movement. There's been a schism in the leadership at London, and the intellectuals have followed the new group, Stella Matutina, whilst the faithful are with Alpha and Omega. Although I hear there is a third group as well, but I'm not as well versed in the practices of that order."

"Still, you know an awful lot about them," Ron says, a tinge of suspicion in his voice.

"I'm familiar with that organisation," Malfoy says, taking a bite of steak and chewing slowly. He swallows. "Thanks to a friend of mine who finds them terribly amusing. Pansy earned top marks in divination and likes to fleece the Muggles now. It gives her joy, not to mention the money to spend on the latest Paul Poiret gown."

Harry glances over at him. Malfoy eats neatly, each bite cut with precision and care. Harry suspects Malfoy must be ravenous as well, must have the same primal urge to tear the meat with his teeth, to suck the marrow from the bone, but he doesn't show it in the least. His only indelicacy is to sop the blood on his plate with a scrap of bread, popping it into his mouth.

One day, Harry thinks. One day I'll have that sort of control.

"Pansy Parkinson?" Ron asks. He snorts, and Harry knows why; most of the Auror force is familiar with her particular practice. They've been called in more than once to perform an Oblivation on a seance gone wrong. "Might have known."

Malfoy sets his cutlery down and wipes his mouth with his napkin. "She's a terrible fraud, yes, but she's charmed half of Crowley's lot. Will Yeats adores her, as she tells me. Over and over and over." His smile's fond; Harry feels a quick stab of jealousy. Surprised by the reaction, he looks down at his own plate, steadying his fork and knife in his suddenly shaky hands. "I keep reminding her everyone in Dublin and half of London knows he's off his bloody nut."

"Could she introduce us to the Muggles?" Harry asks. "Seems an easier way than trying to track down a secret gathering of occultists."

"They're not that hidden away," Malfoy says, reaching for his pint. His leg presses against Harry's; a liquid warmth spreads through Harry's belly. "They're always nattering on to someone about when they're meeting next. Still, it's not a terrible idea, and Pans owes me a favour anyway."

"You and about half the force," Ron says.

Malfoy nods. "True, that." He sets his pint down. "I'll owl her when we get back to Berkeley Square. Last I heard, Yeats was trying to get her to teach him magic. She borrowed a few books from my library and made up some ridiculous ceremony for them to use." He rolls his eyes. "Honestly, I don't know who's worse sometimes, Muggles or Squibs." He frowns. "Possibly both."

"Oh, I think most people would worry more about murderous werewolves infiltrating their secret societies." Ron looks guilty the moment he's said it, especially when he catches Harry's flinch. "Present company excluded of course."

Harry doesn't glance at Malfoy. He's not willing to give away another were's secret. Especially not Malfoy's. "It's fine," he says, and Malfoy's hand brushes his beneath the table again, a warm anchor for his racing thoughts.

Ron coughs and scratches the side of his neck. "We'd love to have you back home, you know. Me and Hermione have missed you at the flat."

When Harry looks up at his old friend, he realises that Ron means it. He's not a bit concerned for himself or for Hermione's welfare. He genuinely wants Harry to come home. Except Harry's not certain the flat can be home any more. He doesn't want to leave Malfoy's side, and he doesn't like to think about what that might mean.

So instead he gives Ron a cautious smile. "Thanks, mate," he says, and he feels Malfoy tense beside him. Harry presses his leg against Malfoy's, the only way he can think to let Malfoy know he wants to stay near him. It seems to work, oddly enough. Malfoy relaxes back into his seat.

Curious, Harry thinks. They might need to talk about what this means.

Or not, knowing Malfoy.

Still, he's not certain he'll be back at the Soho flat any time soon, and judging from the look on Ron's face, Ron knows that as well.

Harry takes another bite of steak and tries not to think about anything at all.

***

The voices have sent him out in the middle of the day. The Beast doesn't care for the light; there are fewer shadows in which to hide. But he does what he's been told, as always. The voices never lead him astray.

He stops beneath the portico of the Bank of England. The scent of money is nearly overwhelming, the ink of Muggle bank notes, the metal of their shining coins. Money means nothing to him; the only proper currency is power, and, in that, the Beast is wealthy. He watches the black frock coats and top hats wander in and out of the building, all of them useless ants, convinced of their own importance. The Beast knows better.

Through the faint grey mist of rain, the Beast makes out a motorcar outside Simpson's, a hulk of a man perched behind the wheel. He makes nothing of it until the door of the restaurant opens, and he sees the flash of bright blond hair, smells the familiar scent of his little lordling. He steps forward, almost eager for a glimpse of his prey. Perhaps the voices have brought him here, ready for him to make his move--and then he sees the man behind Malfoy. Dark haired, tall. And he smells like wolf.

He wants to howl, to rend his cloak, to race across the street and bury his teeth in the throat of the still-alive Auror. His death was supposed to be a warning, not a call to the lordling. The Beast turns his head, sniffs again. He can smell the alpha on Malfoy now, that particular musky smell of a wolf who's turned another. It's made the lordling stronger, in ways the fool can't even fathom, and a deep rage wells up within the Beast.

His child has spawned, has broken away before he could be tamed, torn, tortured. He growls, low in his throat, and Malfoy's head turns, as if he can hear the Beast's warning. The Beast draws his cloak tighter around himself, calling for the shadows to cover him, to pull him into the deepening mist. It's not time to be seen again. Not yet.

But soon.

He lets his rumble be heard, a warning. Next time, he'll come soundless in the night, ripping them both to shreds.

Foolish wolf-spawn.

They'll bow before him. Or die for their insolence.

***

Wrentham, Pansy Parkinson's wretchedly proper butler, clears his throat from the doorway to her sitting room. Pansy'd rather have an elf front the house--they're much less irritating, she thinks--but the number of Muggles she entertains in her salon requires the presence of an actual human being. She shudders to think what might happen if one of them wandered upon Mizzy and Lou in the kitchens again. The Aurors are already infuriated with her requests for Obliviation, but really, it's not one of her skills and the Muggles she deals with are quite delicate in the brain as it is. So Wrentham it was, the barely magical son of a Squib, but at least he has the ability to Scourgify the silver when needed.

"Gentlemen callers are in the foyer, madam," Wrentham says in a disapproving tone. He's nearly as old as her father now, and twice as fond of her, Pansy thinks. He's always certain the gentlemen are going to take advantage of Pansy, rather than the other way around. One day he'll learn.

She takes the calling card he holds out on a silver tray and laughs out loud. It's Draco, the darling, with one of his terribly vulgar personal notes scrawled beneath the copperplate engraving of his name. "Put them in the parlour, Wrenny," she says as she stands. "I'll be down in a minute."

It takes closer to ten. She can't decide between the purple or the ecru gown, but she's glad she's gone for the purple when she wafts into the parlour, skirts frou-frouing behind her. Harry Potter is sitting on her velvet settee looking positively scrumptious and wildly uncomfortable. Draco's sprawled across the leather chair she'd taken from her father's den, looking like he owns the place. His eye catches Pansy's the moment she steps into sight, and he nods imperceptibly towards Potter, who stood when she entered the room. Draco's gaze drifts down Pansy's body, and he scowls at her, before glancing back at Potter, a tiny furrow between his brows.

Interesting, she thinks. This one must mean something to Draco.

Pansy smiles vaguely and proffers her hand. Expecting a kiss, she's surprised when Potter shakes it instead. They blink at each other for a moment. "Enchanté, Potter. You've grown up well."

Ah, and there it is, the famous Gryffindor blush. Potter looks incredibly fetching with high spots of colour on his cheekbone.

"Er, thanks." Potter stutters a bit under pressure, poor dear.

Pansy turns to Draco. "Darling." She leans down and kisses his cheek. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"

Draco frowns at her. "Honestly, Pans, that décolletage would be scandalous at a Parisian dinner party, much less at half-two on a rainy London afternoon." He glances at Potter. "Lest you form the wrong idea, she doesn't normally lounge around her house with her tits hanging out."

"Malfoy," Potter snaps, horrified. He turns to Pansy, his blush heightening. "My apologies for his rudeness." Pansy can't help but laugh. How very charming.

"No need to apologise. Draco's always been terribly rude, dear," she says, sitting on a curved wooden chair carved in the Egyptian style, perfectly aware of the charming picture she makes as she crosses her slim ankles to one side, beaded slippers glittering in the sunlight. "I'm quite used to it, if I'm honest." She casts a slightly scathing glance Draco's way. "As for you, really. I do realise the woman you spend most of your time with is Millicent who wouldn't know a lampshade tunic from a hobble skirt, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with what I'm wearing." Well. Perhaps it's a little unseemly, but she looks smashing in the dress and she knows it. Darling Barrie'd told her that just two nights past, now hadn't he? They'd had such a lovely discussion about cricket and the Peter and Wendy novel he's writing based on his play; she's been giving him advice on fairies and flying ships throughout the manuscript, although she suspects he'll ignore all of her suggestions as usual. Stubborn man, but what can you do with a writer, after all?

Draco just rolls his eyes and sits forward. "Have you ever met a Bertram Clarke in your line of work?"

Pansy gives him an appalled glare. Draco knows full well she doesn't like referring to her gifts as work. It makes it sound so vulgar and common. "It's hardly work, darling, and yes, I have met dear Bertie in the course of my little pastime. Why?"

"He's dead," Draco says bluntly. "Ripped up by a were in the East End--"

"Malfoy!" Potter raises a hand to halt the flow of words, but Pansy's too surprised to play coy.

"Bloody hell," she snaps. "That bastard owed me twenty Galleons. He's dead? Really?"

Draco settles back in his chair, looking a bit pleased with himself. "As a doornail. What'd he owe you for?"

"An introduction." Pansy stands and paces in front of the fireplace, her arms folded across her chest. "I'll never get that dosh off Cordelia now. That's a bloody tight-fisted little cow right there--" At Potter's surprised look, she catches herself. "I mean, how very tragic for her."

Draco glances over at Potter. "And so the illusion of grace drops."

"Oh, shut it, you wanker." Pansy drops onto the sofa beside Potter. "Was he really ripped apart?"

"Actually, Padma says his body imploded." Potter's looking at her with curiosity written across his face, but she'll give him points for speaking plainly. "He did have a large bite across his neck, but he seems to have had a massive reaction to some form of magic."

Pansy scowls, not even caring about the lines creasing her smooth forehead. "That'd be the first time for that damned Squib." She looks over at Draco. "Twenty Galleons, Draco. Do you know how much that is in Muggle notes? A bloody hell of a lot, that's what." A hundred pounds sterling at least, and that's three months' household expenses. Wrenny's going to be apoplectic.

"I'm sure we can find a way of replacing some of the income for you." Draco voice carries a suggestion Pansy's not sure she likes. "Kingsley's desperate for a lead in the investigation. Desperate enough to bring me on."

Pansy doesn't miss how Potter stiffens next to her. She's too angry to care. "As an Auror informant? No thank you! That would cost me far more in the long run."

"What kind of introduction would Clarke pay that sort of money for?" Potter asks. "That's a ridiculous amount." He's so delightfully naive, Pansy thinks. It's rather refreshing. Too bad he seems to be more interested in Draco than herself.

"Not to meet a certain type of individual." She knows what he's going to ask next, and she sighs. "On occasion, I allow interested neophytes access into the deeper levels of mystery for a small fee."

"She's an esoteric procurer," Draco drawls. "Rather than her body, she whores out mystical secrets and invitations."

Pansy shrugs. "People pay to be special and get noticed by the right sort. It's a game of access regardless of the stakes. It's been particularly difficult since the London temple split. I've better connexions to the Alpha et Omega, of course, but I'm one of the few with contacts in the daughter organisation too."

Potter looks terribly confused. "What exactly is it that you do?"

Draco laughs. "Pansy's a medium, or so she claims." He glances over at Pansy. "Of course, Potter has his own personal ghost, so I'm afraid he's one up on you."

"Really?" Pansy's intrigued. "You've a spirit guide?" She's a bit jealous, to be honest. She can tap into the spirit world, but it's mostly just a jumble of voices shouting at her until one or another's louder than the rest. Still, it's effective enough for the Muggles.

"He was a friend of my mother's at Hogwarts," Potter says grimly. "And he drives me mad most of the time."

"They mostly do." Pansy sympathises. The dead, she's found, can be more infuriating than the living. "It's a terrible gift to have."

Potter snorts, and Draco looks delighted. "So, darling," Draco says. "Exactly to whom did you introduce Clarke?

"Dickie," Pansy says immediately. "I mean, Richard Davies of the Stella Matutina group. Rumour has it he's quite close to the new Twelve."

"The new who?" Potter asks, and Pansy barely stops herself from rolling her eyes. Really, one would think the Auror force would keep up with the Muggle occult craze that's swept through London for, oh, only the past half-century. But no, they turn a blind eye to it all, which, yes, of course, is brilliant for her bottom line, but frankly, Pansy thinks that the Ministry ought to be just a touch more concerned about idiot Muggles running about trying to do magic they've no right or training to use. Particularly since a few of them have just enough innate magical ability through Squib lineage to muck things up royally. But what does she know, after all? She's just a silly woman, banging on about the spirit world to Muggles foolish enough to part with their gold for a chance to speak to dear old Mummy one last time. She scowls at Potter, even though he's not entirely responsible. Still, he's an Auror, and that's bad enough.

"The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was led by three chiefs," Pansy says, and she doesn't even care if she sounds a bit like a schoolmarm. "Although everyone knows that Mathers held primacy. When the London revolt happened back at the turn of the century, the order splintered into the loyal group, the Alpha et Omega who are still in the mother temple, and the Stella group, who founded the Amoun temple. One of the changes that Stella brought in was the rule by a group of twelve. My contact—Dickie--is quite close to the committee members, and I was able to facilitate a special introduction of Bertie to their midst during a more intimate rite."

"Were you practicing sex magic again?" Draco gives her a disapproving glare, which cheers Pansy a great deal. She always enjoys shocking him, the wretched hypocrite.

"Perhaps, although that was just for a lark." Pansy winks at Potter, whose cheeks are the most fetching shade of pink. "This was more in the raising the dead vein, although I didn't stay for that part."

"Pansy Egeria Parkinson, what have I always told you!" Leaping to his feet, Draco has the gall to raise his voice at her.

She purses her lips and pretends to consider. "Stay away from necromancers, alchemists, and goddamn Gryffindors?"

Potter's eyebrows go up. "Gryffindors are forbidden, are we?" The look he gives Draco speaks volumes.

"He's not brilliant at following his own rules," Pansy says. "I happen to know for a fact his set was into necromancy at Oxford."

Draco looks vexed as he settles back on the leather chair. "That was just the one time."

Potter's mouth twitches; Pansy rather likes him for that. There's something a bit roguish about him now, and she's rather certain he didn't have that particular quality in school. From what she's heard from the Aurors, as well, Potter's always had a bit of a stick up his arse, but perhaps that's just professional jealousy speaking. Still, she'd take him to her bed gladly, if she weren't rather certain Draco would have her guts for garters by morning. That's interesting as it is; Draco's never given a damn about sharing his conquests before.

"In any case, I was peripheral to the affair, as I recall." Draco has the grace to look sheepish, although Pansy suspects it's for Potter's benefit and not her own. "What else can you tell us about the group Bertie was introduced into?"

"Other than they're a bit mad?" Pansy shrugs. "They're harmless, really, from what I can tell. Squibs and Muggles interested in real magic--but not the more classical strains that Wescott and Woodman originated, the ones that are readily obtainable from Muggle grimoires. The S.M. lot are experimenting with new ceremonies and bringing in more folkloric traditions." She grimaces. "They bang on about Woden quite a bit. So terribly dull."

Potter leans forward, his elbows on his knees. His shirt shifts and she can see the edge of a pink scar on his throat. "Woden. The Saxon god?"

"They think magic is divine activity." Pansy wrinkles her nose. She's never been one to mix magic with religion; she's never seen the sense, to be honest. She's a witch and a church-christened member of the C of E, and that's never been an issue on either side. "They rather like god and goddess pairings; that's quite interesting to them. I mean, really, it's mostly for sex, you know. Not for all of them, mind, but for many of them. Bertie, though…" She frowns. "I think he actually believed it. Thought he could be magical, Squib genes or not." A wave of sadness washes over her. "Poor bastard. All he ever wanted to do was impress his father. He had the money. Bertie's grandfather is some industrialist over in the States, and his father's a member of the Magical Congress. But his family was embarrassed that he was basically a--what do they call it across the Pond?--a 'No-Maj.'"

The room's quiet for a moment, all of them lost in their own thoughts. Pansy knows Draco's are drifting towards Lucius; he sits perfectly still, save for his fingers turning the signet ring his father'd given him on his sixteenth birthday.

Finally, Draco clears his throat. "I'm assuming they'd fall silent if an Auror showed up on any of their doorsteps."

Pansy nods. "They won't speak to outsiders. You'd have no chance interviewing any of them. There's a code, after all. Levels to what people know."

"I might be able to have you paid through Mother's charitable trust," Draco says. "Could you ask around, see if anyone knows what might have got Bertie killed?"

Pansy chews on her lip, thinking. "I could try. Dickie might tell me." She gives Draco a wry smile. "But don't get your hopes up. He might not know anything. There's no telling; secrets are everything in these circles. I've been dabbling for nearly a decade and I'm not a whit close to the Inner Circle."

Draco pushes himself out of the chair. Potter stands as well. "Just find us something," Draco says a bit roughly. He digs into his pocket and pulls out a Galleon coin. He tosses it to her; she catches it in mid-air. "Consider it a downpayment on Bertie's debt."

For a moment, Pansy almost refuses it. She doesn't want to be seen as charity, not by Potter. But she's not a fool, either, and the loss of Bertie's gold could be painful. Her parents barely give her an allowance, particularly since she continues to refuse their attempts to marry her off to the sons of their various friends. Marcus Flint had been the last straw. Pansy'd never consider any husband with teeth like that, regardless of the connexions between their families. The Flints are wealthy, but they're fools. She'd hoped once that Draco might offer for her, but every year that passes lessens that particular dream. He'll need "an heir and a spare," as they say, but she's getting older and less likely to be able to perform that particular marital duty.

She tucks the Galleon between her breasts and dips into an exaggerated curtsy. "Thankee, milord," she drawls, hiding her embarrassment behind sarcasm. "Your kindness is much appreciated."

Draco barely notices, but Potter does, and the look he gives her is thoughtful and keen. She glances away, heat flooding her cheeks.

"I'll see what I can do with Kingsley," Potter says. "He might be able to route funds through Magical Revenue as well. And we can offer you protection, if necessary."

Pansy lays a hand on his arm. "Whatever should I need protection for?"

"Werewolves," Potter says simply. "We've no idea if the one that got Bertie will strike again."

Her eyes dart involuntarily to Draco. She's shared his secret for a long time, and she wonders what Potter knows.

"Potter's right." Draco has his hands in his pockets. "This may be part of a new wave of attacks, or an isolated incident. We can't be sure yet, but please be careful and owl if you need anything."

A chill goes through Pansy. He's serious, she can tell. She nods, and then they're gone, their boots echoing in the marble foyer.

Wrentham steps into the room. "Is my lady well?" he asks, his wrinkled brow furrowed in concern.

"I'm not certain," Pansy admits. "Would you be so kind as to make me a silver fizz, Wrenny? And my writing case, if you will. I've a letter to send by Muggle post this evening."

She sinks back onto the sofa with a sigh. There are moments, she thinks, that she wishes Draco Malfoy had never walked into her life.

***

Draco's prowling the flat, keeping his step light on the stairs and trying not to wake anyone. Greg's already long asleep, and Millie and the baby should be up in another couple of hours. He's not sure what's keeping him from his bed, but he doesn't feel like resting tonight. The interview yesterday with Pansy worries him more than he realised at the time. He's never thought Pans could end up in actual danger--he always jests with his oldest friend about their ability to float like scum on the torrents of life--but something about Potter's solicitous nature towards the end of their little chat make Draco realise just how vulnerable she might be if there really is an Stella Matutina connexion to Bertie's death.

And then there's the blasted matter of Potter himself. If he had been delicious to Draco before his turning, the bastard's approaching mouth-watering levels now. It's all Draco can do to not breathe in Potter's scent when he stands too close, not trail a mouth over the curve of his delectable neck, not bite down and raise a bruise by sucking on that handsome collarbone. And that's the merest beginning of what Draco wants. He would take Potter apart in courses like a fine meal, feasting on the glory of his newly muscular form and wringing every drop of delight out of him. And this time they'd have equal stamina.

Damn Blaise and his medical injunctions. Sometimes caution can be excessive, not to mention harmful.

If Draco's honest, he'll also admit he doesn't know how much time they have. The very clock is racing on their investigations until the next lightning bolt lands. Draco has no idea what's coming. He's also had the distinct sense that they're being watched, out of the corner of his eye, from the shadows. Where there is nothing, there is still suspicion. At first, he thought Kingsley had been having them followed. But now he doesn't know what to believe. He felt it when they came back to the flat tonight, a sort of thickening in the gloaming, the vague idea of eyes that might be watching you back, but his own surveillance spells couldn't establish anything firm. Whoever it is--if there is someone actually out there--is quite adept at hiding.

And so Draco prowls, pausing at windows and listening to the quiet, warm house, the restful sleep of the other inhabitants, the creaking of the floors and the occasional soft sound of wind in the trees outside.

An hour later he's sitting in the library with a snifter of brandy and Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, a small lumos keeping the pages light enough to read. He's just finished rereading the sections on Lustmord when he hears Potter cry out.

It's faint, but Draco hears the noise as though Potter were right next to him. Without thinking, he's down the hall, up the stairs, and striding into the guest bedroom before he can formulate a concrete plan. Harry's thrown off most of the bedcovers and his nightshirt at some point in the night. The fabric lies crumpled in a ball on the floor, and his naked torso gleams in the low light from the lanterns of Berkeley Square.

He's still fast asleep, but whimpering. Draco hesitates. If this were a few weeks earlier, he would go to him, lay a hand on his shoulder, perhaps even kiss him gently. Now, he's not sure he can even touch Potter without wanting to have his way with him.

Steeling himself, Draco leans over the bed. He nudges Potter's arm with his elbow. "Potter, wake up."

Potter continues to be fast asleep. His dark curls are sleep tousled and Draco can smell absolutely everything now that he's close to Potter. The pungent smell of spunk curls through his nostrils--Potter must have tossed off before bed. He'd obviously cleaned up, but Draco can still smell it on him, and it makes him want Potter with unspeakable force.

Another whimper, and Potter shifts, his brow furrowing, his teeth catching on his bottom lip. This time Draco shakes Potter's shoulder.

"Potter." He tries to keep his voice steady and firm, to keep the tremor of want at bay. "You're having a nightmare."

Draco's not sure exactly when Potter wakes up, but one moment he is leaning over him, the next, he is lying under him on the twisted sheets. Even for a were, Potter's reflexes are impressive.

A sleepy growl rumbles low in Potter's throat, and Draco stills, hoping that Potter is lucid enough not to think Draco's attacking him. "You were having a nightmare," Draco says again, his voice as soothing as he can make it from this position. "I've come in to wake you up."

The green eyes clear, and Potter rocks back on his haunches with a yawn. "Then why are you in my bed?" There's a bit of a smile on his face, so he must know, really, that he's to blame.

"I tried to wake you, and you assaulted me." Draco hates himself, but he can't help smiling back up at Potter. He tries to shift, but Potter has Draco's hips pinned down, a bare thigh draped over Draco's hipbone.

"Mmm. Assaulted you?" Potter leans in close, his hair brushing Draco's cheek. "I could do more than that, milord."

Draco shivers with want, his body rigid beneath Potter. He knows Potter can feel his cock, swelling against Potter's leg, and he thinks he should be embarrassed. He's most certainly not. "Could you?" He lets his voice drop low, and he watches as Potter's pupils contract. Whether or not Potter realises it, Draco's his alpha. Potter belongs to him now, and Draco can do whatever he'd like with him. The sense of power is intoxicating. "What if I complained about Auror brutality?"

"How brutal would milord like me to be?" Potter's lips are very nearly brushing Draco's ear. Merlin, but this temptation's more than a man should be required to bear. Every instinct he has is screaming at him to take Potter, to mate with him, to claim Potter as his.

It's an easy matter to flip Potter on his back, and Draco tells himself he merely wishes to level the playing field. Once he has him at his mercy, he'll bid him goodnight and retire to the library. He doesn't count on Potter shimmying beneath him and rubbing his hips against Draco's prick. It's perfect, everything that Draco wants. Blood hot, nose full of Potter's scent, Draco nearly gives in. He comes so close to abandoning all rational thought and letting the beast under his skin out to rut with Potter's. It's like a fire twisting deep within the marrow of his bones, and it takes everything he has to roll off of Potter and stand at his bedside, hand white from gripping the headboard. Potter complains wordlessly, almost growling. He's completely hard, and Draco can smell that he's wet with fresh precome. He closes his eyes, exhaling slowly, doing his best to control himself, to fight back the wolf inside who wants nothing more than to claim what's his by right.

One bite, one fuck, and Potter'd be tied to him until one of them dies. He can't do that to the man. Draco's cursed Potter already without his consent; he's not about to take his freedom as well.

When he can speak, Draco opens his eyes and says, "Potter. We can't." His voice cracks. "Merlin knows, I want to. But it's not the right time. I'd be… taking advantage."

Potter sits up, his skin golden against the white bed, his cock hard and red and slick. Draco wants to suck it clean, to swirl his tongue around the leaking slit, tasting Potter once more. He digs his fingernails into the palm of his hand. Potter looks at him, the light of the third quarter moon shadowing the sharp angles and planes of his face. "Malfoy, please. I…"

Draco can't bear it; he wants Potter so badly. "No," he says, more for himself than Potter. He can't. He won't. Turning on his heel, Draco stalks out of the door, ignoring Potter's cry of his name behind him. It's going to be a long night of cataloguing sexual perversities and several fingers of brandy before he finds rest, Draco can already tell.

Damn Blaise and his injunction to hell and back.

***

Harry wakes up alone and irritable, the pink light of dawn only beginning to seep through the windowpanes. It'd taken him forever to fall asleep again after Malfoy'd abandoned him in the middle of the night, leaving Harry hard and wanting. For a moment he'd thought about following Malfoy, cornering him in the hallway and falling to his knees to suck Malfoy dry. He'd never wanted anyone as badly as he does Malfoy right now, and it frightens him. He wants to stretch beneath Malfoy's hands, turn his throat to Malfoy's teeth, be taken hard and fast, Malfoy's fingers digging into Harry's hips with each rough thrust--Harry groans and rolls over, his hips rutting against the mattress, his swelling cock rubbing across the tangled sheets he'd managed to retrieve from the floor. He's hard in a breath, and he rocks backwards onto his hands and knees, arse in the air, imagining Malfoy behind him, warm hands on his skin, spreading Harry wide. Fuck, Harry thinks. He wants a thick prick in him, right now, wants to be shagged raw, wants to be bitten and scratched as Malfoy comes undone inside Harry's arse.

He settles for his hand on his cock, his arse pushing back against air with each quick stroke. He's angry, hurt, Malfoy's rejection still bitter in the back of his throat. But he can't stop himself, can't keep his hand from pulling at his prick, palm smearing wetness across the swollen head and down the shaft. He could be with anyone else, he knows. The way Parkinson looked at him on Wednesday afternoon, he could have her tossed across this bed, knickers off, legs in the air. For a moment he thinks about what it would be like to sink into her wetness, to feel the tight heat of a woman's body again. His mind jerks away from the thought; his hand falters mid-stroke. It's not right. It's Malfoy he needs, Malfoy he wants, and that pushes him over the edge, hot spunk spattering across the sheet beneath him.

Exhausted, he collapses, breathing hard. He feels weirdly empty, sated and yet not. He wants more.

Shame floods him, bringing him back to those early days when he'd first realised he wanted to bed a man. Harry hates this feeling, hates the realisation that he needs Malfoy, that his body craves Malfoy the way an addict craves opium. He's losing himself to Malfoy, and that unnerves him.

Two days ago the thought of leaving the safety of Berkeley Square had been anathema to him. Now he's not so certain he can stay here much longer. Not if he yearns for Malfoy like this. He's like a bloody adolescent girl, he thinks, desperate for a glimpse of the boy she fancies. Except it's worse, really. It's not just some ridiculously childish pash. Harry'd given in to his lust last night, begging Malfoy to stay, and Malfoy'd turned his back on him. Said no. And even that hadn't eased Harry's desire.

"Fuck," he says.

Humiliation fills Harry, and he falls back against the pillows, staring up at the ceiling. Shadows from the leaved branches of the tree outside dance across the embossed plaster. His only goal for the day is to avoid Malfoy as much as possible, and the only realistic way to do so is to leave the house, as much as he'd rather not. He lies in bed for a good half hour weighing the options: facing down Malfoy versus the possibility of maiming an innocent human being if Zabini's potion fails and he unexpectedly shifts.

The innocents be damned.

He dresses quickly in front of the hearth, knotting his tie sloppily. He doesn't care what he looks like; he just wants to escape, to be away from the scent of Malfoy, from that husky posh voice that compels Harry to throw caution--and whatever virtue he has left--to the wind. The house is still silent and sleeping when he makes his way downstairs to the Floo, but just as he tosses a handful of silver powder into the embers, the library door creaks open.

"What are you doing?" Malfoy asks. He's rumpled and half-dressed, shirt undone, his hair snarled from sleeping on the sofa, Harry suspects. Harry smells a faint whiff of something sharp and musky when Malfoy looks at him. It takes him a moment to realise it's arousal. From Malfoy, not himself. It enrages him, even as his body responds, wanting him to move closer to Malfoy, to breathe him in deeply.

Instead, Harry stands his ground, one foot in the green fire. It flickers against his trouser leg, tickling his skin. "Going into the office, obviously."

Malfoy just blinks slowly. "I suppose it's time," is all he says, and Harry's a bit disappointed, really. He'd expected an argument, or at least a snide remark. This cool acceptance bothers him, and he's not certain why. Malfoy yawns and stretches, his chest a swathe of pale ivory between the wrinkled plackets of his shirt. Harry wants nothing more than to press his mouth against that soft skin, to lick and suck his way down Malfoy's body. He looks away.

"Don't bite anyone," Malfoy says. Harry supposes that passes for humour from the git. He's not amused.

Harry steps into the Floo fire. "Ministry of Magic," he says, and the last thing he sees is Malfoy's pale, enigmatic face watching him as he swirls away.

The Ministry's quiet when he lands. It's early still, especially for a Friday morning, and Harry's glad for the empty corridors and silent stairwells as he makes his way down to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. He only sees one or two familiar faces before he steps into his office, closing the door behind him, and he leans against the solid wood and breathes out. He's not used to the scents of Auror headquarters yet; the acrid thickness of India ink and the pulpy aroma of parchment stacks are almost overwhelming. His stomach turns, and he wishes he'd thought to grab a scone from the kitchen. Dobby would have been up already, baking them for breakfast, heavy with currants. He sighs. Ethel will be by soon enough with the cart. With any luck she'll have a pumpkin pasty tucked away for him.

Harry settles in his chair; it feels odd to be back in it. So much has changed in a week and a half. He's not the same man he'd been that last afternoon when he'd walked away from his office, turning off the light with a quiet nox. He'll never be that man again. Grief rolls across him, stunning him with its strength. He feels as if he's mourning a death—his own, in fact—and he doesn't know what to do about that.

Footsteps in the hallway are followed by a sharp rap against his door, and Dawlish's craggy face peers in at him.

"John," Harry says. He tries to smile, but he's not certain he manages anything more than a faint grimace.

Dawlish steps into Harry's office. "Your light was on, and I wondered…" He trails off, then he's at Harry's desk in two steps, pulling Harry out of his chair and into a rough hug. He pounds Harry's back, and Harry flinches with the pain. Dawlish steps back. "Sorry, sorry," he says. "Nearly forgot you'd been hurt. Cursed knife, they're saying?"

"Something like that." Harry's a bit surprised. He's always liked Dawlish well enough, but he'd never have expected the worry he sees written across the older man's face. "I'm healing."

Dawlish nods, running a hand through his short, greying hair. "Weasley's kept you apprised of the case?"

"Well enough." Harry doesn't admit he's been investigating with Malfoy. He's not certain how much of that Ron's been funneling back into official sources, and the last thing he wants is to have Ron called out for improper use of Auror resources. That's happened one time too many already. Harry sits back down. "He's running down the Muggle occult angle."

"Mad, isn't it?" Dawlish shakes his head and leans against Harry's desk. Harry wants him to leave, and he has to bite back the rumble of a growl in the back of his throat. "I reckon I understand wanting magic that badly, but still, yeah?"

Angus Gibbons walks past Harry's office, then does a double-take and comes back by the open door. "Harry? You're back?"

Dawlish claps Harry on the shoulder. "Good as new, isn't he?"

It's all Harry can do not to snarl at the touch. Instead he smiles blandly and asks about Gibbons' new son. Ten minutes later Dawlish's called out to a meeting; Gibbons is still telling Harry how little Arthur hasn't yet slept through a full night. Harry's regretting ever bringing up the child.

Once it gets out that Harry's back at his desk, there's a steady stream of cheerful well-wishers stopping by to make certain he has everything he might need. Ethel brings him not one but two pumpkin pasties, which, frankly, is the highlight of Harry's morning. He tries to be gracious each time there's a knock on his door jamb, but by half-eleven, Harry's nerves are shattered. He wishes he were back in Berkeley Square, sitting in the sunny library with a steaming cup of Millie's best brew beside him and Malfoy huffing in annoyance across the room about something ridiculous he's found in Ron's case notes. This doesn't feel like his life any longer, this dark office and these people so eager to gawk at him in the pretense of welcoming him back as one of their own.

He's not an Auror any longer. Not really. Now he's a werewolf, half-man, half-beast, a creature to be tracked, hunted, restricted, killed. He wonders what they'd do if he told them, if he walked out into the middle of their desks and shifted, right there. There'd be no celebration of his return, he's certain.

Harry remembers the privation that Remus and Tonks have put up with over the years and realises his own good fortune. He hopes that his life won't come to ruin. He hopes that all of their lot can be made better. He just doesn't know how that's possible.

If he were a brave man, he'd walk over to the Beast Division and put his name down on the registry. He's seen Remus's entry; he knows his life would be distilled into a line of dates. Harry James Potter. Born 31 July, 1880. Turned 21 June, 1910. His death, when it came, would be added at the end, along with the names of any weres he might have turned himself. If he was unlucky enough, they'd be connected; turning another human being can be an offense punishable by death, should the Wizengamot choose to invoke such a retribution. In recent years they've been more lenient, but only because Remus and his lot have forced their clemency. Harry draws in a ragged breath, and he almost stands up, almost takes that first step.

But he can't do it.

Harry understands Malfoy now, knows why Malfoy's kept his lycanthropy secret. It's unbearable to keep it hidden; it's worse to tell, to know the kind faces turned one's way will twist and shift, their sympathy replaced with fear. Were he a better man, he wouldn't care.

He does care, though. To his utter shame, he does.

A shadow crosses his doorway.

"Mr Potter." Kingsley's there, tall and broad, his dark, bald head gleaming in the lamplight. "A word?"

Harry nods, and Kingsley comes into his office, closing the door behind him. He sits across from Harry, studying him for a long moment, before he says, "You're well, I presume."

"More so," Harry says. He's wary of the Head Auror. Kingsley's not an easy man to trick, nor does he suffer fools gladly. He gives Harry an even look.

"Weasley's a terrible liar, you realise."

Harry's heart catches. He doesn't look away from Kingsley's steady gaze. "Is he?"

Kingsley sighs and drums his fingers against the arm of his chair. That's never a good sign. "Whatever this past week has brought on you, I don't need to know. I don't care to know. However you're faffing about with Lord Malfoy is none of my bloody concern. What I do care about, however, is this case. I understand from Weasley you're no closer to solving it than before?"

"Not yet," Harry says, "but we're making progress." It's a weak response, and he knows it.

"Dammit, Harry." Kingsley brings a fist into his palm, and the suppressed force of it almost makes Harry jump. "The victim's father is a member of the Magical Congress in the States. We've had the American ambassador here twice whilst you've been out. This is a damned public event, and it's going to be a nightmare if we don't wrap up the case with a suspect soon. Washington are even threatening to send their own investigators over, and Circe knows Fudge loathes President Quahog. As he's informed me personally. More than once." He glowers at Harry. "Do I make myself clear?"

Harry can only nod. "Absolutely." Guilt burns deep within his belly. He hates being bollocked by Kingsley; it's second only to the disappointment Headmaster Dumbledore would express whenever Harry'd cocked up at school.

Kingsley just looks at him, and then he sighs and stands. "Finish this case quickly, Harry. But be careful. Watch how deeply you dig, right?"

For a moment, Harry feels as if he's being given a warning, but he doesn't dare ask what it means. He's already tired out Kingsley's patience. "Yes, sir," he says. He stops Kingsley in the doorway. "I was attacked, though."

The look Kingsley gives him is steady. "It doesn't matter," he says, "as long as you do your damned job." He walks out of Harry's office, closing the door behind him.

When Harry reaches for his mug of tea, he realises his hand is shaking. He suspects Kingsley knows more than he's saying, but how much more?

Harry's not certain he wants to find out.

***

The last afternoon tea in the senior common room is better attended than the usual. As she comes in after her tutorial in Eighteenth Century Wizarding History, Hermione hears a bustle of voices and sees a number of people she hasn't crossed paths with since the opening days of Trinity term.

"There you are," Franny Purvis from Magical Jurisprudence, says as she sits down next to her on a well-worn settee. "I was worried you were buried under essays."

Hermione can't help the bitter smile that quirks her lips. She perches uncomfortably with a small plate on her knee, other hand clutching a cup full of too hot tea. "Oh, I should be, I assure you."

A groan comes from the corner wing chair. Hermione sees the edge of a bright red braided crown behind a large newspaper with a moving picture of a Muggle Zeppelin. It's her medievalist colleague, Henrijke Ashfeld-Waal. "Oh, please don't mention that word. I've fourteen scrolls to mark by the weekend. I do hate the Crusades."

"I don't know what they're teaching them these days," the senior arithmancy professor, Dr. Al-Zahrawi chimes in. "I've heard the value of modern Wizarding education for young witches, but my beginners barely know introductory maths. I'm beginning to question what Hogwarts is teaching our girls these days. And don't get me started on Beauxbatons."

"Oh, Selima. Try to remember what it was like to be young." Hermione is surprised to see Madeline Pomfrey perched in the flower-patterned chair to her far left. She'd overlooked her when she sat down. The Hildegard von Bingen Professor of Classical Languages and Ancient Runes and elder sister of the much-loved Hogwarts nurse rarely attends faculty gatherings.

"I try, I admit, but I'm rarely successful." Selima retorts with a grin. "So many things I thought were important at the time were drastically overrated."

As Hermione sips her tea with extreme caution, she thinks about the papers Ron had her translate. There are so many good sources of gossip here. If only she can somehow turn the conversation in a fruitful direction.

Luckily, she hasn't far to go at all. Henrijke sets down the broadsheet she is holding. "The Prophet is banging on about the attacks in London. Be careful during hols, girls."

Hermione had seen the editorial this morning, but hadn't yet had time to read it through. She's sure Ron will be livid tonight. Although the piece didn't specify the exact cases, it did remark on an uptick in violence of the magical sort on the streets of London and called for heightened Auror responsiveness to public concerns. And it wasn't too hard to imagine what the author was referring to.

"Oh, I'll be safe in Warwickshire with Poppy," Madeline says in assurance. "But the rest of you might want to take care."

"Can't be too safe in the countryside." Selima frowns and adjusts her spectacle. "Remember all the unpleasantness here a few years past."

"I do hope it isn't another Ripper," Franny chimes in. "I've heard Colin saying horrible things about the recent case."

Hermione's eyebrows go up at this piece of information. She'd forgotten that Franny's cousin, Colin Creevey, was taking photographs for the Prophet. Ron'll be interested to know that it's on the map for the wizarding paper. They'd recently taken to publishing several times a week rather than once only, and their competitor, the Augur, had just added on more staff.

"That was a particularly awful time," Madeline says. "I remember, my parents didn't want me to research at the British Library for a year. If you can even imagine!"

"How terrible!" Henrijke's red head nods from the wing chair. "I can't imagine not having the collections for a month, much less an entire year."

"But you defied them, did you not?" Selima has a quizzical look on her face. "You were researching the Ikarian material at the time with the Americans weren't you?"

Madeline smiles gently. "Of course. I polyjuiced as my brother for months. He garnered such a reputation for being a loyal and thoughtful brother, the hours he spent sketching in the library and bringing material home for me."

The entire corner breaks out into gentle laughter in response. Hermione thinks it's the first time they've laughed all spring, certainly together in any case. She's not sure what's more amusing, Madeline polyjuicing to do her research, or the idea that any brother would help his sister with her professional work.

"Has anyone run across references to the new Hermetic order?" Hermione hopes she sounds casual, although she feels bold as brass. "Only I've heard recently that there's been more interest in the Egyptian magical collection at the Ashmolean."

She's making this up out of whole cloth, although she suspects the magical Egyptological wing harbours more than its fair share of secret society guests. She hopes this will lend credence to her actual query. She expects polite nods or blank stares.

What she does not expect is a swift exchange of looks between Selima and Madeline.

"Oh, really." Franny looks intrigued. "I don't know why they bother. It seems awfully silly to imagine trying to get new magic from ancient tombs and artifacts. Not to mention the ownership issues with the sovereign states."

"There was an uptick a few years ago as well," Selima says. "When the bodies started appearing in Christchurch Meadows."

Hermione blinks. "Circe. How long ago was that?"

"Before my time," Henrijke says. "At least, I think I would have remembered. The odd rumour of necromancy, yes. But actual bodies?"

"Twenty or thirty years, if it was a day," Madeline says. "It wasn't too long before the Ripper. Or the Beast, I should say."

Hermione shivers involuntarily. She tries to cover it with a bit of sandwich, which sticks in her throat and makes her suppress a cough. She doesn't know whether it's out of excitement or fear, it feels like something between the two.

"Oh, the Beast." Henrijke waves a hand. "I've heard this one. Some kind of magical being that goes around eating people or something. I thought it was an English fairytale to scare bad boys and girls."

"It's not a fairytale," Franny says quietly. "Colin says it's real and all. He thinks he's even seen it once. In London, when he was coming back from a party late one night."

"There was a Beast at Oxford before we heard about one in London," Selima says.

Hermione wonders whether to press her advantage or to stop the line of questioning. She doesn't want to go too far, but it's clear that the older common room members know more than they are saying, even though what they are saying is new to her.

She decides one more question can't hurt. "How does it connect to Egypt, though? I fail to see the link to the traditions around Hermetic magic."

Madeline smiles, a keen look in her eyes that pierces Hermione's confidence she's been undetected. "Oh the Egyptian stuff is for Muggles. You’ll want to worry if you start seeing Yggdrasil graffiti at the train station tunnels again."

"Quite." Selima takes a sip of her tea. She appears not to be paying attention but Hermione privately thinks she picks up on conversations whilst she sleeps. "And besides, I think the morning star is far more dangerous now."

"What did you say you were working on again, dear?" Madeline smiles at Hermione, who knows this conversation is well over now.

"Oh, I have a student interested in literature and images of magic. I've told her I'd try to help find sources." It sounds contrived to Hermione's ears, but she can't think of anything better on the spur of the moment.

"I'd tell your student to pick something safer." Madeline sets down her cup. "Selima, are you planning on visiting Crete this year?"

Hermione stuffs a cake in her mouth as decorously as she can, then stands up, knocking the crumbs from her lap. "Lovely to see you all. Have a great hols and good luck with marking."

As she makes her way out of the room, she can feel the eyes behind her. Perhaps she's oversensitive, but she thinks that something is becoming as aware of her as she is of it. She brushes off her worries as the figment of an overtaxed imagination.

Still, there's something up on the Isis, and if the hints and rumours are any clue, there's much more to the picture than meets the eye.

***

Draco stands on an arched stone bridge in the gardens of the Japan-British Exhibition, throngs of Londoners strolling past him, curious to get a glimpse of Kyoto in the midst of Shepherd's Bush. The exhibition, open for barely two months, has been a resounding success with the British press, who've raved about the beauty of the gardens in particular.

If he's honest, Draco can't disagree. A stream flows beneath his bridge, tumbling towards the large man-made pond and its rocky shores. Branches from a cherry tree arc overhead, leaves occasionally shaken free by a breeze. They drift onto the water, carried beneath the bridge by the rushing eddies. Pagodas have been built along the edge of the pond, with benches to sit on and watch small boats ferry visitors from one side of the pond to the other. The scent of blooming flowers hangs heavy in the air, sweetly freshening the usually sour stench of London Town.

It's peaceful here, in spite of the crowds, and Draco leans against the bridge railing, breathing slowly.

Gloved hands rest on the railing beside him, neatly mended by deft fingers. "Hello, milord," a woman's voice says lightly.

Draco looks over and smiles at his cousin. "Nymphadora."

"Tonks, please," she says, wrinkling her nose at him. She's dressed up today, wearing her best pintucked frock and her favourite wide-brimmed brown hat adorned with pink cabbage roses. Draco's rather touched. "As I've told you countless times before."

Draco tilts his head in acknowledgement. "Tonks." He hates using her maiden surname. It feels highly improper, and he, for one, rather likes her given name. It suits her, in a way.

Tonks leads him over the bridge and into the shade of a nearly empty pagoda. She takes a seat on a bench overlooking the water; Draco joins her, whisking his hat off his head and setting it between them. The breeze ruffles his pale hair, blowing it into his eyes. He smoothes it back.

He hasn't seen his cousin in a year or two; he hadn't even been certain she'd show up after he'd sent his owl out this morning. Their families were never close; he can count the number of times he'd seen Tonks during his childhood on one hand and have fingers left over. But she'd been there for him after he'd been turned in a way that only his Slytherin friends had, and Draco's forever grateful. It'd been Tonks who'd helped him leave England when his father cut him off; she'd scraped together enough Knuts and Sickles to keep him fed for a few days, and it'd been her contacts that had led him to Hungary and Vilmos's dragon herd. Dragons weren't afraid of werewolves, she'd explained to him. He'd be safe there, with time to recuperate.
She hadn't been wrong.

And she's kept his secret, all these years. Never once has she spoken to her husband about Draco's lycanthropy. He'd know if she had; Nymphadora's always been a terrible liar when pressed.

"How are you?" Tonks asks, her gaze fixed on a boating party. Their laughter drifts across the pond.

"Well enough," Draco says. "And you?"

She looks at him then, and her smile's wry. "I'd be better if there wasn't a murderous werewolf wandering London." He can see the worry in her eyes. "That's why you owled, wasn't it?"

Sometimes he forgets his cousin had been an Auror before her marriage. He nods, a smile of his own quirking his lips. "Wise woman."

"Not that difficult to figure out." Tonks sighs. "Harry came by to ask questions last week. I assume you're working with him?"

"In a manner of speaking," Draco says. He studies his cousin. She looks more tired than usual. Paler beneath her dark hair. "Blaise mentioned the children shifting early."

She nods. "Freddy and Hestia. Yes." The breeze sends one of her cabbage roses bouncing lightly.

"They're connected to whatever were is doing this." Draco rests his elbows on his knees. He's oddly nervous about speaking this frankly in public, even though he knows none of the Muggles are paying attention to them. He casts a quick Muffliato. "Blaise has found bacteria in their bloodwork that's similar to what we found on the body." He takes a breath. "And to what's in my blood." He doesn't mention Potter. It's not his place to reveal Potter's secrets, he thinks. If he wants Tonks to know, he'll tell her when he's ready.

Tonks's face grows troubled. "Then it's someone else turned by your pack alpha."

Draco hates thinking of the were who turned him that way. He exists outside of werewolf culture, he knows, and their terminology makes him a bit uncomfortable. "Or it's the were who turned us all."

The furrow between Tonks's eyebrows deepens. "Oh, Draco." Her hand settles on his, squeezing lightly. He doesn't pull away, not at first. She's aware that he doesn't remember who turned him, and she knows there's a part of him that's always wanted to track the were down, to demand to know why and how and where it happened. He's not the only werewolf to need those questions answered, she'd told him, and that knowledge had settled him, made him feel less alone. "I wish you'd come to our meetings," she says, not for the first time. "I know you don't want the Ministry to know, but I think the others could be ever so helpful--"

"Stop," he says, and she falls silent, with a shake of her head. He knows she disapproves of his illicit solitude. Sometimes he wonders if she's not right; if he shouldn't just confess, carve out a space within the werewolf community for himself. But he's the Viscount Malfoy, future marquess of Avebury, and he has a familial duty to fulfill, as much as he hates it.

And he's frightened; he knows that. He doesn't want to lose his place in society, his money, his home. He doesn't want to be marked, branded a beast in the eyes of wizardom. He already flirts with the fringes of social acceptability. He doesn't want to consider what would happen if the Prophet let it be known that the Avebury heir was not only an invert, but a werewolf to boot. His only joy would be if the sheer fury of the revelation caused his father's bitter old heart to implode.

He looks at Tonks. "What I need to know is if there's anyone who you think could be responsible for this? Anyone at all?"

Tonks thinks for a moment, then shakes her head. "Not anyone in our circle, obviously. I know them well enough to be certain of that." She hesitates. "There are some werewolves on the outskirts, though. They might not be registered." She gives him a sideways glance, and he knows she's trying not to offend him. "There's a movement led by a wolf named Greyback to fight against registration." She bites her lip. "He's bad news, Draco. He turned Remus back when he was a boy, and I know he's gone after others. But he's not in Britain at the moment. He's been in Prussia for at least a year. Maybe longer?"

"You're certain he hasn't come back?"

He can see the tremor in her jaw. "I'm positive," she says after a moment. "Remus doesn't know, but I keep track of Greyback. That's not even his real name, you know. Fenrir Greyback. It's a sort of nom de guerre. He took it after he was turned. His legal name is Bernard Bromley." She rolls her eyes. "Poetic, yes? He revels in the wolf. Thinks weres are a higher being than humans. But if he's been in England, I'd know."

Draco believes her. Tonks still has her connexions in the Auror headquarters. His cousin had only left her position when forced to due to her marriage. Lycanthropy leaves its stain even on the people one loves. "You'd let me know otherwise?"

"Immediately, yes." Tonks looks out over the pond. "Hermione says Harry's ill." Her voice is light, rather suspiciously so.

Draco stills, suppressing the urge to curse out loud. Bloody Granger and her bloody Gryffindor tongue. "I'm certain I wouldn't know."

"Surprising that, since he's in your house and all." Tonks turns keen brown eyes on him, brows rising. He looks away. They're both silent for a moment, and then Tonks says carefully, "Is there anything else about Harry's condition that you'd like to tell me?"

"Not particularly." Draco looks at her then. "I think it's probably his part to tell you. I know I'd be furious, if I were he." It's all he needs to tell her; she obviously knows. He wonders if Granger's spelled it out for her or if she's just read between the lines.

Tonks just nods and glances away. "Poor lad," she murmurs.

Draco watches a boy play on the stone bridge, dropping a stick on one side, then running to the other to watch it drift down the stream. "You won't tell anyone," he says. It's not a request.

"I wouldn't," Tonks says. He thinks she discreetly wipes a tear away with one gloved finger, but he can't look over at her. He's too afraid she'll see the truth on his face. "You'll be careful with him?"

"Obviously." He means it to be sharp, but it doesn't come out that way. Tonks looks at him, her mouth pursed. "Stop it," he says. "Whatever you're thinking."

"I was wondering if you'd seen the Court of Honour yet? I hear it's quite impressive." Tonks stands, shaking out her skirt.

Draco nods and lets her take his hand and pull him to his feet."So the Prophet says. Although I also understand the Japanese wizards are quite put out that there's no magical culture included." He settles his hat back on his head.

"Bloody Statute of Secrecy." Tonks snorts. "I'd have liked to see that myself. Mother has amazing things to tell from her visit to Kyoto."

Together, they walk back over the stone bridge. The cherry tree whispers above them as they wander along the path, talking lightly.

The sky above is half-shadowed with grey clouds. It fits his mood, he thinks.

Draco's not certain what to feel, if he's honest. He'd hoped seeing his cousin might assuage his fears.

Now, he finds he's more afraid than ever, though he's not entirely certain of what.

***

It's late when Potter returns from the Ministry. Draco tells himself he doesn’t care, that he's not listening for the whoosh of the Floo at half-nine, that he's not peering out into the darkness, hoping Potter's not foolish enough to walk the mile from Westminster alone, his conversation with his cousin still echoing in his ears. It's nothing to him if he does, Draco thinks. Even he doesn't believe himself.

"Shall I go looking for him?" Greg asks at quarter past ten when he brings a pot of tea into the library. Millie's already fussed over Draco, having Dobby make his favourite nursery-days supper of shepherd's pie and spotted dick with treacle sauce. It's galling to think he's so obvious to his friends—Greg and Millie have never been staff, even if they are supported within his household—but Draco supposes there's nothing to be done about it. The alpha in him will fret over Potter's absence, whether or not Draco himself likes it. Sodding lycanthropy.

The clock's just chimed eleven when the Floo activates. Draco refuses to go running out like an overwrought mother, but he does stand, adding a splash of firewhisky to his tepid tea, and he carries it over to the window, looking out at the lamplit street. He still has a sense of being watched, has felt it all day. It sends prickles up the nape of his neck, teasing at the back of his mind. He feels as if he should know the watcher, recognise him somehow.

He sighs.

A step in the doorway has him turning. Potter's there, in his rumpled suit, hair a mess. Draco thinks he looks astoundingly beautiful, and he grits his teeth. The alpha bond's growing stronger if he finds a dishevelled wreck like Potter attractive.

"You're back," Draco says, and he takes a sip of his tea. It's terrible, oversteeped and barely warm despite Greg's stasis charm, but the Ogden's helps. Somewhat.

Potter stops just inside the library door. His hands are in the pockets of his brown sack jacket, ruining what few lines the garment actually has. It's an awful colour on Potter as well. His skin looks oddly pale and sallow in the firelight. "I'm back," Potter says. "For now."

There's a warning in his tone. Draco sets his cup and saucer on the corner of the desk. He moves closer to Potter, cautiously. Potter's tense posture suggests a wariness Draco doesn't quite care for, not as his alpha.

"Sit," Draco says, and it's not an invitation. Potter tries to resist, but Draco keeps his gaze. When Potter looks away, Draco knows he's won. Potter sits on the edge of the sofa, his hands clenched between his knees. Draco takes the ottoman a few feet away. "Well?"

Potter's silent. Draco can feel the struggle in him; Potter wants to be his own man. Draco's not allowing it. A flutter of guilt rises in him, but Draco pushes it down as quickly as he can. He doesn't like Potter out there alone right now, and he can't say why. He just knows all his senses are on fire, screaming at him to protect Potter, to keep him safe. Potter's recalcitrance only annoys Draco. "It's after eleven," he snaps. "Where've you been?"

"I wasn't aware I had a curfew." Potter looks at Draco then, and there's a spark in his eye that makes Draco want to snarl and snap at him and to push the bastard into the sofa cushions, rutting up against him so Draco can scent him, so he can make it clear to everyone that Potter belongs to him. Possibly all at the same time.

Draco frowns; Potter glances away again, a flush rising on his cheeks. "You don't," Draco says after a moment. "But there's still a wolf out there—"

"There'll always be a wolf out there," Potter says. "Me. You. Someone else." He rises to his feet, running a hand through his hair. It sticks up in the back, looking ridiculous. Draco wants to smooth it down. He stays still, watching.

Potter walks over to the window and looks out. It takes everything Draco has not to snap at him to get back, to not be seen.

"I should leave," Potter says quietly, his back to Draco. "I realised that today. Being here…" He sighs, folds his arms across his chest. The shoulders of his ill-fitting jacket pull tight across his back. He needs a better tailor now, one who can fit to his changing body. "It's too safe."

Draco stares into the embers of the fire. "I didn't realise that was a problem." He feels cold, his stomach twisting, Tonks's words slipping through his mind. Be careful with him… Draco doesn't know if he can be.

"I don't want to live a safe life," Potter says. "I don't want to hide here." He turns, looking back at Draco. "I was terrified at headquarters. Overwhelmed, worried that I'd get angry at someone and shift, scared that they'd see I was different."

"But they didn't." Draco knows that feeling. It still follows him, some days, even though he's learnt to live with the fear.

Potter shakes his head. "No. To them I was still Harry. Even Ron, and he knows. But I walked into that office, even without my uniform on, and I'm Inspector Harry Potter of the Auror force once more. Not Harry Potter, werewolf."

"I know." Draco meets Harry's gaze. "There was a day, nearly eight years past, when I realised I could be the Viscount Malfoy, aristo werewolf, hidden away in the bowels of my family's manor house, or I could make something else of myself. I went to Switzerland to study wizarding criminology with Reiss because I wanted to be something more than what I was. What I am. A murderous wolf responsible for his mother's death." Sorrow and shame well up inside of him. No matter how hard he tries, he'll forever be a wolfish Lady Macbeth, wandering the corridors of his home, crying over the blood on his hands that he can't wash away. His throat tightens; he thinks he can't go on. Then he sees the pain in Potter's eyes and he can. For him.

"I would have been safe in Wiltshire," Draco says, "hidden away by my father. The reclusive viscount. That's what Father wanted, at least. He'd finally forgiven me, taken me back into the paternal bosom after banishing me for months and blocking me from the Manor wards. I'd run away once, right after he tossed me out. I escaped to Hungary with the help of a friend." He can't give up his cousin. His secret is now hers as well. He sighs. "That's where I trained dragons for some time before Father summoned me back. I shouldn't have gone, but how was I to know that? I was young, I was alone, and I had no funds. Father offered me my life back—or so I thought. He wanted something quite different."

Draco doesn't know why he's telling Potter this, but he has to. It comes pouring out. "It would have been my punishment, to be controlled by him, but I wouldn't take it. I ran away again. Packed my bags late at night and Apparated to Paris. This time Father actually gave a damn that I was gone." Draco snorts. "He didn't really want to forgive me, you see. He wanted me under his thumb again, wanted to remind me every morning what I'd become, how useless I was without him and his money and his title. How I owed him for keeping me from Azkaban, how he'd protected me, telling everyone my grief had required a visit to a Continental sanatorium. He came after me. Shouted me down in the middle of Rue de l'Abreuvoir."

"I'm sorry," Potter says quietly, but Draco just shakes his head. He can still hear his father's voice, the terrible things Lucius had said. He was a failure, a blight on the family name, a disappointment to his father, all words that had been thrown at him all his life. Sometimes Draco wonders if his younger brother, dead at birth, had survived, would his father still hate Draco so? Would he still have been the disaster Lucius considered him to be? If he hadn't killed his mother, his greatest protector--

Draco draws in a ragged, painful breath. "I wouldn't go back with him," he says, walking over to the desk. He banishes the tea from his teacup and pours in two fingers of Ogden's, gulping it down without thought. The firewhisky burns his throat, but it clears the grief from his head, just enough. Potter's watching him, silent now. Draco sets the teacup back down in the saucer with a soft clink of bone china against bone china. "I took a Muggle train to the Swiss canton of Vaud, walked down the hill from the Lausanne station to the university and found Reiss's office. I'd heard about him, after Mother. When I was on my own." The words catch in Draco's throat. "I don't know why exactly I chose criminology to study. I'd read Greats at Oxford, for Christ's sake."

Potter chews his lip. "It seemed right," he says after a moment. "That's why we do things sometimes."

"The way you became an Auror?" Draco's always been a bit curious about Potter's reasons for joining the force. It hadn't seemed like something he'd be interested in during their Hogwarts days.

"I reckon." Potter looks out the dark window. Draco can see his reflection in the glass; he looks exhausted and pale. "I took the test on a whim, and it felt right. Like perhaps I could help people." He gives Draco a wry smile. "Stop evil wizards and all that rot."

Draco nods and sits on the chesterfield. They're not so very different, he and Potter. Maybe that's why he feels comfortable talking to him like this. He's never talked about these things with anyone. Not like this. Blaise and Pansy and Greg know bits and pieces of his story, but he keeps parts to himself. Except with Potter. Draco doesn't quite understand it.

"I know," he says slowly. "I thought maybe I could make amends for my own crime, perhaps. Help catch other wizards and creatures who hadn't my level of conscience." He laughs, bitterly. "I wonder what Professor Freud would say?" He sinks back into the corner of the sofa, tucking his bare feet beneath him. "I met with him a few times, you know. After I read Die Traumdeutung I was curious enough to Apparate to Vienna. I wanted to know what my dreams of my mother bleeding out in front of me meant."

"What did he say?" Potter asks. He moves away from the window and sits on the opposite end of the sofa. Draco feels strangely better with Potter close by. He wonders if this is what Freud was trying to get at, this release that comes with admitting one's closest-held secrets.

"That I actually wanted to kill my mother," Draco says with a shrug. "I rather think I frightened him, to be honest."

Potter snorts. "He's a damned fool then."

Something new and warm flutters and unfurls deep within Draco. It disquiets him a bit. He draws his knees up to his chest, his bare feet pressed into the worn leather of the chesterfield like a child. The silence that grows between him and Potter isn't uncomfortable, Draco realises. For the first time in years, Draco feels right in his own skin, sitting here in the firelight, watching Potter lean his head against the tufted back of the sofa.

"Do you actually want to go home?" Draco asks after a moment. He resists the urge to reach over and smooth a fingertip across Potter's eyebrow, a thick black arch against Potter's golden skin.

Potter doesn't answer at first. Draco holds his breath until it hurts, tight and sharp in his chest. He exhales a slow huff as Potter says, "No." Potter turns his head towards Draco, but Draco's not certain Potter's looking at him. "It's not really my home any more, is it? Hasn't been for a while, really." He gives Draco a wry smile. "Ron wants to marry Hermione. Has for years, but she's terrified that it'll ruin everything for them."

"How very modern of her." Draco wants more firewhisky. "What does that have to do with--"

"Everything," Potter says. He looks away. "Nothing." He barks a sharp laugh. "Don't listen to me. I'm full of contradictions tonight." He runs his hands over his face, pushing his hair back from his forehead. "Christ. I feel mad."

"It passes." It's a lie. The madness never quite goes away; it just seeps quietly into the background until the moon pulls it forward again.

Potter glances at him. "You're telling an untruth to soothe me."

"Maybe." Draco can't help a small smile. "It's not as bad after the first month."

"I want to shift constantly," Potter admits. "It feels impossible to stay human sometimes."

"It takes all your strength not to."

Potter nods. "Tell me that gets easier."

Draco wants to reach out for him, wants to pull Potter against him, burying his face in Potter's unruly hair. "It does," he says instead. "Blaise's potion helps." He sighs. "This isn't like the usual lycanthropic cycle. Whatever allows us to shift outside of the moon is strong." He hates it. He's spent a decade fighting the wolf within, and he's not certain he can spend the rest of his life in that struggle. "Sometimes I want to give in," he says quietly. He presses his lips together, teeth sharp against flesh.

And then Potter's hand is on his wrist, tugging him across the tufted leather. "Don't," Potter says, arms wrapped around Draco. Draco wants to pull back, wants to push Potter away, but he catches Potter's scent, warm and sweet and his. His body relaxes against Potter's. This feels right, as much as he hates it. "You fight it, and I will, yeah?"

Draco's hand settles against Potter's shirt; he can feel the warmth of Potter's chest through the thin cotton. They sit together, their breath slow and even, their bodies a perfect fit. The beast within settles, Potter's steady heartbeat comforting it.

"Don't go," Draco says, his voice barely a whisper, his head against Potter's shoulder. He hates the admission, but he needs this moment, dangerous as it might be. "Please."

Potter's hand covers Draco's, fingers thick and gentle. "I won't."

Draco closes his eyes. For now, at least, he believes him.

***

It's raining when Wrentham opens the door to the motorcar for Pansy, an umbrella held up to protect her hat and the bouffant hair beneath it from the drizzle. To be honest, it's far too early on a Monday afternoon for her to be out and about. She ought to be in bed still, recovering from last night's dinner party at Maud Gonne's Paris flat and preparing for tonight's fête at the Savoy.

"Thank you, darling," she says, stepping out onto the kerb. She looks back into the dark cavern of the backseat. "Oh, for Christ's sake, Dickie, come on. He's not going to turn you into a toad, you know."

Richard Davies slides out of the motorcar, a sceptical look on his piggish face. "He's a wizard, you said."

Pansy fights the urge to roll her eyes. "And I'm a witch, you fool. If anyone's likely to transfigure you, it's me, if you don't pull yourself together." She looks up at the stone facade of Number 23 Berkeley Square, tugging her aubergine leather gloves down over her wrists. She'd owled Draco earlier this morning, letting him know she was stopping by; he'd responded with one word: Fine. Rather annoying given all the trouble she'd gone to, arranging this interview. "You know, I do think you might be the first Muggle to ever cross this threshold. Quite an honour, really."

"I'm certain." Dickie looks a bit green around the edges, which amuses Pansy. She finds Dickie a bit repugnant, if she's honest, but he's a friend of Arthur Waite's, so she can't be too disparaging. Arthur's a terribly good connexion to have among London's Muggle occult elite.

Wrentham walks them up the steps. He looks a bit taken back when the door's thrown open by a heavy-set man most certainly not wearing a proper butler's suit. Well, at least it wasn't the house-elf.

"Greg," Pansy says with real delight. It's been ages since she's seen him and Millicent--since last Christmas, she thinks. She and Draco usually meet up at restaurants; he says he needs alcohol to hear about her adventures amongst Muggles. "How's Elinor?"

"Brilliant." Greg's sober face splits into a warm smile, and he pulls her to his side, squeezing her. Wrentham and Dickie both look appalled. "She's in the kitchen with the elves if you want to pop in to see her." They both know Pansy won't. She's fond enough of Greg's daughter, but Pansy's never cared that much for children.

He ushers them into the marble foyer, and Pansy hides a smirk when Dickie's jaw drops, taking in the shimmering chandelier lit by floating candles and the enormous painting of Draco's great-great-great-grandmother Althea who's snoring like usual in her high-backed armchair. Pansy's not certain she's ever seen the old cow awake.

"Draco's in the library," Greg says, taking the wet umbrella from Wrentham. He eyes the damp butler up and down. "Reckon you'd like a cuppa in the kitchen?"

Wrentham nods gratefully and disappears down a corridor behind Greg. Pansy throws the library doors open.

"Darling," she drawls, and she draws up short at the sight of Draco alone at his desk. "Where's Potter?"

"At work," Draco says. He sets his quill down. "I'm certain he'll be terribly sorry to have missed you."

Pansy scowls at him. She'd deliberately worn her favourite dress. "You sent him away on purpose."

Draco looks pleased. "Actually, it was his choice. I think you terrify him."

That mollifies Pansy, if only slightly. She sweeps into the room, Dickie at her heels. Draco eyes him, as if he doesn't know exactly whom Pansy was bringing by. Honestly, he can be such an arse at times.

"And who is this?"

"Richard Davies of the Order of the Stella Matutina," Pansy says, dropping onto the sofa. "Dickie, this is the Viscount Malfoy. He has a title and money." She glances at Draco. "Dickie just has dosh. But rather a lot of it, which makes him quite useful to me, doesn't it, Dickie?"

"Yes, yes." Dickie bobs a bow towards Draco. His greying hair falls limply over his eyes, and he pushes it back. "Lord Malfoy, my pleasure."

Draco's eyes flick towards Pansy. She shrugs and leans back into the sofa. "Dickie has some interesting information I think you should hear." She's not looking forward to this, to be honest. Draco's rather volatile at times, especially when he's upset, and she's not certain she can keep him from shifting if he loses control. It's a pity Potter's not nearby today; she thinks he might have a calming effect on him from what Greg's mentioned. She's quite interested in the reasons why that might be, and she may even have to ask openly if Draco isn't forthcoming.

"I see." Draco stands and walks over to an armchair. "Do sit, please, Mr Davies. Would you care for tea?"

"That'd be lovely, milord." Dickie sits on the edge of the other armchair, his hat in his hands. "Quite the day for a warm cuppa, wouldn't you say?" Pansy can't tell if he's excited or terrified. Probably a bit of both, really. Dickie's always been awed by magic and the aristocracy. Draco's probably the equivalent of a status orgasm for the poor bastard.

As if he'd been waiting outside the door--and Pansy suspects he has--Greg comes in with a tea tray. He sets it in front of Draco, letting it hover in midair, before retiring from the room, closing the doors behind him. Pansy does roll her eyes this time. There's no need for that sort of show when a perfectly acceptable table's right by Draco's elbow. Still, she takes the cup of tea Draco pours her, milk with a sugar, with a gracious thank you.

"Two sugars, no milk, please," Dickie says when Draco turns to him, obviously thrilled to be served by a viscount. Pansy supposes she should have offered to pour, being the only woman in the room, but she loathes being bound by such ridiculously old-fashioned traditions. Victoria's been dead for nine years, and wizarding women have the vote for eons. Draco can pour his own damned tea.

They're silent for a moment, sipping tea like civilised people, and then a wispy figure tumbles through the closed door. Dickie yelps, and his tea spills across his trousers. Pansy's rather certain Draco planned that.

"What the hell is that?" Dickie chokes out, and the ghost drifts in front of him, watching him with an unblinking stare.

"Severus, say hello." Draco glances at Pansy. "Severus is taking Potter's place today."

The ghost turns to Pansy and bows. She's thrilled that he's made himself manifest and says so. Severus shrugs. "Potter made me," he says flatly, and he crosses his legs, floating in mid-air. Dickie looks terrified of him. Idiot, particularly given what his little group has been playing about with. Not that she thinks they've actually been able to raise the dead themselves. It takes a great deal more power than what Dickie and his lot have to do Dark magic like that.

Pansy wants to throw question after question at the ghost; it's not every day someone with her particular gifts has a captive spirit to interrogate. She wants to know how he died, why he stayed, what ties him to Potter. She doesn't, however. One stern look from Draco makes it perfectly clear he'll not indulge her curiosity. Bastard. Still, she's fascinated by Severus. He's young, that much is clear, from his attitude and his spotty skin.

Dickie eyes Severus warily, but he turns his attention back to Draco. "I'm quite honoured to be your guest, Lord Malfoy," he says. Draco doesn't look impressed.

"Yes, well, you've information, Pansy says?" Draco sets his teacup aside. He hasn't bothered to offer Dickie a napkin to clean away his spilled tea, Pansy notices. She wonders if she ought to try a discreet cleaning charm, but she thinks it might startle Dickie more.

"Right." Dickie clears his throat and glances Pansy's way. She nods at him, as encouragingly as she can manage. This won't go well, but she's hoping she can spirit Dickie away from the townhouse without Draco hexing his balls to his face. "Pansy told me about Clarke." Fear flits across his face, but to his credit, Dickie pushes on. "You want to know what our group was interested in, she says."

Draco tilts his head in agreement. "Among other things."

"We weren't part of the exclusive group, you see," Dickie says. He chews his lip for a moment, then soldiers on. "We weren't magical enough, not yet, though the Twelve—"

"The Muggle leaders," Pansy explains to Draco, and he nods.

Dickie goes on. "Yes, well, they thought we were promising enough to be brought before the Inner Circle. We were just the novices, the five of us."

"Five?" Draco asks, straightening up from his usual slouch. "You and Clarke and who else?"

"Mick Noogan," Dickie says. "Reginald Perkins. Giles Skelleran." He draws in a shaky breath. "It's just me and Mick now. The other three…" He trails off.

Severus watches Draco. "There were two other attacks before Clarke," he says, and Draco nods.

"Did Potter have their names?"

"How should I know?" Severus snaps. "It's not as if Potter tells me everything." He raises an eyebrow Draco's way.

His ill-temper doesn't seem to faze Draco. "Ask," he says with a pointed look at the ghost. "Or I'll have Potter dissolve you again."

Severus pulls his knees to his chest. "You're an arse," he mumbles, a flash of irritation crossing his face. "But fine."

Pansy watches in delight as Severus closes his eyes, his body fading into a mistiness as he concentrates. He's sliding into the spirit world, she realises. She's done it herself so many times before, but it's different watching it happen, particularly to a ghost. Pansy's rather certain she stays a bit more corporeal. It takes a moment or two, but he drifts back to them, his eyes fluttering open.

"Reginald Perkins," Severus says in a dreamy, sleepy voice that Pansy recognises. She's had that tone herself a time or two. "Giles Skelleran."

Draco seems rather grimly pleased. "Thank you, Severus."

Severus yawns.

"That's…" Dickie looks a bit horrified. He turns to Pansy. "What was that?"

"I'd call it channeling, if I were doing it," Pansy says, still watching Severus thoughtfully. "Not certain if it's the same from the spectral end."

Severus gradually becomes a bit more solid. "I'd call it tiring," he says in a small voice.

Draco summons a quill and a scrap of parchment and starts scribbling across it in his wildly spiky script. "Three members of your initiate group dead, all in the same manner. Doesn't that strike you as odd, Mr Davies?"

"A bit." Dickie shifts in his chair. "Me and Mick are bit...concerned, one might say." He smoothes his hands over his knees. "Not good odds for our surviving the initiation ceremony, we think."

"No." Draco looks up at him. "Exactly what does this ceremony entail?"

Dickie rubs the back of his neck. "That's the thing. We weren't told, not really. And it's not like we've had the chance to talk to the others afterwards. Just that there'd be a test to see if we were worthy enough. We'd be notified the day we'd be tested; at the club that night, Bertie'd said a silver envelope had been slipped under his door before breakfast. Reggie'd had one as well, but I don't know about Giles."

"What did it say?" Pansy asks before Draco can. He frowns at her.

"No idea." Dickie gives her an uneasy look. "Bertie just said he'd been picked next and had been given instructions for what he was to do when the time came, but he wouldn't tell us anything else."

Draco's quill scratches across the parchment. "Who did the picking?"

"The main group," Dickie says, and Pansy tenses. She knows what's coming next, and Draco's not going to like it. She wants to protect him, wants to blurt it out herself, but he won't believe her. It has to come from Dickie.

"Names?" Draco asks, his quill hovering, waiting.

Dickie shakes his head. "They never did say, really. Just banging on about milord." He picks up his teacup and drinks what's left of the cooling tea. "Like I said, we met them once, but they were in masks." He flinches. "Mad ones, made of wolf skulls, all intricately carved, and half-hidden behind black robes."

"You met them." Draco's eyes narrow at Dickie. "Where?"

"Some place out in Wiltshire," Dickie says. "Grand old house. Enormous, really. They wouldn't tell us whose it was, and they kept the carriage curtains drawn so I can't tell you exactly where it was. But there was a white peacock on the steps going up to the front door, and the knocker was a giant silver snake, coiled up." He laughs nervously. "You remember that sort of thing."

Draco's still, his face a careful blank. "Yes," he says. "One would." His gaze flicks towards Pansy, and her heart aches for him. "You're certain it was Wiltshire?"

"My mother grew up near Avebury," Dickie says. "I spent my summers there with my grandparents when my father was stationed in India, and I was at school nearby at Marlborough College. The carriage curtains fluttered open at one point. I recognised the school buildings from the road."

"I see," is all Draco says. His voice is strained.

"Dickie, could you give us a moment?" Pansy asks, and Dickie nods, rising.

Draco stops him. "No names were ever mentioned?"

"Nothing other than milord," Dickie says. "Sometimes, though, they called him the Dark Lord. He seemed to be the one in charge."

"Right," Draco says faintly, but before Dickie can turn towards the door, he asks, "Was there a wolf?"

Dickie gives him a curious look. "Only symbolically. They liked to raise the spirit of Fenris."

Severus hisses, sharp and quick. They all look at him; he shakes his head. "Chaos," he says. "Destruction. Death. No one goes near the spirit of Fenris."

"They'd chain him," Dickie says. "In a body." He looks frightened. "They showed us--he'd make us magical, they said."

Pansy stills, a fear suddenly shuddering through her. "You were supposed to take him on?"

"We didn't." Dickie twists his hat between his hands. "They said it would take years of study before we'd be ready--"

"You think that's what they were doing?" Pansy asks Draco. "Why they needed Muggles? But why men with no magic?"

Draco just looks at her. "Out, Mr Davies. Wrentham and Greg will see to what you require."

The door shuts behind Dickie with a loud click. Draco breathes out. He sinks back into his chair and puts a long-fingered hand over his face. "The Manor. They took him to the Manor."

"It could have been anywhere," Pansy says, but she knows he's right. She knows that door knocker as well as he does. Not to mention those damned peacocks his father adores.

Draco shakes his head. "Pans."

They sit silently for a moment, then Draco says, "My father--"

"May have nothing to do with it." Pansy supposes she deserves the scowl Draco gives her. "We don't know, Draco."

"It makes no sense," Draco says. "He hates me for what I did to Mother. Why would he be involved in a wolf cult--"

"Maybe he's not."

"And someone just took over the Manor?" Draco sounds incredulous. "They'd have to Imperius him. And break the ancestral wards!"

"Maybe they did!" Pansy doesn't know why it's so important to her to give Lucius Malfoy even a smidgeon of doubt. He's been a horrible father to Draco for the past decade. They can't even be in the same room. But there's something about that horrible, calm look on Draco's face that terrifies her for him. She doesn't know what it'll do to him if his father's caught up in this. She doesn't want to find out.

Draco looks away. "Severus," he says quietly, and the ghost drifts to him. "I need you to look into this--"

"Your mother," Severus says. His voice is faint. "Fenris. There's a connexion. I can almost…" He blinks at Draco. "It may take some time."

"Fair enough." Draco's paler than usual. "Be careful, or Potter'll have my head."

A small smile quirks Severus's mouth. "I could say the same." He glances at Pansy. "Miss Parkinson. Perhaps next time we could talk trade."

Pansy's too flustered to object. She nods, and the ghost disappears. "Draco," she says, reaching for Draco's arm. He tugs away.

"Don't, Pans," he says. She can see the fear in his eyes. "If he's involved…"

"I know." She wants to pull him close, but it's not her place any longer. That disappeared when they left school. Potter's recent appearance has made it clear, she'll never have that role again. Perhaps she should hate him for that. "It may be nothing, though."

"You don't believe that any more than I do." A muscle in Draco's jaw twitches.

She doesn't believe Draco's father is uninvolved. She wants to, though, for Draco's sake. She sighs. "I knew Dickie had to tell you."

They look at each other, and Pansy feels the huge chasm between them. It's been there for some time; she knows that. She's just always thought there'd be a bridge across it. Now she's not entirely certain.

"I'm sorry, Draco," she says after a moment.

"Don't be."

But she is. She will be. She's just changed his world, and she doubts it's for the better.

Pansy turns to leave. She wants Draco to stop her before she settles her hand on the doorknob.

He doesn't.

Wrentham and Dickie are sitting in the foyer, sharing a needlepoint bench. They stand when she closes the library door behind her.

"That's done, boys," she says, and despite her attempt to sound cheerful, her voice cracks. Wrentham offers her his arm, his eyes gentle. She takes it, with the barest of squeezes.

Greg's at the door, holding it for them. He takes one look at her face and says, "Whatever it is, it'll be all right, Pans." He's heard her arguments with Draco before. They shout; they make up. But this time she's not so certain of the outcome.

With a heavy heart, she steps out into the rain, the door swinging shut with a solid thump. At the foot of the steps, she looks back. Draco's pale face is at the library window. He raises a glass of firewhisky to her, and she smiles through the grey London drizzle.

He disappears; she turns away, whispering a prayer for him. It won't help, she thinks, but it also won't hurt.

Dickie's chattering excitedly beside her, asking about how they do the magic, and whether they'd faked the tea tray and the apparition. She barely hears him as the motorcar pulls away from the kerb, Number 23 Berkeley Square falling back behind them.

***

Remus presses a warm mug of tea into Harry's hands before sitting next to him at the kitchen table, a mug of his own steaming in front of him.

"Didn't expect to see you up here again so soon," he says. "Dora said you'd stopped by to ask about Freddy and Hestia."

Harry doesn't exactly know what's brought him up to Birmingham. He's meant to be at work; he'd told Malfoy that's where he'd be. He'd even ordered Severus back to the townhouse when Malfoy'd firecalled about Parkinson's visit. But at quarter-past-two, he'd grabbed his hat and cast an Impervius on his clothes, only stopping to tell Ron he was heading up north. Ron had just given him an even look and said he thought it might be a good idea to have a conversation with Lupin.

Now he's sitting here in the warm, spotlessly neat kitchen, absolutely uncertain as to what he wants to say. They've already gone through the niceties, Harry asking about Tonks and Teddy, who are off doing the week's shopping, and Remus inquiring politely about the Ministry, which he loathes.

"Harry?" Remus asks, his brow furrowing. "What's wrong?"

It's the gentle settling of Remus's hand over Harry's that undoes him. "I've been bitten," he says, and he can't look at Remus's face.

Remus doesn't say anything at first. He just keeps his hand lying over Harry's. "You mean…"

Harry pulls his hand back; taking a deep breath, he pulls at his tie, loosening it, then opens the collar of his shirt, letting the ropy scar across his throat show. He looks at Remus. "I mean this." Malfoy's going to murder him in his sleep. But Harry can't keep this secret from Remus; he's always known that. He'd just hoped to make it through his first moon alone before he'd cracked.

"I'm not registered," Harry says. "Not yet."

"When?" Remus asks, and there's a look of sadness and deep compassion on his worn, weary face.

Harry curls his hands around the mug, warming them. The rain's reached up to Birmingham again, and it taps at the windowpanes, blurring the street outside. "Almost two weeks ago."

Remus nods. "You're doing well."

Actually I'm not, Harry wants to say. Instead he shrugs. "I'm on a potion already." At Remus's raised eyebrow, he explains. "Blaise Zabini from St Mungo's."

"He's working with Freddy and Hestia," Remus says. He studies Harry for a moment, then stands. "Wait here."

Harry can hear Remus at the Floo in the next room. He doesn't care whom he's firecalling; there's a certain relief at having the matter taken out of his hands. For all Harry cares, Remus could be bringing the head of the Beast Division over.

But he's not.

When Remus comes back into the kitchen, there's another man with him, tall and broad-shouldered with thick dark hair streaked with grey at the temples.

"Sirius," Harry says, and he looks between his godfather and Remus. "What--"

"Padfoot needs to be a part of this conversation," Remus says. He's at the kettle again, setting it to boil, as Sirius takes the seat across from Harry. "Don't worry. I've already let him know what you told me, so there's no need to panic." Harry's godfather looks well, dressed in a perfectly tailored suit. Malfoy'd probably approve, Harry thinks, and then he remembers that Malfoy's a cousin to Sirius.

Sirius eyes Harry. "For a new werewolf, you look like shite," he says, drumming his fingers against the tabletop. He looks larger than life in this tiny kitchen, but Sirius always has. Even after his term in Azkaban for buggery, he'd still had presence, despite his wild eyes, unshaven face and slightly mad ravings about the idiocy of the government. "Worse than Moony on his bad days." That earns him a frown from Remus. Sirius doesn't seem to notice.

"Thanks?" Harry runs a hand over his face. "How's Matthias?" Harry's only met his godfather's partner a handful of times. He doesn't make it to Berlin often, and Matthias refuses to step foot in Britain.

"Matty's well." Sirius's face softens. Matthias is a potioneer, one of the Continent's best, and Sirius is mad about him. Harry's always envied his godfather that. Now he's not so certain he does. Caring about someone is uncomfortable, painful even. Harry doesn't want to think about it. About Malfoy.

Remus sets another chipped mug in front of Sirius, and Harry wants to laugh. How very British of them. Milky tea and a stiff upper lip, even in the face of lycanthropy.

"You're not wearing your spectacles," Sirius says.

Harry's finally used to them not being on his face. "Yeah," he says. "Don't need them." He looks over at Remus.

"I assume you're feeling stronger as well," Remus says over the rim of his mug.

Harry shrugs. "Mostly."

Sirius smirks. "Stamina too, I'd say. Right, Moony? Didn't you nearly shag Dora bloody senseless before you learned how not to pop the knot every time you sank into her?"

Remus gives Sirius an aggrieved look. "Do you mind?"

"Prude," Sirius says with a grin. He looks back at Harry. "So?'

"What the hell are you on about?" Harry asks. He can feel his face flood with warmth. It's not as if he hasn't ever spoken about sex with either of them. Sirius had been the one to explain the joys of sexual congress to Harry when he'd first started waking up with wet sheets and confusing dreams. It'd been Remus to whom Harry'd gone for practical advice, Remus who'd introduced Harry to Rosmerta's girls who'd take an inexperienced lad upstairs in the Broomsticks and teach him what it was like to come, not in a tight fist, but the wet warmth of another body.

It'd been Sirius, though, who'd introduced Harry to the first man he'd slept with, on a trip to Berlin. One awkward rough fumbling in the back room of a club and Harry'd known then what he'd suspected for years. He was most certainly bent.

Remus coughs and glares at Sirius. "A male wolf knots, Harry. Not every time he copulates. Often it's with a mate at a time of high emotion." His face floods with colour, and he looks away. "That's how Teddy was conceived."

"It's perfectly natural," Sirius says. "But I'm assuming by your reaction you haven't experienced it."

"I don't even know what it is," Harry points out. "So I rather think I haven't."

Sirius smirks, and Harry's suddenly struck by how much Black must be in Malfoy. It's a familiar expression, just a different face. "You'll know it when it occurs, won't he, Moony?" There's a sly look on his face that Harry doesn't quite want to understand. Sometimes he thinks there might have been something between the two of them, years ago, but he doesn't actually want to know. Besides, that's mad. Remus is far from an invert—he's made it clear over the years that he's not happy with the way Sirius lives his life.

"Leave the boy be," Remus says. He looks back at Harry. "How'd this happen?"

Harry sighs and tells them both, leaving out everything he can about Malfoy. He feels oddly protective of him, even down to Malfoy's secrets. It's not Harry's place to tell Remus that Malfoy's a wolf as well. Instead, he implies only that Malfoy knew about Zabini's research through their friendship and had firecalled after Harry was attacked. He doesn't know if they believe him, but neither of them push him on it.

Sirius squeezes his arm when he's finished. "It's not the end of the world, lad."

"I know." Harry looks over at Remus. "I'm trying--"

"Be angry." Remus pours himself another mug of tea. He sips it, watching Harry. "Rage all you want. You've been given a curse, Harry, and if anyone knows what it's like, I do. You don't have to like it because you think I'll be hurt." He gives Harry a half-smile. "If Zabini had a cure for the lot of us, I can guarantee every member of the Benevolent Society would take it. None of us asked for this disease, or the prejudice that's thrown at us when we register."

"Harry's not registering," Sirius says flatly.

Both Remus and Harry look at him. "He has to," Remus says. "It's the law."

"Sod that." Anger sparks in Sirius's eyes. "The law's bollocks. He'll lose his job, his money, his self-respect--"

"He'll be me," Remus says, and that stops Sirius.

"I didn't mean that," Sirius says, voice quieting.

The wrinkles at the corners of Remus's eyes deepen as he smiles. "You did." He glances at Harry. "It'll be harder for you if they find you, you know, and being open about your condition could help others. You're well-respected in wizarding society."

"That won't do him a damn bit of good," Sirius says. He's still upset, Harry can tell. "What next, Moony? Do you want him to admit he's an invert also? Because that worked out so well for me, didn't it?"

The two old friends face off, their own years of pain scored in the lines of their faces. They've both tried to accept each other. But Sirius doesn't know what it's like to be controlled by the moon, and as far as Harry knows, Remus will never understand that pull to wrap one's self in another man's embrace at the risk of imprisonment.

Only Harry knows both sides. The irony isn't lost on him.

"It's my choice," Harry says finally, breaking the tense silence. "And I haven't decided what I'll do."

He's still torn. He knows Remus is right. He could help others, men and women who don't have the resources he does. It's one of the things that infuriates him about Malfoy's silence. And yet he understands it. He doesn't want to lose the Auror force. He doesn't want to be looked at askance, the way Remus is; he doesn't want to be forced to cobble together a subsistence because the Ministry's forbidden him certain types of work or seized his Gringotts account on the off chance he goes moon-mad and turns someone else.

The guilt he feels when he looks over at his father's old friend nearly overwhelms him. Remus didn't ask for this life either. Harry wonders how many times he's thought less of Remus because he's a werewolf, even without meaning to. His stomach twists.

"You're right," Remus says. His shaggy grey-brown hair falls into his eyes, and he tucks it back. Tonks has been on Remus to cut his hair as long as Harry's known her; Remus just smiles at her and trims it on the rare occasion he remembers. "We'll leave the decision to you. I just hope you'll consider all the angles."

Sirius frowns at Remus, but he doesn't say anything else. He just shakes his head. Harry's glad. He hates it when the two of them argue over him. It's happened quite a lot since Harry'd entered Hogwarts. Remus had been his rock those first few years, teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts until the parents of Harry's fellow students had discovered Remus's lycanthropy. Ironically, Malfoy's father had been at the forefront of ousting him from the school and having the Ministry censure Dumbledore for hiring him in the first place. Harry'd barely met Sirius before that; when Harry was eight his godfather had been thrown into Azkaban for an improper relationship with the son of a prominent Ministry official. His own mother had brought him before the Wizengamot the year before she'd died; Harry'd always wondered if she'd regretted her actions. Sirius had only been released during Harry's third year, and Harry'd watched his father's two best friends squabble about him most of the second term, with Remus, of all people, suggesting Sirius wasn't a good influence on Harry because he shagged men. That'd changed when Sirius had stood up against Remus's sacking. It hadn't done any good, but Harry thinks it'd at least mended their friendship. Somewhat.

There's still tension between the two of them that Harry doesn't quite understand most of the time. It feels almost like jealousy, like the pain between old lovers, but that makes no sense to him, and he's given up trying to push them on the reasons why. Sometimes it's just easier to accept things the way they are, he thinks.

"So you think the attack was connected to your case?" Sirius asks Harry, stroking his beard.

"There seems to be evidence linking them," Harry says. He frowns. "We're just trying to figure out the Stella Matutina angle."

Remus and Sirius exchange a long look. "The what?" Remus asks.

"The Order of the Stella Matutina." Harry glances between them. His tea's fallen cold in his mug; he pushes it away. "Do you know about it?"

"You don't think?" Remus says to Sirius. He shakes his head. "It can't be. Can it?"

Harry's confused. "What?"

"It's been thirty years." There's a deep furrow between Sirius's eyebrows. "It'd be mad…" He bites his lip and looks over at Harry. "That's not the first we've heard of that order, not exactly. They were the part of the Morgenrothe back then."

Harry's a bit annoyed now. He's nearly the bloody Deputy Head Auror, and the both of them still treat him like he's a bloody first year in Gryffindor House. "Would you care to explain?"

"You do it," Remus says to Sirius. "You knew more." There's a tinge of bitterness in his voice that Harry doesn't quite understand, but Sirius flinches and looks away. He flattens his hands against the neatly mended crocheted lace of the tablecloth. His fingernails are clean and square, unlike Remus's yellowed, torn claws.

Sirius draws in a breath, glancing at Harry. "Your dad." He stops, a bit overcome by some unspoken emotion. Harry's always suspected Sirius had a pash on his dad, just by the way he speaks of him. It doesn't bother Harry; he can barely remember James Potter. When he thinks back, there's just a flash of messy black hair like his own and a cheerful laugh echoing in the back of Harry's mind.

"Well?" Harry asks. He's uncomfortable in his chair, a frisson of something he doesn't quite like going through him. Another quick look between Sirius and Remus sets Harry's teeth on edge. "Just say it. Whatever it is."

"They weren't killed in a carriage accident," Remus says. He pulls at a thread hanging from the cuff of his jacket. "We just told your aunt and uncle that so they'd have to take you in."

Harry doesn't like thinking about his time with the Dursleys. His mother's sister had barely tolerated him, and his cousin had spent most of his days tormenting Harry in one way or another. It'd been a relief when Hagrid had arrived, gruff and warm, whisking Harry away from the middle-class stupor of Privet Drive. "They were," Harry says slowly. "I was there. I have the scar from when I fell out--"

"Your mum and dad were murdered," Sirius says. He sounds miserable. "The Aurors had your dad looking into some dark wizards forming a new secret society, and the dark wizards didn't much like it. So they came after him, in your house in Godric's Hollow, and you and your mum were in the way."

Remus sets a hand on Sirius's shoulder. "They attacked you and left you for dead," he says, turning to Harry. "You nearly were gone by the time Sirius found you. Found all of you." He looks over at Sirius, who can't meet their eyes. Harry feels sick to his stomach, wondering what his godfather had stumbled upon. "If it hadn't been for Severus raising holy hell in the middle of Grimmauld Place, Sirius might never have got to you in time."

"After the ghost of Snivellus bollocked me in my own drawing room," Sirius says, "I came as fast as I could. When I got there, there was so much blood--" He breaks off for a moment, then scrubs his palms across his face. "I firecalled Remus from Lily's sitting room."

"Severus was raving mad," Remus says. "Flying around the room, throwing books at the windows. Screaming at the both of us. It took me ten minutes to get him to tell me about the wizard who came. He didn't know him, but James did. He called him the Dark Lord."

Harry feels as if he's been punched. "But the carriage."

"We took you to Albus," Sirius says, his voice barely above a whisper. "He told us what to do, told us to make it look like it was an accident, him and Shacklebolt both."

"Kingsley?" Harry asks. His throat is dry and raw. He's never heard any of this. "My Head Auror?"

"Wasn't Head then, was he?" Sirius stands and dumps his tea in the sink. He leans against the counter, head dropped back, staring up at the peeling ceiling. "He was just a regular Auror. But he was your dad's governor, and he'd sent him off after this group."

Remus gives Harry a careful look. "Morgenrothe. The Norse Order of the Dawn. The English group was called by the Latin name Stella Matutina. The Morning Star."

Harry swallows. It hurts. "What do you know about them?"

"Nothing," Sirius says. "We weren't supposed to know that much, but Kingsley was upset about James and Lily, and he wasn't watching his tongue. He wanted to Obliviate us, but Albus wouldn't let him."

"Albus Dumbledore." Harry doesn't need to ask, or to see Remus's confirming nod. The Hogwarts headmaster had always looked out for him, taken a special interest in Harry's schooling. As had Kingsley, once he moved to the Auror force. They felt guilty, he realises. Responsible for the death of his father--and his mother. He looks at Sirius. "My mother. They killed her too."

"She was in the way," Sirius says. He presses a knuckle to his mouth, and Harry knows he's there again, reliving it. "When I found her, she was lying on James. You were between them, bloody and so pale…" He stops and breathes out. "Merlin, Harry, I never wanted to go through this again."

Remus picks up his mug and Harry's and sets them in the sink. "Lily saved you, Harry."

Harry can't speak. He doesn't know what to say.

"Talk to Albus," Remus says, a troubled frown on his face. "He can tell you more, but I can't think it's a coincidence, the Stella Matutina showing up again." He meets Harry's gaze. "Don't do anything foolish."

"I won't," Harry says, his entire body numb, but he knows it's an empty promise. He'll do whatever he has to.

His head buzzes; he can barely breathe. He stands, abruptly. "I need to--"

"Harry," Sirius says, but Harry's already headed for the door. He can hear them both behind him, Sirius insisting that he needs to follow, and Remus telling him to give Harry some time.

It's not time that Harry needs.

The rain is cool against his skin. He lifts his face into the drizzle, letting it mingle with the hot wetness coursing down his cheeks. His heart is tight and heavy. "Mum," he says, and it comes out in a quiet, keening cry.

Harry leans against a broken gate. This is more than him now, more than Malfoy. This is his mum and his dad and everything Harry's ever thought about himself and who he is.

He draws in a ragged breath.

A little boy splashes through the puddles in the street. He stops and looks at Harry, his eyes wide and bright. His mother calls for him from a house across the street, and he runs to her, letting her sweep him into her arms and carry him inside.

Harry squares his shoulders and pulls himself together. Things have changed. Whatever this might be, whatever they'll be facing down, be it dark creature or evil men, he's avenging his murdered parents now.

He's taking their killer down.

***

The mist is thick and gloomy, clinging to Severus's frock coat like bits of cobwebs he can't quite brush off. Severus hates moving between worlds sometimes. As much as he complains terribly about being caught in the land of the living, he has to admit he prefers it to this murky grey melancholy.

He could force the street he's walking down to materialise around him, he knows, but that's exhausting, particularly when one is looking for a specific shade. He'd rather wait until he's found her, and Merlin knows when that could be. He feels as if he's been walking an eternity, and perhaps he has. Time moves at a different rate here, folding and twisting in on itself, and Severus can never figure out how it relates to the living world. He stops, tired, and sits on the edge of a stone wall. An old man had thought the Lady Malfoy would be found here—she's usually alongside the river, he'd said—but Severus hasn't seen the faintest glimpse of her yet.

To be honest, he wants to chuck it all and go find Lily. He only sees her once, maybe twice a year, usually around Harry's birthday when she seeks him out; there are so many shades drifting through this part of the mist that finding one's like searching for a bloody needle in the proverbial haystack. With his luck, by the time he's finally found young Malfoy's mother, Harry'll be a bloody old man—or long dead. The Ministry are a bit quick to put werewolves down, in Severus's opinion. One wrong move, one suspected bite, and they'd have you facing Walden MacNair and his axe. Not even a civilised Killing Curse for a wolf gone rogue. You weren't considered a human then.

It frightens Severus, for Harry's sake. Things have shifted between him and his charge since that night. Harry's become Harry now, not Potter, not in Severus's mind. He's accepted it. There's something about watching a man be turned in front of you, knowing it's the only way to save his life, and then keeping that secret. He hadn't had a choice, though. Malfoy had asked, when he'd come back to himself, and Severus hadn't had it in him to say no. Not after Malfoy'd kept Harry alive.

He wonders if it was worth it, if Harry would rather be alive and cursed than to have bled out in the middle of Berkeley Square. They hadn't given him that choice, not really, and Severus doesn't care. He'd promised to keep the idiot alive. He won't fail Lily. Not this time.

A boat drifts along the riverbank. Severus can hear laughter and singing from the decks, and if he squints hard, the mist shifts enough for him to see men and women dressed in fine silks and satins, necks rimmed with white ruffs. A large, ginger man strides along the stern, raising a silver goblet and toasting the river like a damned fool.

"Terrible noise, isn't it?"

Severus turns; a woman sits on the stone wall beside him. She's tall and thin, and her white blonde hair is twisted up into a proper, loose knot.

"Henry VIII," she says with a wrinkle of her pointy nose. "Makes the trip from London down to Hampton Court every so often, with his favourite courtiers along with him. Oh, and Anne, too." She points towards a dark-haired woman sitting alone in the prow of the barge. "He's proud of Elizabeth now, so he's forgiven her. Not that she's returned the favour, mind, but she's not a fool. Henry requests your presence in Hampton Court, and you go. Even if he'll spend the whole time shouting at the other royals to get out." She smiles at Severus, and a dimple appears at the corner of her mouth. The resemblance to her rather more arrogant son is clear. "You've been looking for me, I understand."

"Lady Malfoy," Severus says, and she shakes her head.

"Narcissa, please." She sighs. "I'd rather not argue protocol with my mother-in-law again. Easier to allow her the title here. And you are?"

Severus is distinctly uncomfortable. He doesn't do posh well, not around women at least. "Severus Snape. We were in Slytherin House together for one year, but I'm certain you wouldn't remember that."

Recognition sparks across her face. "Little Sevvy! You were so tiny when you were Sorted. Your feet didn't even touch the floor."

"I grew," Severus says sullenly. He hadn't been that small at eleven. Then again, he hadn't had very many years left afterwards either. A sharp pang goes through him. It's not often he grieves the life he lost, but when he does he feels it intensely.

Narcissa seems to understand his distress. Her face softens. "I do recall hearing about your demise. I'm sorry it happened so early."

Severus watches the royal barge pass by. "It is what it is," he says. He looks at her. "Your son sent me."

"Did he?" Narcissa's form quivers, and she seems almost solid. Severus thinks he can even see the mark on her throat, the jagged cut that had taken her life. She fades a bit into the mist. "Whatever for?"

For a moment Severus can't remember. He frowns, trying to focus, and then it all comes back. Well. Mostly. "Fenris," he says. "It was about Fenris."

A look crosses Narcissa's face. Severus thinks it might have been fear, but he's not certain. "No." She looks away, out into the mist that rolls off the river. "He has to stay away from that."

"I don't think he can," Severus says. "There've been attacks—"

Narcissa looks at him then. "There are always attacks." There's a hint of sadness in her words. "There will always be attacks. He needs to stay safe. Away from them. Away from his father."

"He can't." Something clouds Severus's mind; he shakes his head to clear it. He's never been good in the mist for this long. "They're rousing him. Fenris, I mean. The men…" He trails off. He can't remember who. Bloody hell, but he hates this mist.

"Keep him away." Narcissa reaches for Severus's hand. She almost clutches it before their fingers slip through each other. "Not Fenris. He can't; I kept him away from it before, even when they wanted—" She bites her lip. "Promise me."

Severus is a bit taken aback by her vehemence. "I will."

A frown creases Narcissa's brow. She tilts her head, listening. "They can hear us," she says quietly. "The voices. They know you're here."

"I know." Severus can feel the confusion seeping into his mind again.

Narcissa grabs his arm, and this time he can feel the sharp press of her fingernails against his ghostly skin. "It's not just the Beast. Tell Draco that. There's another one to watch for, and he's gaining in power, although my husband's too thick to notice. You and Draco have both met him already, Severus. He's left a mark on you as well. You'll know him when you see him." Her fingers are slipping away, loosening. The mist swirls around her. "Remember. Please."

"I'll try," he says, but he can already feel the mist tugging at his thoughts, pushing and pulling and twisting them around. Narcissa's disappearing, fading into the whiteness that surrounds them.

"The Dark Lord," she whispers. "Beware the Dark Lord."

And then she's gone, and there's nothing but white fog carrying Severus away.

Remember, he tells himself. The Dark Lord. The Beast

He can only hope he will.

***

Draco's not entirely certain why he's following Potter through the corridors of their old school. All he knows is that Potter had come back to the townhouse in a fury, insisting that Albus Dumbledore of all people had a tie to their case. He'd be a complete fool to have let Potter come to Scotland on his own, so Draco'd just reached for his hat and jacket and followed Potter to the Floo, landing a few moments later in the Three Broomsticks.

Potter hadn't even allowed him the decency of a quick glass of wine and a chat with Rosmerta, whom Draco hasn't seen in years. Instead he'd marched out into the early evening drizzle, expecting Draco to be on his heels. Draco thinks about refusing, about settling down in the cosy warmth of the Broomsticks with a decent, if not brilliant, bottle of merlot and a plate of Rosmerta's best shepherd's pie. He curses himself for a fool as he finds himself hurrying up the Hogsmeade High Street, headed for the castle shadowed high in the distance.

Hogwarts hasn't changed that much in the past twelve years. It's silent with the students and staff all gone for summer hols, and Draco can't help but wonder if they'll even find the Headmaster in his chambers. He doesn't know if Dumbledore stays in Scotland after term ends; he can't imagine anyone choosing the grim chill of the Highlands over the creature comforts of London or Paris or any-bloody-where else, really.

Draco has to hurry to keep up with Potter, despite his long legs. This isn't a nostalgic tour of their school days haunts, that's for certain. Potter's a man with a purpose, striding past familiar portraits with barely a nod. Up a side staircase, and then Potter stops in front of a hideous, winged gargoyle. It blinks at him with sleepy stone eyes.

"Sherbet lemon," Potter says. The gargoyle just yawns at him. Potter frowns. "Gobstopper. Wine gum."

Honestly, Draco's not surprised the poor sod's gone round the twist. He'd been just as mad his first moon month.

"Liquorice allsort!" Potter shouts at the statue as it falls back asleep. "Pear drop!"

Draco stops him before he breaks a foot kicking the gargoyle. "What the hell are you doing?"

"I believe Mr Potter may be looking for me," a warm voice says from behind them. They both turn; Albus Dumbledore stands in the middle of the corridor, blue eyes sparkling at them from behind rectangular spectacles. His stockinged feet don't match; one leg's clad in red and white stripes, the other in a rather dull brown argyle. "Fruit pastille?" he asks, pulling a small brown bag from his pocket and holding it out.

Draco shakes his head; the door beside the gargoyle creaks open.

"Care for some tea?" Dumbledore asks, striding past them and up the stairs into his office. Potter and Draco exchange a wary look, but they follow him.

Draco feels odd going into the circular room again after so many years away. He feels like a firstie, about to be given detention for some ridiculous prank. The walls are lined with books, a good two storeys high, portraits of older headmasters scattered among them. Dumbledore's pouring steaming tea from a cheap orange and yellow teapot with a chipped spout.

"As I remember," the Headmaster says, "Mr Potter takes it milky with a heaping spoonful of sugar, and Lord Malfoy prefers his black with barely a touch of sweetness, yes?" He doesn't wait for them to answer; two teacups float towards them as they sit awkwardly in the chairs across from the Headmaster's cluttered desk.

The tea's perfect, although, to be honest, Draco wouldn't have minded a splash of Ogden's added into it. He settles back into his chair, waiting for Potter to speak.

He's not the only one. Dumbledore eyes Potter curiously. "Sirius mentioned you might be stopping by."

"He must have firecalled the moment I left." Potter's watching Dumbledore over his teacup. "What did he tell you?"

"That you'd be asking questions about your parents," Dumbledore says.

Draco looks sharply at Potter. His mouth is set, his face pale, and he doesn't bother to acknowledge Draco's glare. His focus is entirely on the Headmaster. "Your parents? What the hell do they have to do with our case?"

"That's what I'd like to know," Potter says. "I'd always been told they died in a carriage accident. But it turns out they were murdered. Around the same time my dad was looking into the Stella Matutina. Wasn't he, sir?"

Draco's dumbfounded--and furious at Potter for not telling him this before he walked into Dumbledore's office. They're partners, for Merlin's sake. He draws himself up short, startled at the thought and utterly uncertain as to where it came from. "That was thirty years ago," he says.

"Mr Potter is correct." Dumbledore leans back in his chair. He looks old and tired. "James had been trying to infiltrate the group at the request of myself and Kingsley Shacklebolt."

"He was discovered," Potter says. "And someone showed up on our doorstep and killed them both. My mum and my dad." Draco can feel the grief welling up in Potter. He can't stop himself from putting his hand on Potter's knee. The roil of anger and sadness settles a little at his touch, and Potter's tense shoulders drop. Draco knows Dumbledore's watching, keen eyes taking in the way Potter relaxes just enough in his chair before Draco draws his hand away. Frankly, Draco doesn't give a damn. He's more concerned for Potter at the moment.

"Why the Stella Matutina?" Draco asks the Headmaster. "What was so important about them thirty years back? I thought they were a more recent group."

Dumbledore doesn't answer for a moment. He steeples his fingers and presses them to his chin, looking past them both. "It was a different time," he says finally. "Simpler in some ways. The march of progress is a wonderful thing, but there are those who fear it. Your friend Miss Granger has discovered that in the course of her political work, I believe. And there were those in the wizarding world who wanted to shore up the traditional ways." He gives Draco a weary look. "Your father spoke to you of that, I'm certain, Lord Malfoy. He was one of the vanguard concerned about the number of Muggleborn students Hogwarts was beginning to enroll."

Potter's gaze flicks towards Draco. Draco tries to ignore him. He knows what the headmaster's speaking of. His father had railed throughout Draco's school career about the supposed horror of the Malfoy scion attending school with the Mudbloods. Draco'd adored his father back then, and he'd been a right wanker himself, spouting off in the Slytherin common room about the purity of magical lineage and all that rot. He's embarrassed now. At least he'd grown out of it. His father never had.

"The Stella Matutina," Dumbledore says, "wanted to save our world. To protect it from corruption, to make it safe for magical people to practice our craft." He stands and walks over to a diamond-paned window that overlooks the Great Lake. "Bono communi communitati. For the greater good, he'd claimed," Dumbledore murmurs. "The fool."

"Who?" Potter's voice is rough and raw. "The man who killed my parents?"

"No." Dumbledore clasps his hands behind his back and stares out into the gathering dusk. "The man who first organised the Morgenrothe, back in Germany. A Durmstrang lad." He looks back at Potter. "Gellert Grindelwald. Once my friend."

A hush falls over the office. There's a ripple of whispers from the headmaster's portraits above them.

Dumbledore leans against the windowsill. His silver hair shines in the fading light. "It's my fault the Stella Matutina exists, you see. That's why Kingsley came to me when the Aurors discovered it had jumped from the Continent to our shores. I knew Gellert well. We were once going to be revolutionaries, he and I. We'd change the world through the Morgenrothe, we thought. Take down magical governments across Europe and start a new world." He shakes his head. "The foolishness of youth."

"You? A radical?" Draco can't help the scepticism in his voice. Dumbledore had never struck him as being that sort of wizard, on either extreme.

"Once, yes." Dumbledore smiles faintly at him. "I was a hot-headed young man many, many years ago, milord. But I was lucky enough to fall out with Gellert. He and my brother fought; I made the mistake of stepping in, and in the course of our duel, a stray curse killed my sister." He glances away, and Draco feels sorry for the old man. Pity, even. "I lost Ariana that day, but perhaps her death kept me from a more violent path."

"It didn't protect my parents," Potter says, voice low. He looks a bit shattered. Draco wants to wrap him in his arms, to snarl at the selfishness of the headmaster.

Dumbledore sighs. "No, my boy. It didn't. I didn't. For that, I am exceedingly sorry."

The hell he is, Draco thinks. "You got what you wanted, didn't you? They went away after that. For thirty whole years, and now they're back."

"They never went away, Draco." Dumbledore's voice is gentle. Draco thinks of demanding to be properly addressed, but he'll sound like his damned father, and that's the last thing he wants right now. "They've been there, growing in numbers, building their ideology." His eyes aren't twinkling any longer. "You were just children when they made their first move, testing the waters by killing Muggle women--"

"The Ripper," Harry says.

Dumbledore nods, looking away. "So Kingsley and I think, based on what your father told us before his death. They wanted to call spirits into corporeal form, and one of their tactics was to set Gellert loose onto Muggle street women. A means of practice before they wasted more valuable wizarding bodies."

"Well now they're still at it, no thanks to you and the bloody Head Auror," Draco snaps. "And it's not just Muggles they're after now. That sodding Beast attacked Harry--" He stops himself, surprised by his own rage.

"Attacked?" Dumbledore turns to Potter. "Mr Potter, what does the viscount mean?"

Potter's staring at Draco, a curious expression on his face. Draco feels his cheeks warm. Honestly, the idiot can't be all that shocked that Draco might defend him. Potter blinks, then glances at Dumbledore. "A were went after me," he admits. "Turned me."

A flare of guilt burns through Draco. Potter should know the truth, he thinks. Draco can't imagine telling him. He'd walk away; he'd hate Draco forever. Draco wouldn't blame him.

Dumbledore's face is troubled. "Harry," he says, and Potter shakes his head.

"It's fine." Potter raises his chin. "I'm fine." He's a liar, Draco knows. He's nowhere near fine. What Draco has done to him has ruined his life. Draco'll have to live with that forever.

"Severus says they're calling on Fenris," Draco says, his concern for Potter roughening his voice. "The Stella Matutina."

Dumbledore blanches. "The power of the wolf. Not again. He wouldn't be so foolish--"

"It's Grindelwald, isn't it?" Draco's cold. It's starting to slot into place. "Your man. He's behind all of this. He's the Beast." He looks at Dumbledore. "You started this. You have to help us stop him."

A moment passes. Dumbledore looks grim; there's a struggle writ across his face, and then his shoulders slump. Silently he walks to a tall shelf that glimmers with narrow silvery phials. He plucks one from the back and brings it back to his desk. He rolls it between his fingers; it casts a shimmering blue-white light across his skin. "You have a Penseive?" he asks.

Draco nods. Blaise does, through St Mungo's, and he'll let Draco borrow it. He takes the phial Dumbledore hands to him.

"That should help," Dumbledore says, voice heavy. "I trust your discretion, both of you." He's looking at Potter again, a mix of sorrow and curiously calculating. "There are secrets I've hidden for decades. Perhaps it's time to share them." He touches Potter's shoulder. "Your father's death mattered, my boy. His work scared them underground again. Even when they raised their head with the deaths in 1888, they were cautious. Not as open as they'd been before. That's why the murders were never truly solved, even by those of us who had our suspicions."

The look Potter gives him is scathing. "And my mother's death?" He shakes his head. "She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they killed her for it. They would have killed me."

Dumbledore doesn't disagree.

Potter stands. "I think we have all we need. Malfoy?"

Draco wants to ask more, wants to demand the old bastard explain himself. One look at Potter's tight jaw, however, and Draco's on his feet as well. He nods to the Headmaster and follows Potter to the door.

"Lord Malfoy," Dumbledore says. Draco turns back. Dumbledore watches him with sharp eyes. "Your father's not inculpable in any of this. Perhaps you should speak to him at some point. It might be…" He hesitates. "Illuminating. If you're careful."

"I'll keep that in mind," Draco manages to say. He already knows he'll have to make his way to the Manor again. His stomach twists. The last thing he wants is to face his father after all these years.

He strides past Potter, eager to shake the shadows of the Headmaster's office from him.

"You all right?" Potter asks, once they're in the hall.

No, he wants to say. Not any more than you are. Instead he shrugs and holds up the phial. "It seems we have a Pensieve to borrow."

This time Potter follows him through the corridors, their boots echoing heavily in the quiet.

***

Albus sits in front of the hearth, a glass of firewhisky in one hand. The flames flicker in the embers; even in late June the castle's draughty and cold.

"You'll have to tell him, you know." Phineas Black frowns down at him from his gilt picture frame. "You haven't a choice, Albus."

"If I do, it'll ruin his life." Albus lifts his glass to his mouth. The firewhisky's a good year; Minerva'd given it to him for his birthday last year, and the woman's a damned good nose for the best whiskies.

Phineas's scowl deepens. "And if you don't, he could ruin someone else's." He shakes his head. "Gellert's dangerous, and you know that. And if he's behind the attacks like Kingsley thinks…well. What if Potter's the one?"

Albus pinches the bridge of his nose. He's developing a headache. "I know."

He downs the rest of his firewhisky and pushes himself out of his chair. He's getting old now, as much as he doesn't want to admit it. It's harder to move some days, and he's not as spry as he once was, a fact which delights Aberforth to no end.

Albus stops, his hand on the tin of Floo powder. It's only him and Aberforth now, and Abe's never quite forgiven him for Ariana's death. It'd been a curse from Gellert's wand, but Albus had been the one to bring Gellert into their family, after all. More fool him, but Gellert had been handsome and charming, and Albus had been foolish enough to be swept off his feet.

Not that Gellert would have returned his feelings. He'd made that quite clear the one time Albus had broached the matter, his angry disgust absolutely evident. Albus had been forced to pretend it was all a joke to cool Gellert's temper. It'd been the first time Albus had seen Gellert's cruel side. What a fool he'd been, Albus thinks. A young buck, so certain of his own ideas, ready to overthrow the world.

"For the greater good," he murmurs. Gellert hadn't been entirely wrong.

The Floo powder sparkles in the fire. Kingsley's face appears.

"Albus," he says. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Harry was here," Albus says. He sets the tin of Floo powder back on the mantel.

Kingsley's silent for a moment, then he says, "I'd wondered how long it would take them to end up at you."

"You might have warned an old man."

"And you knew we were investigating the deaths." Kingsley's face flickers in and out of the flames. "What did you tell them?"

"The truth," Albus says. "Or a form of it." He sits back down in the chair, his body aching. "I'm more concerned about Harry, however."

Kingsley just raises an eyebrow.

Albus doesn't want to do this. He has to. "Harry's been turned, Kingsley." The other man stills in the fire. "Apparently by Gellert."

"No." An ember rolls across Kingsley's forehead and falls into the ashes below. "That's impossible--"

"He was attacked." Albus tries to keep his voice impassive. He can't. The poor boy. After all he's been through. "Young Malfoy seems certain it was the Beast. You know what it would mean if Harry's receptive to Gellert's lycanthropy."

Kingsley closes his eyes. "Merlin."

If only the great old wizard could hear their prayer, Albus thinks. "He didn't look well. Tired. Worn out, like he's fighting it off. If it takes root…" He trails off. They'd seen what could happen before, back when the Ripper had walked the streets of London. Gellert, infected with Fenris, preying on Muggle women. He'd only disappeared when he'd drawn too much notice, when the stories of what he'd done had reached even the wizarding press. If Harry has the infection, well. Albus doesn't want Harry to become that.

"You have to contain him," he says, and Kingsley swears. "He's not safe."

"I know." Kingsley flickers again. The rain's disturbing the connexion. "It doesn't mean I like it."

Neither does Albus.

Kingsley disappears. Albus leans back in his chair, feeling frail and tired. He's been chasing Gellert all his life, trying to stop him. All these years and he might have a chance. He should be thrilled.

He's not.

Albus stares into the fire, barely seeing it. Outside, thunder rumbles in the darkening night.

***

The Beast stands in the rain, the shadow of the castle settling around him. He can smell them, Potter and the little lordling. The voices had sent him here, told him where to settle among the birch trees as they walked down the path together in silence.

What he hadn't expected was that other scent, oh so familiar, stirring old memories. A golden-haired girl, shining with barely repressed magic, a ginger boy, tall and lanky with a bright, lazy smile. His friend, and then his enemy. Someone who had once enjoyed his company.

He breathes in, letting the memories flicker along the corners of his mind, sliding past the ragged edges of the wolf. He almost feels human again, remembering the boy and their late-night philosophical debates over bread and cheese and candlelight. The boy had almost kept him from the wolf, from the thrill of Fenris pounding through his body, making him spectacular, unbreakable. Anger writhes in him, tinged with bitter disgust.

"Albus," he growls, and then there's an emptiness beneath the anger, swallowing it up. So much lost, he remembers, and when he closes his eyes he can see golden curls shining in the sunlight, then falling, falling, falling, and the boy's face twisted in grief, looking up at him. Shouting. Shouting, and he'd run, so far, so fast, trying to keep that face from his dreams.

Fenris had taken it. Taken him.

The Beast looks up at the castle. A light shines in a tower window.

He howls, a keen of grief, a roar of rage. The Beast steps back into the shadows, sinking into their familiar comfort.

In the castle, the light grows dim, then blinks out.

***

They come in out of the rain, storm-tossed and nervy from walking miles in silence when they know they shouldn't have. Draco’s overcoat has taken most of the water, but Harry is sopping wet under his sack coat. He hadn't cared enough to properly Impervius it. They stand poised opposite each other on the elegantly tiled floor of the hallway at Berkeley Square. Harry is breathing hard and he finds his fists have balled at his sides. He doesn’t know when he became so angry, he just knows that it’s coursing through him like a red stain. Dumbledore admitting he killed his parents, if indirectly; Kingsley expecting miracles; Ron walking on eggshells; Malfoy keeping him at arm's length: it’s all too much right now, and he’s furious.

“I’ll go home tomorrow, of course,” he says, wringing the wet out of his forelock. “I have very little to gather, and then I’ll leave your household in peace.”

“What?” Malfoy looks astonished. He’s in the process of hanging up his coat on a rack that he’s summoned. “Why would you ever do that?”

Harry crowds him then, gets into his space. “Why would I ever do that?” he mimics Malfoy’s drawl, poorly. It’s childish and he can’t help himself. “I’m an outcast, Malfoy. A pariah. You saw the look on Dumbledore’s face. Better I would have died out there on the green than to live in this state.”

Malfoy grips Harry’s shoulder, the bruising certainty of his hand a welcome distraction from Harry’s misery. “Don’t be foolish, Potter. You are not a pariah. Or if you are, I am as well, and you might as well stay here. You’re not exactly safe right now to go into an unsupervised setting. And it’s a bloody good thing you survived--we could hardly be having this conversation if you'd died. Not to mention, the death of your parents would remain for naught.”

The red rises behind the corners of his vision. Harry stiffens and tries to shake Malfoy’s hand from his body, but finds he can’t. He wants to growl, he want to spit and bite, he wants to struggle. Instead, he just goes a bit limp, slumping under Malfoy’s hand. “It’s still for naught. I have no idea how to avenge them. I only know we’re seeking shadows.”

Malfoy’s grasp on his arm turns to a lighter stroking motion and something in Harry loosens, a knot that was tied in his chest opens and he thinks for a wild moment that he could cry, and he is horrified by the swell of emotion towering over him. “I know, Potter. I feel it as well. I’m so sorry I couldn’t do more.” Malfoy’s clipped tones are almost kindly, almost warm.

It gives Harry the courage to look up at him, to broadcast the hurt and the pain and the disappointment. He sees its answer on Malfoy’s long face, in the lines that weren't there this morning on the handsome, arrogant visage in front of him, the bitter twist to the mouth that only mocks itself, the shadows under the bright grey eyes. Something in Malfoy has gone out, some fire has been banked, and he looks ghost-haunted and alone.

Harry reaches out and touches a finger to Malfoy’s face, questioning. “Malfoy, are you-- I know you're not well, but are you poorly?”

Malfoy sighs, pulling Harry a bit closer, wrapping a careful, strong arm around his wet coat and clasping Harry to him for a moment. He doesn’t seem to notice the water dripping off of Harry’s suiting. “I’m not entirely sure what to feel at the moment.”

Harry leans back from the embrace, licks his lip whilst he thinks. Malfoy’s eyes follow the movement of his tongue, a flash of heat rising in them. He looks wild, feral, alive. It’s oddly comforting, to know that they can be at the end of everything, to have lost everything they held sacred or dear, and the simple, animal rush is still there. Harry wants Malfoy so much, it makes him weak. A ripple of desire shakes his frame.

Malfoy misinterprets it as cold. “Here, let’s get you into warmer clothes.”

Despite his faint protest, Harry's escorted into the bedroom he's been sleeping in. Something about the tone of Malfoy’s voice, about his smell, about the commanding strength of his body makes Harry want to obey. He’s familiar in passing with the classifications of the desire to be controlled, the categories of von Sacher-Masoch. He’s never found them compelling before, but now he has an odd fancy that he might understand what they mean. He wants Malfoy to take him, on this very bed or anywhere he pleases, to do with him as he will, to claim him. He knows he’s Malfoy’s, and he bloody well wants Malfoy to act like it.

Malfoy, however, is being maddeningly civilized, obtuse even. He takes Harry's dripping jacket and slings it over a rack. He gestures for Harry’s trousers, and Harry finds himself stripping these off too. Although he is warm from the inside, his body is cold and showing gooseflesh. Harry shivers a little in the night air. He hears the sounds of Greg and Millie sleeping from somewhere up in the floor above. He hears the swish of the occasional carriage outside, the pop of a spark in the Floo. Through it all, he hears the beating of his own heart and the rhythm of Malfoy’s, close and nearing, racing together but not the same.

Harry catches Malfoy's wrist. Malfoy stills, looking at Harry. "Don't," Malfoy says, but his eyes flick away. He doesn't mean it, Harry can tell.

"I'm not an invalid," Harry says. "No more raw beef tea, thanks ever so." He smiles at Malfoy, moves closer. "Two weeks ago you had me against your headboard--"

"Things change, Potter." A flush spreads across Malfoy's face. Harry can smell the sharp scent of Malfoy's arousal, belying his words. "I don't want you."

Harry leans closer, his lips almost brushing Malfoy's jaw. "Liar," he whispers, and Malfoy's head tips back ever so slightly.

"This isn't a good idea," Malfoy says. He doesn't step away, though, when Harry's hands settle on his hips. Harry waits, his eyes fixed on Malfoy's thin mouth. "Christ, Potter, I can't--" Malfoy stops himself as his voice rises. His knuckles touch Harry's cheek, and Harry wants to rub himself against Malfoy's skin, inhaling the warm spicy-sourness of him.

"We shouldn't do this." Malfoy lets his hand drop. Harry misses the heat of his touch. "Blaise said there could be consequences."

"I don't care," Harry says fiercely. His fingers curl around Malfoy's; he can feel the thrum of Malfoy's pulse beneath his skin. "I want you, more than I've ever wanted anyone before. I don't know why; I don't understand it most of the time. But I'm so bloody tired of fighting this--"

Malfoy pulls away. "It's just the wolf talking," he says. He doesn't look at Harry. "That's all. A ridiculous lupine compulsion. One wolf calling out to another, and we can't give in, Potter. We can't. Blaise made that perfectly clear."

Harry knows. Zabini had threatened him with everything up to and including his prick falling off if he shagged Malfoy again. Harry doesn't quite understand it, if he's honest. It's not as if he and Malfoy hadn't been all over each other before his turning. But Zabini had been adamant, telling him flat out that some wolves mate for life, and if there was ever a were stupid enough to do that, it would be him. Harry suspects Zabini's right. He doesn't give a damn, though. He wants Malfoy, needs him, and if that means he spends the rest of his life pining like a damned fool after a man he can never truly have, then so be it. It's not as if his life's so bloody joyful at the moment anyway.

"Damn Zabini and his consequences," Harry says, and Malfoy snorts, looking away again. "I want you." Harry tugs Malfoy against him, his fingers splayed against the small of Malfoy's back. "And you want this as much as I do," he says into Malfoy's pale hair. "Don't say you don't."

"What I want has no bearing on what I ought to do." Malfoy stills, his body stiff against Harry's. "You don't know what you're asking, Potter. What if giving in to our baser desires changes everything?"

"Then it does," Harry says, his voice quiet. His fingers stroke down the curve of Malfoy's spine, over the swell of his arse. "Whatever happens, I'll take responsibility for it. I promise."

Malfoy's laugh is choked. "Always the sodding Gryffindor."

"Always." Harry turns Malfoy's face towards him, his thumb stroking across Malfoy's cheek. "Now do shut it, please?"

"Why?"

Harry's lips brush the corner of Malfoy's mouth. He can feel Malfoy's resolve weakening. "Because," he says, his breath ghosting across Malfoy's skin, "I'm going to kiss you, you wretched prat."

"Oh." Malfoy's eyes flutter closed.

Malfoy's mouth is soft on Harry's, and his fingers tangle in Harry's hair, pulling him closer. Harry's shaking; he wants this so badly. He's needed it for days, desperate to press his body against Malfoy's warmth.

They fall together on the bed, their kisses deepening, teeth catching on lips, breath huffed out across flushed skin. Harry pulls at his shirt, not caring if the buttons rip. He just wants to feel Malfoy against his bare body. Malfoy struggles with his own clothes, breaking away with a gasp to shuck off his undershirt before lunging back towards Harry, his hands catching Harry's face as he claims another kiss.

"Please," Harry says. He's already hard, and he wants nothing more than Malfoy inside of him, his thick cock thrusting deeply.

"Wait." Malfoy pulls away and Harry groans at the loss of Malfoy's warmth, of Malfoy's touch. He's nearly out of his mind, he knows, and he doesn't care. He lies sprawled across the bed, watching the shadows stretch across the ceiling, cast by the street lamp outside.

Malfoy's gone too long; Harry's nearly come back to his senses, nearly realised that Malfoy's left him be, desperate and aching. And then the door opens, then closes, and Malfoy's on the bed with him, clothes entirely gone, a bottle of oil in his hand. He uncaps it; a glorious scent fills the room, like a meadow in full springtime bloom. He leans over Harry, his mouth brushing Harry's throat.

"Tell me again that you want this," Malfoy says.

Harry spreads his legs as wide as he can get them, shuddering at the touch of Malfoy's slick fingers through his crease. "I do," he says. "I want you. I need you in me, fucking me, please--" He groans, pushing his arse back against Malfoy's fingertips. "Please," he says, a whine creeping into his voice, and Malfoy swears.

A finger slides into Harry. "Oh, Christ." Harry grips the bedspread beneath him, his hips jerking up. It's never been like this before. Harry isn't certain he won't come just from the gentle stroking of Malfoy's finger inside the tight muscle of his arsehole. His cock bobs over his flat stomach, heavy and wet and red. Another finger presses into him, twisting just enough to make Harry hiss. "Malfoy. Fuck."

Malfoy's watching him, eyes heavy-lidded. "You have no damned idea what you look like right now," he murmurs. "Spread out for me, desperate for my prick--"

"Oh, yes." A shudder goes through Harry with each deep twist of Malfoy's fingers. He wants to be fucked, to be taken, to be marked as Malfoy's. He presses his hips up. "Come on then," he gasps, and Malfoy's eyes darken. He's beautiful, bent over Harry, his hair shining silver in the faint light, his muscles lean and rippling. When he moves, he's graceful, wild, and Harry can see the wolf just there beneath the surface. He wants it, wants to give himself up. He arches his neck, offers up his throat, and the soft noise Malfoy makes goes straight to Harry's cock.

Harry finds himself on his stomach, face pressed into the bedspread, his arse bucking into the air, Malfoy's fingers clenched on his hips. It's exactly what he needs so badly, and he pushes back, rolling his hips, his knees wide and open, pushing against the mattress.

Malfoy's fingers trail over Harry's arse and up the knobbly curve of his spine. They stop just beneath Harry's shoulder blade, tracing a wide circle across his skin. Harry looks back over his shoulder. Malfoy's straddling Harry's thigh, his cock curving up towards his flat belly, his gaze fixed on Harry's shoulder. "Mine," Malfoy whispers.

"Yours," Harry agrees, and Malfoy glances up at him, eyes soft. He breathes out, and his hand slides over Harry's shoulder, pulling him back up, steadying Harry as he leans back against Malfoy's chest. "I want you," Harry says roughly.

Malfoy presses his mouth to Harry's throat, his teeth skimming his skin. "I'm drowning," Malfoy whispers. "Madness lies this way…" His hands smooth across Harry's chest, and Harry can hear Malfoy's soft, ragged breaths.

Harry thinks he'll die if Malfoy stops touching him. His whole body feels on fire; he's hungry for Malfoy; he needs him like he needs air, food, water. "Please," he says.

It's Malfoy's undoing. He lifts Harry's hips and rocks forward, the head of his cock sliding wetly through Harry's crease. "Madness," he says again, and with a breathy groan, he pushes into Harry.

Harry cries out, falling forward, his hands barely catching him before his face hits the mattress. Malfoy's curled over him, his teeth against Harry's shoulder blade as he thrusts into Harry, one hand tight on Harry's hip. Harry's almost overcome; his body shudders, and he pushes back, meeting each shove of Malfoy's hips. He's never felt anything like this, not even with Malfoy. Pleasure shivers through him; his breath comes in uneven gasps. Sweat slides over his skin, dripping into his eyes. He can feel everything, each tensing of his muscles, every press of Malfoy's prick.

He's alive again, his senses sharp and burning.

Pain rips through his shoulder, intense, bright, and Malfoy cries out, his bollocks slapping against the back of Harry's thighs. He falls on top of Harry, pressing him into the bed, and Harry can feel Malfoy's cock swelling again, deep inside of him, locking them tightly together.

"Shit," Malfoy gasps into the back of Harry's neck, and his hands are scrabbling across Harry's skin. He's coming in shudders and gasps, and Harry can feel it inside of him with each jerk of Malfoy's hips against Harry's arse. "Harry," Malfoy says, his mouth pressed against Harry's hair. "Harry. My beautiful Harry…"

Harry can't help himself. He rocks his hips against the bedspread, Malfoy's prick still caught inside of him, rutting his own cock against the folds of quilted fabric. And then Malfoy's hand is beneath him, and they roll to the side, still connected, Malfoy's fingers tight around Harry's cock.

"Let me see," Malfoy says, his hand sliding down Harry's shaft. "Let me watch you come." His palm slips over the wet, heavy head of Harry's prick. "Please."

There's nothing Harry won't do for Malfoy right now. He gives in, allows Malfoy to stroke him, their breaths hot and harsh in the faint moonlight. He tenses, his body tight, fiery, aching.

"Draco," he cries out, and one last twist of fingers over cock has him spilling over Malfoy's hand and across the rumpled white bedspread. He falls against the bed, not even caring if he's smearing spunk over himself.

Malfoy's still swollen inside him, locking them together. They lie silent for a long moment, breathing in rhythm. Harry can feel every shift Malfoy makes behind him. Malfoy slides a hand up Harry's side, slipping his fingers through Harry's, holding him close.

"I'd no idea it would be like this," Malfoy says. He sounds stunned.

Harry laughs against his arm. "So this is proper werewolf copulation." He tries to turn, but Malfoy winces and settles his hand on Harry's hip, keeping him still.

"Careful," Malfoy says. "Still hard." He breathes out, a warm huff that ghosts across Harry's damp skin. "Merlin's balls, how can I still want you?"

"I've no damned idea." Harry's sated and sleepy. He wonders if it's bad werewolf etiquette to go to sleep with your partner's cock still in you. Maybe he should have asked Remus that.

Malfoy ruts into him again, and Harry groans. Malfoy's fingers tighten on Harry's hips. "I'm sorry," he says breathlessly. "I can't--" He thrusts into Harry, rolling him back into the mattress. "Fuck."

Harry arches his hips into the next push. The want rises up again, to his surprise. His fingers twist into the bedspread. "More," he chokes out, and he spreads his legs as wide as he can. Malfoy's thrusts are quick and shallow, barely moving the knot that connects them, his fingernails digging into Harry's hipbones. He's lost in his rutting, groaning and gasping, fucking Harry against the mattress. He leans forward and presses a kiss in between Harry's shoulder blades.

"So beautiful," Malfoy says, and a shiver of delight goes down Harry's spine. He wants to stay here forever, caught by Malfoy's prick, their bodies moving together perfectly. The thought arouses him again; his cock swells against the bed, and he lifts up enough to let it slide back and forth, sparks of pleasure shuddering through him.

Malfoy tenses over him, and when he comes again, Harry can feel the knot slip. Malfoy slides out of him, spunk still leaking from the head of his prick. Harry rolls over, his own cock bobbing in the air, swollen and red. Malfoy swallows him down, his mouth closing over Harry's head, tongue licking at the wet slit. He sucks Harry hard, his nose pressed against Harry's balls. Harry's shocked when his body arches, his feet digging into the mattress. It's too soon, he thinks, but his body doesn't seem to care. He fills Malfoy's mouth with come, watches Malfoy lick him clean.

Harry lies shaking on the bed. His heart's pounding; he can barely breathe. "Merlin," he manages, and Malfoy curls beside him, grey eyes sleepy and oddly warm. He runs a finger over Harry's lips, then down his jaw and over his throat. "Mine."

Harry rolls against Malfoy, into his arms. "Yours," he murmurs, exhaustion taking him. His eyes drift closed.

It's still dark outside when Harry wakes up.

He's alone in the bed and cold. He sits up. "Draco?" he asks, blinking into the shadows. Malfoy's sitting in the armchair beside the window. "What's wrong?" A chill goes through Harry. Malfoy's watching him, an inscrutable look on his face. Harry's shoulder aches; he reaches up and touches it. There's a dried scab on his back, surrounded by lingering bruises of teeth marks.

"I'm sorry," Malfoy says. He looks away from Harry. "I should have listened to Blaise. He told me…" Malfoy rubs his face. "I'm so very sorry."

"Why? We shagged. It was amazing." Harry gives Malfoy a wry smile. "Even if you bit me." He shrugs. "No worries there. I'm already turned."

"Yes." Malfoy breathes out a sigh. He's wrapped in a dark silk dressing gown; he looks beautiful. "About that." He stands and unties the knot of his dressing gown, letting it fall to the floor. He takes Harry's breath away, all pale skin and silver hair in the light from the window. He turns, his back to Harry, his head bent.

Harry doesn't understand--until he does. The mark on Malfoy's shoulder blade. Harry's seen it before, when they've fucked; he's even dragged his tongue across it, but he'd never thought anything of it. Now he's drawn to it. He slides off the bed and walks over to Malfoy. His fingers skim across the port wine stain. An ouroboros. Malfoy turns and looks at him. He puts his hands on Harry's shoulders and turns him as well. Harry can feel Malfoy's fingers tracing a circle over the ripped skin on his shoulder blade.

"A perfect ouroboros," Malfoy says quietly. "An alpha's mark, of sorts. A claiming."

Harry turns back around. "What?"

Malfoy swallows. He looks miserable. "You were going to die, Harry. I held you in my arms in the middle of Berkeley Square. He left you for dead, and I couldn't watch you slip away. I…" Malfoy bites his lip and glances away. "You couldn't die on me."

Harry's heart stills. "What did you do?" He already knows the answer. His fingers touch the scar on his throat.

"I've never," Malfoy says, almost bitterly. "Never before. I swore I wouldn't. And then you were there, bleeding out, and I did it to save you!"

"Save me?" Harry's incredulous. "You destroyed my life! Who gave you the right to make that decision, Malfoy?"

Malfoy's glorious naked and angry. "You'd have done the same!"

"I wouldn't." Harry clenches his fists. "I've seen what it's like out there. I've watched what Remus has gone through all his life--"

"You think I don't know?" Malfoy shouts. "Ten years, Potter. Ten years I've lived with this--"

Rage floods Harry. "You've hidden it! You've shrouded yourself in your bloody title and your libertine life--"

The solid thud of a fist against jaw echoes in the silence of the room. Harry raises his hand to his blood-smeared lip. Malfoy's breathing hard, not looking at Harry. There's a part of Harry that wants to cringe away, that's ready to roll over, show his throat to his alpha. He fights it.

"Get out," he says, as evenly as he can. For a moment he thinks Malfoy's going to refuse, but he only stoops to pick up his dressing gown and slide into it. Malfoy sweeps past Harry, and it's all Harry can do not to reach for him, to stop him.

"I am sorry," Malfoy says from the doorway.

"At the very least, you could have told me." Harry can't keep the pain from his voice. "You could have not lied to me."

Malfoy's hand tenses on the doorknob. "I'm not a Gryffindor, Harry."

"I thought you'd changed." Harry wraps his arms around himself. He's cold; his body's trembling. "It seems I was wrong."

"Perhaps you were," Malfoy says quietly.

Harry can't look at him.

The door closes with a soft snick.

Harry sits on the edge of the bed. He can still smell the scent of sex, of spunk and sweat. He feels empty inside. Betrayed. His jaw hurts. He'll have a bruise tomorrow. His head buzzes, sharp and painful. Something deep inside of him wants to run after Malfoy, naked as the day he was born, his bare feet slapping against the wooden floors, all semblance of dignity lost.

"This isn't you," he whispers to himself. "It's the sickness. That's all."

He buries his head in his hands.

If only he could believe that lie.

***

Ron watches Harry make his way through the throng of Ministry employees, heading for the lifts behind the central atrium. Harry's pale and exhausted; his hair hangs limply in his eyes. He looks like shit, to be honest, or as close to it as Harry can look. His body has changed since he's been turned. Where he once was wiry, he's now lean muscle; he moves with an odd grace, quick on his feet. The Harry he used to know is still there. Ron sees flashes of him. But there's a difference, a weariness, a brokenness maybe, that Ron's never noticed before. It's more pronounced today, and it worries Ron.

"You all right?" he asks when Harry catches up with him.

Harry tugs at his jacket. It needs to be retailored; his shoulders are wider now and the seams don't lie well any more. "Didn't sleep much." He's curt enough that Ron knows not to push him on that score. Instead he follows Harry into the lift.

"How's Remus?" Ron asks, trying not to eat the ostrich feather that dangles from Roberta Edgecombe's hat. It tickles his nose, and he bites back a sneeze.

"Fine," Harry says. It's going to be one of those days, then, Ron supposes. He wonders if Harry fought with Malfoy last night. He shares Hermione's worry about the two of them living in the same house. It doesn't seem a good idea. If they don't kill each other, they'll end up shagging--and Ron's eyes narrow. He leans over and sniffs Harry's jacket.

"What the hell are you doing?" Harry asks under his breath. He bats away a fluttering memo. It lands on Roberta's hat.

The lift doors open and a few people exit onto Level One, with one or two more crowding in. Ron steps to his left to give the portly Royden Poke a bit more room. Harry disappears on Royden's other side. The lift jerks back into its descent.

Ron tries to catch Harry's eye, but Harry's had years of learning how to ignore him. It's only when the lift stops on Level Two and they both push through the doors and into the corridor that Ron can grab Harry's arm. "You smell like Malfoy," he mutters.

"Of course I do," Harry snaps. "I've been staying at his flat." He pulls away from Ron and heads towards the heavy oak doors of the Auror department.

"Right," Ron says, following him. "Come on, Harry, I'm not an idiot--"

Harry stops in the middle of the corridor, turning on Ron. "Will you just leave it be?" he spits out, and Ron takes a step back. This is the new Harry, the one that Ron isn't certain can be trusted, the Harry that lives on the edge of the wild. Harry's eyes are bright and there's a gleam of red in their depths. Ron tries to stay calm. He's not brilliant at it.

"Merlin." Harry's face crumples. He stumbles backward, holding his hands up. "I'm sorry. I'm just…" He turns away blindly, reaching for the doorknobs.

"Harry," Ron says, but Harry's striding through the desks that crowd the outer sanctum, heading for his own office. Ron catches up with him just as Harry opens his door. "It's all right, Harry," he says, and then he draws up short. Kingsley's sitting behind Harry's desk, obviously waiting, his hands folded on Harry's ink-stained desk blotter.

"Kingsley." Harry's voice is wary. He steps into his office; Ron follows. He can feel Harry tense beside him; he nudges him gently with his elbow.

"Shut the door, Weasley." Kingsley looks grim.

Ron does. Harry's still, barely breathing, like a cornered animal trying to find its way to freedom.

Kingsley stands, his palms flat against Harry's desk. "When were you going to tell me?" he asks Harry. "Were you even planning to register?"

Harry doesn't move. It frightens Ron. "Mate," Ron says quietly, his eyes fixed on Harry's face. "It's all right." He can see the shift of muscles as Harry clenches his jaw. He wants to put his hand on Harry's arm, but he doesn't know what Harry would do right now. "Come on," he says instead, keeping his voice as even as he can. Harry's gaze flits to Ron, then back to Kingsley. Ron thinks he sees him relax, just a bit.

"It hasn't been long," Harry says after a moment. He watches Kingsley. "Dumbledore told you, didn't he? No one else would have."

"Dumbledore?" Ron frowns at Harry. "Albus Dumbledore?"

Kingsley doesn't bother to answer. "A werewolf, Harry. Maybe I could have protected you if you'd come to me--"

"But you wouldn't have, would you?" Harry's almost vibrating with tension. "No one can. I'm legally a beast now, not a man--"

"You're dangerous," Kingsley shouts. "It wants you, Harry. Don't you know that? Can't you feel it? How do you expect me to keep you here, to trust you around any of those other men and women out there? You've seen what these beasts can do!"

Ron's temper flares. "Would you say that about Remus Lupin?"

"Stay out of this, Weasley." Kingsley turns on him, his face twisted in anger. "Or I'll have your warrant card for keeping this from me."

Harry's hand touches Ron's arm, holding him back. "I'm not Remus, Ron. I'm nothing like him, and that's what terrifies Kingsley. Isn't it, sir?" He drawls the last bit out like Malfoy would, and that unsettles Ron more than anything.

"No," Kingsley says, his shoulders slumping "You're not." The look he gives Harry is drawn and sad. "You have to go, Potter. I'm sorry."

"You can't sack him," Ron says, stepping forward. "He's the best Auror you have--"

"Not any more." Kingsley walks to the door. He opens it. "Collect your things and leave. I'd suggest stopping by the Werewolf Registry on your way out."

Ron can see the wide eyes and surprised faces of his fellow Aurors before Kingsley slams the door shut behind him. Shit. The whole bloody Ministry'll know about this by lunch. He turns to Harry. "Christ, mate--"

"It's fine." Harry's face is pale but determined. "I ought to have known. Look at what Remus has been through."

"You ought to be Deputy Head Auror," Ron protests. "Who gives a damn if you're a were?"

Harry gives him a faint smile. "Kingsley, evidently." He glances around the office. "You know, I don't think I really want any of this shite, after all." He tilts his hat at Ron. "See you at home?"

Ron can only watch as his best mate walks out of his office, hands shoved in his pockets, head held high.

That, Ron thinks, is a damned fine werewolf.

He's proud of Harry.

Chapter Text

Part Three

"You have lost your bloody mind," Blaise says, setting the Pensieve down in front of Draco with a thump. He's brought it over to the townhouse from the St Mungo's storeroom, whinging since he'd stepped through the damned Floo, in Draco's opinion. "What the hell were you thinking?"

"That I really wanted to shag Potter, obviously." Draco's in a foul mood. Potter'd gone by the time Draco'd woken, and he'd left a note telling Draco not to expect him back that evening. Draco doesn't like the way he feels now, as if a thousand bugs had been injected beneath his skin. He's worried and angry and the alpha part of him is furious at being rejected, defied even, whilst the man in him is horrified at what he's done, sick about how he's tied Potter to him, despite his promise to himself that he'd do no such thing. Draco feels shame, grief, anger at himself for being so weak, for giving in when he'd known better. Potter doesn't know what he's agreed to, whatever he might have said. Draco should have told him, should have let him pull away when he found out that it wasn't Draco he wanted. It was the bond. Now all Draco wants to find Potter and shout at him, shake him by the scruff of the neck, tell him how this is all his fault for being so damned shaggable and then fuck him senseless again. Instead he glares at Blaise. "You ought to have found a cure for this--whatever this is--by now."

"It's called a sigillum coniunctionis, as I've already told you, imbecile, and now that you've shagged him, well..." Blaise just sighs. "I suppose it's my fault, really. I ought to have known such a bond would be difficult to resist."

"Bloody impossible, you mean." Draco pinches the bridge of his nose. He's had a headache all day and it's only getting worse. His anger dissipates into something deeper. Sadder. "I tried," he says after a moment. There's a tightness in his throat, raw and sore. "Evidently I wasn't strong enough to say no."

Blaise watches him, his eyes narrowing. "My God, you're actually upset about this."

"Surprisingly, yes," Draco snaps. "After all, I just tied another man to me for life, so I rather think, yes, I am a bit perturbed at myself right now."

"It's not as if you were solely responsible." Blaise straightens the Penseive on the cloth spread across Draco's desk. "Potter did say--"

Rage flares in Draco. He'd like to upend that bloody Penseive over Blaise's perfectly coiffed head. "He didn't know what he was agreeing to."

Blaise doesn't look convinced. "He knew enough. I warned him not to end up in your bed, so you can stop playing the martyr, Draco. Even if he didn't know the details, he knew the possibility."

A chill unfurls itself deep inside Draco's stomach. "What did you tell him?"

"Only that some wolves mate for life." The look Blaise gives him is even. "Potter seems the type."

Draco can't look at him. "It seems I am as well now." The chill turns into an ache, sharp and painful. Draco hates how vulnerable he feels now; it's as if there's something important missing from his soul. This is what it feels like to lose one's mate, he thinks. Even before one had the chance to truly find him.

"Perhaps." Blaise shrugs and uncaps the phial Dumbledore had given Draco the night before--it feels like an eternity past--and pours it into the Pensieve. "Anyway, regardless of the pull of the sigillum coniunctionis, if you hadn't both wanted it, it wouldn't have happened in the first place. From my research, I'm quite certain about that."

Draco frowns at him. "Exactly what are you implying, Blaise?"

"I rather think you know," Blaise says, eyeing Draco sideways. "A bond of this type has to be wanted by both parties, whether intentionally or not." He waves his hand. "Your Dr Freud would have theories about subconscious desires, I suspect."

"Oh." Draco finds himself at a loss for words momentarily. "You mean, you knew Potter wanted--"

"You really ought to wait for him to look at this memory, you know." Blaise ducks the question, shifting his focus to the stone bowl in front of them.

He knew, Draco thinks. That bastard knew Potter wanted the bond. That I wanted the bond. And he didn't say. Never bothered to mention a damned thing to me-- Trying to hide his furious thoughts, he pulls the Pensieve closer, bending over it.

"Oh, no." Blaise grabs Draco's elbow. "If you think you're going in there alone--"

They tumble into the silvery liquid, falling and falling until they land--with a thump that takes Draco's breath away--into a pile of fallen leaves. Draco struggles to his feet. "I loathe you, you know," he says to Blaise, and they look around. They're in a forest of some sort, in late autumn as best as Draco can tell. There's a crispness to the air, and most of the red and orange leaves are off the branches and covering the still-soft loamy earth beneath the trees. "You ought to have told me--

"Sometimes we keep things from you for your own damned good," Blaise snaps. He looks around. "Where the hell are we?" He turns, and Draco refuses to tell him there's a smear of mud across his buttocks. Serves the sod right.

"If I knew that," Draco says, and then he stops. Two cloaked figures are making their way through the forest path towards them. Draco pulls Blaise behind a tree, even though he knows theoretically he can't be seen by anyone in the memory itself. It's just a bit rude, he thinks, standing a hair's breadth from a private conversation.

One man climbs over a fallen log, and his hood falls back. Ginger hair worthy of a Weasley shines in the late afternoon sunlight. His face is unlined, but Draco would recognise Albus Dumbledore any day. It disturbs him slightly that the old fool'd been so bloody attractive in his youth. Draco's terribly worried now about ageing poorly.

"Christ," Blaise murmurs, eyes fixed on Dumbledore's hair. "There are spells to tone that colour down, you know." Draco elbows him just for the hell of it.

"Gellert," Dumbledore calls. "Are you certain it's here?"

The other man joins him, his face still hooded. "Not entirely. But it's not as if we're following a treasure map, Al. All I have to go on are Aunt Bathilda's notes on the legend, and the old girl's not quite what she used to be."

Dumbledore sits on the log, looking up at the bright blue sky visible through the bare branches. "Do you honestly think we could find them? The Hallows? What if they are just a child's story?"

"The Hallows?" Draco says beneath his breath, despite the fact that the other two men can't hear him. "Not the Deathly Hallows? The Peverell legend? Is he mad?"

"He's Dumbledore," Blaise mutters. "Of course he is."

Grindelwald drops down beside Dumbledore, his back to Draco and Blaise. "Aunt Bathilda thinks they're real. She says the Peverells lived near here, so this is as good a place as any to start looking."

"I suppose." Dumbledore leans back, stretching his legs out in front of him. "And the Morgenrothe? What if no one wants to join us."

"Of course they will." Grindelwald's hood falls back; Draco gets a glimpse of thick, golden-brown hair. "It's what we've planned for. An order to lead us into a bright new future, without the Statute of Secrecy holding us back. And we'll be at the forefront, you and me. Benevolent, wise leaders for wizard and Muggle alike. No more hiding, no more hatred. They'll have no reason to fear us any longer, to torment us the way they do Arianna."

Dumbledore's face softens. "I'd like that for her."

"She'll have it." Grindelwald gestures around them. "The world is ours, Albus Dumbledore, if you'll join me."

Draco watches the way Dumbledore looks at Grindelwald, the way he smiles at him, the way he turns towards Grindelwald, drinking in each word. "He loved him," he breathes out. "He's utterly besotted."

"What?" Blaise eyes the two men. "They're just friends, Draco. Not everyone is bent like you."

Maybe, but Draco knows he's right. He knows that look. He's seen it on his own face before, around Potter-- "Oh, fucking buggering hell," he says, as realisation strikes him. Blaise is right. He wanted the sigillum coniunctionis. He loves Potter. Harry. He loves Harry. It can't be. "It's just the bond," he says to himself, but Blaise looks at him, eyebrow raised.

Draco shakes his head. "Nothing," he says. "It's not the time."

"If you're finally realising what I told you two weeks ago, then yes it is," Blaise says into his ear. "I told you not to shag Potter. I told you it'd make things terribly messy. I told you he's your soulmate."

"I don't believe in soulmates," Draco snaps.

Blaise sniffs. "I'd wager you do now." He nudges Draco. "Pay attention."

Draco glances back at Grindelwald and Dumbledore.

"Imagine us," Grindelwald's saying. "Masters of Death, leaders of the Morgenrothe. We could do anything we want. Be anything we want. Make the world into a wizarding utopia."

Dumbledore laughs. "You don't ask for much, do you?"

"Ask for too little, and you'll get it." Gellert reaches out and ruffles Dumbledore's hair. "Best to ask for everything. For the greater good, after all."

"Yes," Dumbledore says. The look on his face makes Draco's heart ache. He'd never thought the headmaster would be someone like him. Someone unable to say what was writ so large across his face. Draco doesn't know how Grindelwald can be so blind, how he doesn't see Dumbledore's feelings right there. He closes his eyes, Potter rising into his thoughts. He's been a fool, and he can't fix it. He knows that full well. Potter's gone; Draco betrayed him.

His heart shatters around him. He steps back, stumbling against Blaise. A twig cracks beneath his boot.

Dumbledore looks up. Draco stills, Blaise breathing down the back of his neck. They couldn't have heard that, could they?

"What was that?" Dumbledore asks, and Grindelwald turns, showing his face for the first time.

Draco breathes in sharply. He knows that face. He'd seen it in his childhood. Older. More wrinkled. But the same.

And then Grindelwald's running towards him, his face twisting, losing its youthfulness, turning more wolfish with each step, more grizzled.

"Go," Draco shouts at Blaise, pushing him away, and they scramble backwards, the forest floor flying away from them, the snap of wolf teeth beneath their heels.

They tumble out onto the floor, gasping. Blaise looks up at Draco, terrified. "He shouldn't have seen us."

Draco's heart is pounding, hard and fast against his chest. He can still see that face. He draws in a ragged breath. "I know him," he says. "Grindelwald. I was young, maybe six, seven. He came to the Manor for a visit; Father said he was his old tutor from Göttingen. I just remember him staring at me before Father closed the door of his study, like he knew my soul."

"That's ridiculous." Blaise sits up. "You have no soul."

"Sod off." Draco pulls his knees up to his chest. He glances back at the Pensieve, as if he expects the Beast to come roaring out of it. Maybe he does. "I'm serious, Blaise. I recognise him. That was him."

Blaise just looks at him. "You're certain?"

"More than anything," Draco says. He shudders. "It's mad, I know, but I met Gellert Grindelwald twenty-odd years ago. Father didn't call him that, though. I'd have remembered. Wouldn't I?"

"Possibly not." Blaise pushes himself to his feet and approaches the Pensieve cautiously. "Memory's an odd thing. Blast it all, the Pensieve's broken." He holds up two halves of the stone bowl. "That'll come out of my pay packet for certain."

"Tell them it was a laboratory accident." Draco stays on the library floor. It feels safer down here, away from that bloody memory. "You're far too valuable to St Mungo's for them to sack you."

Blaise snorts and sets the broken bowl down. He looks back over at Draco. "You need to tell Potter, you know."

For a moment, Draco's flustered, until he realises Blaise is speaking of Grindelwald, not about the soulmark. "I will." His mouth turns down. "If he ever comes back."

"Never sleep with anyone you care about, Draco." Blaise squats in front of him. "You're the one who taught me that."

"I don't care about Potter," Draco lies.

"Bollocks." Blaise pulls Draco to his feet. "How many times do I have to tell you? He's your soulmate. You shagged him. You're bloody fucked, my friend."

Draco's afraid he's right. "There must be a way to reverse it, Blaise. There has to be something--"

Blaise is already shaking his head. "Maybe if you'd stayed away from his prick, we might have found something. Padma thought--" He breaks off, a guilty look crossing his face.

"Oh, my God," Draco says. "You've been talking about me and Potter with Padma Patil?"

"Not in so many words," Blaise says. "I didn't tell her names or any identifying information. I'm not a fool. But Padma's clever, and I thought she might be able to help."

Draco sighs. "And has she?"

"I don't know if it'll work now." Blaise leans against Draco's desk. "She thought there might be a version of the Amortentia antidote that we might be able to tweak. I was a bit more sceptical about its efficacy. But if you've bonded…" He shrugs. "We're having dinner tonight at Claridge's. I'll talk to her then."

If he's honest with himself, Draco's a bit jealous. "How pleasant it must be to be able to court someone in public," he says. He scowls at Blaise. "And don't tell me it's not like that. I know you too well. If you're taking her to dinner you mustn't have made it into her knickers yet."

Blaise watches him, arms crossed. "Are you done?" At Draco's glare, he rolls his eyes. "To the matter at hand, talk to Potter, you sodding nitwit. And if it's true, if you do remember this Gellert bloke from the Manor, you're going to have to talk to your father about it."

"I'd rather not." Draco's stomach twists. He's been pushing that thought to the back of his mind since Dickie Davies showed up on his doorstep.

"You have to," Blaise says gently. "Lucius knows something, Draco. There's no getting around that."

Blaise is right; Draco knows that, as much as he hates it. Hell and damnation.

Draco sighs.

He's going to have to go home.

***

Harry's sprawled across the sofa, book in hand, when Ron gets back to the flat. Ron's a bit surprised to find him here.

"Thought you'd be back with Malfoy," he says, hanging his coat and hat up. He slips his braces off his shoulders; they dangle limply from the buttons on his trousers.

An odd look crosses Harry's face. "No," he says. "I don't think I'll be returning to Berkeley Square anytime soon."

A lover's quarrel then, or something like it. Ron recognises the mulish look Harry gets when he's angry. He drops into the worn armchair that they've mended at least twice now. Judging from the way it sags beneath his weight, he suspects the charm needs to be renewed. "What'd the poncy tit do? Tell you your table manners are atrocious? Because they are, mate."

Harry doesn't smile at the jab. "It's nothing." He goes back to his book. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Stevenson. Ron frowns.

"Bit young for you, isn't that?" Ron nods towards the book in Harry's hands. "Thought you read it at school. Twenty times or so, judging by how worn out your copy was."

"It seemed appropriate for the moment," Harry says. "What with the whole werewolf thing. Normal one minute, a monster the next."

"You're never normal, Harry." Ron studies Harry. He looks worse than this morning. Understandably so. "Look, is this about Kingsley? We could fight him, Harry. Remus would help--"

Harry slams the book down onto the sofa. "For what purpose, Ron? The whole bloody Ministry knows about me now, I'm certain. You can't tell me people weren't whispering the moment Kingsley bloody sacked me. I saw them when I walked out. They cringed away from me, Ron. Kingsley made certain of that, saying what he did with my office door open." Harry's face crumples. "I trusted him. He was my mentor. And he finds out about me from Dumbledore--it couldn't have been anyone else--and the next thing I know I'm out on my ear. I don't understand. He's eaten Sunday dinner at Remus's table before. How is it I didn't know he hated lycanthropes so much?"

Ron shakes his head. "I don't know." He sits silently, waiting for Harry. He's learnt to be careful, to give Harry space to say what he needs to say, when he's ready. Pushing him only leads to a fight, and Ron's too damned tired tonight.

Ten minutes tick by on the chipped blue-and-white porcelain mantel clock. Harry's picked up his book again, but he's not reading it. He hasn't turned a page.

"Stop staring at me." Harry lowers his book. "You're making my head hurt."

"I'm not staring." Ron knows he is.

Harry huffs out a breath, half-laugh, half-irritation. "You're an arse."

"A bit."

Ron's stomach rumbles. He'd barely eaten lunch today. He hadn't wanted to face the Leaky, so he'd just grabbed some jellied eels from the cart at the corner of Diagon and Knockturn. Harry closes his book and sets it aside, his brow furrowed. He stares past Ron.

"Malfoy," Harry says, and then he stops. He chews on his lip.

"What about him?" Ron's not certain he wants to know. He doesn't trust Malfoy, that's for damned certain.

Harry doesn't answer at first, and Ron thinks he's about to retreat into himself, the way Harry does when he'd rather not face a problem.

"Come on, Harry," Ron says. "Out with it. Do I have to hex the wanker's prick off, because I will--"

"Malfoy turned me," Harry says in a rush.

That wasn't what Ron was expecting. At all. "Malfoy," he says like an idiot. "Since when is Malfoy a werewolf?"

"The past ten years?"

Ron thinks he should be furious--and he is--but his anger's overwhelmed by shock at the moment. "You're taking the piss," he says.

Harry leans forward, his elbows on his knees. His hair falls into his eyes, and he looks young. Young and so bloody stupid, Ron thinks. "I wish I was." He looks up at Ron. "He wasn't lying about the attack. He found me in the street. Almost dead. He says he turned me to save my life."

"How many others has the bastard turned?" The surprise is fading away; Ron's temper is starting to flare.

"None." Harry rubs his face. He looks different without his glasses. Ron doesn't think he likes it. He knows his Harry's still there; it just doesn't feel like it right now. He worries that Harry's slipping away, becoming someone--something--he doesn't know. "Just me."

"Just you," Ron echoes. "You really believe that?" He doesn't bother to hide his scepticism. "He's not on the Registry, Harry. We've been all over that lately."

Harry drops his hands. "Do you blame him? You've seen what registering has done for Remus--"

"It's the law." Ron's frustrated. His Harry would have understood that. His Harry played by the rules.

"And that's what you want for me?" Harry's voice rises. "To be tracked, to be watched constantly? Do you even think they'd let me stay in this flat, Ron? Or have you forgotten that they control where I'd bloody live? Do you really think Remus and Tonks want to be in Birmingham of all places? Everyone they love is in London, for Christ's sake."

Ron just looks at him. "Kingsley told you to register."

"Why should I listen to him?" Harry stands up. His book falls from the sofa with a thud, the spine bending where it's hit the floor.

"They already know," Ron says. "They'll take that as an act of aggression--"

"It is!" Harry paces in front of the sofa. "I don't care."

A chill goes through Ron. He doesn't know what to do. "Harry."

Harry stills, his back to Ron, his hands shoved in the pockets of his trousers. His shoulders are hunched, his head bowed.

"You can't avoid registering," Ron says quietly. "They'll find you."

"Not if I leave." Harry doesn't turn around. Ron can see a tremor go through him.

"Leave London?" Ron can barely breathe. Harry's been part of his life for nineteen years now. He can't imagine life without him. "Where the hell would you go?"

Harry looks back at him, and his face is stricken. "Berlin, maybe. Sirius would help me. I could hide there."

"What kind of life would that be?" Ron asks. Don't go, he wants to scream. Don't leave me, you tosser.

Before Harry can reply, there's a knock at the flat's front door. They both exchange a look. No one ever knocks. Ron gestures with his chin towards the kitchen. Harry disappears around the corner. Heart pounding, Ron throws the door open.

Dawlish is standing there, his Auror's overcoat hanging open, face somber. "Let me in," he says.

Ron glances behind him, into the dim hall with its shabby floral wallpaper.

"It's just me," Dawlish says. He sounds tired. "I need to talk to you and Harry."

Harry steps back into the sitting room. "Let him in, Ron."

Ron's certain this is a terrible idea. Still, he opens the door wider and lets Dawlish enter the flat, shutting the door behind him.

"John," Harry says. He's remarkably calm, calmer than Ron can manage. His wand's in his pocket, though, with the hilt visible. Good lad, Ron thinks.

Dawlish nods at him. "You've caused quite a stir in headquarters today."

"I'm sure I have." Harry gives him an even look. "Are you here in an official capacity?"

"You're a damn fine Auror, Harry." Dawlish holds his hands out, palms up to show he's not intending a fight. Ron recognises the stance. They'd been taught it in Auror training. How not to antagonise a suspect you intend on taking down. He tenses. Dawlish lowers his hands. "I'm not here to take you in. I'm here to warn you."

Only the twitch in Harry's left eye betrays his nervousness. "About?"

"Kingsley's angry," Dawlish says. "You didn't register."

"No." Harry crosses his arms in front of his chest. He doesn't glance away. Ron moves closer to the coatrack, slipping his fingers into the pocket of his jacket. They close around his wand.

"You don't need to do that, Weasley," Dawlish says. He glances at Ron. "I said I'm not here to harm anyone. But if you don't listen to me, the others will be knocking down that door soon."

"What others?" Ron asks, but he already knows.

Dawlish scratches his unshaven jaw. "I heard Kingsley give orders to Mitchell and Wright. They're coming after you, Harry. They're to have you registered." He hesitates. "Or subdued."

Ron wants to sick up. "They're ordered to put him down?" He can't look at Harry.

"If he won't go willingly." Dawlish glances at Ron. "Kingsley knows Harry's a powerful wizard. I reckon he's concerned about how that'll come across as a were, especially one who won't register. And Harry's never refused a direct order before." He turns to Harry. "He thinks the wolf's controlling you."

"That's ridiculous," Ron snaps, but Harry looks away, his jaw tight. There's something he's not telling me, Ron thinks, and that terrifies him.

"Maybe it is," Harry says. "Doesn't mean I'm dangerous."

Dawlish buttons up his overcoat. "Didn't say it did. I don't give a damn if you're a werewolf. Like I said, you're a fine Auror. That's all that matters to me." He eyes Harry. "Get a bag. You can't stay here."

Harry hesitates, then nods and goes into his bedroom.

"Why are you helping?" Ron asks. "I mean, really?" He wants to trust Dawlish. He's just not certain he should.

Dawlish doesn't answer for a moment. When he does, his voice is rough. "Had a cousin who was bitten by a were. Back when I was in Auror training. It wasn't his fault, he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Six months after he turned, one of his neighbours found out he was on the Registry and panicked, saying my cousin was going to go after his son. He showed up on Frank's doorstep and Avada'd him when he opened the door. So, yeah. I reckon Harry's proved himself well enough to me. He doesn't deserve that."

"No," Ron says, his throat tight. "He doesn't."

Harry's back with a small bag. He looks pale. "Where are we going?" he asks. "Berlin?" He gives Ron a wry smile.

"Not yet," Ron says. "Somewhere safer first." The German Ministry'll just send them back if they find them. Ron needs a spot to think, to plot their next move.

"You know a place?" Dawlish asks.

Ron nods. He holds a hand out to Harry. "And I'm coming along. We'll Apparate, bounce around the country a bit to throw the tracking off for a while." Harry's cold fingers curl around his.

"I'll be out of your hair, then," Dawlish says. "Don't really want to know where you'll end up. Just in case." He claps a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Good luck, lad. You're going to need it.

He's out of the door a moment later, and Ron looks at Harry. "Ready?"

"Yeah." Harry's fingers tighten around Ron's. "Where are we going?"

Ron takes a deep breath. He'll have to find a way to get word to Hermione or she'll worry. Still, he knows this is something he has to do. He owes it to Harry.

"Shell Cottage," he says, and the sitting room spins around them, throwing them both into darkness.

Ron hopes to hell he knows what he's doing.

***

It's been two years since Draco's been at the Manor. He's surprised that the wards still recognise him, giving way at his touch. He could have Floo'd in, he supposes, but there's something about walking up the long driveway, his eyes fixed on the house before him, that Draco needs. Preparation, perhaps, for what's to come. He hasn't seen his father for six years now; every time he's come to the Manor recently has been when he's been informed by the house elves that Lucius is abroad. The Prussian countryside, usually, although sometimes his father ends up in Vienna or Madrid. Draco doesn't care, not really. He doesn't like his ancestral home, if he's honest, and he's tempted to burn the whole damned thing to the ground once his father finally dies.

The foyer is empty, silent, dark. A few sconces flicker down the corridor. Draco follows their light. Before he'd left for good, his father had shut himself off in a side wing of the house, away from the rooms he'd shared with his wife. His grief had embittered him, had made him hate his son.

The feeling's quite mutual.

Just being in the house bothers Draco. It reminds him of that night, his mother's body lying in his arms, his human mind barely able to comprehend what the wolf had done. He hasn't fully admitted it to Potter, but his memory of those first few months as a were is so very spotty. Hazy in more places than he'd like to admit. Sometimes there are things he almost remembers, conversations that drift through his mind, then disappear before he can catch them.

He remembers that night, though, and he remembers his father screaming at him in the days after. The words have run together, the instances have become one big blur. He thinks, on occasion, that there were other men with his father. Ones he can't quite recall. He'd been so wrapped up in grief and self-hatred, after all. The first month after his mother's funeral had been spent in the bottom of an absinthe bottle in the name of research for Blaise's potion. He'd been pissed every night, drinking so that he didn't have to sit at table with Lucius, feeling those cold, angry grey eyes fixed on him. He's a failure as a son; his father had made certain to inform him of that every time they were in the same room. Eventually Draco had stopped listening; eventually he'd run away, his father slamming the Manor closed on his heels. He thinks, perhaps, that'd been a relief for them both.

Draco reaches the wing his father occupies. The double doors are cracked open; a light shines within. He hesitates. It would be easy to turn and run again, to leave his father in this festering hole of a house, to cut himself off completely from the boy he once was. But that would be the coward's way out, and Draco doesn't want to be a coward any longer. He pushes the door open.

Lucius's quarters are pristine. His father always had been meticulously neat, backhanding the elves if a single candlestick was out of place on the dining room table. Poor Dobby had been thrilled to escape the Manor kitchens when Draco had set up house in London; he'd chosen Dobby specifically because Dobby had always been the kindest to him when he was a child. Dobby'd seen past the horrendous little rich prat to the lonely and miserable boy inside, the boy who'd never met his father's exacting standards, the boy who was always a disappointment.

Draco's steps are muffled by the thick, plush rug that runs down the centre of the hallway. He passes closed doors and portraits of his family--all men, of course; his father would never surround himself with any of the wives, mothers or sisters of the Malfoy clan. He stops in front of an arched wooden door and takes a deep breath. If his father's at home today, he'll be hiding out in his study, most likely with a bottle of firewhisky at hand.

He turns the doorknob.

Lucius's study is small, by Manor standards, and lined with books, most of them on the Dark Arts. Malfoys have always had a fascination with the taboo. Long, paned windows at the far end of the room shed light across the polished wooden floors and richly coloured carpets, over the long chesterfield and the enormous mahogany desk. It's so like his own library in Berkeley Square that Draco feels distinctly unsettled. He's not so different from his father in some ways. He's still a Malfoy, after all.

The room's empty.

Draco's both relieved and disappointed. He stands in the middle of the study, breathing in the scent of his father, tobacco and whisky, bitterness and disappointment. He runs a hand along the back of the chesterfield, remembering youthful days stretched out on its velvet tufts, watching his father at his desk. He'd idolised Lucius at first, desperate for his approval. It hadn't been until his last year at Hogwarts that the dynamic between them had shifted. Draco doesn't know why, not exactly. It hadn't been one thing, he thinks. Just a series of small scuffles, ridiculous arguments. His seeing his mother's unhappiness when he'd come home for Christmas hols. His father's furtiveness, the new friends like Archibald Nott and Evan Rosier, the latter of whom had watched Draco from the corner of the room with bright blue eyes that had unnerved Draco every time he'd turned around. Lucius had always been a pompous arse, eager to rant about what he saw as the shortcomings of the Ministry and the dire blending of magical and Muggle cultures, but after Nott and Rosier and other dark-robed men began to appear at table without warning, he'd started spouting off extreme nonsense about regulating blood purity, about proper breeding, saying that even beasts were better than Muggles and the Muggleborn.

At first Draco hadn't cared. He'd grown up believing that the pureblood families were more truly magical; what his father was saying didn't seem in the beginning any different from what Draco'd heard at his Grandfather Abraxas's knee or what he'd claimed himself in the quiet of the Slytherin common room. And then Lucius had begun suggesting that the Muggleborn should be shut out of Hogwarts, out of wizarding society as a whole, pushed back into their own world. Death was too good for them, Lucius would say, but Draco had the very distinct impression that's exactly what Lucius would prefer.

It terrified him.

His father's ranting is one reason why he's refused to register his lycanthropy. The things he'd heard Lucius say about Muggles weren't that different from what the Ministry and the wizarding public at large thought of weres. Dangerous. Inhuman. Separate them from society, cage them, put them down if they step out of line. They're nothing more than animals, after all.

Anger crackles through him.

"Draco."

He stills, rage fading, replaced by tension. He turns.

Lucius stands in the doorway, leaning on his silver serpent-headed walking stick. He needs it now, Draco realises. It's no longer just a pretentious prop. His father's becoming an old man, with wrinkles at the corner of his eyes and silvery-white strands woven in his pale blond hair.

"Father." Draco feels like a child again, petulant and uncertain.

"To what do I owe this surprising visit?" Lucius walks into the study, his stick thudding softly on the floor. "It's been, what, four years?"

"Six," Draco says.

Lucius raises an eyebrow. "That long? Pity. The elves said you'd come by a few years back." He sits behind his desk and gestures towards the chesterfield. "Sit."

Draco does. It's almost automatic, that immediate response to his father's command, and he hates himself for it.

"You look well," Lucius says.

Draco doesn't want to do the niceties. "What do you know about Bertram Clarke?"

"To business so quickly?" His father actually looks disappointed. "So this isn't a warm return of the prodigal son then."

Draco's mouth twists. "I'd say if either of us were prodigal, it'd be you. Bertram Clarke. You know him."

Lucius studies him for a long moment. "I'm rather afraid I don't."

"Bullshit," Draco says, and he relishes the grimace of distaste that crosses his father's face at the coarse obscenity. "You brought him to the Manor. With Richard Davies, Mick Noogan, Reginald Perkins, and Giles Skelleran. All Muggles or Squibs, which I find incredibly fascinating given your distaste for non-magical human beings. But, wait, they're not really humans if they don't have magic, right? So what was it for you, Father? Was it like bringing the Crups in for an evening?"

"I'm sure I have no idea what you're on about, Draco." Lucius leans back in his chair, but Draco knows he's nervous. He can see it in the tenseness of Lucius's jaw.

"You're lying." Draco stands and walks over to his father's desk, placing his hands flat against the smooth, satiny wood. "I suppose you've no clue what the Stella Matutina are, have you?"

Lucius meets Draco's gaze evenly. "Whyever should I?"

Draco studies his father's face, taking in his cool eyes and thin, tight mouth. "Three men are dead, Father. And I'm fairly certain you know something about that. Ironic given that their deaths seem to have been caused by a werewolf. You hated me for what I became--"

"For what you didn't become," Lucius spits out, and Draco blinks, taken aback. Lucius looks away, his whole body trembling, his face flushed with anger. "I would strongly suggest you remove yourself from my house, Draco. Before I have the elves toss you past the gates. These wards won't open for you again."

Draco straightens, disgusted. A sense of déjà vu washes over him. He'd heard those same words before, so many years ago. "Whatever you've done, old man, I'll find out. And I'll find whomever you're protecting and take them down as well. You're nothing to me--"

"Get out!" his father shouts at him, standing, his fists pressed against the desk. "Your face had best not darken my door again."

"Three men have died because of you," Draco says. He feels ill. "You may not have murdered them yourself, but you damned well helped. Somehow. And I'll do everything I can to expose you for the lying bastard you are."

He turns on his heel and strides towards the door.

"Draco," his father says. Draco stops, but he refuses to turn around. Lucius sighs, his frustration obvious. "Don't let yourself be the fourth."

It's as much of an admission as Draco will get. His heart sinks. Part of him, that small boy buried deep inside, wanted to believe his father had nothing to do with this. He squares his shoulders. "I won't," he says, and it's all he can do to keep himself from running to the corridor.

The door slams shut behind him; he can feel the wards shift, locking him out of his father's inner sanctum.

That's the way he wants it, then. Draco takes one last look around his once-home. He doesn't know when he'll see it again--or if he even wants to. "Sod him," he whispers.

He Apparates.

***

The roses over the arched front door of the cottage in Warwickshire are heavy with water droplets after a late morning rain shower.

As she takes a hesitant look around, the first thing Hermione notices about the drawing room is that it's uncomfortably warm, stuffy even. She supposes Madeline must have joint problems that lead her to keep her apartments overheated even in early July. There is fire in the grate, even at midday, and the windows are covered in lace curtains with a parchment-coloured fabric layer beneath. The chairs in the room are well-appointed: embroidered floral in a rich red and white on a neutral background. The carpet looks to be Isfahani, or perhaps an austere Kashmiri, cream and watered deep blue and red. It’s quite large, and Hermione is impressed despite herself. She abhors the trappings of wealth, and yet she has a fine eye for beautiful things even as she begrudges herself any such sign of materialism. There are Scandinavian textiles on the walls and classical scrolls over the mantel. The tables hold a discreet collection of books and papers. Madeline’s private study must be on the second floor.

This visit to her linguist colleague is quite unusual. Hermione hadn’t really planned on consulting Madeline again, but she’s reached a dead end in the Clarke papers she was working on for Ron, and she knows that Madeline will be able to illuminate the symbols and the language fragments she was trying to piece together. To be safe, she’s sketched the words and the image of the fragment on separate pieces of paper. She knows well enough not to bring in the Yggdrasil runes or the actual symbol of the group, Stella Matutina. Still, she is terribly curious about the material she’s found.

“Thank you for meeting me at home, Hermione.” Madeline reappears in carpet patterned house slippers and a light dressing gown printed with peony flowers.

"I'm so very happy to," Hermione says, honestly. "I hope I haven't disturbed your sister, however."

Madeline smiles. "Not at all, my dear. Poppy's off to Brighton for the day with a friend. She quite enjoys the sea air." With care she moves to the chair closest the fire and sits down slowly, leaning back from the hinge of her knees to drop her weight onto the seat of the low armchair. “I haven’t been able to keep long days at school recently. Perhaps it is only end of term malaise, but I find the undergraduates unusually tiring this year.”

“I believe I know what you mean,” Hermione says. “They've been surprising active in the magical student union, and the whispers of anarchy have been spreading like Fiendfyre. I believe the troubles in Parliament and impact on the magical constitutions have them all riled up, particularly with the death of the king.”

Madeline nods politely, “I’m sure you’re right. I did feel badly for Edward, alive for quite a while but only king at the very end. I don’t think he ever thought he’d have the job. He certainly did well enjoying the privileges of the Prince of Wales. Thank goodness he didn’t stay up at the House for long. And I suppose we’re lucky St. Hilda’s was reclusive at the time. He cut quite a swath. There were rumours he had something with Selima's mother. She was evidently quite a belle when she was younger.”

Hermione coughs and reddens slightly. She’s usually not prudish, in fact, not at all, but she’d unused to discussing the peccadilloes of royalty with senior colleagues old enough to be her gran.

“Oh, goodness, what am I thinking? You need refreshment.” Madeline rings a bell and an equally aged house elf appears on the carpet before her, clad in a tea towel and an overlayer of a beautiful fabric that looks like an embroidered cushion cover belted with a length of velvet ribbon. “Ganglöt, tea for Professor Granger, if you will, and I’d like cakes and coffee.”

She turns to Hermione, who's looking uncomfortably at the elf and thinking of how to politely refuse refreshment, which doesn’t seem possible in this instance. “Or would you prefer cocoa? We do have some lovely cocoa from Vienna. Ganglöt could add a touch of espresso and make you a Pharisäer. They're delightful, although you might think it too early for rum.”

“Tea is lovely.” Hermione twists her hands, and looks at the elf. “Thank you very much.”

“It is being Ganglöt’s pleasure.” The elf gives her business-like scowl in a surprisingly polite manner. “Would the Professor be taking lemon or milk?”

“Milk, please.” To hell with the summer, Hermione thinks. It is perhaps too hot to contemplate drinking tea, but she’s always been able to put a cuppa away, even in the middle of a July heat wave.

In short order, the tea cart levitates into the centre of the sitting room. Hermione’s tea appears to pour itself, although she’s sure it is elf-magic. The gold-and-white scalloped china pot is delicately suspended in mid-air, letting a stream of perfect golden-brown liquid pour into the fragile gold-and-white cup decorated with raised acanthus leaves. Milk blossoms across the surface, also poured invisibly from a small decorated ewer. When the cup floats towards her on its saucer, Hermione takes the hint and gently lays hand on it. Its weight settles and she takes a gentle sip of tea once her hostess has taken her own first sip of coffee.

“It’s an enchanted set, you know. My great-grandfather bought it for my great-grandmother in Meissen before the Napoleonic Wars.” Madeline sets her cup aside. It floats in mid-air as she turns her attention to the cake plate that has appeared in front of her. Hermione tries not to gawk, but the twist to her older colleague’s mouth lets her know she’s failed. “There weren’t pieces for a coffee set at that time, so I had to have a pot made.”

“It’s beautiful work.” Short of examining the marks, Hermione knows she couldn’t tell the difference, but the set is lovely, and the tea is utter heaven. Despite the threat of breaking into sweat and the odd, sweet smell of peonies or perhaps carnations in the room, she settles back into her chair and lets herself be lulled into rest. She has been marking for too long, and staying up late working on the Clarke project with Ron doesn’t help matters. She’ll get the drawings for Madeline out in a moment, so she can look at the one with the moon and the wolf gnawing on the figure’s foot.

“Have you ever visited the porcelain works?” Madeline’s voice seems softer, and it’s harder to sit upright. “They let visitors come in to see the production of china, although there are still laboratory secrets to the process. I’m told it’s a thrilling day trip, if you happen to be in the area for a conference.”

The cup drifts out of Hermione’s hand but does not drop. She tries to answer, but it seems to be growing darker in the room as well. When she tries to speak, no words come out. As she slumps heavily to one side, she realizes she’s been drugged.

“Don’t fight it, Granger. I know you’re working with the Aurors.” Madeline’s voice is harsh now, no trace of the gentle, confused demeanour she had shown earlier. “I took the liberty of having Glanglöt look through your things. Why are you carrying the wolf at the end of the world with you?”

Hermione can’t answer. She can barely keep her eyes open. She tries to look at her hostess, but she can’t focus on the face swimming before her.

“Don’t worry, when they ask you questions, you’ll answer. You won’t be able to hold any secrets from them, not any longer. Foolish girl!" Madeline sounds distressed. "What did you think you were playing at?”

As the world dims around her and the light flickers out, Hermione thinks that she should have remembered something about the elf’s name.

And then she sinks into darkness.

***

Harry's only been to Shell Cottage a handful of times over the years, and always with the entire Weasley family in attendance. He'd been surprised to find the cottage empty and dark when they arrived, and Ron'd thrown open the windows, letting in the roaring rush of the surf outside.

"Bill and Fleur take the kids to Paris after every midsummer to visit Fleur's parents," Ron had explained as he'd reset the wards, strengthening them with Auror-level protection and alarm charms, some of which Hermione had helped Ron develop over the years. "They're staying a little longer this year to get Victoire trussed up for her first year at Hogwarts. I think Fleur's still upset that she turned down Beauxbatons. We'll be all right here for a day, I think, but we should decide where we're going next. I bounced us around Wales and Cornwall a bit, but they'll track us down quick enough."

"What about Hermione?" Harry'd asked.

Ron had just shrugged. "I'll go out tomorrow and get an owl to her. Pick up some food as well. Bill never likes leaving the larder stocked if they go away. Says they'll come back to ants or Weasleys."

They'd taken bedrooms upstairs; Ron had taken the guest room, and Harry'd ended up in Dominique's. It smells like roses and sunshine, he thinks, and when he falls asleep among Dommie's rag dolls, he can almost hear her laugh.

He sleeps late, his body and mind weary, yet lulled into comfort by the rumble of the ocean and the cheerful warmth of a child's room. By the time he gets up, it's past noon and Ron's gone, leaving a note propped up beside a still steaming pot of tea. Back soon is all it says, and Harry crumples it up with a faint smile. He feels a bit better, he thinks, although there's still something empty in him, like a part of his soul has been carved out. He doesn't want to admit it, but it's Malfoy. He knows that. As angry as he is with the arse, he misses him, and he's not entirely certain it's whatever's bonded him to his--he's loath to use the word--alpha. He's always been drawn to Malfoy and his crystal-sharp tongue. Even when he hated him, he'd been fascinated by the prat.

And Harry knows he doesn't hate Malfoy any longer.

There's a rattle at the door, and Harry tenses, his hand immediately going to his wand. He peers out the side window, all senses on high-alert, and he nearly laughs when he sees Severus floating above the stoop, kicking at the wards.

"Let me in, you fool," Severus snaps, and his foot connects again with the protection charm, sending sparks flying up to Severus's shoulder.

Harry opens the door before the idiot dissipates in front of him. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for you." Severus tries to stomp past him. It'd be more effective if he wasn't drifting six inches off the floor. "It took all bloody night."

"Did Malfoy put you up to it?" Harry follows Severus back into the kitchen. The ghost always prefers the warmest spot in the house; he's like a cat in search of a puddle of sunlight.

Severus gives him a baleful glare. "Don't be ridiculous." Harry's fairly certain he catches a glimpse of guilt, though. "Perhaps I'm mad, but I do actually worry about the condition of your wretched arse, particularly when you disappear without notice."

"I left Malfoy a note," Harry says, but the look on Severus's face stops him. "What?"

Severus drifts over to the wide window that looks out over the sea. "There were Aurors at your flat," he says finally. "Tearing through it. Running diagnostic spells. They'll track you here."

"It'll take a while," Harry says, and Severus scowls at him. "We're not idiots, Severus. Even at top-priority it's still a minimum of thirty-six hours before they can pinpoint us, longer if we can avoid doing magic. And Ron brought us here because there are enough traces of his magical signature historically to confuse them a bit more."

"Maybe," Severus says, but he sounds sceptical. "I eavesdropped, you know. They said you'd been sacked. That Shacklebolt wanted you to register as a were and you didn't."

Harry pours a cup of tea and sits at the kitchen table. It's old and wide, covered with scratches and nicks, big enough not only for Bill and Fleur and their three children, but also for the entire Weasley clan with an extension charm or two. He's sat here before, watching the sunrise come up with Ginny by his side. He wonders what his life would have been like if he'd stayed with her. Stable, probably, and filled with family. Maybe they'd even have had a kid or two or three. Perhaps even more, given the Weasley ability to bear progeny--although seven might be a few too many. Harry sighs. Instead he's sitting here in early afternoon, a ghost by his side, hiding from the very men he'd worked alongside for the past decade, most of them terrified of him because they see him as nothing more than a beast.

"Harry?" Severus asks. He drifts closer.

"What do you think my mother would say if she could see me now?" Harry looks over at Severus. The light from the windows streams through his misty body, almost shimmering in mid-air. "How pleased would she be to have a wolf for a son--particularly one who prefers men in bed?" His mouth twists. "Tell me she'd be oh so proud of me, Severus."

Severus snorts and crosses his arms over his chest. "Lily Evans Potter would have told you to get over yourself, you giant nancy wanker. You have people who give a damn about you to begin with, people who are willing to risk everything they have for you. Weasley, for example, despite being a complete tosser most of the time. Even Malfoy. He's been worried sick since Zabini firecalled him this morning to let him know you were a fugitive from the law. I've never seen a Floo explode into a fireball before, but I'm fairly certain Zabini managed to escape with just a mild singeing."

Something warm and bright unfurls inside Harry. "Really?"

"Oh, for Christ's sake," Severus says. "I thought you were angry with him for turning you even though it was the only thing we could--" He stops, his mouth clamping shut.

Well. That explains a few things. "You knew. You were there." Harry leans back in his chair, pushing his mug of tea away. "Of course you were. You went to get him. Did you tell him to--" Harry can't say the words. They stick in his throat.

"No." Severus picks at his spectral fingernails. "But I didn't stop him. I could have. But you were dying, Harry." Severus's voice grows rough. "I wasn't going to sit back and watch you leave me like that."

"You're fond of me." Harry's always known it. Severus has been more constant than anyone else in his life. Shouting at him, scolding him, telling him what a bloody dimwit he is. But he's always been there when Harry needed him. Remus and Lupin had tried, but each had faced great personal difficulties of his own. The only other people Harry can really say were always there for him are Ron and Hermione, and even then, they tend to get lost in each other.

Severus looks like he might sick up. "Are you going to make me say it?" At Harry's raised eyebrow, he sighs in annoyance. "Yes, you twat. I'm fond of you. I'd rather not watch you bleed out in front of me. I'd…" He hesitates. "I'd miss your stupid face and stupider hair."

A smile creases Harry's face. "I like you too, arsewipe."

"Don't." Severus wrinkles his nose. "I won't have all of that sentimental shite. I barely survived that cow Victoria and all that family, God, and country nonsense everyone was so bloody fond of."

Harry just laughs. "You didn't actually survive it."

"It's rude to comment on someone's mortality, prat." Severus purses his mouth. "You need to talk to Malfoy," he says after a moment. "I don't care if you want to. There are things you should know."

"Like?"

"It's not just the Beast involved in this," Severus says. "I talked to his mum--Malfoy's, I mean. There's another man as well."

Harry frowns. "Who?"

"I don't know." Severus scratches the end of his nose, next to a spot. "She just called him the Dark Lord. Milord doesn't know either, before you ask, and when I try to listen to the spirit world…" He shrugs. "No one really says anything. It gets bloody quiet, and that's never any good." His scowl deepens. "And Lucius knows something as well, the sodding arse." At Harry's look, he shrugs again. "Malfoy spoke to him."

Harry doesn't like the sound of that. It makes him uneasy to think about Malfoy going to the Manor without him, and that stops him in his tracks. It's not that he's not still angry. He is. But he's not entirely certain if it's only Malfoy who's the focus of his ire or if it's the whole damned bloody situation. He rubs his hands across his face. Shite. "All right," he says. He's probably going to regret this decision, he thinks. Still, he needs to do it. As much as he hates to admit it, Severus has a point. Hell and damnation.

Severus looks at him. "All right?"

"I'll talk to Malfoy," Harry says. Relief crosses Severus's face. Harry watches the waves roll in onto the wide stretch of sand below the house. "You'll have to bring him here, though."

"I can do that." Severus doesn't wait for Harry to reply; he flickers out of sight immediately.

"Rude little tosser," Harry says to the silent kitchen.

With a sigh Harry sets his empty tea mug in the sink and leans against the counter. The rumble of the surf soothes his nerves. It's odd, the calm that settles on him. There's a quiver of hope deep down inside, as furious as he still is at Malfoy. There's a part of him that's unhappy at the thought of speaking with the sodding prat, but Harry has to admit he misses him as well. He's not certain whether that's the pull of the alpha or just the fact that Malfoy's managed to get under his skin these past few weeks.

Harry glances at the clock ticking softly in the corner. Severus is right; their time here is slipping away. When Ron gets back they'll need to make some decisions.

He wishes he knew what to do. Harry's not certain of anything any longer, and that's not a feeling he's comfortable with.

Outside the sea rushes towards the shore, slow and steady and stalwart.

***

Ron doesn't mean to be away from the cottage that long. An hour or two at most, perhaps. He casts a glamour on himself, fading his hair to a dull brown and tweaking his features just enough to be nondescript. He's borrowed some of Bill's clothes, including a newsboy cap that he pulls down over his forehead. He's almost unrecognisable, enough so that when he steps into the only wizarding goods shop on the Cornish coast, the one whose aisles he's been wandering every childhood summer, no one calls out to him by name.

He pays a Sickle to send an owl to Hermione. He keeps it short and innocuous. Travelling with H. Back when possible. All my love. She'll figure it out soon enough, he thinks, and when they're somewhere beyond the reach of the British Auror force, he'll firecall and explain. To be honest, he wouldn't be surprised if Mitchell's already questioned her. There's an ambitious lad who tries far too hard. Ron'll be quite happy to trip him up in this investigation; the git needs a good thrashing from an older Auror.

Food's another concern. He eschews the wizarding brands, choosing instead to stop by the Muggle shops. They don't need much, just enough for a quick supper, then something simple to tuck away for tomorrow. A bit of ham from the butcher's, a loaf of bread from the bakery, some cheese from the greengrocer's. Ron pays with Muggle notes he's taken from the jar Bill keeps in the larder. He'll have to replace them at some point, but he reckons Bill will understand.

Ron's just stepped out into the street, Fleur's straw shopping bag over one shoulder, when he sees the owl fluttering towards him. He frowns and moves into the shadows on the side of the building. The owl lands on a windowsill above his head and drops a rolled parchment into his hand.

It's the one he'd just sent.

"No," Ron says to the owl. "You were supposed to deliver it to Hermione Granger. She's probably at St Hilda's. Oxford, yeah?" He tries to tie it back on the owl's leg, but it just hops away and hoots at him, shaking its head. Ron's indignant. "I paid for this, you daft bird." He reaches for it, but the owl spreads its wings and flies off.

Ron turns the parchment in his hand. It's torn a bit from the owl's talons. He unrolls it, but there's no return message. Nothing but his own scrawl.

Something's not right.

Ron Apparates to Bath and then on to St Hilda's, keeping his glamour intact. He slips past the porter, who's arguing with a beefy wizard over the delivery of a large cut of mutton. Hermione's quarters are on the third staircase, two flights up. He pauses halfway up. He can hear a raised voice that sounds distinctly like Mitchell's Mancunian accent.

"Where the hell is she?" Mitchell demands.

A woman's voice answers. "I've already told you; I've not the slightest idea." Ron peers around the corner, and there's Mitchell in his charcoal and red Auror's robe, looming over a tiny older woman. Ron recognises her; Madeline somebody. He'd met her at that dinner party Hermione had dragged him to last Christmas. Pomfrey, that was it. Her sister was the matron at Hogwarts. "Is Miss Granger in trouble?"

Mitchell gives her a disdainful glower. He isn't overly fond of women, Ron recalls. Thinks they're useless at best, even the most highly regarded of them more ignorant than your average desk clerk. Ron would love to sic Hermione on Mitchell at some point and watch her eviscerate him. Stupid git. "Friends of hers are, and we'd like to speak to her. You'll Floo us if she returns?"

"Absolutely," Madeline says.

Ron turns and pulls his cap further down over his brow as Mitchell stomps past him. He barely notices Ron, but Ron doesn't breathe until he's down the stairs and out into the courtyard. He looks around the corner again. Madeline's gone; the stairs in front of Hermione's rooms are clear. Ron takes two at a time, then pushes her door open. The wards open easily to him.

She isn't there.

He knew she wouldn't be; Madeline had no reason to lie. Still his worry escalates. She can't be at the flat; Mitchell wouldn't be here if she'd gone home. Her desk is covered with papers, as if she meant to return soon. He glances over her scrawled notes, and his heart stutters a beat. She's been working on the Clarke file again. He recognises her shorthand for Bertie's papers, but the parchments themselves aren't here.

Ron stokes the embers in her hearth, then tosses a handful of Floo powder on them. "Lovegood flat, Russell Square." It's dangerous, but he needs to know if she's there. The connection sputters for a moment, then Luna's face appears in the flames, her eyes wide. Ron lets his glamour slip, finally.

"Ronald," Luna says quietly, glancing back over her shoulder. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for Hermione," he says, squatting in front of the hearth. "Is she there?"

Luna bites her lip. "No, but an Auror is, and he's asking about her and you and Harry. What's going on, Ron?"

Ron's heart sinks, and he reaches for the disconnect lever. "I have to go—"

"No, you don't." Luna's head disappears, and Dawlish's pops into the flames. Ron breathes out again. "What the hell are you doing on the Floo network, Weasley? They can trace this—"

"Hermione's gone," Ron says. "An owl I sent came back, and she's not here at St Hilda's, and your lot haven't seemed to have found her either."

Dawlish frowns. "They think she's with you."

"She's not." Ron runs a hand through his hair. He feels ill, like he's going to sick up. "Something's wrong, John. I can't put my finger on it."

"Open the Floo," Dawlish says, and Ron flips the lever inside the chimney. The firecall ends, then the Floo roars into life again, and Dawlish tumbles through. He dusts himself off and clambers to his feet.

"Sorry," Ron says. "Old mechanism."

Dawlish flicks a bit of soot of his arm. "Oxford. To be expected." He looks around the room, taking in the worn but comfortable sofa and the piles of books beneath the diamond-paned windows. "Seventeenth century, I'd say."

"Older." Ron shuffles through the notes on Hermione's desk. She'll be furious when she gets back that they're out of order, but he doesn't care. "They have you searching too?"

"Kingsley hasn't figured out I tipped you off," Dawlish says. He looks grim. "He will soon enough, I'm sure."

Ron hates that. Dawlish is a good Auror; he doesn't deserve to have his job on the line like this. "I'm sorry, mate."

"I made my choice." Dawlish peers over Ron's shoulder. "Her work?"

"Some of it." Ron sits in Hermione's chair. There's a shawl draped over the back; it smells like her perfume. His eyes fall on a pocket watch hanging from a chain that's pinned to the wall. It's one Harry'd given her a few birthdays ago; he'd had it made in the fashion of the clock in the Burrow's kitchen. Ron opens it. There are three hands, each with a name engraved on it: his, Hermione's and Harry's. At the moment, Harry's pointing towards lost, he's at St Hilda's and Hermione's hand is caught in mortal peril.

Ron drops the watch, his heart clenching. Dawlish picks it up; he's silent as he looks at it.

"I have to find her," Ron chokes out.

Dawlish turns the watch in his hands. "I think I can help," he says after a moment. "Might take some time though." At Ron's look, he taps the watch with his thumb. "My uncle used to have one of these. We used to play around with it when we were kids, tweak the charm to be more specific. My cousin Liam used to get a chuckle out of making it show whenever his brother was in the loo. Haven't done it in a while, but I think I might be able to get a location from it." He snaps open the glass. "Probably destroy the damned thing, though."

Ron just looks at him. "Do it," he says. He doesn't even care that he's been gone twice as long as he'd thought he'd be.

Harry'll have to wait.

***

Draco stands on top of a sand dune, looking down at the cottage that sits at the edge of the surf. It's small and weatherbeaten, walls whitewashed and studded with what looks like seashells and beach pebbles. The shingled roof sags a bit in the middle, making the house look like it's being held up--if barely--by the chimneys on either side. He's oddly nervous, watching the waves crash against the sand. Severus has been gone a good five minutes, muttering something about refusing to watch him and Potter both make tits of themselves, and Draco still can't manage to take that first step down the path to the cottage.

The sun's warm against his skin; the wind ruffles his hair. He can taste the salt on his lips, smell it in the air, clean and crisp.

Potter's down there, waiting for him. Draco doesn't know what to expect. Anger, perhaps. It's Draco's fault Potter's in this mess, Draco's fault he's been sacked, Draco's fault his flat has been overturned by Aurors. He wonders if he'd do it differently, had he the chance. Would he let Potter bleed out in Berkeley Square?

He doesn't think he could.

There's something about Potter that calls to Draco. He needs him--not just as his mate--his pack Lupin's group would call it--but on a deeper level. He'd known that the moment he'd seen Potter in the Lily Pond, awkward and nervous, terrified that he might be found out to be an invert. He wanted Potter, yes. Merlin, he still does. But it's not just desire. Potter makes Draco want to be a better man. Less of a libertine. He could settle down with Potter, have some semblance of a normal life, and that terrifies Draco. Potter makes him want things he didn't think were possible any longer.

The path to the cottage stretches out in front of him. Draco takes a deep breath and walks down it.

When Draco knocks, he barely raps his knuckles a second time before Potter opens the worn and faded front door. He looks good, too good. Draco stands with his hand suspended in the air, staring at him. Potter's dark hair is tousled, but today it looks perfect. His colour is high, his tanned skin smooth and begging to be nipped. Something deep stirs within Draco's belly. He desperately hopes Potter will let him in, although he knows there's a strong likelihood he won't.

"You're here then." Potter's stance is guarded, but he doesn't turn away.

"Severus said…" Draco trails off. He just looks at Potter, not certain what to say.

Potter nods. "Yeah." He crosses his arms over his chest, looking as nervous and uncomfortable as Draco feels. It's ridiculous, the two of them here like this, Draco thinks. He's had his tongue up Potter's arse, for Christ's sake. Nothing can be more intimate than that.

Draco takes a deep breath. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that rot.

"I've missed you," he says honestly. It's not what he'd planned, but clever words desert him as he watches the dull beat of Potter's pulse in the hollow of his corded throat. "Potter. Harry. You deserved better."

Potter's brow furrows at the use of his given name. "How do you mean?"

"Everything." Draco gestures to the length of Potter's delectable frame. He frankly smells incredible, and Draco wants nothing more than to lick the length of Potter's legs from ankle to crotch and beyond, but he knows he has to apologise, that words need to fix what physical satisfaction cannot. "You deserved to be told what had happened. And I probably shouldn't have done it in any case. It was presumptuous and wrong of me, and although I pretend not to regret turning you, I'm so, so sorry."

Potter doesn't say anything for a long moment, and then he nods. "Well," he says slowly, "I suppose you didn't really have much of a choice, did you?"

"I didn't have to curse you," Draco says. "Maybe death would have been better--"

Draco's words are somewhat cut short by Potter's kiss.

"Oh, do shut it, will you?" Potter asks against Draco's mouth, and Draco reaches up in surprise and holds onto Potter with an arm. For a moment he's not sure whether they're not going to overbalance. He steps backward, bracing his weight against the open doorframe and pulling Potter into him, aligning their hips and continuing to kiss him. "All you ever do is natter on," Potter says into the kiss, and Draco nips Potter's bottom lip.

"Wanker," Draco says.His back rubs against the wood, and he couldn't care less. With a thrust of his hips, Potter rubs what is already a considerable erection against Draco's stomach. Draco's own hard prick throbs at the contact with his mate.

His mate. The words spin through his mind, terrible and thrilling, with all their promise. A home. A pack. Someone with whom to share his life, his house, his everything. He thinks perhaps he understands what his cousin meant when she encouraged him to be part of a community. He's been so lonely, carrying this burden of lycanthropy by himself. He doesn't want Potter to endure the same grief. And he won't, if Draco can help it. They'll face it together.

Pulling his mouth from Potter's, Draco buries his nose in the juncture between Potter's neck and shoulder, inhaling deeply. The scent makes the hairs on his arm stand up. Draco resists the urge to bite harder--he knows he could, and he likely will before they're through, but he wants to savor this. He rubs his face across Potter's collarbone, against his muscular chest. The musk from Potter's body is stronger than any drug he's ever known.

With his face against Potter's chest, it takes Draco a moment to realize Potter's laughing, body shaking with low chuckles. Draco's a bit concerned for Potter's well-being. "Did I miss something amusing?" he asks.

Potter surges forward again, pressing him against the wooden frame and nipping at his mouth. "No, you arsehole," he says just below Draco's ear. "But, you know I might have fucked you even if you hadn't apologised."

Draco thinks he should protest, but his focus is on the word "fucked" and its immediate implications rather than on the force of "apologise." He decides he can afford to be generous at the moment, given the circumstances. Potter's flush looks lovely, and Draco can positively taste his arousal. His head clouds with the force of it, and he has to shake himself a bit to clear it enough to speak.

"Very well," Draco manages. He's rather pleased at how normal his voice sounds. "We'll revisit that part later, although I very much did mean it. Right now, is there perhaps a bed in this little home? The doorframe is dashed uncomfortable, although one could make do if needs must."

Potter's fingers curl around his wrist and pull him into the cottage. Draco has a fleeting impression of modest but stylish furnishings: a tall cherry bench in the hallway, subdued floral curtains, a oval mirror above the chimney piece, a small framed photograph of the Sphinx hanging on the wall that he and Potter nearly dislodge going through to the guest bedroom.

The placket of Potter's shirt gapes open over his lovely collarbones. Draco leaves a little bite mark on the side of his neck, nothing much, but a sign of owning. Potter leans into it, his hand gripping Draco's bicep. Draco suddenly knows how strong he is, although Potter fairly crackles with magic, he is Potter's alpha. Potter listens to him.

"Take off your clothes." He doesn't mean to growl, but he can't restrain himself.

Potter spins away from him, fingers flying to the buttons of his shirt. Draco whispers a quick spell, and his own clothes fly neatly folded to the rush-seated chair in the corner. Potter pauses, hands undoing a button at the bottom of his shirt. "That's cheating."

Draco closes the distance between them, brushing Potter's forelock out of his eyes before reaching for the buttons of his trousers. He strokes along the hard length of Potter's prick and Potter's eyelids flutter shut. "Yes. But it's faster, isn't it?"

Freeing him finally from the last stitches of clothing, Draco lays Potter down on the quilted green coverlet of the old brass bed. Potter's eyes are as green as marbles as he sprawls, legs splayed open, teeth biting his lip. "It's still taking too long," Potter says in a throaty voice. "I need you in me now."

The world swims a bit before Draco's eyes. His connexion to Potter, his attraction to the man makes him fear losing all reason sometimes. "The very moment you enlighten me to where I can find oil in this blasted place."

Potter raises a hand, and a small phial speeds from the washing stand in the corner and smacks into his broad, open palm. "Here," he says simply. " I found it in my jacket pocket with my Aconitum Allevium potion." He gives Draco a half-smile. "Perhaps I hoped you'd come after me."

"Nothing could keep me away," Draco murmurs, his fingers brushing the hard ridges of Potter's abdomen, the muscles shivering under his touch. "Not if I knew you wanted me."

At this, Potter leans back, baring his throat. His legs are open, and he is ready, so ready for Draco. Draco senses the openness of his body from his posture: the looseness of his hips and the subtle ways he shifts when Draco moves. They're tied together by longing and by the bond, and Draco can sense Potter absolutely. He's never felt anything like this.

Potter clears his throats. "I want you." He is almost whispering. "Nothing else makes sense but this. Us. It's everything I have right now."

The warmth of their bodies together is addicting. Draco could lie here forever against the velvet strength of Potter's body, pressing his limbs against Potter's, pinning him to the thin mattress. He'd like to wrestle with his mate, strive for the upper hand. He's sure he could beat him, but he would enjoy the contest.

But there's no time for that now. Potter is being hunted, and the dogs of the Aurors are nipping at their heels. Draco considers lying here with Potter wasteful of their time, but he needs this, he wants this, he couldn't care about anything else if he tried.

"Turn over. I like you best on your knees." Draco strokes the flat plane of Potter's hipbone, then nudges him in the direction he wants him to go.

"Oh, I think you like me most ways," Potter says with a low laugh, but he complies with Draco's demand. Looking over his shoulder, he adds to this. "I think you just like watching your prick plunge into my arse."

This could not be closer to the truth. Draco smiles. The blood rises into his consciousness, blocking out any other thought. He strokes the pale globes of Potter's arse, marvelling at the give and the solid, cushioned feel of it. He leans in close to breathe on Potter's neck. Potter tucks his chin, giving more surface area to Draco's mouth and teeth. "I'll try to make sure I don't pop a knot this time," Draco says into the back of Potter's neck.

Potter reaches back a bit awkwardly with one arm and pulls him closer. "You shouldn't be afraid of it. Granted, it's a little frightening, but I liked feeling you locked in me like that."

Gripping the brass rail with one hand, Draco palms his leaking cock, then reaches for the small phial Potter has set on the bedside table. He rubs the sweet-smelling almond oil into his skin, trying not to gasp at the pleasure of his own hand. What is before him is so much more desirable setting for his rock-hard prick.

Potter moans when Draco's oiled fingers rub at his entrance, spreading his knees further apart and presenting his arse in the air. Rubbing twice more along his length to spread the oil, Draco holds Potter's hip with one hand whilst guiding himself to the tight, furled opening. With a bit of shifting and encouragement, all the whilst pushing steadily, Draco breaches Potter's body and begins to sink into the satin warmth of his flesh. Potter's groans are louder now, spaced further apart, as Draco uses both hands on Potter's hipbones to pull himself flush, his prick sunk fully in Potter, balls against his arse.

"God, I'd forgotten how tight you were." All of Draco's consciousness is in his cock now and he's amazed he can still speak. "You feel utterly amazing."

Potter grits his teeth, elbows braced, body yielding to Draco's careful, exploratory thrusts forward. "I hadn't forgotten how enormous your prick was." He gasps and flinches. "I may need a bit more oil."

Reaching down to where their bodies are joined, Draco rubs the lubricant into the tight band of Potter's arse. He loves the stretch of Potter's body around him, the way he looks with his arse split open by Draco's prick. It also doesn't hurt Draco's vanity to be called enormous. Truth be told, he did think being turned all those years back had altered him somewhat, and he was not shabbily endowed before.

At first Draco moves slowly, trying to make sure that Potter is comfortable, that the stretch isn't too much, that he's not thrusting too deeply. Potter shifts under him, wriggling to get comfortable, exhaling carefully, and Draco rubs Potter's stomach and palms his softened cock to ease him past the initial adjustment.

As Potter's prick begins to stiffen again, his hips move against Draco. "Okay," Potter says. "Now you can move."

Draco doesn't need to be told twice. With Potter encouraging him, Draco begins to build up speed. He thrusts hard, and then harder, nearly bouncing the small bed off of its springs. Draco makes a brief note to lay down a nice Reparo afterwards, or a new bed if need be. Right now, he couldn't care less if the bed makes it through in one piece.

Potter grips the brass with white knuckles. "Yes, yes, yes, oh God, yes." His chant is rhythmic with Draco's thrusts into his body. The bed shakes and the headboard knocks against the rough plastered wall.

When they are both far past caring about anything else, Draco leans back, pulling Potter onto his lap, centring his weight over him and sinking even further into his body. Potter drapes himself against Draco's chest, and lets Draco pull at his dripping prick.

"Aren't you going to finish?" Potter asks, jaw tight, prick straining into Draco's fist. He's so, so close, Draco can tell. His eyes are closed, his breathing coming in shallow huffs.

"Absolutely." Draco presses Potter against him with his arm, and takes a long, hard tug, rolling his wrist to make it good at the end. "I don't think that's a worry in the least."

When Draco licks at the back of Potter's neck and then sinks his teeth into the corded muscle of his shoulder, just above the port-wine stain of the alpha mark that ties them together, Potter arcs forward with a cry, his prick growing impossibly hard, then pumping spunk out onto the spattered green of the coverlet and perhaps also onto the wall. Potter clearly needed this, Draco thinks.

Milking him to completion, Draco feels his own climax arrive as the muscles of Potter's arse clench around him. He bites harder than he means to as his entire body convulses in shudders, the pleasure sharper than knives, deeper than belief. He can feel the base of his prick trying to swell further, to knot Potter, to lock their bodies together and claim his mate even more as his own. It is with great mental exertion that Draco regains control of his wolf, pulling himself back from the desperate waves of pleasure, not sinking forward into everything his body screams for and letting go entirely.

Trying to avoid an accidental knot, Draco detaches himself more hastily than usual from Potter, tipping him to sprawl gently forward onto the bed as Draco lies down on his side next to him.

When he's regained control, Draco gently strokes a hand along Potter's side. Coming down from the height of arousal, he can hear the waves crashing outside, the soft sound of breezes in sea grass, the call of gulls and of the ocean. He could lie perfect here, perfected next to this incredible man. Mate, he thinks. Soulmate.

"Mmmm. Stop. It tickles." Goosepimples are rising on Potter's arm. He's halfway to sleep already, if his slurred voice is any indication. "You've shagged the daylights out of me, Malfoy."

"Draco," Draco says. "Given everything that has transpired, I believe you should call me Draco."

Potter's rolls over to face him, hair a mess and body a flushed map of gorgeousness Draco wants to explore further. "I'm not sure what to say."

Draco reaches a hand to his jaw, cupping it. "Yes. Just say yes."

"Yes, Draco," Potter says, and the expression on his face leads to several more deep kisses. He pulls back. "But only if you call me Harry."

"Harry." The name feels strange and perfect on Draco's tongue. He brushes his knuckles across Harry's cheek. His Harry. "You're mine, you know." Draco's heart clenches. "I'm so very sorry."

"Why?" Harry slides a leg through Draco's. He's warm and comfortable, stretched up against Draco like this.

Draco hesitates. His thumb makes tiny circles along the flat plane of Harry's hip. He knows he has to tell him this, but it doesn't stop him from being terrified. If there's one thing he realises now, it's that he doesn't want to lose Harry. "The mark," he says finally. "The alpha mark." He chews on his lip, looking at Harry's beautiful face.

Harry just watches him, eyes a rich, liquid green. Draco could drown himself forever in those eyes. He owes Harry the full truth.

"It bonded us," Draco says finally. "It's not just an alpha mark. It's my mark. Our mark, really. A sigillum coniunctionis." He takes a shaky breath. "It bound us as mates. Blaise thinks it's because we were sleeping together before I...you know." Harry hasn't pulled away from him yet. He's just looking at Draco, soberly. "It's not just the sex, though." Draco hasn't wanted to admit this even to himself; he'd been furious at Blaise when he'd confirmed it. But it's the truth, and he knows it. "These marks form sometimes when alphas have...feelings." He can't look at Harry; he feels his face heat up. "For their mate."

A silence hangs between them, heavy and long.

Draco rolls onto his back, staring up at the white ceiling, waiting for Harry to sit up, to dress, to order him out and back to his lonely flat in Berkeley Square. It's too quiet with Harry not there. Too boring. Too dull.

Fingers touch his jaw, turning his face towards Potter's. "You idiot," Harry says, a small smile tugging at his lips. "You think you're the only one with feelings?"

Draco can barely breathe. "You have feelings? For me?"

"Did you know some werewolves mate for life?" Harry asks. "If they're lucky enough to find someone. Zabini implied as much when he was threatening me off you, but I already knew." He gives Draco a wry smile. "Was suspecting it about how I felt anyway, and Remus told me about the mating for life when he and Tonks married. He almost walked away from her; he did everything to convince her he wasn't the man she wanted because he was terrified to force her into a relationship with a poor, jobless werewolf. But she was his mate, and she knew it the first time they kissed. She wasn't afraid of being with him. It was worse when he pushed her away."

"Was it?" Draco studies Harry's face. "You were so angry."

Harry nods. "It was a lot to take in. But last night, sleeping here without being able to hear your heart beating down the hall…" He runs a thumb over Draco's bottom lip. "I think I knew for sure then. Even if I didn't want to admit it. I missed you, you giant poncy prat."

Draco kisses him then. "Don't walk out on me again?" He knows he's begging. He doesn't care. "I couldn't bear it. I feel like some part of me's tied to you, and it hurts when you're gone."

"I know exactly what you mean." Harry says, brushing the hair back from Draco's eyes. "And I promise. If I do leave, I'll come back."

Draco believes him. "Let me come with you now," Draco says. "I don't care where you go, or for how long. I need to be with you." Even as he says it, Draco knows it's true. He's felt off since Harry walked out of Berkeley Square, head aching and temper high. Here, lying in Harry's arms, he feels calm. Like his skin finally fits again.

Harry chews on his bottom lip. For a moment Draco thinks he's about to refuse him. His heart stutters; he doesn't know what he'll do if Harry pushes him off. "Are you sure, milord? Will Millie and Greg be alright? And Ellie?"

Draco relaxes against Harry's side. "The Ministry'll have to go through a wall of solicitors before they confiscate Malfoy property. My father made sure of it. I've given Greg legal rights as caretaker to inhabit Berkeley Square. And the Manor, if I should ever be so lucky that my father dies."

"You don't mean that," Harry says, a frown creasing his brow.

Draco smoothes it out with a gentle touch of his fingers. "Oh, but I do. He's a poisonous old fool. Whatever relationship we might have once had is soured now. He's made certain of that."

"He's still your father."

"In name." Draco leans his head against Harry's shoulder. His heart aches when he thinks of Lucius holed up in that enormous house by himself, no one but his mad friends and the house elves to keep him company. He pities his father. Lucius has never been comfortable with himself; he's always fought against the spectre of his father. For all his faults--and there were many--Abraxas Malfoy was still a better man than his son. Draco thinks perhaps that something he should keep in mind. He sighs and pleats the edge of the bedspread between his fingers. "But perhaps you're right. I don't entirely wish death on him."

"You can put him behind you, at least for now." Harry smiles, head turned to the small cottage window and the waves beyond. The sea is a deep, white-capped blue. "We might go to Berlin. I'm sure my godfather would shelter us."

"Wherever." Draco rolls to his side, propping his head on his arm. He looks down on Harry, at his heavy-lidded eyes and rumpled hair. He's beautiful, lying here like this, the bedspread tangled around his waist. "Wherever you want." Draco traces a finger along the nearly healed scars across Harry's chest, up along his neck to the one Draco knows he left on Harry's golden skin. It's still faintly pink, the jagged edges only just fading into a silvery white. A twinge of bittersweetness rolls through Draco. It's another mark of his on Harry; this one he'll never quite forgive himself for. "We could go keep dragons in Hungary too. Vilmos has said his door is always open."

Harry looks at him, soberly. "If you wanted, I would." And Draco knows then that Harry understands what Hungary means to him, the freedom from his family, from England itself.

"I know." Draco presses himself against Harry, curling into his warmth. "Thank you."

Harry brushes Draco's hair back from his forehead. "Although, I must admit, I already have a dragon I'd like to keep. He's a bit of a wild ride.

"You're wretched," Draco says, and Harry laughs when Draco tries to smother him with a cushion for getting insipid.

As much as he pretends otherwise, Draco's pleased. Things may be up in the air, but for the moment, he's rather content.

***

Harry's making tea in the kitchen, half-dressed, his trousers not entirely buttoned and his shirt hanging open. He's well-shagged and relaxed at the moment, his mind full of Draco but avoiding the questions that will have to be asked about their relationship going forward. He doesn't know what it's like to be a werewolf's mate, not really, or a werewolf with a mate. There's going to have to be a talk with Remus and Tonks at some point, he thinks, either here or in Berlin. And that's not going to be incredibly awkward, not at all. Harry's also starting to get concerned about Ron's whereabouts. It's gone five now, according to the clock in the corner, and he's still not back. Harry's stomach rumbles. He hasn't partaken of anything other than more tea and a mingy apple he'd found rolling in the back of the larder and shared with Draco. Sticky fingers and sticky mouths had led to a brilliant round of fellatio, Draco draped across the end of the bed, sucking Harry to completion.

Warm arms wrap around his waist, and Harry leans back against Draco's chest. He thinks it should be odd to think of Malfoy as Draco now, but it's not. It feels right, feels normal, like it should have been this way all along.

"Hey," Harry says, and Draco nips at Harry's ear.

"How long does it take you to make a proper cuppa?" Draco asks, but there's laughter behind the demand. His hands slide down to Harry's hips, fingertips slipping beneath the waistband of Harry's trousers.

"A lot longer than a house elf, especially if you keep doing that." Harry turns with a smile, pulling away from Draco's questing grasp.

Draco wrinkles his nose at him and the faintest rumble of a growl comes from the back of his throat. Harry wants to kiss him, to push him against the kitchen table, to strip Draco's clothes away and bury his face in the curve of his pale thigh.

"Stop that," Harry says. He's not sure he means it, though. Draco's hair is still rumpled from Harry's hands, but he's dressed, and, unlike Harry, his buttons are at least done up.

They step away from each other when the door opens, a flush going across Draco's cheeks and Harry turning and fumbling with his shirt and trousers.

"What's he doing here?" Draco asks, and when Harry looks back up, Ron's standing there with Dawlish behind him.

Ron sets a straw shopping bag on the table. There's a loaf of bread sticking out of it, the end torn off. "I could ask the same of you," he says, eyes narrowing at Draco. "Harry?"

Harry puts a hand on Draco's arm. Dawlish's gaze flicks towards it, but Harry doesn't care. "It's all right, Ron," he says. "We've come to an understanding."

Ron doesn't look happy. "I'm sure you have," he says. "I just don't know if that's helping matters at the moment."

Draco's studying Dawlish, his suspicion evident. "You brought an Auror here." He's bristling a bit, despite Harry's touch. He probably needs sustenance as much as Harry does, to be honest. They'd just worn themselves out a bit, hadn't they?

Harry walks over to the shopping bag and rummages in it, pulling out the bread and ham and cheese. He doesn't even bother with a knife; he just tears bits off both and hands them to Draco before taking some for himself. He's ravenous, and it's all he can do not to tear into the whole loaf.

Ron takes a deep breath. "Hermione's missing," he says flatly.

The hairs at the nape of Harry's neck rise; his shoulders tense. He sets his bread and cheese on the table, barely able to swallow. "You think he has her? The Beast?"

Ron doesn't answer. Instead he looks at Draco, his face oddly blank. "John's managed to track her down," he says. "She's at Malfoy Manor." He runs a hand over his face. "Or she was. We're not certain. The pocket watch went a bit mad due to the wards."

Harry doesn't have to ask what pocket watch's he referring to. He'd given it to Hermione himself. Ron pulls it from his jacket and sets it on the table. It's shattered now, and Hermione's hand is cocked at an angle, the words beside it a jumbled mortal and Manor.

The room's quiet, too quiet. Harry can hear every heartbeat, every tick of the clock behind him. Draco's beside him, fists clenched, balanced on the balls of his bare feet. He meets Ron's gaze and holds it.

"I have nothing to do with that," Draco says beside him. "I wouldn't—"

Ron cuts him off. "I know." His eyes shift towards Harry, and he picks the pocket watch up again, tucking it back into his jacket. "But only because he trusts you, and I trust him."

Harry feels warm. He gives Ron a small smile and ducks his head, reaching for the teapot and four mugs. "How do we get her?" He looks at Draco as he pours. "You can get us through the wards, can't you?"

Draco shakes his head. "Father threatened to block me when I confronted him about his involvement with Clarke's disappearance. I must have rattled him. I'm certain he's carried through with his threat, particularly if Granger's there." He paces, stroking his chin. "How long has she been missing?"

Ron glances at Dawlish, his despair written across his face. "I don't know. Harry and I were here, so I didn't see her at all yesterday. Could have been then. Could have been this morning. She was at St Hilda's at some point. Her work was spread out on her desk."

"Notes on Clarke's file," Dawlish says. Harry hands him a mug of black tea. "Milk?"

"Sorry." Harry puts another mug in front of Draco. "No milk, no sugar in the house."

Dawlish shrugs. "Ah, well. Cheers." He takes a sip and grimaces slightly before downing half the mug in one swallow. "Better than what comes by on the trolley at work, eh?" He sets his mug down. "Speaking of tea, Granger had a pot of tea made at her desk, but it'd gone cold." He scratches his ear. "What was left in her cup was a bit manky on top with the milk, so I'd say she left her quarters there yesterday."

"Doesn't mean she didn't go by the flat," Harry says. "Or Luna's."

Ron takes the mug of tea Harry hands him. "I asjed. Luna hasn't seen her all week."

"And we've had Aurors at your flat since last night," Dawlish says. "If she'd stopped by there, we'd know."

"Her parents' house?" Harry asks.

Dawlish shakes his head. "Mitchell already sent Aurors over to Islington this morning."

"And Mum and Dad went over to Paris to meet Bill and Fleur two days ago, so she wouldn't be at the Burrow," Ron says.

"Aurors checked there this morning too." Dawlish gives Ron an apologetic shrug. "Reckon they plan on hitting all your family. Only thing keeping them from here's probably the wards you've put up. You've got a version of Notice-Me-Not woven in?"

"Mixed with a variation of Fidelius," Ron says. "You don't need a Secret-Keeper for it. Hermione came up with the theory behind it." He looks away, his composure slipping a bit.

They fall silent again, then Draco sighs. "When I was at the Manor yesterday, there was no sign of her. But that doesn't mean she wasn’t there. It's a big house. Lots of hiding places." He frowns. "And a dungeon."

Ron blanches. "You've a dungeon in your house."

"I didn't put it in," Draco says, his mouth pursed in distaste. "And frankly it's been used more as wine cellar in the past few centuries."

Harry tears a bit more bread off the loaf and chews on it, as the others talk around him. He misses the thick slabs of toast smeared with butter that Dobby had brought to his room each morning, along with a pot of tea. Pre-breakfast breakfast, he'd come to think of it; being a werewolf, he's discovered, requires rather a lot of food to be eaten. Dobby'd never blinked an eye at the quantities Harry'd consumed. Harry'd grown fond of the little house elf bobbing in front of him, dressed in ragged tea towel embroidered with the Malfoy crest.

He nearly chokes on his bread. Ron pounds him on his back; Draco pours him some more tea.

"All you all right?" Draco asks.

Harry nods his head, swallowing the tea in a large gulp. "Dobby," he says, and he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Draco looks at him like he has a third eye or something. "Dobby. He's a Malfoy elf, right?"

For a moment, Draco seems confused, and then his face clears. "That's brilliant."

"What?" Ron looks between them, his brow furrowed.

"Dobby's my house elf," Draco explains. "But he was a Manor elf before he came to London with me."

Harry's mind is moving faster than a Nimbus One-Thirty-Nine. "He can still get past the Manor wards. He's bound to the whole Malfoy family, not just Draco. He can go into the Manor and open the bloody gates for us. We just have to be waiting."

Ron's mouth drops open. "Bloody hell." He looks at Draco. "Will he do it?"

"He's my house elf. He'll do anything I ask of him." Draco turns to Dawlish. "Is my flat under surveillance?"

"Most likely," Dawlish says, and Harry feels a pang of guilt. "But they'd be looking for Potter, not you."

How very ironic, Harry thinks. He's more of a fugitive than the man who turned him. He gives Draco a wry smile. "Go," he says, even though a spike of fear shivers through him. He doesn't like the idea of Draco going anywhere near his fellow Aurors. "Take Dawlish with you," he says, and it's not a suggestion, for either of them. He looks over at Dawlish. "Keep him safe."

"I'll do my best." Dawlish looks between Harry and Draco, sussing them up. He's not a fool; Harry's certain he's figured out exactly what sort of relationship they have. At the moment, Harry really couldn't give a damn.

Draco touches Harry's arm. "I'll be fine," he says, looking into Harry's eyes. "There's an old stone cottage about a quarter-mile northeast of the Manor, in the forest. Father used to use it when he and his friends went hunting." He makes a face. "Neither Mother nor I asked what for. Wait for us there." He looks at Dawlish. "Ready?"

"Shouldn't you at least have shoes?" Dawlish asks. He nods towards Draco's bare feet.

"I've another pair at home." Draco glances over at Ron. "I think speed is of essence at the moment."

Harry puts his hand on Ron's shoulder. "We'll find her," he says.

"I know." The smile Ron gives him is strained. "I just don't know what condition she'll be in."

That's what Harry fears as well. If the Beast took her, then she's either bait for them or… Well. Harry doesn't want to think it. He remembers looking up at the Beast, seeing the cruelty in his cold blue eyes. She's still alive, Harry knows that much. He can feel it. If he'd killed her, he would have spread her body out for them to find. She'd have been a warning. He wants something different from Hermione. Harry hopes it's not to turn her. He wouldn't wish this curse on anyone, but especially not one of his best friends.

"She'll be all right," he says, trying to believe it himself.

Ron nods.

Please, Harry prays to whomever might be listening. Please, just this time, let me be right.

***

The Malfoy hunting cottage is small enough even without an over-six-foot-tall Auror pacing back and forth. Harry sits crammed into a corner on a bench to avoid the methodically frantic footsteps of his best friend. Ever since Draco told them that they would have to wait until it grew darker to even have a chance of making it into the Manor, Ron has been a ball of tightly wound energy. He fought the decision at first, shouting at Draco and looking at one point as though he might haul away and hit him. Draco remained calm and refused to budge from his apparent thoroughly reasoned stance that they couldn't just walk into the Manor in broad daylight, no matter the cost of waiting.

Harry wishes the concern over Hermione's well-being weren't justified, but frankly, something inside of him wonders if she's already gone. Lucius Malfoy and his friends have been party to a lot of death, it seems, and the probability that they will spare someone they have in custody is low. Then again, they know nothing about how she disappeared, Harry reasons, so at least she hasn't just turned up dead in a hedgerow.

The desolate little voice inside of him reminds him that there's still time.

Meanwhile, Ron keeps pacing.

At least there's food. Harry has eaten loads of bread and cheese and a bit of ham. He's nowhere near full, and he's desperately craving more meat and a proper warm supper, but that will have to wait. What he wouldn't give for Millie's steak and kidney pie. Or a proper Sunday joint! His stomach rumbles, and Ron's pale eyes flick to him, and then away, back to the floor which he is methodically wearing a track into.

If Harry's honest, he's not sure how tonight will go. It seems a fool's errand, sneaking into Malfoy Manor after someone's been kidnapped, not knowing what one is walking into. Then again, he has the entire Auror force less Dawlish and Ron after him, and his former boss may be trying to kill him, so it's not much safer not to walk into Malfoy Manor, he reasons.

There's no light on in the cottage, but the dimness is plenty for Harry's eyes after they've adjusted. He watches the shadows gradually lengthen and coalesce, late afternoon becoming evening becoming gloaming. Ron had stopped talking early, somewhere around half-six, and the quiet fury of his courses on the floor have not been much more quiet than shouting would have been.

Harry is relieved when Draco and Dawlish appear in the side window, gesturing to be let in in the quiet. And still the spell of no noise holds. Harry lets them into the cottage as Ron throws himself into a creaking chair against the wall.

"It's arranged," Draco says, and his voice sounds incredibly loud to Harry's ears. "In an hour, Dobby will open the gates for us."

Harry doesn't dare reach for him, not in front of Dawlish and Ron. He watches him closely, too closely, trying to transmit with his eyes that he's beside him no matter what, that he knows how hard this is for Draco. "Thank you," is all that Harry says aloud.

"That's great and all," Ron breaks in, launching his body into the centre of the room. "But how the hell are we going to get into the toff's--er, your father's house, I mean?"

"We're going to walk in the toff's front door," Draco says, his composure crystalline. "It'll soon be almost dark, and Dobby will let us into the main house. When we go through the gates, he can conceal us for a time on the drive."

"How long did you say the drive from the gate to the house is, milord?" Dawlish asks.

"About an eighth of a mile. It's certainly long enough that we need cover." Draco's face is grim, and Harry knows they could be walking to their deaths.

"Well, let's get on with it then," Dawlish says. "We've got a bit of hiking ahead of us to get there."

They file out to the path and resume total silence. The woods are quiet around them, only sounds of crickets and small animals rustling in the underbrush. When they reach the edge of the trees, Draco holds up a hand to stop them. They crouch on a slight rise above the formal grounds of the house.

"We're going down there," he says softly. Harry leans in closer to hear, his shoulder brushing Draco's. They all huddle close together, kneeling so as not to be visible from the road below.

"Dobby's waiting inside. He'll be at the main door so we can enter." Draco gestures in the direction of the looming house with the tall black roofs. "We should see a red light when the gates are disarmed. We'll have to be quick about it."

When Harry thinks about Draco growing up in that enormous house, he can scarcely imagine anything so grand or so terrifying. It's not the sort of house he imagines is very comfortable for a child. Or an uninvited bent werewolf, for that matter.

"What is that moving around on the shrubbery?" Dawlish's voice is low, expressing concern.

"Peacocks." Draco's mouth twists in distaste. "Bloody albino white peacocks."

And yeah, like that's normal, Harry thinks. No one figured out that was the house with the werewolf cult members. But he supposes the willingness of wizarding and Muggle society alike to let the upper class get away with "eccentricity" is part of a larger picture.

The waiting is interminable. Harry's crouched between Draco and Ron. He can feel the tension radiating from each of them; it crawls across his skin like a swarm of ants.

And then a red light shines in the dusk, a quick scarlet flash before it disappears.

"Go," Draco says, and they scamper towards the gates, keeping as low to the ground as possible. Dobby's waiting just inside, and as each of them passes through the gates, the wrought iron misting through them as if it's not even there, Dobby touches their arms. A tingle zips through Harry, and he realises it's the covering charm. It's been a long time since he's felt elf magic. It's different, stronger in a way.

They jog down the drive, feet slipping from time to time in the crushed shells. The house looms closer, stately yet grim against the darkening sky. Draco stops at the steps and turns to Dobby. "Take Dawlish and Weasley around the side to the dungeons," he says under his breath.

"What are you going to do?" Ron demands. His jaw is stuck out mulishly. "Hand us over to your father?"

Draco quirks an elegant eyebrow. "I'm going to do exactly what I said I would. I think waltzing in via the front door really would make quite a diversion, don't you, Harry?"

Harry grins at him. "Sounds good to me." His wand is already in his hand. He feels alive, excited for the first time in days. He'll agree to any mad plan his mate has.

When Draco turns and grabs the thick iron door handle, pulling the door open, Harry doesn't think twice.

He follows him into the Manor.

***

Dobby leads Ron and Dawlish around the side of the house, towards a tiny door tucked behind a tall hedge. Ron'll have to stoop to enter it; he eyes it dubiously.

"I don't think I'll fit in there," he says to the elf. He's damn certain Dawlish won't. John has a good two inches on him and at least a stone or three.

The elf looks at him as if he's clearly an idiot. "This is being an elf-made door, Auror Weasley, sir. Dobby is making the door grow bigger when it is being needed." He snaps his long fingers, and the door widens just enough.

When Ron touches the doorknob, the door swings open with a creak of rusted hinges. A narrow set of stone steps leads down into a rectangle of darkness. Ron doesn't like the look of it. "You're certain about this, Dobby?"

Dobby bounds down the steps. "You is following, sirs." His voice drifts up from the depths. With a snap of his fingers, a faint light illuminates the steps. Barely.

Ron looks at Dawlish. "This could go terribly wrong, you know." There must be spiders down there. Ron loathes spiders.

"You love Granger, yeah?" At Ron's nod, Dawlish points to the steps. "Then walk."

Ron squares his shoulders and takes the steps slowly, his wand gripped tight in one hand. His eyes begin to adjust to the gloom. The stone walls on either side of him are pitted and rough. At one point he sees grooves that look suspiciously like claw marks. They're not fresh; he thinks they might have been there for at least a generation. Ron feels like they're walking forever, going deeper and deeper into the bowels of the Manor. Ahead of him he can make out Dobby's floppy ears and ragged tea towel. Behind him he can hear Dawlish's footsteps and the occasional muffled curse when he nearly loses his footing.

His foot finally strikes a flat floor, half covered with earth. It smells dank and musty down here; worse than the Burrow cellar when the rains flood it. There's a faint burnt scent as well, sharp and acrid.

Dawlish sniffs. "Dark magic."

Ron shivers and draws Bill's old jacket closer around him, like a talisman. Bill's worked for years as a cursebreaker for Gringotts; perhaps it's mad, but Ron can't help but hope having a bit of his brother near him might give him a bit more courage. He doesn't like the Dark Arts; they unsettle him. He's not like Harry, who's never been fazed by Dark wizards. Ron feels the Dark like he feels the cold, deep inside his bones.

"Lumos," Ron whispers, and a bright glow comes from the tip of his wand. He taps his thumb against the hilt, and the light dims. They're standing in a circular room, with arched doors running from their left to their right.

"What's this?" Dawlish asks. There are runes carved above each door, deep into the stone lintels.

"They is being passages through the house, sir." Dobby turns, eyes searching across the runes. "This one," he says, and he hops towards a door across from them.

Ron and Dawlish follow. They've no other choice, really. Ron hopes the elf isn't as mad as he seems; there's still part of him that isn't sure Malfoy's not leading them into doom and destruction. That's certainly all he's brought into their lives so far. Harry's a werewolf, now, and at least half in love with the arsehole at that. Ron wouldn't really consider that a positive outcome of their current situation, whatever Harry might think at the moment.

Dobby opens the door. The stench that emanates from it is nearly overpowering. Ron gags a bit. "What died in there?"

"A troll once," Dobby says brightly. "But it is being tidied up by the elves years ago." He looks back at them. "You is coming, sirs?"

Ron hesitates. He hears Dawlish's question echoing in the back of his mind. You love Granger, right?

He steps through the doorway.

***

Walking through the enormous front door, Draco and Harry enter into the house cloaked in elf magic. It's just enough to bring them into the shadows at the corner of a large entrance hall, just at the portrait of Aunt Griselda in full wizarding dress robes for the Order of Hecate. Draco's not sure how he's going to deal with portraits, but as luck would have it, it seems that they've been put to bed for the evening. This bodes ill for the night's affairs, but is convenient for the nonce.

"Draco, are there any hidden passages we can sneak through?" Harry is at Draco's side, his warmth radiating through the thin fabric of their clothes. They're both too lightly dressed for evening, even at the beginning of July, and Draco shivers from the chill from the ancient marble floor and the tunnels below. He consoles himself with the thought that it's keeping his mind sharp.

Of course, if this were a social visit, Draco might drag Harry into the pantry through the door across the hall and have his way with him. But it's not. This is deadly serious, and they need to find his father quickly. Draco's not sure what he has to say to the old man any longer, but he supposes he's about to find out.

"No," Draco says, realising he hasn't answered. "Sadly, most of the hidden passages in the upstairs floors have been removed or repurposed. It was quite a disappointment as a child, discovering that your relatives were suspicious enough to have everything amusing bricked up."

Harry stays in the shadows along the wall, eyeing the grand staircase that sweeps up to a windowed landing, then breaks off into two curving branches curling up into the upper floors. "How do we get up that?" he asks, and in the quiet of the house even his whispers carry a bit.

Draco just smiles, thin-lipped. "We, Harry, are going to do the only damned thing we can."

He strides into the middle of the wide, circular foyer, his boots loud with each step. The Malfoy family crest is beneath his feet, a polished inlay of black, grey and green marble that his great-grandfather had installed. Draco thinks it's terribly pretentious, verging on tasteless; his mother had despised it. Lucius, of course, had refused to let her have it removed.

"What are you doing?" Harry snaps from the shadows. "Draco--"

Draco stands in the centre of the abominable crest. He's clothed properly for the occasion, in his best charcoal suit, his boots clean and shiny. One must face death--and one's father--with dignity, he'd told Greg when he'd helped Draco dress. Draco feels strong right now. Powerful. He draws in a deep breath.

"Father!" His shout echoes up the staircase. "I'm back! Did you honestly think you could keep me out of my own home?" He waits a moment, then he raises his voice, louder. "Father!"

He steps back and waits.

***

Hermione's bored. She's been down in the dark for hours, lying on questionable pile of rags that she hopes is not infested with anything dreadful. Her head hurts and her left hand is numb where they bound and then twisted it behind. Her skin is prickling from the Cruciatus she'd suffered during the last bout of questions--that damned curse didn't half smart--and even now she's somewhat shaky inwardly about the whole affair.

She knows she should be terrified or angry, and she's a bit of both if she's being honest, but at the same time, she really doesn't want to stay here with nothing to do. Hence the boredom. She misses Ron--when she thinks of his mad ginger head and his kind ways, her heart lightens in her chest. She knows she loves him, has since fourth year and that debacle with Lavender Brown and the visiting exchange student, Viktor Krum. She swears the next time he proposes, she'll accept. If she makes it home alive, that is.

It's awfully quiet down here in the Malfoy dungeons, she thinks. It would be a great place to write research articles or book chapters, if it weren't for the damp. I wonder if Malfoy would rent it out as a total isolation study space once his father pops his clogs. Hermione's mouth quirks in a smile as she imagines bringing a desk down into the low-ceilinged rooms and setting up stacks and stacks of books and clippings and scrolls after she'd dried the place out properly. She should ask Malfoy--Lord Malfoy she supposes--but she can't be damned to do the etiquette half the time as it violates her social principles. Perhaps he would be willing to grant her a provisional space to test the idea. Or perhaps he could make it into a creepy country inn, Conan Doyle style?

She knows she's tired and a bit hysterical from lack of food and sleep and rough treatment. They haven't been truly unkind, not yet, but it's been uncomfortable and rather banal, in an extremely evil fashion. From what she could see behind the white wolf's head masks and black robes, the marquess of Abebury had several compatriots of varying ages and dedication. She spoke mainly to him and to another who was a bit nippy with the pincers, more for fear than for actual harm at the moment. The person who'd cast Cruciatus on her had come in at the end and been an observer for most of the questions. She hadn't much minded being tied to a chair, but the repetitive questioning had been worse than undergraduates reading documents from the Giant Wars for the first time. Did she know Harry Potter? What was he planning? Did she know Viscount Malfoy? What were his plans? Did she know anything about lycanthropy? Was she herself a were? She's done her best to indicate this was all a research plan gone wrong, and she hadn't meant to step on any toes, but she's not sure they believed ehr.

Most of the inquiries seemed to focus on Malfoy and his sentiments, followed by Harry and his whereabouts. And that is odd, actually, when she thinks about it. Hermione isn't sure it is common knowledge that Harry is wanted by the Aurors for questioning. She hadn't known herself until Lucius'd started asking her about it. She'd been quite surprised and rather worried, if she's honest. It's not surprising, she supposes. Harry couldn't have kept his lycanthropy a secret forever; she'd known that even if her boys were deliberately obtuse about the fact. Still, it seems far too early for Harry's secret to have been discovered--and for this lot to have found it out themselves. Perhaps something's been announced in the Prophet or the other papers or put up on the walls at Diagon during her night of imprisonment, but from what they're asking her, she doesn't think that's the case. So how does the wolf's head mask know that Harry is on the lam if even she has no idea?

And then there's the entire question of Madeleine. What in the world is she playing at? And for how long? Her elf is named after one of the servants of Hel, and actually, as Hermione thought about it, it made sense. Madeleine's been studying Ancient Rune and Classical Languages at least as long as the last Wizarding Troubles, maybe longer. It would be the perfect cover for someone with a slow-acting political hatred and a long-term plan. Hermione wonders who Madeline's friends were when she was young, whether she has further accomplices inside of this group, or whether she is part of the secret leadership about which everyone talks and no one knows a thing.

She both wants and does not want Ron to find her here. She hopes he brings the Aurors, but she doesn't want him to see her in this condition. Hermione's sure her hair's a terrible mess. And she's concerned about dragging everyone into this. It's better to play dumb and tire them out; the more people who show up, the greater the chance of everything going pear-shaped.

Still, when she hears his voice calling her name, her stiff upper lip collapses. She's surprised and grateful to know he's found her. "Ron," she calls back weakly, until he is by her side, and so is John Dawlish. "Oh, thank goodness. Is Kingsley upstairs?"

Ron touches her face whilst Dawlish unbinds her feet. She's so glad to see him. "It's just us," Ron says. "Well, and Draco and Harry, but they're after Draco's father."

Hermione struggles up onto one elbow, suddenly alarmed. "Only you four? But, you know that there's a gathering here of very dangerous people. In fact, I think there must be at least twenty in the main house, and they keep talking about tents in the back fields."

Ron stops and looks at her. "No, I did not know that."

"They're wolves, Ron." She lets him hold her close, pressing her nose into his clean, warm shirt. He smells like home and soap and inevitability. It's a wonderful calming smell. "Some of them at least. Please tell me you've at least sent for the other Aurors?"

Dawlish winces. "She's right. Perhaps we should get out now and go find ourselves some help."

"We can't leave Harry, though," Ron says. "Or Draco."

From the awkward look in Ron's eyes, Hermione deduces that Draco and Harry are now obviously together in some sort of romantic way, more so than before. He may worry about social appearances, but Ron doesn't ever stop being a loyal friend, even if the situation challenges him. Hermione loves that about him.

She looks past them, to the small house elf standing in the doorway of her cell. For a moment she only sees the Malfoy crest on his tea towel, and she freezes, but Ron just strokes her arm. "That's Dobby," he says. "Milord's elf. He helped us find you."

"Oh," Hermione says. She smiles at the elf. "Thank you."

Dobby bobs, his wide ears flapping. "Master Draco is being upstairs with Master Harry," he says, twisting the hem of his tea towel between his fingers. "Dobby can be taking you to them, if you is liking?"

Hermione exchanges a look with Ron. "We would, please."

Dawlish hesitates. "I don't like this. It's not proper protocol--"

"Sod protocol," Ron snaps. "Harry's upstairs. We're not leaving him behind. There's no question here." He meets Dawlish's gaze, his chin raised. Hermione thinks she probably shouldn't find that so terribly attractive. Not now. Not here.

Dawlish looks away first. "Fine," he says. "Elf, lead the way."

Hermione's legs only tremble a little as she follows them out of her cell, and when she leans a bit heavily on Ron, he grasps her close with a strong arm and supports her silently as they make their way above stairs.

***

"Have you lost your mind?" Harry says, stepping out of the shadows and into the open foyer. His heart's in his throat; there's no way to defend himself from here. They're visible on all sides, and there's nothing, not even a bloody suit of armour, to hide behind.

Draco's looking up the staircase. "I know what I'm doing, Harry," he says, but Harry's not quite certain he really does. No one in their right mind would make themselves this vulnerable. "You want a diversion; I want some answers. This gets us both what we need." He draws in another breath. "Father!"

There's a sound from above, sharp, fierce cracks, and then they're surrounded by men in dark cloaks and masks made of wolf skulls. Harry's knuckles are white around his wand, and he backs up against Draco, a growl deep in his throat. Draco's still against him, barely breathing, seemingly oblivious to the wands pointed at them. For a moment, Harry thinks he should have known better than to believe Draco knew what he was doing, and then Draco's hand brushes against his, his fingers curl around Harry's wrist, and Harry calms. His breath evens out; his heart steadies, falling into rhythm with his mate's.

A tall man with long, silvery-gold hair walks down the staircase, a silver-capped stick in one hand, the other gliding along the bannister. He stops at the top of the landing, looking down at them with a faint smile.

"And so my son returns again," Lucius Malfoy says. "With a little wolf in tow."

Harry tenses, but Draco's fingers press lightly against his skin. "Where is she, Father?" Draco asks.

"Granger?" Lucius raises a shoulder, then lets it drop. "Somewhere."

Harry lurches forward, but a wand in his chest stops him. "She'd best be alive," he says. "Or you'll pay."

"The wolf has teeth," another voice says, and Lucius is joined by a man dressed in a charcoal and red Auror uniform. Harry recognises him instantly.

"Perseus Wright." Harry spits the name out. He'd never liked the man, if he's honest. There'd always been something off about him; seeing him here only confirms it. "I thought you were supposed to be out hunting me down."

"Oh, I thought I'd let Mitchell do that," Wright says with a smile. "You should thank me, though. I kept him away from Shell Cottage for you." At Harry's stunned blink, Wright laughs. "Your wards were good, but not that good, Potter." His lip curls. "You always did think you were better than the rest of us."

"No longer," Lucius drawls. He walks down the rest of the steps, his eyes fixed on his son. The cloaked figures draw back, making room for him. He stops in front of Draco. Harry almost thinks his eyes are sad, but then Lucius's face hardens as he looks Draco up and down. "What a disappointment," he says. "An invert son who happens to be a wolf with no bite. No power."

Draco growls. "I wouldn't be so certain of that, Father."

"But I am." Lucius strokes the silver serpent of his walking stick across Draco's cheek, over the pale, thin scar that's barely visible on his skin; Draco flinches. He raises it as if to strike Draco, but before it can land, Harry grabs the shaft.

"Don't," Harry says, and he can feel the shift taking place, teeth sharpening, face lengthening, body starting to twist.

"Harry." His name is spoken softly, but with authority. Draco's looking at him, and there's something shining in his eyes that Harry doesn't quite understand, but he responds to it. His body settles, becomes human again.

Lucius looks between them, interest sparking on his pale face. "How very intriguing," he says, thoughtfully. He studies Harry for a moment, then steps back. "Perseus, do have your men escort my son and his mate to the reception room. I rather think our guests would be delighted to see them."

At a snap of Wright's fingers, the cloaked men close back around Harry, separating him from Draco.

He catches a glimpse of Draco's determined face in the throng. Their eyes meet, and warmth floods through Harry. He's terrified. He's no idea what's in store for them. But as he focuses on the connection to Draco, he knows they can get through this.

They don't really have a choice.

***

The corridors beneath the Manor twist and turn on themselves, confusing Ron's usually excellent sense of direction. Even with Dobby guiding them, they get lost twice, coming abruptly to a bricked off wall. Dobby mutters under his breath, his forehead furrowed and retraces his steps, leading them into yet another dank, narrow underpassage.

At one point Ron can hear the stomp of heavy, booted feet above them, along with the muted rumble of voices. Dobby stops, head tilted, listening. Dust falls from the ceiling.

"What is it?" Ron asks, but Dobby puts a finger to his lips. The footsteps pass.

"The Masters is being taken to the reception room," Dobby says, a worried look crossing his face. Ron doesn't really want to consider what it means that the elf's already calling Harry Master too. Dobby hurries down the corridor. "Come," he says over his shoulder. "Master Draco is being very upset when they is bringing him there."

Ron catches up with him, Hermione and Dawlish at his heels. "But why?" Hermione asks. She ducks beneath a stone arch.

Dobby doesn't look back. "That is being where his mother is dying," he says simply, and he leads them up a stone staircase.

They climb and climb. Dawlish is huffing behind Ron, and Hermione keeps tripping on the hem of her dress. Ron catches her once, before she tumbles backwards into him.

"Thanks," she says, and she smiles at him. The past day has been horrific, Ron thinks, not knowing where she was, if she was alive. He's mad about Hermione, and he thinks she's mad about him in return. He doesn't ever want to lose her again. She gives him a curious look as they start climbing steps again. "What?" she asks.

"If we get out of this alive," Ron says bluntly, "I want to marry you. I know you don't believe in the institution--"

"Yes," Hermione says and Ron blinks at her.

"Yes?"

She nods and brushes a lank curl back from her cheek. She's dirty and exhausted and she smells a bit minging, but she's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. "I want to," Hermione says with a small smile. "I know what I said, but maybe I was just frightened of it all. So, yes. I'll marry you."

Ron wants to whoop with joy. Instead he leans over and kisses her cheek. "I love you," he murmurs.

Hermione beams at him. "I know."

"Joy," Dawlish huffs from behind them. "Heartfelt congratulations and all, but if you could keep moving, that would be brilliant."

Ron just grins and takes Hermione's hand.

They reach a landing. There's another small elf-door set deep into the wall. Dobby drags a finger across it, and it creaks open. They slide out behind him, into a forgotten side hallway hung with dusty tapestries. It's eerily silent.

"Where are we?" Ron asks Dobby. He doesn't like being this deep into the Manor; the prickles of dark magic are uncomfortable against his skin.

The elf pads towards the end of the hallway. "Near the Long Gallery," he says. He quirks a finger at them, and they follow, as quietly as possible.

Sconces line the main hall, casting a faint flickering light across the dark, wooden floor. The four of them slip through the shadows, trying not to wake the occasional portrait slumbering in its frame.

Dobby brings them to an open area, a long stretch of hallway that has a balustrade along one side. It overlooks the floor below before turning into a gracefully curved set of marble steps. Ron crouches next to the balustrade, peering down at the few cloaked figures beneath them. Dawlish squats beside him.

"Not too many," Dawlish says. "We've two wands and an elf between us. Disarm one of them, and Granger has a wand as well."

"And we have the element of surprise." Hermione kneels on Ron's other side. There's a smudge of mud across her cheek. It looks rather charming, he thinks. "If Dobby can get down there and distract them--"

"Oh, dear," a light voice says from behind them. "I'm terribly afraid that won't be necessary."

Ron turns. Madeline Pomfrey stands behind them, wand in her hand. Behind her are three larger figures, cloaked and masked with wolf skulls. Male, Ron's certain, judging from the wide shoulders and heavy hands.

"Expelliarmus," one of them snaps, and Ron's wand jerks from his grasp, flying across the gallery along with Dawlish's.

"Madeline," Hermione says. "Whatever has hold of you--"

A flick of Madeline's wand towards Hermione sends silvery spidery webs wrapping around her mouth, silencing her. "Quiet, girl," Madeline says, quite pleasantly. She walks towards them, twirling her wand between her fingers. "What to do with you? I suppose I could kill you here, but where's the fun in that, really? His Lordship might enjoy toying with you, though. And Merlin knows the Beast always does like playing with his dinner beforehand."

"His Lordship?" Ron asks. "Wouldn't that be His Excellency if you're referring to the marquess?" Wildly he thinks milord Malfoy might be pleased that his lectures on proper address somehow made it into Ron's thick skull. That thought annoys the shite out of him.

Madeline looks amused. "It would, should I be speaking of dear Lucius."

Ron doesn't know what to say. His mind spins. His Lordship. The Beast. The marquess. He doesn't bloody well know who's actually in charge of this mess, and that worries him. He's a methodical Auror, unlike Harry. He likes to know what he's getting himself into before he goes off storming the manor house. HIs eyes flick towards Hermione. There'd been extenuating circumstances here, though.

It takes him a moment to realise Dobby's disappeared. He wants to laugh. This lot doesn't even see the house elves, he realises. They're non-existent to them, just creatures who are bound to do their master's will. They haven't counted on the fact that they've trussed up both of Dobby's masters. Ron sincerely hopes the little bloke's gone for help.

"Should we take them downstairs, Maddie?" one of the masks asks. His voice is avuncularly cheerful. Entirely out of place for a man dressed like a nightmare from a Prussian fairy tale.

"Might as well," Madeline says. She keeps her wand fixed on Hermione. Ron doesn't trust her not to hex his girl. He tries to step between them but Madeline tuts and taps her wand. "Step aside, Mr Weasley. You wouldn't care to see Miss Granger hurt, I'm certain."

Ron steps back. Hermione gives him a small, rueful smile through the thin strands of webbing.

Dawlish fumbles in his pocket.

"Wand," another mask shouts, and, just as Dawlish pulls a small tube from his pocket and throws it on the ground, a blast of green light hits him square in the chest, knocking him over the balustrade. He falls to the floor below, his body landing with a sick thud. Screams and shouts echo from beneath them.

Ron's stunned, but he realises the sacrifice Dawlish has made when the tube he'd thrown bursts open and a bright light flies out. It zips through the air, circling the heads of the startled masks, before disappearing, back to Auror headquarters, Ron knows. Every Auror has one. Ron's is tucked deep in his pocket. It's a fail-safe, a last-ditch call for backup that's only used in cases of life or death.

Looking down at Dawlish's broken body, blood pooling beneath his head, Ron realises that is exactly what they're in.

He takes Hermione's hand as they're marched down the steps.

They'll make it through this alive.

He'll do everything he can to make certain of that.

***

He supposes it was inevitable, after all, that they would end up back here, at the place his mother died. The room is flickering with sconces, and Draco can see the marble pilasters on the far side of the hall, the antlers high above near the apex of the ceiling. If he closes his eyes, he can see that day in May, even smell the combination of lush peonies, new grass, and mud. Now, the fragrance on the wind is roses. His father must not have ripped out Mother's prize white roses from the side garden yet, though he'd threatened to do so many times after her death. They were her favourites, and as Draco breathes them now, he senses her presence with him, after all this time, and peace settles on his shoulders. Perhaps he'll see her soon.

"My son has brought the Auror with him," Lucius announces to the room in his stentorian tones. The look he gives Draco is filled with disgust. "His mate, I do believe, though that should serve our purposes well."

Draco sees a robed figure by the fireplace, and several in the center of the room wearing white wolf masks. He smells heavy incenses and strange, eldritch substances that can mean only one thing. They've walked in on a ritual, a dark one by the scent of it. There's blood in there, several types, and earth, and clay. Smoke rises from the two additional fires set in braziers in the center of the hall. He sees knots of white-masked faces shift, clustered in two groups around the braziers. There are figures lying on two of the tables from the library--they must be the victims.

As he takes it in, he realises the Beast is here. Harry flinches at his side as the fierce, tawny, sinewy figure approaches them nose first. Draco shifts against Harry, rubbing arm against arm gently to soothe him.

The Beast approaches closer and Draco fully sees him for the first time. He's known him for years, he realises, following him from the shadows. Something tries to flicker in Draco's head. He's seen him before, here in this room, once upon a time, but he's not sure when exactly.

"Draco." The Beast sniffs the air close to his hair, and Draco refuses to bow or cringe. He watches his father instead, letting his face settle into a mirror of that dispassionate air. "I've waited so long for you, my boy. And look at you, you're an alpha now, aren't you? You're not the little lordling you once were. You have tasted blood now. You're ready for power." He glances disdainfully at Harry. "Even if you've chosen a filthy invert companion far beneath your station."

Draco blinks, stomach turning at the power creeping nearer and nearing. It's like something inside of the Beast is reaching towards him, and it's distinctly unsettling even among Draco's rather extensive experiences with dark magic.

Lucius frowns. "Answer him, Draco."

He can't help but laugh then. "Oh no, old man. Once, perhaps, I would have cared. But now, I've seen the forces of Hell gathered, and I don't fear you any more."

He once stood here, he once held a conversation much like this with his father, and he yielded, he knows in his heart he yielded. What had he done and when was this? Draco remembers it bodily, but it calls nothing comparable to mind.

"Ever the young rebel," comes a sibilant, low voice from the fire, vibrant with power. In it he hears approval. "There is power in you, Draco, but you must learn to yield."

"Professor Riddle." Draco nods his head in greeting, letting his blond forelock hide the confusion that must be writ on his face. What is his old Oxford tutor doing here? He hadn't seen him at the Manor since his mother died.

"Draco, what's going on?" Harry is struggling not to run, Draco can tell. They've several strong wolf-guards at the entrances, and there's no good way out. Not to mention the intensity of the dark magic. The emanations in the room are unparalleled, even in his experience, and Draco's head hurts. Harry must be picking it up too, although he doesn't know the setting as well as Draco does.

In fact, Draco's been in this exact situation before. He's sure of it. Also on a ritual night. A decade ago. His breath catches; his heart stutters with the physical memory, the pain, the terror.

This isn't just where his mother'd died. He'd also been turned here.

The Beast is at his side, his breath hot against Draco's ear. "Would you like to finish what we started, Draco?" At Draco's flinch, he chuckles, low and deep. "You're remembering again, aren't you, little lordling?"

"Don't listen to him," says Harry from Draco's other side. "It can't be good." When the Beast snarls, Draco shifts instinctively to protect Harry with his body. If they try to harm his mate, they'll have to go through him first.

Draco looks from his old tutor, to his father, to the Beast. Something is afoot, and he's missing a few of the pieces, but he can't let them know. He regains his cool, the mask of politesse slipping back over his features. "I'm sorry to disappoint, but we're really not here to participate in your secret society."

The Beast looks sober for a moment, a flicker of humanity crossing its face, and Draco sees Gellert. This was his father's tutor at Göttingen, Dumbledore's friend in the Pensieve. He's still there, human. And he's dying, Draco realizes with a shock. There's a pallor to his face, a lifelessness. When the Beast recedes, the human is weak.

"We need him to be willing," Riddle says to Lucius. "Were you planning on coercing him? It won't work for the ritual. The vessel for the Beast must be willing."

"No need," says a voice from the back of the hall. A smaller, older female figure in a robe comes forward, leading two wolf-head masks and two bound figures. "We have a something that they want."

Harry cries out. "Ron. Hermione!"

Draco almost hears their fate seal shut. This is how they will do it. They will threaten to kill Harry's friends, so he and Harry will agree to anything. And then they will kill them anyway, but it won't matter. He'll be past caring then. He'll be the Beast.

He draws in a slow, ragged breath, awareness of their situation settling deep in his chest.

"Very well," Draco says, turning towards the Beast. If nothing else he might buy Ron and Hermione some time. "I agree."

"You don't," Harry says, but Draco just gives him an even, gentle look. "Draco. No. You can't!"

"It's all right, Harry." Draco's fingers brush the back of his mate's hand. "There's no other choice."

Harry looks devastated. "I…" He glances towards Weasley and Granger, who are pushed closer, worn but alive, and so very human in this moment compared with the Beast in front of them. Harry raises a hand, and Draco knows what he's going to do. His breath catches, and hope bubbles up in him.

A flash of blue light zips towards Granger and Weasley, but it's met with a flash of red, and it explodes in a shower of white sparks. Riddle's standing between Harry and his friends, a small smile curving his thin lips.

"I think not, Mr Potter," Riddle says. "Although your wandless skills are quite impressive, I must say. Still, you'll need much more than a Relashio to save your friends." He bares sharp teeth as he laughs. "This is true power you're facing, lad. Your Auror training can't hold a candle to it."

Draco can sense the moment Harry understands they have no other choice than to comply. His shoulders slump; his head bows.

"I'm sorry," Weasley says, and Granger nods. Her fingers pull at the silvery web binding her lips together, trying to get it off.

Harry comes alongside Draco, and he feels his mate's presence supporting him. Draco looks at his father. "What do you want?"

The curt smile on his father's face is terrifying. "You will take on the Fenris-wolf from Gellert. It's time for him to lay the wolf down. His body can no longer contain the spirit. Your mate will allow Tom Riddle to drain his magic to become the Jörmungandr. In return, your friends will live, as will you. Stronger. Better. More powerful, Draco." His father's eyes are mad. "Well, you. Your mate will just survive, but he'll still be at your side." The look he gives Harry is full of revulsion.

Alive. Without magic, Draco thinks, and with the Beast, but perhaps it's the best bargain they'll get. He doesn't know which he prefers, although he's glad they can save Harry's friends. Perhaps. "I'll hold you to your word, Father," he says. "Weasley and Granger go free, unharmed, or my first act as the Beast will be to rip your damned throat out."

His father tilts his head in agreement. "I give you my word as a Malfoy." It's not much, Draco knows, but Lucius will hold his end of the bargain. He's too much pride not to, once he's pledged his word in front of his ancestral hearth.

"You don't have to do this," Weasley shouts, and the old woman strikes him, knocking him to the floor. Draco's stunned by her strength. There's something deathless in her as well; he can see it cross her face: for one moment beautiful, the next hideous. It fades back, the human taking control once more.

"It must be done, wizardling." The look on her wrinkled face is fierce, and Draco sees the power in her eyes. She looks at Lucius. "We're running out of time. I don't know how long I can hold the worlds aligned."

"Open the rune circles," Riddle intones, his voice echoing in the shadowy hall. He'd always had a flair for the dramatic, his old classics tutor. The delight he'd taken in Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis had unsettled Draco more than once. Riddle had always been enthralled by the idea of sacrifice for power. Draco's not entirely surprised to find him caught up in his father's madness.

The robed figures begin to move, to take their places around the room. Draco hears a gasp and his eyes struggle to focus properly on the scene revealed before him.

"They're children," Granger says, as Harry stiffens in shock next to Draco. She's managed to loosen the bindings across her mouth. "It's Freddy and Hestia."

The two small forms are bound and drugged on the tables, the boy with eyes closed, sandy hair dirty, the girl half-awake, her dark curls stark against her pale face.

Draco turns in fury to his father. "I thought you said they had to be willing," he snarls. He's not surprised, exactly, that his father would be party to this, but he is appalled.

But he sacrificed you a small voice inside of him says. He's not sure if it's memory or a figment of his fevered mind. And you were naught but a child.

Lucius waves a hand heavy with jewelled rings. "With children, it doesn't matter. They can be coerced, and the magic will still take. They can't resist the Beast." He smiles thinly. "And unlike Muggles and Squibs their bodies are able to contain the spirits. It helps, of course, that they've already been turned." He looks towards the Beast. "The voices chose wisely, Gellert, when they directed you towards them."

"Why do you need two?" Harry's voice is a shock to Draco's ears, given how little they've spoken. "Can't the one who takes on the Beast serve for the Serpent?"

"No." Riddle says before Lucius can answer. "There must be two at the same time. The Snake and the Wolf are brothers, and the sacrifices must be bonded as well." He touches the children's hair, stroking it lightly. "These siblings would have served the spirits well."

And then the last piece becomes clear to Draco. He and Harry are bonded. His father knew this when he brought them in. They will do in place of the children, and the bond will increase the strength of the rite's success and solidify his father's power base if his son sacrifices himself to Fenris and his mate allows Riddle to embody Jörmungandr. How his father's ambitions had grown! When his mother had died, the goal had merely been Draco's service of the Beast. Now, they want to bring down another mythical being as well. He looks at Weasley and Granger, then over to Harry. They don't even have to speak; they know what the other will say. Draco tilts his head, and Harry nods.

"We'll do it," Harry says. "I'm assuming this is what my parents refused to do."

Riddle laughs. It's a low and menacing sound in the flickering candles. "I knew from the start that your father had been sent by the Aurors, but your mother refused to leave you. I only wanted the two of them, but she didn't care to join us willingly. Your father was curious enough to see the rite, although I suspect he thought he could send for the Aurors before we finished. James always did think too much of himself, didn't he, Lucius?" At Lucius's snort, Riddle shrugs. "Your mother, however, signed their death warrant; if she'd only come with me, they'd be alive now. After a fashion. Pity. I did quite dislike having to kill them both, but needs must, yes?"

"You bastard," Harry says, and when he lunges towards Riddle, he's jerked back by Draco's hand on his arm.

"Don't, Harry," Draco says. "He's not worth it. None of them are.

There's been so much death, he thinks. There are so many bodies, so many families broken, so many lives lost for these few men and women to have the power they crave. Draco hadn't cared for his life before, hadn't thought it worth living to be honest, but something about the fragile trust he's established with Harry gives him hope for the future, gives him something worth living for. And now he's being asked to give it all up.

The unfairness of it all is almost overwhelming.

Draco turns and kisses Harry, hard and passionate in front of his father and everyone. He hears the Beast snarl in disgust, and he doesn't care. To hell with the rest of them, he thinks. He won't hide how he feels any longer. He and his mate gaze at each other as if no one else is in the room. Harry's eyes are green and wide.

"I love you." Draco says. "I'm sorry we didn't have more time."

Harry kisses him again, teeth pulling at his lower lip. "This isn't over, Draco Malfoy. You can't get rid of me this easily."

And in that moment, it's the funniest thing Draco has ever heard, and he laughs. In the face of death and his father, Draco is strong with his mate. Let them try to end this!

"Together?" he asks quietly, and Harry nods.

"Into the shadow of death," Harry says with a small smile, and his fingers curl around Draco's, holding them tight. In that moment, Draco loves Harry fiercely, madly, completely.

Hands reach for them, pulling them away from one another, and then they're both being led to the tables, the robes parting as they arrive. The guards come to take the drugged children away after they are unbound from the tables. Draco takes a deep breath, and lies down in the spot the little boy had just occupied. When they bring the drugged wine, he refuses it. "I don't need poppy to get through this."

Gellert leans over him, his breath foul with rot, but his face almost kind. The wolf has receded, if only for a brief moment. "My boy, you have no idea," he says, voice breaking. "You'll never be sated again." His eyes are wild, mad, and Draco wonders if he regrets his choice. What would Gellert's life have been if he could have accepted what Dumbledore had offered him, as a friend or as a lover?

"I pity you," he says. "Albus loved you, you know."

And with a growl the Beast is back, his fingers tight on Draco's throat. "Filth," he snarls, claws digging into Draco's throat. Draco gasps for air, his windpipe nearly crushed, until his father calls out.

"Gellert."

The Beast withdraws. Draco resists the urge to clasp his throat, to breathe deeply. He mustn't show weakness. Not in front of his father.

Draco can't see Harry, but he feels him close by, as close as if they lay side-by-side in bed. He thinks it's the bond between them, stronger than ever, holding them together. If it should break, he doesn't know what he'd do, but it's solid now, and so he has the courage to meet the rest of his fate.

"I'm ready," he says simply, his voice raw and rough, and this time he drinks when they give him the cup, not even asking what the liquid is. It's sweet like honey and foul like carrion, his head is light, and then the room is ablaze.

He thinks he sees his mother, hovering close to him, her lips moving but he can't hear what she says. He listens harder, straining to hear. She comes closer, weaving between the robed, masked forms, until she's stroking his hair. He can't feel the pressure of the hand, but he is warmed anyway by the sensation of her presence.

"Draco. My son," she says. "I'm so proud of you. Don't be afraid."

If he turns, he can see Severus next to Harry, and two other forms, wraith-like but distinct. One of them has Harry's grin and the other his eyes. It must be his parents, James and Lily Potter. Severus must have brought them all here.

Draco knows he's beyond help, but he feels lighter, knowing his mother is there for the end. "Thank you, Mother. I'm sorry."

He's surprised to find a tear leaking from the corner of his eye. She smiles at him, leaning in close. "You've done nothing wrong. I love you."

"I love you too," he says, and his eyelids come down as Riddle begins to chant, first in Old Icelandic, than in English, the chorus around him echoing him in the ancient words of the prophetess.

"Brothers will fight," Riddle says.

"And kill each other." The chorus of voices is loud and booming.

"Sisters' children." It sounds like the old woman now, although there are other voices within her voice.

"Will defile kinship," the throng replies in unison, like a parish to their vicar on a Sunday morning. Draco wonders madly how many of them will sit in their family pew at the next service, prim and proper, the Book of Common Prayer clutched in their hands. His father, for one, he's certain. And then his arm is cut with a knife, and the growl that he hears is from his own mouth.

"It is harsh in the world." His father's voice is untroubled by concern for his son. He must be well and truly mad, Draco thinks, and perhaps he always has been.

"Whoredom rife." A howl of wolves goes up from the forecourt; Draco's not sure whether it's part of the ritual or something in his own mind.

The chanting continues in the group, their call and response trading off with the three leaders. Gellert, Draco notices, doesn't chant.

"An axe age, a sword age--shields are riven." The stomping of feet starts, the floor echoing with boots and echoes. The howling rises, and Draco smells the keen scent of blood.

"A wind age, a wolf age--" When they reach this point, the Beast reaches for Draco. Draco hears hissing from the other side, and wonders what Harry can see. He doesn't feel terror, though, only resolve. Harry's strength is his strength, and he is grateful for the calming presence of his mate. He wonders idly if they will both lose their magic through the bond.

Riddle's voice rises to become truly awe-inspiring. "Before the world goes headlong."

It's the end of the world, Draco thinks. They want the world to be theirs, and if it is, he wants no part of it.

"No man will have mercy on another."

That's all we bloody need. Draco thinks, fighting to stay conscious and in control against the power of the potion and the power of the Beast that is leaching into his bones, swelling. We don't need to have power. We need to have mercy.

When the force of the Beast hits him, his body coils off the table. Generations of blood sacrifice and the death of the gods sing in his sinews. He is no longer Viscount Malfoy, heir of the Marquess Avebury. He is no longer Draco. He is no longer anything so small, anything so human. He is ripping and rending power in its very core, and he has the strength to consume worlds.

"Hold on, just a little longer," his mother whispers, drowning out the voices around him. She looks up, past the horde surrounding Draco. "Help is coming."

"Harry," he croaks, barely able to form a sound against the tide that engulfs him. "Where is he?"

Narcissa brushes against him, a cool ripple against the heat rolling off his skin. "We'll protect him, little one," she says, and Draco misses her so fiercely. The memories come spilling back then, him on his knees in front of the Beast, his father telling him to give in, to take this responsibility, to be the scion of the Malfoy family he was meant to be.

His back arches as pain shoots through him. He feels as if he exists on two levels, one himself, the other the creature that's pressing into his mind, ripping his memories open, filling him with power.

"No," he says, trying to push back, and then he understands what his father's done to him, how he'd set him loose in the house when he'd been moon mad, knowing his wife was in this room waiting for them and their guests. She'd been his sacrifice, he realises, and at that moment he hates his father with an intense, burning fury.

Draco cries out. The spirit of Fenris fills him, calls out to the wolf within Draco, forces him to remember what he'd done through other eyes, how he'd torn his mother's throat open as his father and Gellert had watched. This is you, Fenris murmurs at him in a rough and raw voice. Another flash and Draco remembers fighting before, pushing the wolf away, refusing his father's urging to take more, to be more, to drink her blood, building the wolf's power through an act of sacrifice. The arc of walking stick as it falls through the air, striking Draco's back. Fool! His father's voice echoes in his mind, and Draco knows then what his father has done. What his father has forced him to be. What he refused, sitting on the floor, his mother's body in his arms, her blood streaking his hands, his face.

He'd said no.

Gellert had wanted him dead. His father had refused. He wasn't fool enough to give up his heir, no matter how disappointing he might be.

The Obliviation had been swift. They'd left behind only glimpses of what had made him a wolf.

This is who you are, Fenris cries. Accept your duty.

Draco is poised on the edge of a great chasm. The wolf inside of him howls for power, desperate to be consumed by Fenris. His humanity resists, as it did all those years past.

This time, however, he's not certain his centre can hold.

***

Harry hears Draco's scream. He struggles to be loose, but pale hands hold him down, pressing him back against the table. He can see his mother, his father, Severus behind them, and he knows he'll be with them soon.

The chanting grows stronger over his body, and he can feel his magic draining, sliding from his fingertips and circling in the air above him in shimmering spirals. His scar on his forehead throbs in pain. He tries to resist, tries to pull back on his magic, tug it back into his body, but he only manages to slow it down.

Riddle's face is above him, once handsome but now haggard and worn, and Harry watches as a thick, black snake slithers from Riddle's palm and lands on Harry's chest, coiling beneath the curls of magic. It raises its flat, narrow head and hisses, forked tongue flicking the air.

"Yes, Nagini," Riddle croons to the serpent. "His magic is strong, is it not? Can you taste it, my sweet?" He holds his hand out, and the serpent slides from Harry to Riddle, curling its tail around his wrist. Harry can't help but be reminded of the mark on his back--and Draco's: the serpent eating its own tail.

He wishes they'd had more of a chance to explore their bond. It seems so hopeless to have found each other again just to be lost to this madness. Suddenly Harry is tired, and he wants to give up. If this is the end, this is the end.

"Why are you waiting, Riddle? Just take it and be done with it." As Harry speaks, he can hear Draco struggling, knows that he's fighting a more formidable opponent. He can't give in this easily.

"Let me have your magic, Potter." Riddle's voice slides into his consciousness, between the layers of his will. "It isn't such a bad fate, to live without the burden of magic. Just look at all the Muggles, living their pathetic little lives, never knowing what lies just beyond their grasp."

Harry's magical field crackles, and he thinks wildly that it must be over, that he's already lost whether he fights it or not. The world pulls, and Harry is hooked through his navel by a powerful force, which reaches to the root of his soul.

The backlash wave of magic surprises him. It seems to arise between the two tables where he and Draco are bound, but it resonates deep within Harry. His body is thrumming with power; he can sense Draco as if they were joined in a wave of energy. His shoulder twinges, and then Riddle is struck in the chest by a large ball of light. He falls to the floor in a flutter of black robe with the snake thumping heavily on top of him. It twists and writhes, jaws snapping at the shimmering light that falls around them.

Harry barely breathes, not really knowing what just happened. He's suddenly free of the terrible, probing weight. Everything is happening all at once but at the same time, nothing appears to be moving. It's as if time is suspended for a moment.

He turns his eyes over to Draco, who has pulled himself off the table and, having shifted, has his jaws sunk into Gellert's throat. Harry supposes he should be frightened, but his inner self tells him this is how it has to be, this is right.

Harry focuses his energy on the spot where Riddle drew magic from his body, smoothing over the tear and then closing the scar. He's sealed into a bubble of glowing light, and Riddle is cursing, crawling heavily over to the place where Draco is fighting the Beast, the snake coiled around his body. As Draco struggles and the body of Gellert Grindelwald falls lifeless to the floor, Harry sees Riddle with the snake, drinking in something from the prone form of the former Beast.

The doors crash open in a wave of charcoal and red. Aurors pour into the room, wands flashing jets of blue-white light. Robed men and women scatter, some scrabbling over the bodies of their comrades, others Disapparating through the fallen Manor wards with loud cracks.

And then from the Manor kitchens, a small but doughty group appears, large ears flapping as they run into the mêlée. Tiny figures dressed in rags wield candlesticks, cleavers, and broken garden rakes against the robed figures. One of them even has an ancient battle mace bigger than than his head that he must have taken from a wall. At their front, Dobby is shouting, "For the Masters!" Their magic is strong, and the bolts of the enemy don't touch them. Harry watches as a particularly vicious spell bounces off of an elf's silver salver and hits another wolf mask square in the face.

From the corner of his eye, Harry catches a glimpse of Kingsley at the front of the Aurors, shouting orders while casting without pause for breath. When he manages to cut Ron and Hermione free, they both grab wands from bodies crumpled on the floor. The fight's quick and brutal; the Aurors show little mercy, and the house elves none at all.

Riddle stands up, a silvery substance smeared across his mouth. When Harry looks at him, the smile Riddle gives him is thin and vicious. He's a powerful enemy, Harry realises, and for the briefest of moments he can see the face of Jörmungandr superimposed over Riddle's, with its flat, serpentine nose and cold, glittering eyes. It fades into the man, and as it does Harry's forehead burns, the scar above his eye tightening painfully. He sees a flash of the battle, but through Riddle's eyes, not his own. It's over in an instant, but his gaze meets Riddle's, and Harry understands. They share a magic now: the magic that Riddle stole from Harry, and Riddle's magic that Harry received when the spell broke.

That cruel, knife-thin smile returns. "Until later, Mr Potter," Riddle murmurs. "I feel quite certain we'll meet again, don't you?" With a swirl of his black cloak, he Disapparates before Harry can answer.

Harry's shield explodes in a burst of pale green light. He staggers forward, catching himself painfully on the edge of the table. And then Draco's there, his arm around Harry, holding him up.

"Hey," Harry says, looking up into impossibly grey eyes. "You've got a little…" He reaches up and wipes silvery blood from Draco's chin.

Draco's eyes crinkle. "Sorry."

"Are you...you?" Harry say. The question is asinine, but Draco seems to understand.

"Yeah." He leans heavily into Harry. "I'm myself."

The sounds of battle die down. A few robed bodies lie crumpled on the floor. Some of the robed and masked individuals are gone, haveing fled into the night. The rest are being rounded up by Aurors, including Draco's father and small elderly woman whose lip curls when Harry looks at her. She spits in his direction.

"Charming," Draco says, and then Kingsley's in front of them, wand drawn. His eyes are cold when he looks at Harry.

"Potter," he says. "Hands out."

Harry doesn't bother resisting. With a flick of his wand, Kingsley casts a silvery cord around Harry's wrists. It tightens if he pulls at it, he knows that full well. He's used it on many a criminal wizard himself.

"What grounds do you have for taking him in?" Draco demands. "He just thwarted a serious threat to magical security."

Kingsley scowls. "He's unregistered, to begin with, Lord Malfoy. And he was turned by that thing." He gives Gellert's crumpled body a disdainful look.

"He very much was not," Draco snaps. "I turned him, if you must know. And if you're going to throw Harry in Azkaban for not being registered, you might as well put me there too." He straightens his shoulders. "I'm unregistered, and I'm the one who was turned by that creature. Not Harry."

Harry says, "Draco." He's nonplussed. Draco'd been so very determined to keep his lycanthropy secret.

"Shut it," Draco says to Harry. "I already told you I loved you."

Harry can't help the smile that threatens to break his face.

"Oh, bloody hell," Kingsley says. He looks frustrated. "Fine. I'll take both of you to headquarters, and we'll sort this out there."

"No!" Dobby advances, a particularly wicked looking toasting fork in hand. He shakes it at Kingsley and red sparks fly from the crooked tines. "You is not taking the Masters, sir!"

Privately, Harry'd like to see the Head Auror have his arse handed to him by a house elf with a steely eye and a charmed kitchen implement, but, to his disappointment, Draco intervenes. "It's fine, Dobby," Draco says. "Harry and I are more than happy to accompany the Aurors."

"But--" Dobby looks between Draco and Kingsley. "Master Draco, sir--"

"Go back to Berkeley Square," Draco says, his voice gentle. "If I'm not there by midmorning, tell Greg to owl my solicitor, yes?"

Dobby nods and lowers the toasting fork, which is now giving off forlorn curls of smoke. He doesn't look happy, though, and Harry's still not certain the fork won't end up stuck in Kingsley's thigh.

Draco holds out his hands, watching Harry as Kingsley secures his wrists. His eyes are soft and warm. Harry wants nothing more than to lean over and press his lips to Draco's once more, the Aurors be damned. He manages not to--but only barely.

Instead he calls out to Ron and Hermione, who are waking up Freddy and Hestia. "Get the children to Tonks and then come get us out of these when you can." He holds up his bound hands. Hermione looks indignant and fierce. Harry grins. He'd hate to be in charge of the holding cells in the next hour or so.

Kingsley grabs Harry and Draco each by an elbow and Apparates them away, leaving behind the wrecked great hall of Draco's ancestral home.

Good riddance is all that Harry can think.

***

Kingsley lets Harry and Draco cool their heels in holding for the rest of the night. He at least has the decency to put them in the same cell and far apart from Lucius and the other members of the Stella Matutina, for which Harry's quite grateful. It's the difference between a quiet night and one in which they'd probably have their teeth knocked in at best. Harry doesn't want to think what the worst might be.

Draco stretches out on the bench in the cell, his head in Harry's lap, and sleeps. He must be tired, Harry thinks. They don't talk about what happened, not here where there are monitoring spells, but Harry can tell his mate's exhausted from whatever it was that he took on from the Beast. Harry strokes Draco's hair back away from his face, watching him sleep. He doesn't know if it's the bond or not--or if he even cares whether it is--but he loves milord. That thought gives him shivers, but he doesn't mind. It's worth a few shivers, Harry thinks.

Ron comes by just before dawn. He looks like hell, but when he sees Harry with Draco sprawled over him, he just sighs.

"Am I going to have to put up with that for the rest of my life?" he asks.

Harry wraps a lock of Draco's hair around his fingertip. "Maybe."

Ron rolls his eyes.

"Are they still booking people?" Harry asks, and Ron nods.

"No one's gone home." Ron shoves his hands in his pockets and rocks on his feet. "I told Kingsley he has the wrong idea about you."

"Thanks." Harry smoothes a hand down Draco's arm. He shifts and mumbles something into Harry's thigh. "Dawlish?"

Ron looks away. "He went down."

Grief rolls over Harry at the implication. "I'd hoped he'd got out," Harry says roughly. "Warned Kingsley."

"He did in a way." Ron reaches into his pocket and pulls out the metal tube every Auror carries. "Set it off before they killed him. We wouldn't have made it out without him."

Harry's throat is tight. "Good man, he was."

"The best," Ron says.

They're quiet for a moment, lost in memories of their old friend. Harry wonders who had the task of telling Dawlish's wife, then he looks up at Ron and realises he must have taken it on. He looks grim and dazed, the way one does after bearing that kind of news. "I'm sorry," he says. "You told Gwennie, didn't you?"

"Hermione went with me." Ron leans against the wall, his hair a splash of bright red against the whitewashed brick. "She helped. Gwennie was…." He trails off and raises his hands. "What do you tell a woman when her man's not coming home? It never gets easier, no matter how many times you do it." He sighs. "At least she had Jack with her. He's a good lad. Took it hard, but he'll be a rock for his mum."

"We'll have a drink for him later," Harry says, as if he knows he'll be released. With his luck, that drink'll come after twenty years in Azkaban. "Down the Leaky."

Ron nods. "Yeah. We will."

"Go home," Harry says after a moment. "Stop fretting over me. You need some sleep and a good shag, if Hermione's willing."

"She'll probably want the sleep more," Ron says, but he chuckles a bit. "I'll come back."

"We'll probably be gone," Harry says. "Tossed out on our ears when they realise we're the heroes of the day." He needs to see that furrow of worry between Ron's brows smoothed out.

It works, at least a little. Ron gives him a faint smile. "I've been shouting about it, mate. So has Hermione."

"I know." Harry jerks his chin towards the ward door. "Get out of here."

The cell's quiet after Ron leaves. Harry dozes off and on until an Auror rattles their cell door, opening it. Draco sits up and stretches, blinking at Harry. "I slept," he says, unnecessarily, and Harry smiles.

"You were tired."

The Auror leads them out past the other cells. In the last one, Lucius Malfoy sits in the corner, chewing on a fingernail. When he catches sight of Draco, he leaps up and runs for the barred door. "Draco," he says. "Draco, tell them I was Imperiused! I'd no idea what I was doing. Son!"

Draco walks past without even acknowledging his father.

"All right?" Harry asks.

"I'm fine," Draco says but his voice catches a bit. Not enough for most people to notice, but Harry's discovering that he sees a lot about Draco that everyone else seems to miss.

They're escorted up to Kingsley's office. Harry's not surprised to see Dumbledore there, standing at Kingsley's hearth, his hands clasped behind his back.

"Harry," he says. "Lord Malfoy." The headmaster at least has the decency to look chagrined.

The door closes behind them. Harry turns towards Kingsley, who stands up from behind his desk. "Tea?" Kingsley asks.

"Not unless it's doused with firewhisky." Draco takes one of the chairs in front of Kingsley's desk. Harry sits in the other. Draco looks at the Head Auror calmly. "So what exactly are you charging us with?"

Kingsley exchanges a glance with Dumbledore as he sits again. "We may have acted hastily," he admits. "We were under the impression Harry had been turned by Grindelwald." Kingsley's eyes flick towards Harry; he's still a bit nervous, Harry realises. He fights the urge to bare his teeth. Somehow he suspects that won't help matters any. "You can understand our concern about what might happen."

"Not really," Draco says. He crosses his ankle over his knee and slouches in his chair as if he doesn't give a bloody fuck that he's been dragged in front of the Head Auror. Harry has no damned idea how, even after spending a night in a holding cell deep in the underbelly of the Ministry, Draco can still come across so self-assured. He's not certain if it's the alpha in Draco or just the fact that he's an aristo bastard. Either way, Harry's most definitely drawn to him and his iron-clad confidence. Draco raises an eyebrow. "Particularly since it seems dear Gellert turned me." He holds out his hands. "And now he's dead."

"Yes, well." Dumbledore walks over, the hem of his robe trailing across Kingsley's thick carpet with a rustle. "That is rather a surprise, isn't it?" He studies Draco. "You took on the Fenris-wolf and appear to have survived." His eyes narrow. "Curious."

The look Draco gives him is obviously calculating. "You're concerned that I'm still hosting him, aren't you?" He laughs. "That's the thing, though. The only way to defeat him is to take him, willingly, and then say no." His face darkens, and Harry can only imagine the fight that had taken place in his mind. He reaches over and takes Draco's hand, his fingers twining with his mate's. Draco squeezes his hand lightly, but he doesn't pull away. He gives Dumbledore a defiant look. "He's gone. You can test me, if you'd like, but he never fully caught hold."

Kingsley clears his throat. "Believe me, we will, Lord Malfoy. For our safety and yours. In the meantime…" He twists a quill between his fingers. "Harry, you do have my apologies."

"But I won't be reinstated," Harry says. "My secret's out now."

"I'm afraid so." Kingsley looks down, and Harry can tell he's upset. "If you stay in Britain, you'll have to register. Until the laws are changed."

Harry nods. He's not certain what he'll do now. He's always been an Auror, always wanted to be one, to follow in his father's footsteps. There's a part of him that feels empty and lost, and then Draco's fingers tighten a bit around his. Maybe things will be all right. At some point. He draws in a deep breath, then exhales. "You sent my father after the Stella Matutina, didn't you?"

"We did," Dumbledore says wearily. "It appears they discovered we had done so, and Lucius sent Tom Riddle to take care of the situation. It was Riddle's entry into the inner circle, his initiation for lack of a better word."

"I'm sorry," Draco says to Harry. There's a furrow in his brow. "My father--"

"Isn't you." Harry gives him a small smile. "You aren't responsible for what he ordered."

Draco turns to Dumbledore. "He'll try to say he was under the Imperius Curse. He's lying. What he did to me--to my mother--" His voice cracks. "My father is not a good man."

"Your father wanted power," Dumbledore says gently. "Gellert offered it to him. When your father studied in Germany after Hogwarts, he took classes under Gellert's tutelage. He taught him about the children of Loki, of Hel and Fenris and Jörmungandr."

"But he was looking for the Hallows," Draco says. "Your memory--"

Dumbledore shakes his head. "Gellert and I had no idea what we were actually looking for. The Hallows are much older than the Peverell brothers, Draco. Remember, England's history is as much Norse as it is Saxon. In our legend Hel, the daughter of Loki, the ruler of the underworld, became Death. She gave the Hallows to three brothers, sharing the powers of her siblings. What we interpreted as actual objects were also attributes of the figures. The ability to walk among shadows belongs to Fenris, which Gellert agreed to take on once he found the cloak. The power of resurrection is Hel's; we suspect Madeline found the Stone, but she's refused to admit it when questioned tonight. The deep magic of nature belongs to Jörmungandr, the serpent who circles the world, his tail held in his mouth. The whereabouts of the Elder Wand are unknown, but you can be sure Riddle is looking for it."

Harry's suddenly aware of the mark on his shoulder, the serpent swallowing its own tail. He looks at Draco. Draco shakes his head, imperceptibly, but Harry knows he's as unsettled by that image as he is and what it might mean as a connection to the children of Loki. Draco pulls his hand away. Harry's fingers feel cold; he immediately misses the comfort of Draco's touch.

"As Albus says, we've questioned Madeline Pomfrey," Kingsley says. Somehow Harry thinks questioned might be an understatement. He knows the way interrogation is sometimes conducted by the Auror force, particularly on recalcitrant suspects. He suspects that, at the minimum, she was dosed with Veritaserum. He doesn't doubt he and Draco will be given it as well when their official interview is conducted. Harry doesn't care. He hasn't anything left to hide any longer. "What she's told us correlates to what little your father was able to discover, Harry, and what Albus knows of Gellert's original goal with the Morgenrothe."

"With Lucius' help, Gellert's been quietly growing their numbers, both on the Continent and here." Dumbledore looks grim. "The Morgenrothe in Germany is rising into positions of power, both within the wizarding and Muggle communities. Lucius had hoped the same would happen in England. He's been recruiting for decades. We've no idea how deep within the Ministry he's gone."

Draco's face is pale. "And Riddle?"

"Madeline says she recruited him once he fled Hogwarts," Dumbledore says. "After the…" He hesitates, considering Harry. "Incident."

"Severus, you mean." Harry looks over at Draco. This is probably a conversation they should have had earlier. Perhaps they might have seen the connexions earlier. "Riddle killed him. He'd been trying to set off an explosion outside of the Hufflepuff common room, and Severus attempted to stop him."

Dumbledore bows his head. "A great regret of mine. Severus was coming to warn me when Riddle caught up with him. He left the grounds immediately afterward, and we never caught up with him."

"You probably shouldn't have hired him in the first place," Draco points out. "Even at Oxford I knew he was a bit off his nut. He was a bit too intrigued by sacrifical ritual to be normal."

Dumbledore tilts his head in acknowledgement. "We have been rather unfortunate in our Defence professors over the years."

Harry just snorts. That's an understatement. The only one who'd lasted more than a year or two had been Remus and look how that'd ended, thanks to Lucius Malfoy and the board of governors. How ironic, all things considered.

"Madeline met Riddle in Paris," Kingsley says. "Brought him to Gellert. It seems Riddle rejected them all at first, claimed that he didn't need them. It wasn't until the marquess ran into him again not long after you were born, Lord Malfoy, that he appears to have joined their cause. I'm not entirely clear on the details, but Madeline implied that he was near death and she brought him back. Sometime after that, he snuck back into England and was hired on at Oxford. I suspect your father helped with that."

"Father insisted that he be my tutor at Oxford." Draco runs a hand through his dirty hair, pushing it back off his forehead. There are dark circles under his eyes, and a bruise purples his cheek. His shirt is still flecked with dried blood, his own and Gellert's. "I went along with it. I didn't really care at that point. I always did what Father wanted, and I liked the classics well enough." His mouth quirks to one side. "Riddle didn't seem any more eccentric than my Latin tutors at first." He sighs. "I can't recall everything. Father must have Obliviated me after--" He breaks off, and Harry knows he's thinking about his mother again. It takes a moment before Draco can continue. "I was drunk when they turned me. I don't remember much about it, to be honest. I must have said yes. Even pissed I would still have done anything to please him."

Harry touches the back of Draco's hand. "It's all right," he murmurs, not caring if Kingsley and Dumbledore hear him.

Draco gives him a faint smile. "I think they wanted me to take on Fenris back then, but Gellert..." He looks over at Dumbledore. "I don't understand."

"The wolf-spirit was draining his body," Dumbledore says. "Madeline kept bringing him back from death, but there's only so many times one can do that before the body and mind are destroyed."

"That's why he was losing his humanity." Harry looks over at Draco. "Every time the man died, only a little bit could come back."

Draco nods. "There's a price to be paid for necromancy." He bites his lip. "In Oxford, I was part of a group that performed a necromantic rite. The body was shrouded, but it must have been Gellert. Riddle arranged it, and there was a woman present…"

To Harry's surprise, Dumbledore looks suddenly interested. "Did you see a stone?"

Draco shakes his head. He looks a bit shattered. "Merlin. I could have stopped it then--"

"You didn't know." Harry leans forward in his chair, his gaze fixed on Draco. "You didn't know any of this."

"But I must have." Draco's voice rises. "I was in the middle of it all--" He stills, jaw tightening. "It was a week later. We did the rite, and a week later I was out drinking with my tutoring group down the Eagle and Child. I remember Flooing home, pissed out of my mind. The next morning I woke up and…" He looks at Harry. "You know what it's like."

Harry does. And at least he'd had people around him to explain it, to tell him what was happening to his body. "No one told you."

"Not at first," Draco says. ""But they must have at some point." His face twists; for a moment, Harry can see the ghost of the wolf inside. "I knew things I couldn't have known. And he was there--Gellert--when my mother died. He and my father, and they tried to make me--" He breaks off, his face ashen. "He sacrificed us both for power. For the wolf."

"But you didn't take the wolf on," Harry says. He's so very aware of Dumbledore watching them, an odd look on his face. Harry ignores him. "Not then. Not until you were strong enough to resist."

"I had a reason to this time," Draco says softly. "I had to help you."

Warmth floods Harry. He smiles. "I'm glad you did."

Draco looks at Dumbledore. "If Madeline, Gellert and Riddle took on the spirits, then what was my father? What made him who he is?"

"Your father is human, Draco," Dumbledore says, a softness in his voice. Harry recognises it from his schooldays, from those times when he'd needed comfort and care from the Headmaster. "He didn't take anything on; his pride and his ambition and his hatred were enough. They allowed him to think he had power when they were the ones pulling the strings."

"Fenris, Hel and Jörmungandr," Draco murmurs. Dumbledore nods. "Fenris is gone now."

"He'll find another host," Kingsley says wearily. "There were werewolves in the back garden of the Manor during the ritual. It's quite possible one of them has taken on Fenris. Some of them were Snatchers."

At Draco's puzzled look, Harry explains. "A gang of dark wizards and weres who'd snatch other werewolves and Imperius them to commit crimes."

"The original leaders are in Azkaban now," Kingsley says, "but we've heard reports that a new leader's risen up from the ranks. A were named Greyback." He looks at Harry. "Remus knows of him. He's the one who turned him when he was a child."

Draco swears under his breath. When Harry looks at him, Draco shakes his head. Later, he mouths at him. He doesn't want to betray any of his cousin's confidences in front of the Head Auror. He owes Tonks that after all the years she's kept his secret.

"You can't be an Auror any longer, Harry." Kingsley looks up at him, his face somber. "But that doesn't mean we don't need you. Or Lord Malfoy. Between Fenris on the loose and Riddle escaping again…" He sighs. "The Auror force would like your help. Unofficially, of course."

"Will the Auror force pay?" Draco asks. "Unofficially, of course."

A small smile quirks Kingsley's lips. "I'm certain that can be arranged."

Draco leans back and eyes Harry. "I'm not entirely opposed to the idea."

Harry looks at Kingsley. "Make Ron our liaison then. And promote him. Deputy Head Auror, I think."

"I can't promise that," Kingsley says. "You know how political that is."

Harry looks between Kingsley and Dumbledore. "Somehow, I think the two of you could arrange it. I'll be watching."

Draco stands with a studiously bland expression. "Are we free to go, gentlemen?"

"Yes," Kingsley says. "And I'll be watching as well. I assume my owls can reach you both at Berkeley Square?"

Harry and Draco look at each other then, caught off guard for a moment.

Harry smiles first. "It will hardly do for the new Deputy Head Auror and his bride to be living with an invert werewolf, will it?"

The gleam in Draco's eye is positively feral. "And I'm sure we'll need to keep in close contact for all of the…consulting."

A laugh from Dumbledore surprises them both. "Well done the both of you," he says, with a twinkle in his eye. "I'll expect a dinner invitation once your new household is established. Your mother would be disappointed otherwise." He looks between them. "Both mothers, actually."

"We'll do so, sir," Harry says.

Kingsley frowns. "Get out of my office, Potter," he says, but there's a tinge of warmth in his voice that hasn't been there the past few days. "I'll be in touch regarding the--" He clears his throat and eyes Draco. "Consulting."

Harry barely has a chance to laugh before Draco's pulling him out of the office. He finds himself two corridors down, pressed up against a wall, Draco's mouth on his. The kiss is warm and sweet and filled with possibility.

When Draco pulls back, Harry catches his wrist, keeping him close. "I love you," Harry says. "I think I may have missed saying the words last night."

Draco's smile flashes, and its brilliance makes Harry weak-kneed. "You do know I'll always remind you I said it first."

"In the midst of a deadly ritual," Harry points out. "When you didn't have to worry about living with the consequences."

"Doesn't matter." Draco glances around the empty hallway, then presses his lips to Harry's again. This kiss is softer, quicker. "You should take me home," he says. "I believe a near-death experience followed by Auror custody should allow an opportunity for me to have my wicked way with you."

Harry snorts, but his body tingles at the thought of being splayed out beneath Draco, his legs wrapped around Draco's narrow hips, Draco's knot holding them together. He should be exhausted from the night before, but he finds he's not at all. "Should it?" He's a bit breathless.

"Most definitely." Draco's fingers slip to the waistband of Harry's trousers, a wicked gleam in his eye. "Unless you've a Room of Requirement hidden in the Auror headquarters?" He sounds a bit hopeful.

"Not that I've found." Harry slides his fingers around Draco's questing hand, moving it away from his trouser buttons. Anyone could happen upon them, and they've only just got out of custody. Harry finds that thought rather enticing. "But I do know a back route to an Apparition point."

Draco smiles at him, fingers lightly tracing the outline of Harry's cock through the wool of his trousers. Harry's nearly hard in an instant. "A back route? My knees are quaking with anticipation."

"It's not your knees I want, Lord Malfoy." Harry grabs the offending hand and uses it to pull him Draco the hall and through a side door into a staircase.

"Do tell," Draco practically purrs into Harry's ear, hot breath raising gooseflesh on Harry's neck. That's doing nothing to subside the swell in his trousers. Harry draws in a deep breath, willing his prick to behave.

They're out the staircase and down another corridor before Harry answers. He stops and turns towards Draco. They're alone in the hall, but not for long, Harry knows. The Aurors all use this particular shortcut.

"I want you," Harry says bluntly. "Not for a night, not for a moon. The reality of this is that I want you for as long as I can have you--an eternity if that's in the cards." He looks at Draco. "You're my mate. For life. And since I don't have other family, it's only you that I need to ask."

Draco just looks at him. Harry can see the rise and fall of his chest. "Ask what?" he says after a moment.

"We have a bond," Harry says quietly. "I want our friends to know. I want to make it official, public. Or as public as we can be, that is."

"Are you asking for my hand, Potter?" Draco sounds amused, but one look at his face makes it clear that he's rather stunned.

Harry hadn't actually thought of it that way. "No." He stops. "Yes. In a way, I suppose."

"Oh," is all Draco can say.

Harry takes Draco's hand. He considers getting on one knee, but that just seems ridiculous. "It's unconventional, and I don't believe we'll find a priest who will accept our vows."

"Unconventional to say the bloody least," Draco manages. "But we don't need a sodding priest to know it's real."

"No," Harry says. He bites his lip. "Since your father's completely mad, does it matter if you carry on the family name? I'd make allowances if it mattered to you."

"Not particularly." Draco studies Harry's face. "Teddy can inherit. But people will still talk, you know. They'll say terrible things about you. About me. About us. Look at what they did to poor Wilde. Not to mention what Auntie Walburga did to your godfather."

"Sod her," Harry says with a curl of his lip. "Besides, people will always talk. We don't have to listen."

Draco pulls away. He walks a few steps down the hallway, his back to Harry. "I suppose we're already pariahs, given our lycanthropy."

"Yeah."

There's a moment's silence, then Draco looks back at Harry and holds out his hand. "Shall we go home, then? We've new calling cards to engrave." His mouth quirks to one side. "Mr Harry Potter and Lord Draco Malfoy, Number 23 Berkeley Square, London?"

"You're letting me go first?" Harry's hand curls around Draco's.

Draco smirks as they walk down the hall. "The second name's more important."

"Oi," Harry says, but he bumps Draco's shoulder with his. "You're a prat."

"And yet you love me."

Harry reckons he does. "Maybe a bit."

Together, they push open the door and step into the bright sunlight of Diagon Alley.

They're going home.

Finally.

***

Diagon Alley is a-bustle with last minute Yule shopping and holiday revellers. Draco dodges no fewer than three sets of carolling choirs whilst making his way to the Merman's Line. He gets caught by the last one, a robust schoolchildren's choir with an impressive boy soprano. He throws a few sickles into the hat at the close of "Holly and the Ivy," although he doesn't quite remember that verse about the Erumpent horn and breaking wind next to the fire.

Smoothing the thick charcoal wool of his winter robe, Draco jogs down the stairs and into the warmth of the pub. Here, the decorations are also impressive: there's holly and pine everywhere in decorative netting and little wreaths on the models of shipwrecked sailors. The charmswork that's making the Sirens sing "Silent Night" is particularly fine, and the golden bubbles that are issuing from their mouths are a nice touch.

He's in a good mood, all told. He's just been to the solicitor's to settle the last of the paperwork for the Avebury accounts. Due to his father's current long-term imprisonment, under magical law, Draco has inherited control of the estate. Harold Hyrcanus just confirmed the last of the transfer of property. The Wizengamot's been decent to Draco and Harry in recent months, partially out of relief that they'd foiled Lucius's ridiculous plot and partially because Albus Dumbledore's demanded they be. There's been no real punishment for either their lycanthropy or their inversion, other than a minor slap on the hand, a slight fine to save face, and the requirement that they register. In the end, neither he nor Harry had objected, which Harold's informed Draco has quite helped his position with the estate. Normally such transfers require a great deal more squabbling in one of the Ministry courtrooms.

Between them, Harry and he will have everything they need for the rest of their lives, together or if Draco predeceases his mate. Teddy Lupin is Draco's new heir, and Draco intends to petition that the boy be allowed to style himself by the subsidiary title of the Baron of Pomeroy as a Christmas present, mostly because it's damned time his heir have a title and partially because he knows it will annoy Remus. They've had spirited debates more than once over the place of the lazy aristocracy in society, and Draco'd been delighted to discover his cousin's husband is more of an anti-monarchist republican than Granger. He does enjoy a good argument after all. Harold's still finishing the royal request on Teddy's title for the New Year's declarations. Out of deference to his father, Draco won't assume the marquess title until Lucius dies, although technically it is his by right as well.

He visits Lucius every week in Azkaban, and every week he is turned aside. Draco's learnt to use the trips out to the North Sea to birdwatch, a new hobby that Harry finds perplexing but which Draco's discovered is restful and calming, particularly after yet another refusal from Lucius to see him. Perhaps one day, his father will allow him a proper visit, although Draco's really no idea what he'd say to the man, other than why?

Today, however, the focus is on Weasley. Evidently Kingsley's finally done what he'd promised to Harry several months before. The owl had reached Draco at the solicitor's that Ron had been officially promoted to Deputy Head Auror.

Spotting his mate, Draco goes into the corner after signalling for a pint of bitters at the bar. He meets Harry's eyes for a moment, a flash of warmth spilling through him at the intimacy of Harry's gaze, and then he glances over at Harry's companions, allowing himself only the faintest brush of his arm against Harry's. Still, a shiver goes down his spine. He's not certain he'll ever be used to the way Harry makes him feel. "Granger. Weasley."

Hermione's red-cheeked and glowing. "Malfoy! I'm glad you could join the festivities!" She pulls him in for an awkward but heartfelt embrace, and he doesn't resist as much as he used to. Slowly he and Harry have been joining the circles of their lives, and whilst it's all very new, the kindness of Harry's friends has been a surprise to Draco, given what a wretch he'd been to them at school.

"Congratulations!" Draco says to Weasley, clapping him on the shoulder. Weasley's already half soused, with a bemused look on his face. "You need more ale."

Draco goes to get the round himself, winking at the barkeep to get full pints for the table and extra firewhisky for afters. He's learnt from experience that the Ogden's is a necessary chaser when Gryffindors are about. There are still times Draco finds them excruciatingly frustrating, not to mention obtuse. He brings the glasses to the table in two rounds, wheeling expertly through the crowded pub if he does say so himself. He's had much more practice in socialising these days. Pansy's been pleased with him. He's out and about town more frequently now, almost always with Potter in tow. To be honest, Draco thinks Pansy prefers Potter's company to his, although he suspects that Severus is more the draw. Pansy's fascinated by the ghost, and he's caught her more than once at the townhouse, stopping by just to converse with him. Severus is charmed by her, Draco thinks; although it's not difficult to impress a spotty, adolescent ghost. Still, he's been helping Pansy with her séances the past month or two, and she says he adds quite the authentic touch for the Muggles. The money's been rolling in lately, and she's been talking about a tour of the European capitals.

Draco sets the drinks down to a chorus of cheers. He doesn't know a few of the others; he expects they're Aurors, given the way they look at him and Harry, with that slightly unsettled air. He's in too good of a mood to complain, though, as he settles back down on the bench next to Harry, who gives him a warm smile and a nudge of his shoulder.

There will be a bigger gathering at the Burrow this weekend to celebrate Weasley's promotion. Draco's not sure he'll be able to bear the combined bonhomie of the Weasley clan, but if Molly Weasley has her way, he'll not be able to avoid it. Despite the generations of bad blood between the Malfoys and their Weasley cousins, Molly had taken a shine to Draco after Harry moved in to Berkeley Square, and they're now required at every family gathering. Advising Molly on a particularly nasty blight on her rosebushes during an August garden party hadn't hurt matters at all, and they've spent a companionable autumn at various Sunday dinners discussing planting and soil adjustments. Harry's joked that he's fairly certain Draco will have the best jumper of the whole family knit for him this Yule; Draco feels that he'd damned well better, what with all the hours he's spent charming the Weasley matriarch.

As they sip at their beers and ales, Draco renews his congratulations. Although he supposes it's a bit overdone, he does think this sort of thing can't be fêted enough. It certainly doesn't happen every day--Weasley's the youngest Deputy Head Auror in years.

"I only wish John were here to see it," Weasley sniffs a bit, looking mournfully at the bottom of his glass. "He'd have been proud."

"To Dawlish!" Draco says, and they all raise their glasses, clinking softly and then drinking.

They'd buried Dawlish in the week after the Morgenrothe conspiracy came to light. The American Ambassador had bestowed special commendations on Dawlish after Mr Clarke's father had been quietly informed by Draco as to the fallen Auror's role in catching his son's killers. There had been an honour guard of U.S. Aurors joining the British guard at his burial, and high-ranking members of the Magical Congress had been present. Between Mr Clarke's generosity and Draco's quiet amplification of the pension fund, Gwennie and little Jack are taken care of for the rest of their lives. Draco's also donated extensively to the Werewolf Benevolent Society, built a children's fund in his mother's name, and settled money on the families of the other victims, Giles Skelleran and Reginald Perkins. He supposes he's equally a victim of his father's conspiracy, but with his life improving dramatically for the better, he wants to do what he can to make amends.

Perhaps it's also a penance of sorts. Harry'd held him close after Dawlish's funeral, lying curled around Draco in bed as he'd finally let himself truly grieve the loss of Narcissa. Draco's still wracked with guilt at times, but he's learning to live with it, to accept his part in his mother's death whilst understanding--or attempting to, at least--the manipulation his father put into place to cause the entire bloody tragedy.

Draco lifts his firewhisky to his lips, watching as Harry leans towards Weasley, laughing at something Granger's said. Harry's beautiful, really, and the way his eyes crinkle at the corners when he smiles makes Draco's heart stutter. He'd do anything to protect his mate, whatever that might be. There's still danger lurking; Lord Voldemort, as Tom Riddle is now styling himself, has been spotted in Hessen and Vienna but there've been no arrests as of yet. The Elder Wand is still a rumour; Riddle doesn't have it yet as far as the Aurors can confirm with their European counterparts. The current theory is that fractions of the Morgenrothe loyal to Gellert have now switched to following Riddle and are helping him in his search. The Frankfurt lodge is under particular suspicion--Kingsley had briefed Harry and Draco during their last visit to Auror headquarters about the rumblings coming from the vicinity of the Main River.

Madeline Pomfrey committed suicide after her trial--she'd been sentenced to Azkaban, and her note said she had no reason to die in captivity but would join the realm of her spirit, Hel, below. The Aurors found the Resurrection Stone wrapped in a cloth and buried beneath the roses at her cottage, guaranteeing their prolonged blooming each year. Dumbledore took the Stone into custody and is guarding it on his person.

Draco has spoken to Poppy Pomfrey about their common experience as family members tied into the Morgenrothe--she understands the humiliation and embarrassment Draco is stricken with, and the lengths he goes to hide it from the outside world. Draco and Harry've adopted Poppy a bit this Christmas season, since she's not got her sister for holiday plans any longer, and Greg and Millie have taken over a wing at the Manor upon Draco's insistence. Poppy's planning to celebrate Yule with Remus and Nymphadora in their new cottage in Hogsmeade before joining Harry and Draco for a few nights in London. They've talked about taking a day trip to the Manor--it is lovely in the winter--but Draco doesn't think he's ready quite yet. Harry's been good about it, telling him they'll go when he feels able and not a moment sooner.

Remus is back at Hogwarts with Nymphadora and the children, teaching Defence to the terrible adolescents and enjoying it, much to Draco's surprise. The governors are surprisingly positive about the turn of affairs. Remus and Nymphadora have taken in Freddy and Hestia in, first as wards when they'd discovered that the children's parents had been killed trying to protect them the night Freddy and Hestia had been taken, but Draco knows after a chat with his cousin that they're planning to make the adoption official in the spring. It's been a difficult autumn for the children; Draco can't imagine losing one's parents that young, but Harry's been good with them, talking them through the rougher spots. Hestia in particular's taken with him. There are nights when Harry's the only one able to talk her into bed via a firecall. Draco doesn't mind a bit--his mate always looks peaceful after these conversations.

As for the other British werewolves, the Benevolent Society has been booming with the new influx of moneys from the Avebury accounts and the surprising (to some) support of the Head Auror himself. Granger thinks that Werewolf Tolerance Legislation is only a matter of months away, if they're lucky, and she's been taking up the charge at St Hilda's with legal support from her colleague, Frances Purvis. Greyback and his lot haven't been seen after that night at the Manor; Tonks has been raging ever since, trying to find out how he got into the country without her knowing. Draco hasn't the heart to tell her that it was most definitely his father. Lucius had access to people she can only dream about.

"Sickle for your thoughts," Harry says, and Draco realises he's been staring into space.

Collecting his wits, he sees that Weasley and Granger look like they've just snogged, and it's probably time to be moving home if they're at that stage. The nuptials are planned in June. The current family battle is over the size of the wedding, and although Granger is formidable, Draco's money is on Molly and the lavish, immense family wedding she'd like to see at the Burrow. He's already been helping gather clippings and plant stock to enhance the garden.

Although Draco knows he and his mate can't formalize their arrangement in the same way, still the vows he hopes they'll take at New Year will go a long way to settling their understanding. Draco fiddles with the simple gold ring in his pocket that Harry doesn't yet know he's purchased, and he smiles.

"It's just that everything's falling into place," he says. When Harry gives him a quizzical look, he adds, "I'll explain when we get home." Draco can't wait to see what Harry looks like, wearing nothing but Draco's ring.

There's plenty of magical crime yet to solve, and he's about to pledge troth to the werewolf he'd like to solve it with. It's nothing like the life he thought he'd have, but upon reflection Draco finds it's everything he's ever wanted.

He lifts his firewhisky towards Harry. "To us," he says. Their glasses clink together, and Draco takes a sip.

He'd spent a decade alone, walling himself away from love. Now that he's found it, he has no intention of letting the beautiful, messy-haired man next to him go.

This, Draco thinks, looking around at the happy faces surrounding him, is the most human he's ever felt in his life.

And he can't help but smile.

Fin