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The Arc of the Pendulum

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"Nobody seems to love you enough to run forward this time and take my curse. So what will stop you dying now when I strike?" —Voldemort, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

 

"Bloody bloody bloody hell," Draco gasped, slamming the door shut behind him and shaking the snow out of his hair. He'd been working in refrigerated units all day at the grocer's and then had to walk home in a mixture of rain and snow. His fingers were bright red; he couldn't feel them.

"Is that you, Draco?" his father called from the bedroom.

"Yes, it's me," he replied, not bothering to take off his thin coat, since the flat had hardly any heat. His teeth were still chattering as he made his way to the kitchen.

"Did you get the Prophet like I asked?"

"Yes, Father. I have it here."

"Bring it to me. And I want a cup of tea. Where is your mother?"

Draco's hand stilled over the handle of the kettle. A bad day, then. "She's dead."

There was a resounding silence from the bedroom. Draco slowly resumed with the tea preparation, dreading the moment when the water boiled and he would have to go into his father's room.

"I hadn't forgotten," a voice said softly from the doorway.

Draco dropped the spoon he'd been holding and whirled around. Lucius stood there, his face gaunt and shadowed, his eyes narrowed.

"Don't do that," Draco said angrily, bending to pick up the spoon from the floor.

"Did I frighten you, Draco?"

"No."

"Your mother is dead."

"Yes, I know."

"She died on a Sunday."

"It was a Tuesday, actually."

Lucius' nostrils flared slightly. "Bring me the tea when you've finished," he said coldly.

"Of course."

*

Narcissa had died on a Tuesday. It had been very unexpected; his mother's resilience was something Draco had always counted on in his life, had taken for granted. It had sustained him through the War, through Lucius' imprisonment, through the endless reparations they had been forced to pay until there was nothing left, through the shock they had both sustained when Lucius had returned two years later so changed.

They had received communication from the Ministry that he was being released after a lengthy stay in the psychiatric ward because of several "incidents." In the first moment of reunion, Draco had been sure that his father's cunning had got him out and back to them, and he'd had a brief flash of hope, the old confidence in his father's invincibility flaring up again. But it quickly became apparent that his madness was no act. There were days, of course, when he was lucid, and would clasp Narcissa's hand briefly at the breakfast table after surveying the meagre spread, saying, "I'm sorry, my dear," in a low voice. Draco always had to look away, unable to bear seeing his father so humbled; it made him angry and resentful, but it was not nearly as bad as the days when Lucius would look suspiciously over his shoulder at both of them, something gleaming in his narrowed eyes that made Draco afraid. Lucius would pore over newspapers and the few books they had managed to hold on to, and say strange things, things he would have said before the War, as if none of it had happened. On these days Draco was glad to have the excuse of looking for work in order to get out of the house. He would come in late, and then be shamed by his mother when she would look at him sharply and say, "Your father needs you, Draco."

Draco always had to bite his tongue before he asked what his father had done to warrant any sense of filial duty in him, since he'd ruined all of their lives with his bad decisions and misplaced loyalties. Because of his father, he couldn't find a job; because of his father, he had to look for a job instead of being courted for prestigious positions with potential for upward mobility; because of his father, everything in Draco's life had fallen to pieces, and he had no friends, no prospects, nothing but his parents, and thanks to his father's dubious sanity, not even them, really.

It had only been a slight headache, or so Narcissa said when she decided not to get out of bed that Tuesday morning. Draco got in the shower; he heard and felt nothing but the weak spray of the water and the way the pipes squealed, and when he got out, his father was sitting at the table, calmly writing notes, as he always seemed to be doing, lately. There was no sound from his parents' room, but two hours later, Draco went in to find his mother dead.

He had known the moment he saw her; she didn't look like she was asleep. Her eyes were wide and staring and her mouth frowning, but she was so still.

Draco had cried out and been afraid to touch her, and his father had appeared at his side. Lucius was the one to close her eyes with one hand and to clasp Draco's shoulder with the other.

"It was too early," he said, as Draco fought to be able to breathe, his father's hand feeling like a crushing weight, as if it were pushing him down into the floor. "Such a waste. My poor Narcissa."

It was two days later that Draco remembered the family crypt and the beautiful marble bust that had been carved for the occasion of her death. He thought of this as he watched the mortician sweep her ashes, a few pieces of bone, and some teeth left on the stone slab into an urn, grinding everything down with a pestle so that the lid would fit. He thought of the dress she had wanted to be buried in, the one that had been sold with so many of her other clothes, as he exchanged his mother for a few coins and tucked her under one arm, opening his umbrella with the other. His shoulders were wet by the time he got home that night, but the urn was dry, at least, and Draco sealed it as tight as he could before shutting it up in the closet. Then he steeled himself to face what was left of his father.

*

It might have been easier to find a job if his wand had worked properly. He couldn't even Apparate with any confidence; he'd missed out on the lessons in sixth year because of everything else he had been doing, and then no one had taken the time to teach him properly. And even if he had been able to, the shaky, weak magic he was able to channel with his new wand wasn't stable enough to keep him from splinching himself.

After many weeks of searching and too many humiliations even to remember (though Draco usually excelled at remembering humiliations), he walked by a Muggle grocer's and saw a sign that said Help Wanted. Walking into the store had been almost worse than facing the Dark Lord, but he came out a few minutes later with a job stocking the produce aisle. Food was food, whether magical or Muggle, and he didn't have to worry as much about embarrassing himself in his ignorance of Muggle culture. The pay was abysmal, of course, but exchange rates were favourable because of the War. If he combined his salary with the pittance the Ministry had left his family, it would be enough.

He almost threw up the morning of his first day of work, and his father said, impatiently, "What is the matter, Draco?"

Draco had decided against telling his father that he had resorted to begging Muggles for work. "I—I'm going to work, Father."

"Work?" Lucius' eyebrows rose.

"Yes."

There was a pause before Lucius said, without inflection, "Is this necessary?"

In that moment, Draco could hardly stand to look at his father's face, at the perpetual sneer that used to cow him and now just disgusted him, made him see his father for what he really was: a deranged shell of a man who had thrown away everything that could have made him great.

"Yes," he said finally. "All of your decisions have ensured that we have no money, no place in society, no home. I have no chances, virtually no magic because of this bloody useless wand, no friends, and no—no mother."

Lucius looked stunned, then furious. "How dare you—"

"Because of you," Draco continued ruthlessly, his voice beginning to tremble with anger, "we have nothing." Now that he had begun, he found he could not stop accusations from flinging themselves out of him. "All those lies you told me, that you told mother. You made us believe you. You—you made us think that things would be better. Why—why didn't you do the right thing? Just once! You could have told me the truth, you could have stopped it all, you could have made us safe from this, and I wouldn't have had to go looking for this work that you think is so unnecessary."

The room was silent. His father's sneer had fallen away, and he suddenly looked grey and old. Draco had only a moment to regret that he had snatched his father's delusions away from him, something he had been wanting to do for so long, something his mother hadn't let him do, and now he saw why as pity, resentment, and guilt churned in his chest and around his heart.

And then his father spoke, his eyes clear and sad. "I know. I regret many things."

Draco knew, then, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was being forced—no, shoved into adulthood, and even that illusory safety net of being able to blame someone, anyone, for his problems had been taken from him.

"I'll be back tonight," he said, and his voice sounded a bit raspy in his ears. "I'll bring dinner. I'm sorry that I have to leave you alone."

Lucius was looking down at the table, his shoulders hunched, but when he straightened the sneer was back in place. "Don't be," he said. "I have a lot of reading to do."

*

Draco realised later that he should have asked his father exactly what he was reading and why; he should have known that it was now his duty to keep a closer watch on exactly how his father was occupying his time. He was so tired, though. Working as many hours as he could to be able to earn a little bit of extra money meant he could only be glad that his father seemed to find such a seemingly benign way to spend his time. Draco didn't have to worry about his father wandering out of the flat and getting lost; he didn't have to worry about his father feeling too confined, or falling into a depression, or anything of that nature. The small escritoire that held his father's parchments was always locked and warded, but Draco didn't think anything about it, and even if he had, he would not have been able to undo his father's charms.

He began to be uneasy, however, when he came home one day to find what appeared to be dog hair on the lumpy old sofa. There was only one person that he knew of who had hair that colour, and even the idea that Fenrir Greyback, who had escaped from the Aurors and been missing since the end of the War, had been in their house made all the blood drain from his face.

"Father," Draco said throbbingly, "what are you planning?"

"Planning?" his father asked, raising one elegant eyebrow.

"You're always writing. Who are you writing to?"

"So many questions," Lucius murmured indulgently. "You needn't worry, Draco. Great changes are afoot." His voice still held that old promise, his eyes that old light, though it was nearly unrecognizable in the thin, aged face. "Soon things will be different."

Draco wanted to cry with frustration. "No, I want to know now," he said, trying to temper his voice even as he felt an urge to grasp the frail shoulders and shake his father until that fanatical gleam vanished once and for all. "Tell me, or I swear—"

"Are you trying to threaten me, Draco?" Lucius said, looking amused.

Draco could only clench his jaw.

"I thought not." His lip curled.

"Was Fenrir here today?" Draco asked.

"Mr Greyback," his father admonished. "Your manners are as deplorable as ever."

"What was he doing here?"

Lucius turned back to his papers. "Go and bother your mother," he said dismissively. "She will not mind you prying into her affairs."

Draco couldn't stand it any longer; he strode over to the desk and snatched up one of the pieces of parchment scattered there, but before he could see through his father's spidery handwriting to the actual words, the parchment was snatched away.

"How dare you?" Lucius hissed, and waved his wand at the desk so that it folded up and locked.

"Haven't you done enough?" Draco gritted out, his fists clenching at his sides. "Do you know why we're here, instead of at the Manor? Do you know why I'm gone so much, why I can't be here to watch you?" He felt something choking him in his throat. "If you ruin even this, if you really feel that we aren't debased enough, just...remember, please remember, that—that m-mother isn't here to pick up the pieces any more."

"I don't know what you mean," Lucius said dismissively. "Now, out of my sight."

Draco left. It was impossible to argue with his father; it always had been. But he could not sleep that night for hating the fact that he always gave up so easily.

*

His father disappeared a few weeks later.

At first, Draco was merely uneasy. He didn't know whether to be more afraid for his father or for what his father might try to do. That Lucius' plans, whatever they were, would fail was something Draco viewed as an inevitability. He could not go to the Aurors for help, since they had no interest in his father any longer, and Draco certainly did not want to bring their attention to his father's potential infractions. As he combed the streets near their flat looking for signs of his father's presence, however, reflecting bitterly on the delusions Lucius had held long before prison had made them obvious to the rest of the world, he was suddenly overtaken with the conviction that it might be better for the Aurors to find his father, that he wanted the terrible burden that his father had become to be foisted on someone else, on anyone, so long as Draco could be unfettered for once in his life. The guilt that immediately followed made him redouble his search efforts with grim determination.

When, at 2am, he still had not found his father, he decided to return to the flat and wait, hoping that Lucius would somehow be able to find his way home. He dozed fitfully in a chair by the window, waking at every sound and becoming more and more anxious. He did not go to work the next day, though it might cost him his job, and felt helpless. There was no one to ask for help, and no one in whom he would have trusted to confide his worry about what his father might be planning.

He had realised, when his mother died, that he was, essentially, alone in the world, but he had not truly known it until now.

Two days later, his father still hadn't turned up, and Draco was frantic. He began to think he had no choice but to approach the Aurors. After going out the door and coming back in no fewer than four times, he finally resolved to go to the Ministry, stopping in Diagon Alley to buy a Daily Prophet. He looked at the headline, and began to feel well and truly sick.

BOY WHO LIVED MISSING!

Ministry Aurors confirmed early this morning that Harry Potter, known to many as the Boy Who Lived and the Man Who Defeated Voldemort, has been reported missing. The report was made after Potter, 20, failed to show up for a scheduled address at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry yesterday. He was last seen at the home of his girlfriend, Ginevra Weasley, three days ago. Though his disappearance was first believed to be due to classified Auror work, Minister of Magic and former Head Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt released a statement refuting the theory.

"Harry Potter was not on Auror business when he disappeared," Minister Shacklebolt said, "but the department is doing everything in its power to locate him."

Minister Shacklebolt drew criticism in 1998 for recruiting Potter and two of his friends, Ronald Weasley and Neville Longbottom, to join the Ministry's Auror force before they had completed standard training courses. Rumours of Potter's dissatisfaction with department policies and practices and his refusal to follow protocols have drawn much speculation, but have never been confirmed.

"Harry is a very private person. Sometimes he doesn't want to be found," Ginevra Weasley was quoted as saying at a Ministry function late last year when asked why Potter, though an honouree at the function, was not in attendance.

Some of Potter's friends are worried for more than just his safety. "We can only hope that his absence won't be of long duration. Teddy needs him," said a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. Theodore Lupin, Potter's two-year-old godson, currently resides with his maternal grandmother, Andromeda Tonks. "Harry knows what it's like to be an orphan, and I would hope that he wouldn't leave Teddy if he could help it."

Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, both long-time friends of Potter, could not be reached for comment.

Draco knew then that he could not go to the Aurors. Even if his father had nothing to do with this disappearance, he would be an immediate suspect; everyone knew that Potter had only joined the Auror force to be able to catch remaining Death Eaters.

It took another two days of horrible indecision and a feeling of frantic impotency that increased exponentially with every minute before Draco remembered the Portkey bracelet his parents had made him wear as a child; it would always take him to them if he got lost. It was a struggle to restore the shrunken trunks that held all of the possessions they'd been able to take from the Manor when they left; several of them exploded their contents all over, and some bulged only in certain places while other parts remained small, so that Draco had to rip them open with a knife and sift through the tiny objects individually. Finally, however, he found it, and fastened it around his wrist.

There was a moment when he was afraid it wouldn't work, but he concentrated as hard as he could on the image of his father, letting his worry and his desperate need to find Lucius overtake him completely. And then he felt it. It was slow, as if age had made the magic sluggish, but it finally succeeded in pulling him through and depositing him in a dark room. His eyes had a difficult time adjusting. When they did, however, he was shocked.

He was in the tower at Malfoy Manor.

That was what he noticed first. He inhaled sharply and stepped backward, and then a wave of some horrible smell assailed him. Draco covered his nose with his sleeve, fighting a sharp surge of nausea, and looked around. There, a few feet in front of him, was the mangled corpse of Fenrir Greyback. The blood had dried in a pool beneath the gaping gash in his throat, and his teeth were still bared, but the skin was grey and waxy, the gristly hair dull and matted. At first glance it looked as if bits of his skin were moving, but then Draco looked closer and realised that some of the open wounds had worms crawling in them.

The feelings of revulsion were overpowering, and Draco stepped back involuntarily, turning his head away. For a moment all that mattered was getting out of the tower, and he almost ran for the door before he remembered that his father had to be nearby if the Portkey had brought him here. Suddenly it occurred to him that he might find his father in a similar state, and before he could stop himself he called out, "Father!" as he had when he was a child, knowing that the magic in the house would carry the sound of his voice to his father, if he were here.

Still, it frightened Draco when his father appeared before him.

"Father! You're alive—"

And then Draco saw that one of his father's arms was hanging strangely, blood soaking through his robes.

"Draco! Thank god you have come. I didn't think you would—"

"Of course I came. What are you doing here? What's happened? Why—"

"We must leave, Draco. Did you bring your wand? He has mine, I cannot Apparate out of this house without it."

"Who?"

"There is no time, he will be back in a moment, he'll smell you—I have only been able to avoid him because I know this house."

"Who? Was it—was it something that killed Fenrir? You have to tell me."

"Your wand, Draco."

"You know I can't Apparate well," Draco said, with difficulty.

"Give it to me," his father snarled, and Draco saw, then, that his father was very bad, the craziness in his eyes animating a face that looked dead, and he knew how his father had found a way to survive Azkaban, though he was weak and afraid.

"Father," he began, but then a crashing noise at the door made them both whirl around.

And there, in the doorway, stood Harry Potter.

But it was not a Harry Potter that Draco recognised; it was not the one who had saved the world from Voldemort.

This Potter's black hair bristled, his clothes were in tatters, his strangely elongated canine teeth bared in a terrible grimace, blood smeared and dried around his mouth. He wasn't wearing his glasses, and he was growling like a dog. A wolf.

"Father," Draco whispered again, "what have you done?"

His father did not answer immediately. Draco didn't want to take his eyes off of Potter, but the silence made his head turn for just a moment.

Lucius was looking at him, and he said, so softly Draco almost didn't hear him over that terrifying growl, "I'm sorry, Draco."

"You keep saying that, I hate when you say that," Draco cried frantically. "I—we have to leave—" He fumbled for his wand, and Potter, this dreadful wolf creature, was advancing on them—

Finally he had his wand in his hand, and he rushed to his father. "Apparate us!"

There was an instant where he thought they would be able to get away all right, and then suddenly that look was back in his father's face, his eyes narrowing and his mouth sneering.

"No! Father—" Draco said urgently, "Not now. Please, not now—"

"Don't worry: I will avenge your death," Lucius said calmly. "You have to trust me. It must be this way."

There was a deafening crack, and Draco was alone in the room with a beast.

*

He knew he was going to be ripped to shreds. He thought about how much it was going to hurt, if he would be able to feel his limbs being torn from his body, or if the blood flowing out of him would make him pass out before the pain did. All of this flashed through his mind in an instant as he began to hyperventilate, and he shut his eyes, unable to decide whether seeing his impending doom was better or worse than not knowing how near it was.

Suddenly, he realised that the growling had stopped, and it began to sound more like whimpering. Draco opened his eyes to find Potter doubling over, his eyes tightly shut. He bent lower, until he was on his hands and knees, head bowed, and gradually the whimpering lessened until the only sound in the room was his laboured breathing.

And then Potter raised his head. "Mal—foy," he said, very slowly. "I c-can't—" he gasped, and then there was another whimper that ended in a snarl.

Draco watched, mesmerised, as Potter seemed to be fighting some kind of battle with himself.

"Please—" Potter managed. "Don't—want, try—need," but then his frustration seemed to win out, and he snarled again, tossing his head and bearing his teeth, his eyes looking bestial and murderous when he raised them again to Draco's face.

"P-Potter," Draco stammered. "Do you—do you know who I am?"

That seemed to shake Potter, and he shut his eyes tightly and visibly forced himself to be completely still.

"Potter—"

Then Potter was blinking again. "Glasses," he said, with great effort. "Can't—see."

"What—what happened to you?"

That caused Potter to snarl, "Your father," and he stood upright. "Left you here—for me to—eat you, did he?" The words were stilted, as if they cost him great effort.

Draco watched Potter's face seem to flicker between something strange and feral, and a more recognisable anger.

"Are you going to eat me?" he asked finally.

Potter staggered to the wall and leaned his shoulder against it, hands scrabbling for purchase on the stone. "Not if. You. Keep—talking," he panted.

Draco's mouth opened and closed; he didn't know what to say, he didn't know what was happening, what had his father done to Potter? He didn't know whether to be frightened or angry at being left here. Or both.

"Talk!" Potter barked, his voice strained.

"I—I—you're in my home," Draco said lamely. He risked taking his eyes off of Potter for a moment and glanced around him. "I never came up here much when we lived here." He looked back at Potter, whose eyes were tightly closed again as if he were concentrating very hard. "I never thought I would come back here. I thought it was going to be demolished."

Potter was still breathing very hard, through his nose.

"You—you were here once before. You must remember it." Draco suddenly felt how tense he was, how his shoulders were tight and his hands clenched so hard that they had begun to hurt. "You and...they asked if I recognised you."

That seemed to make things easier for Potter, for some reason, and he straightened.

"I—remember," he rasped. "Of course I remember."

Draco watched him for a moment. It didn't seem, now, as if the snarling beast were about to take over again any time soon. He began to look more like himself.

"What," Draco said, wetting his dry lips, "what is going on?"

He could see, even in the shadows, how Potter's jaw clenched. "I'm surprised you don't know." And then he sort of flopped over, as if he couldn't support his own weight. "I'm so tired."

"You were acting like—like a rabid dog," Draco said.

"Thanks for shedding some light on the situation," Potter said sarcastically. "Fucking—hell." A shadow of something crossed his face, but he closed his eyes briefly, and it was gone.

"Well I wouldn't care," Draco said waspishly, still terrified and tense, "Only you just almost ripped my throat out."

Harry shuddered, his fists clenching and unclenching. "I—I don't have my wand. I need to—" His eyes darted to the window. "How long has it been?"

"Judging from the state of you—" Draco bit his tongue to keep from commenting on the thick stubble Potter was sporting. It would take him weeks to grow that much hair on his face, he thought, rather hysterically. "I'm guessing it's been four or five days."

Potter peered at him, and then raised one hand to his chin, running it over the bristly hair there. "Fuck," he said baldly. "I have to—they're probably wondering where I am—"

"It's all over the papers. That's how I knew—" Draco said, and then hesitated.

Potter's hand fell away and his face darkened, the shadows gathering again. "Knew what?"

Draco looked away. He was scared of Potter in this state, but suddenly it was there before him, just out of his grasp: the relief he would feel if he could just tell someone, tell Potter, if he could unburden himself of the awful weight his father's mania and all its implications had saddled him with.

"He—my father, he went missing. He hasn't been—you know he went to Azkaban. Again."

"Yeah," Potter grunted.

The old anger began to resurface as he remembered how outspoken Potter and Granger and Weasley had been about his father's crimes, but then the memory of his father's face when he had vowed to avenge Draco's death before leaving him here to die intruded. "It's as if he can't remember that the War ended," he continued slowly. "I didn't realise—I've been working, and he was always reading, and then a few weeks ago I found out that Fenrir—that a werewolf had been to visit him."

Potter was looking even more grim. "I know who Fenrir is," he said darkly.

"It's always good to know the names of people you've killed," Draco retorted.

The colour drained from Potter's face. "What?" he rasped.

Draco gaped at Potter. "It wasn't you?" His eyes went involuntarily to the opposite corner of the room, where Fenrir's corpse still lay.

Potter's gaze followed. "Fuck. I can't—" He broke off, looking both surprised and upset. "It's—I don't know what they did to me," he gritted out. "He bit me, and there was a spell—I can't remember, it's as if I just remember feelings, I remember being so angry, and scared, and vicious—I wanted to tear him apart before he did the same to me." He turned back to stare at Draco. "What did they do to me? It feels like Imperius, except worse—it wasn't like it made it easy to give in, it just—dragged me down, and only these awful feelings could break through—" He broke off abruptly.

Draco didn't realise how much he had calmed down until he began to feel afraid again. "I...I don't know what they did, Potter."

"I can still," Potter said hoarsely, "I can feel it trying to pull me under again, and if I let go even for a moment—"

"Don't!" Draco said sharply. "I—we don't know what you—I mean, you just killed the most vicious werewolf in the Dark Lord's service—"

"Don't call him that," Potter said.

Draco shut his mouth.

"I mean," Potter continued, but his eyes darted away. "No, I'm sorry, don't stop talking. It...it helps when you're talking to me."

"Does it," Draco said.

"Yeah, I mean yes. It gives me—something to focus on. I need to be able to—to hold on to something, or it will drag me down again."

"So, what are you saying? That you lose your mind?" Draco heard his voice climb, and tried to hold back his hysteria. "That you become a deranged, carnivorous beast? God, I have to get out of here—" He began to make his way toward the doorway.

"NO!" Potter half shouted, half snarled, and he bared his teeth again in that horrible, beastly grimace, and then arched his back, the tendons strained in his neck, like he was trying very hard to hold himself in check. "Don't—leave—me," he choked, hands reaching blindly out.

But he was terrifying, and Draco's heart was hammering in his chest. He thought dimly about the fact that it was dusk, and he knew that the wood around the Manor was not safe for him, not anymore, and certainly not without a wand, but the idea of waiting around for Potter to lose grip on reality and rip him to shreds made escape imperative.

He ran down the steep staircase that spiralled through the tower and heard a strained, discordant howl; it should have been a wolf's howl, but it sounded as if it were stretching and twisting the limits of Potter's human vocal chords, and the dissonant cracking and breaking made Draco shudder. He stumbled through the anterooms in the dark, shadows of broken furniture and empty portraits looming over him. The Manor, cold, dark and empty as it was, did not seem like his home any longer; it was menacing, and he ran as fast as he could to the vestibule. The great front doors were bolted shut, and Draco looked over his shoulder, fearing that Potter was behind him, but he could see only darkness.

Then another one of those horrible broken howls echoed through the halls, and Draco did not look back as he ran toward the glass doors that opened onto the portico.

The glass was broken, causing him to cut his hands grabbing at the frame when the handle wouldn't turn, but finally he was able to wrench them open, and he ran out into the night.

At first it was a relief, to be out in the open night air, not trapped any longer, and Draco ran and ran, his bleeding hands throbbing. He tripped over roots and fallen trees and brush, trying to put as much space between himself and the horror of Potter's condition as he could.

When he couldn't run any farther, he slowed to a walk, the sweat on his heated skin suddenly very cool. He realised abruptly how damp and cold the air was; a fog was settling all around him. He was very tired, his chest hurt and his legs were burning, so he sat down at the base of a tree and pulled his thin coat tightly around himself.

With nothing to do but think and shiver, Draco wondered if he had been entirely wise to run from Potter. Now he was alone and wandless in a dark wood, and Potter had been turned into a crazy wolf-man by his deranged father.

On a good day he was able to blame Potter for everything horrible that had happened to him. He took vicious pleasure in resenting Potter for all his deluded heroics, his insufferable, tenacious righteousness, his dumb luck. Even the memory of being pulled from the Fiendfyre was something for which he could hate Potter, since it meant he had to be indebted to him for a life that he now abhorred.

But the memory of the way Potter had clawed at the floor, his movements vicious even as his words were supplicating, nagged at Draco: what would happen to him, now that Draco had left him alone?

Draco felt the cold all through him, then, and the darkness, and knew he was lost.

He thought of his father, of those horrible days when he could blame only him. And then of those days that eclipsed all others in their hopelessness, when he blamed himself, for not seeing the truth about his father, for not protecting his mother, for letting things slide and letting his anger and his need to blame keep him from doing anything else.

Now Draco was alone, and there was no one to call for help, and not even the piercing, white hot anger that pulsed in him at the memory of the way his father had abandoned him could make him feel a little less cold, a little less afraid, a little less alone.

He sat there for a long time, growing colder and colder, knowing he should get up and walk, but unable to summon the will.

He might have drifted off for a moment, but was woken abruptly by a sound.

Draco sat up, his heart suddenly pumping furiously again, and he heard a great rushing sound in his ears that always precipitated panic. The skin at the back of his neck prickled. He wanted to cry out, to ask if someone was out there, but his voice was caught in his throat, and the silence was menacing.

And then suddenly a dark shape lunged toward him in the darkness. He screamed, but before the shape reached him, another dark shape came out of nowhere and intercepted it, knocking it sideways. Draco heard growling and snarling and the sounds of a struggle as the two figures wrestled with each other, a dark writhing mass.

Then one of the shapes elongated, standing upright, and Draco realised it was Potter, and he saw the way Potter had got hold of the other creature by the jaw, pulling it apart with his hands. There was a horrible cracking sound, and a canine scream, and then he dropped the shadowy creature to the ground before collapsing himself.

Draco didn't know what to do at first, so he waited until he was sure that neither of them was going to get up and attack him if he moved. His hands were still aching and raw from being cut on the glass earlier; he realised it had been stupid to run out into the wood with blood on his hands, since it had probably announced his presence to every animal in the wood. It was astonishing that no others had come closer, until he realised that perhaps Potter's presence had kept them at bay. He must have followed Draco, must have been waiting for him, for—

Draco moved closer and tried to make out the dark shapes of Potter and the other wolf's corpse.

He knelt, then, and put his hand to Potter's back, felt the warmth of his skin through the thin, torn cotton shirt, and the way his body heaved with each laboured breath. He also felt wetness on his shoulder that was a bit sticky. It was probably blood. Potter had been bitten.

He whimpered a little as Draco ran his hand over the wound, but the sound didn't frighten Draco as Potter's other wolf sounds had; it calmed him and seemed to call him back from the scattered outreaches of terror.

He heaved Potter up to a sitting position, putting one of Potter's arms over his shoulder, which caused Potter to groan.

"Shh," Draco said. He remembered that Potter had said talking had helped him, so he tried to talk. "We have to find our way back to the Manor, at least," he murmured. "You're hurt, and it's cold."

Potter's head lolled a bit on Draco's shoulder.

"Can you hear me, Potter?" Draco asked.

Potter didn't respond.

"Potter!" Draco put an arm around his waist. "You need to stand up. Please fight it. You have to help me find the way; I don't know how to get us back."

He tried to stand up, pulling Potter with him.

"Please," he repeated, and clutched Potter close to him, feeling how heavy and how warm he was, living and breathing, and through the desperation, there was something like relief, to feel another person, another creature so near.

"That—way," Potter said, so softly Draco almost couldn't hear, but he followed the direction of Potter's hand, and they made their way slowly through the fog.

*

They had not emptied the Manor when they left, only taken what they could before it had been seized and boarded up.

Fortunately Potter had lost whatever tenuous grip on reality he had only after the looming spires of the Manor became just visible over the treetops, but that meant Draco had had to drag him the rest of the way and up the staircase to his parents' bedroom, which was the closest of the rooms that had been most strongly warded against intruders. His mother had deliberately neglected to remove the wards when they were forced to leave, and they had both hoped it would result in some nasty surprises for whomever decided to try to take it over.

The room let him and Potter in without difficulty. The furniture had been covered with white sheets, and the effect was quite eerie. Draco was breathing very hard; Potter was so heavy, and Draco's arms trembled from the effort of pulling him along for such a long distance, but he finally managed to dump Potter on the mattress and pull out the dusty sheet covering from under him.

The mattress underneath was soft and pillowy, and Draco ran his hands over it, nearly crying over the memory of luxuries he had always taken for granted. Potter was filthy; there was mud and blood all over him, but there wasn't much Draco could do. He tore a piece of the sheet off and went to the adjoining bath to run it under the water, but everything was dirty, there was no soap, and when he dabbed at the wound in Potter's shoulder he suspected he ran a risk of infecting it further.

There were a few candles left in the room, and Draco had just enough wandless magic ability to be able to light two of them before his exhaustion took over. He drew the tatters of Potter's shirt aside and saw that Potter had been bitten many times, and there were scars and healed teeth marks there already. He picked up the wet cloth again and dabbed a bit more, doing his best to get the dirt out without exacerbating the wounds. Eventually, though, he threw the dirty rag aside.

Draco was cold; he weighed the choice of sleeping next to a deranged wolf-man or alone, down the hall, in this empty and silent house. Potter seemed the lesser of two evils. He caught up the thin sheet and drew it over them, burrowing up against the side of Potter's body with the fewest gashes, as close as he could get. Potter smelled a bit rank, like sweat and earth, but Draco was oddly more comforted than revolted.

He would have to find a way to get help in the morning. For now, he just wanted to sleep.

*

The weak early morning light filtering in through the windows made everything look grey. The cold felt damp, and Draco's nose was almost numb.

But it was warm under the sheet, Potter's chest rising and falling beside him. He looked over and saw that Potter's wounds had knitted themselves together, and though they had left angry red welts, the skin was unbroken. Belatedly he recalled that werewolves were meant to have accelerated healing ability.

This curse was an odd one, then. Either that, or it hadn't worked properly, which was a distinct possibility, since nothing ever worked as it was supposed to where Potter was concerned. He seemed to have the mind of a wolf and the body of a man even though there had been no full moon to trigger it.

Suddenly Draco felt Potter tense a little bit, but before he could draw back and get off the bed, Potter's eyes opened.

It wasn't like when normal people woke and had trouble opening their eyes; Potter seemed to come instantly alert, and his green eyes narrowed. They stared at each other, and Draco tried desperately to gauge whether he was looking at the wolf or the man.

Then Potter's eyes closed again, and he curled up toward Draco, on his side, and inhaled deeply, settling in and nudging his head lightly against Draco's shoulder as if he wanted something.

Draco was bewildered for a moment, but when he reached up and petted Potter's hair, very tentatively, Potter stilled and made a very low noise that sounded like contentment. So he continued stroking Potter's hair, petting him like some kind of enormous human dog. It was very strange, but as he wanted to soothe Potter rather than be eaten, he ignored the weirdness and let the rhythm of Potter's breathing lull him back to sleep.

*

When Draco woke the second time, Potter was sitting up, his head in his hands.

"Potter," he said, his voice thick with sleep, and struggled to sit up too.

Potter raised his head and looked at Draco, a keen, piercing stare.

"Are you—are—can you talk?" Draco ventured.

"Yes," Potter said, hoarsely. "If I am—very still, and I concentrate very hard on—on you, or on needing to be able to talk, then it gets easier."

"Christ, what a mess."

"Yeah," Potter said darkly. "I'm trying very hard not to be angry, because that makes it harder too." His lip curled. "So you'd better not say anything to piss me off."

"I hope," Draco said, as coldly as he could manage when he knew his hair was probably sticking up and his cheek wrinkled, "that you are not holding your murderous impulses over my head in some crude emotional blackmail attempt."

Potter grimaced. "I'm very hungry right now. Don't try me."

"You should have eaten my father when you had the chance," Draco said pettishly.

Potter looked surprised at that. "I'm sensing that leaving you here to be eaten wasn't part of the plan."

"What plan?" Draco was angrily trying to smooth his hair down.

"The plan to turn me into a werewolf, obviously."

"I didn't know about any plan," Draco said, not looking at Potter. "He—I tried to tell you, he hasn't been entirely—entirely right since Azkaban—"

"I don't know, attempting to ruin my life or kill me seems pretty in character to me," Potter muttered.

"Since Azkaban," Draco continued quellingly. "He's always reading and making notes, I was glad of it, I was glad he was keeping himself busy, because I'm never around, and after mother died—"

"Your mum is dead?" Potter looked genuinely shocked.

"Do you care?" Draco countered.

"Well. Well, no—yes, a little bit. Since—since she sort of—saved my life and all," Potter replied, sounding a bit defiant.

Draco swallowed. "What?" he asked, his voice cracking on the word.

"She told Voldemort I was dead and—and it gave me a chance," Potter said carefully.

Draco was very still, not trusting himself to speak.

Potter frowned. "I...I'm sorry, Malfoy."

"Don't be," Draco managed finally, his voice sounding brittle even in his own ears. "I mean," he continued before he could think better of it, "you must not be sorry, you must not really care at all, and it's really low of you to act like you do."

Potter gaped. "What—"

"They took everything," Draco bit out. "Look at this room! This was my parents' bedroom, and look at it now! Dusty and decaying and empty—because we were forced to leave! My mother went against everything—my father, her whole family, everything we had been working for—she helped you kill the Dark Lord and you never said anything, never said a word to the Ministry to stop them from ruining us—"

Potter's face was beginning to darken. "She didn't do it for me," he said, still very careful, though there was a hard edge to his words. "She did it for you, she made me tell her whether or not you were alive before she would help me. She always looked out for you first, that's why she made Snape take the Unbreakable Vow, it's why Snape killed Dumbledore so you wouldn't have to. Just because keeping you safe happened to allow me to kill Voldemort doesn't mean I owe your family anything."

Draco felt his eyes water, but he blinked very rapidly and summoned up all the vestiges of hate for Potter that he could. "You don't know anything about it," he hissed. "You don't know what it means to have to sacrifice—everything."

Before he could finish, Potter's face changed abruptly, and Draco didn't even have time to panic before Potter's pupils contracted and he lunged at Draco with a ferocious snarl.

Potter was on him, his hands at his throat, and Draco remembered in a flash the way he had torn that other wolf's jaw apart with his bare hands. He struggled, feeling the terrible pressure on his trachea, the pain making his eyes water, but he knew he had to speak or he would never get through to him. "Potter!" he choked, as he tried to get hold of Potter's hair, yanking as hard as he could to hold his teeth back. "No—please—Potter! Let me go, this—isn't—you," and almost sobbed in relief when Potter abruptly let go and rolled away.

Draco lay there, coughing and gasping, trying to inhale as much air as possible and suppress the terror he had felt.

When he had calmed down enough, he looked over, and saw Potter sitting on the floor, his knees folded up close to his chest, rocking back and forth.

"You—should leave, Malfoy," he said with difficulty. "I—this isn't good. I promise I won't follow you this time. Go get help, get someone. I—I think I need to be locked up, or—or I'm going to end up killing you. Go get—get Hermione, tell her, she'll—know what to do."

Draco tried to move, but he couldn't, and he remembered what had happened before when he'd tried to run away. He knew that there would be no help from Potter's friends or from the Aurors, not for him, and definitely no help from his father.

He watched Potter, his ashen face, the terrible hair that looked more terrible in his distress, the way he was trembling, afraid of himself. Draco realised then that if Potter were afraid, he himself didn't need to be.

Potter had saved his life twice now: once in the Fiendfyre, and again last night, when, even at his most wolfish, he had killed whatever it was that had been waiting to attack Draco in the wood.

"Don't be an idiot," Draco wheezed.

Potter stopped rocking and looked over at him.

"Well," Draco said, between gasps, "do you want to be locked up?"

Potter looked back down at his knees. "It's not—a question—of what—I want," he said, very low.

Draco rolled his eyes. "The Prophet isn't here to witness your selfless heroics," he snapped.

Potter didn't answer.

Draco rolled over and pushed himself up with his arms and looked over at Potter, at the way his torn shirt hung off his back, the way the light from the window cast half of him in shadow.

"I remember," he said, "when you threw off Imperius. In school. I hated how you were better than I was at everything. Everything was so easy for you."

Potter's head hung a little lower.

"Just—try, Potter."

Potter turned around at that, looking fierce. "I'm tired of trying. I've been trying my whole life. Nothing was ever easy for me, Malfoy. Nothing. And it was supposed to be over, I was supposed to be able to—if I killed him, things were supposed to be—okay, but they're not, even before this happened—it was already bad, and now it's worse, and I just—I'm tired of it, of trying to fight things, Voldemort in my head or the Ministry or your father or the other Aurors or—and now it's worse. So just go. Go get Hermione to fetch the Aurors. She'll listen to you."

Draco didn't want to go to Granger; he didn't want to go anywhere.

"No," he said. "No, I won't go."

He stood up rather shakily and walked over to stand in front of the mirror, which was covered in a layer of dust and made him look soft and blurred. Even so, he could see the dark smudges under his eyes; his face was bony and tired and ugly, and there were already bruises beginning to form at his throat. "We locked up the library before we left. Mother packed a few of father's books, but unless the Ministry has been through to confiscate the rest of them, they might still be here. You should help me find something about—what happened to you."

He saw in the mirror that Potter was looking up at him warily.

"First, though," he continued, "we should try to find something to eat. Wolves are less vicious if they're not hungry, aren't they?"

*

After foraging in the kitchens for almost an hour in the hopes that there would be some kind of preserved food still there, Draco was about to despair – he was very hungry, and Potter was looking more wolfish by the second – when Potter realised he could summon his house-elf.

"You mean the one you stole from us?" Draco sneered.

Potter's face darkened. "No. Dobby is dead. He died in the War," he rumbled.

Draco swallowed. "Er. Well. Go on, then."

Potter shut his eyes, and a few moments later a very old, wizened elf appeared before them.

The elf looked up at Draco, and then at Potter, and recoiled.

"Kreacher thought Master had called him here, Kreacher is sorry to disturb—" He backed away and seemed to be gathering himself up to Apparate away again.

"No!" Potter barked. "Stop! Kreacher, it's me."

Draco was amazed. "He—he doesn't recognise you." He'd never seen that happen before.

"Kreacher can see with his own eyes that Master is not here; Kreacher will go now!"

"Wait! No! Kreacher, I order you to stay and listen to me."

Kreacher hesitated at the direct command, then turned away again, hunching his shoulders. "What would Master be doing in Malfoy Manor? Kreacher has heard Master say it is an evil, nasty place, full of evil, nasty people."

"Er." Potter shot Draco a sideways glance.

"You don't need to look at me like that," Draco said testily. "I know what you thought of us. Just worry about why he doesn't recognise you."

"What should I do?" Potter asked, looking distressed. "I don't know how—"

"Kreacher must be going, Kreacher must look after the people in Master's house," Kreacher was muttering.

"It must be your aura," Draco said, speaking over him. "Maybe—concentrate harder on, you know, pushing down the—the wolf part. He's probably afraid of you. House-elves don't rely only on sight to identify their owners, you know. It would be too easy to steal them that way." It was another way in which they were tied to the families they served.

Potter was looking doubtful, and his eyes were flickering strangely.

"Potter!" Draco snapped. "Concentrate."

Finally, Potter shut his eyes, his brow furrowed.

Kreacher droned on and on. "Kreacher must help the people looking for Master, Kreacher is an old elf and makes mistakes. Kreacher must be punished..."

Draco felt the magic in the room swirl as if it were being sucked into a vacuum around Potter, pulled taut until the whole room seemed to suddenly become brittle at the loss of it, and then Kreacher stopped talking and widened his eyes, staring at Potter. Just when it began to feel uncomfortable, as if Draco's skin were beginning to be pulled along with his magic, it diffused suddenly and very gently, and Potter opened his eyes.

He looked calmer.

"Master," Kreacher said, straightening a little and looking as happy as his sagging face would allow. "Kreacher has been worried! Every day there is being so many people in Master's house, everyone looking for Master—how can Kreacher serve Master?"

"Well—what we really need is some food," Potter said.

"Kreacher will bring food, oh yes!"

"Wait!"

Kreacher turned.

"Don't—don't tell anyone where I am, or that you saw me," he said, but he was looking at Draco instead of at Kreacher. "They can't see me like this. I don't want them to."

"Kreacher is always good at keeping secrets," the elf replied.

"Thank you, Kreacher."

Kreacher Disapparated.

"So," Draco began.

"I think it's better. I—I tried to use magic to push it down as far as I could."

"You do look less...volatile," Draco observed. "Just try to keep it down as long as you can."

"We'll see." But Potter didn't look optimistic.

*

"I can't see," he said a moment later.

They were still waiting in the Manor's enormous, empty kitchen for Kreacher to bring food, and the silence had begun to grow awkward.

"What?" Draco asked.

"My glasses. I lost them. The more...normal I feel, the worse my vision gets."

"They don't require vision correction when you join the Auror Department?"

"I like my glasses," Potter said defiantly.

"Did someone tell you that glasses make you look distinguished?" Draco asked, irritable because he was hungry and in need of a bath. "I'm so sorry, Potter, but some people in this world have no compunction in telling ridiculous falsehoods." He paused, and then couldn't help adding, "You should know that if they're complimenting you, it's probably shameless fawning."

"I know that," Potter snapped. "Gin—" He broke off abruptly.

It struck Draco, suddenly, that it wasn't just the wolfishness that made Potter look strangely unfettered and fierce. Without his glasses his eyes looked huge in his face, the lashes and brows very thick and dark. It was harder to look in Potter's eyes when he didn't have his glasses on.

"Gin?" he asked, mind conjuring a lurid picture of Potter's alcoholism.

Potter ducked his head and scrubbed at his hair. "Ginny. Ginny Weasley. Never mind. God, I need a shower. I think I have fleas already."

Draco glared at him. "That's revolting," he said, remembering how close they'd slept. "But don't change the subject." Potter didn't respond, but Draco couldn't resist pursuing this interesting lead. "You know, despite what the Prophet implied, your girlfriend must be really worried," he said, lowering his lashes to examine his hands. "I'm surprised you don't want her to know that you are, in fact, still alive."

"What? What did the Prophet say?"

"Oh, they ran a quote of hers; she said sometimes you disappeared and didn't want to be found."

Potter frowned. "Yeah, I—we were going through a rough patch, there. Not that it's any of your business," he finished hastily.

"So you do this disappearing thing a lot?"

"Well, she isn't honest with me, so I'd say it all evens out, wouldn't you?" Potter said.

"My, you two sound like you have a healthy relationship," Draco drawled. "What, does she not like it when you have sex with fans on the side after all?"

"Actually, it was the other way around," Potter said, his voice going very growly.

"You mean she was shagging the Boy Who Lived and that wasn't enough for her?" Draco started to laugh.

"I'm glad you find it so funny," Potter snarled.

"You must have been doing something really wrong," Draco informed him.

Even through the grime, Draco could see the colour drain from Potter's face.

"Shut up," he said viciously.

"It was just a joke, Potter, god—"

"I said shut up. My vision just got a lot better."

Draco shut his mouth and pulled his knees up to his chest.

Potter closed his eyes for a long time.

Finally, when he opened them, he said, "I overheard her telling Bill once that she hated that I was an Auror, and that I'd dragged Ron into it. That if I truly cared about her I wouldn't be out risking my life and Ron's life. She never told me that. She always said I was brave, and that she was proud of me."

Draco didn't know what to say to that.

"Anyway, I don't care what she thinks now."

Another silence ensued, in which Draco tried to say something sympathetic, but the words just wouldn't come.

Potter sighed and rubbed his eyes. "It's all blurry again."

"You must be able to do wandless," Draco said. "Why don't you try accio?"

"I tried this morning before you woke up. I couldn't do it." Potter looked embarrassed.

"That was before you did whatever you did to get Kreacher to recognise you," Draco reminded him. "Try again. If that works, maybe you can conjure some soap and transfigure us some towels."

Potter closed his eyes again, and held out his hand. Draco saw a muscle twitch in Potter's jaw. And then suddenly something flew into Potter's outstretched hand.

Unfortunately, it was followed by four other somethings. Potter's glasses were in pieces.

He threw the pieces at the wall. "I'll just have to ask Kreacher if he can find my old ones from school."

Draco leaned back against the wall. If Potter could do magic for them, they would be all right.

*

When Kreacher finally reappeared with food, Potter snatched the tray away from him and tore into it savagely. Draco was appalled at the display, but as Potter had probably gone a lot longer without food than he had, he supposed it was excusable. Potter didn't bother with the forks Kreacher had thoughtfully provided, he just scooped it up with his hands and stuffed his face in it, making disgusting grunting noises.

He finished, finally, and Draco pushed his own food away.

"If we're going to stay here, you should have Kreacher stay too. In case we need anything."

"No," Potter said firmly. "We should only call him when we need him."

"Why? No one's lived here in over two years, Potter. We can't—"

"I might eat him," Potter snapped.

A bark of laughter escaped Draco before he could stop it.

"What?" Potter demanded belligerently.

"N-nothing," Draco said weakly. "Harry Potter can't keep house elves because he might eat them. Hilarious. I think you should give the Prophet an exclusive. Life with the Boy Who Lived."

"Yeah, laugh it up, Malfoy," Potter said sourly, but the edges of his mouth quirked a little bit.

Potter asked Kreacher to bring them food regularly and to bring his old glasses, some clothes, blankets, and towels.

"And soap and quills and parchment," Draco said.

"What, are you going to Owl somebody in the bath?" Potter asked suspiciously.

"No, you dolt, we need to make notes if we're going to research. Speaking of which, I'll need your help getting the doors to the library open. We sort of—bolted them shut before we left."

The heating charms still worked on the water, fortunately, and Draco felt much more optimistic as he bathed. Talking to Potter, or perhaps just being around him, brought something back in Draco, made him feel something like his old self. He felt...incredulous, he felt hopeful, he felt like maybe they could find out how to fix Potter. Then things might go back to the way they were; he might be able to find a way to leave. But for now, he wasn't alone, and Potter needed him.

Several hours later, Potter was clean too, his hair clinging to his neck in damp tendrils, and looking very fierce. He had his old glasses on, the round ones, but he didn't look ridiculous. He looked dangerous.

"Your hair is still wet," Draco said inanely.

A sort of shiver went through Potter, starting in his spine and travelling upward so that he shook his head violently, water spattering in all directions.

"It's disturbing when you do things like that," Draco said, looking at Potter, whose hair was now sticking out in all directions in wet little spikes.

"Things like what?"

"You know. Dog things. Wolf things, I suppose."

Potter was looking at him blankly.

"It's as if most of your physical impulses are canine. This must be a very complex spell for you to have retained your human form."

"Yeah, well, let's look into that."

They had a bit of a time with the library door, but Potter's mounting frustration and anger with it helped, and finally, it was a combination of Potter lunging at the door with his shoulder and a blast of magic he conjured so violent it knocked Draco over that finally forced the doors apart with a crash.

"Very elegant, Potter," Draco said from the floor. He was probably concussed.

It took a while for Potter to calm down long enough to stop pacing around the room and growling, and by that time Draco had selected a few dusty tomes—Lycanthropie, Livia Llewelyn's Labyrinthine Lycanthrope Letters, and Werewolves: Wonderous Weapons—from the shelves and started reading.

When his wrist started to ache from making notes, he looked over at Potter, who was sprawled on a chair, scowling at a book in front of him.

"Surely you remember how to read," Draco said.

"Of course I do," Potter replied, and grabbed a piece of parchment and a quill. He wasn't holding the quill like most people did, however; the movement was awkward, and he wrapped his hand around the quill in a fist.

Then he grabbed it with his other hand and tried to curl his fingers in a quill grip, but when he tried to hold the quill, it fell out of his hands and made a soft clinking noise on the table.

Draco wanted to look away. This little weakness did more to horrify him than anything else had. He was embarrassed for Potter; he felt his face change, felt the expression of pity form before he could hide it.

Draco raised his eyes to Potter's face. What he saw there made his own eyes drop back to the table.

There was a sound, abrupt and sharp and pained, and then Potter hurled himself up out of the chair and was gone before Draco could look up again.

*

When Potter still hadn't come back after dark, Draco began to feel uneasy, but reminded himself that Potter could take care of himself, and Draco had everything he needed. He couldn't manage a wandless warming charm, but the blankets meant that didn't matter. Kreacher brought enough food for both of them, so Draco wasn't hungry. He'd even brought a few toothbrushes, so Draco was able to clean his teeth. He thought about sleeping in his parents' bed again, but the idea of lying there, asleep and vulnerable, for Potter to come back in unknown frame of mind, was not very attractive.

So he made his way up to his own former bedroom. It was a bit frightening, opening the door. His room looked strange after so long, but when he took the sheets off the furniture and wiped down some of the dust, it began to feel more familiar. He spread out the linens and one of the blankets Kreacher had brought and got in the bed. It was his room; he had always been safe here.

Moonlight was streaming through his window and on the duvet when he woke—quarter moon, he noted, and then he felt the bed dip. Potter had crawled onto the bed and was curling up next to him, on top of the duvet, his head nudged up close to Draco's shoulder. Draco buried one hand in Potter's hair and fell asleep again.

*

The next morning Draco woke to find Potter gone, a dip in the blankets the only evidence that he had been there at all.

He went downstairs to the kitchen and found a tray of food on a table there for him, the remains of Potter's breakfast already scattered at the other end of the table.

He spent most of the day in the library and did not see Potter. He went for a walk on the grounds, careful not to go into the wood. And he went to bed alone. Toward dawn, though, Potter was back in his bed. This happened for the next few days, as if he were Draco's pet dog.

Draco let himself study Potter as he slept, the lines in his face, the way he breathed, his rough hands, the way he folded in on himself, like an animal that wanted to protect its underbelly. He never slept on his back and he never sprawled out, but some part of him was always touching Draco, as if to assure himself that someone was there with him.

On the fourth day, near dusk, Draco was staring out the window at the quiet grey darkness when he saw a dark figure emerge from the wood, dragging something on the ground behind him. Draco took a moment to realise it was a dead animal. He watched in horrified fascination as Potter drew it into the shadows near the house and then began tearing into it. It was too dark to see very clearly what he was doing, but Draco felt slightly sick. He was a bit frightened when Potter came into bed that night, expecting to see blood smeared on Potter's face and on his hands, but he was clean, and slightly damp, as if he had washed up just before coming.

Draco was afraid to touch Potter, but Potter did nothing except flop down on the bed and burrow into Draco's side just like he normally did. It was difficult, Draco reflected, to sustain feelings of revulsion and terror when the object of such feelings made little snuffling noises as he slept beside you.

After a week of this, Draco was determined not to let Potter slip away before he woke. When he felt the bed move, he immediately sat up and turned around and saw Potter stretching, arching his back and extending his hands, but when Potter started to move quietly to the door, Draco said, "Potter!"

Potter turned halfway, hand still poised to open the door.

"Where are you going?" Draco demanded.

"It's always worse in the morning," Potter said, his voice sound gravelly and unwieldy. "I think wolves are nocturnal; it doesn't like that I want to be awake during the day."

"But you've been gone all day, every day. You're not sleeping. Where are you going?"

"I—running, mostly. I can't stand being still."

Draco contemplated the wisdom of lecturing Potter so early in the morning. "You—you have to fight those impulses."

"Why?" Potter demanded. "You saw. I can't even hold a quill. I can't try to live like I'm normal any more. I'm not normal and I never have been and I hate having to keep trying."

"Oh, cry me a river," Draco snapped. "Yes, it's too bad you turned out to be the most powerful wizard in the world. Some of us have shit lives without the perks of being all-powerful."

Potter glared at him, the early morning light making him look pale and sharp, like a black and white photograph.

"You need to try. Come to the library with me today. It's probably just a matter of remembering how to do it—"

"I couldn't even bend my fingers right. It's not like I don't remember how I used to hold my quill," Potter bit out.

"No, but wolves don't have the kind of fine motor control that humans do. You just need to find that part of your human brain that remembers, just like you did to remember how to speak." Draco got up out of bed. "Come, Potter," and was a bit surprised that Potter did.

"I'm not your pet," Potter said darkly as he followed Draco down to the kitchens for breakfast.

"Heel," Draco responded promptly.

Potter made a little rumbling noise in his chest. It wasn't quite a growl, so Draco allowed himself a little smile of triumph.

*

Potter was very tense, coiled tight as a spring, and he had broken two quills already; they snapped in his hands when he gripped them too hard.

"For fuck's sake, Potter! Relax," Draco said. "Maybe you need to start with self control more generally before you attempt fine motor skills."

"You're one to talk about self control," Potter said sullenly. "You could never just let things go, in school."

That stung, that Potter would bring up school, as if they were still twelve years old. "I'm perfectly able to control myself when not confronted with the relentless and astounding idiocy of the boy wonder and his trusty sidekicks," Draco retorted hotly.

There was a charged silence wherein Draco wondered how it always got so personal, with them.

"If I'm such an idiot, why do you care? Why are you making me do this?" Potter said quietly.

Draco turned away and spoke over his shoulder. "I don't care," he said mordantly. "You can go on stuffing your face in your food because you can't use a fork, and running off into the wood instead of trying to help me find out what Father did to you, and growling and snarling and disembowelling sheep with your teeth—there's no need to look so embarrassed, I've seen it, I saw you do it again just yesterday, and it was revolting. You can keep that up, you can stop trying to get a hold of yourself, only don't expect me to keep sleeping with a big smelly dog in my bed every night."

Potter looked like he'd been slapped, but he recovered himself, setting his jaw belligerently. "I didn't ask you to stay, did I?" he snapped. "Who wanted you to? I told you to go. You should have gone."

Without a word, Draco stormed out of the room, unable to bear looking at Potter's stupid face any longer.

He stomped up to his room and slammed the door shut, kicking it as hard as he could, and hurling the useless book he held in his hand at the wall, where it made a whumping noise and fell to the floor.

It was now patently obvious that every time he tried to do something to help someone else, he would fail spectacularly. Why had he thought this time would be any different? Potter was stupid and brutish and mean and Draco hated him.

And then he thought further, and realised that every time he had tried to help someone, it had meant helping himself, too. Trying to get his father out of prison, trying to get his family back in the Dark Lord's good graces, even trying to be what his mother wanted him to be after the War, and now trying to help Potter, which might get him back in the good graces of the Ministry – all of his efforts in these areas had been made because he thought and counted on the fact that doing so would make life easier for himself.

Draco knew many selfish people. He also knew that they were never punished for their solipsism with the kind of karmic retribution he experienced; his life was the only one that seemed to play out like a Greek tragedy.

But Potter—Potter was the opposite. If Draco were honest, he knew that Potter had had to do many things in his life despite not wanting to, not thinking he could, even knowing that he would gain nothing from his efforts except perhaps some peace of mind. And it sounded like, even after saving the world, he didn’t even have that. The two of them, Potter and Malfoy, had reached the same place by doing completely opposite things; it was as if being thrust together this way had meant that perhaps they were supposed to cancel each other out.

Comparing himself to Potter was not a novel idea; in fact, it had turned out to be the only constant in his life. Even before they met, Draco had compared himself to Potter and the mythology surrounding the Boy Who Lived. He had thought, in his first year, that he had been disappointed in Potter and the fact that he was scrawny and sullen and, most importantly, uninterested in being friends with Draco, but it hadn't taken Draco long to realise that Potter surpassed him in nearly every way—skill, power, talent, moral strength, bravery, even charisma. That hadn't stopped him trying to best Potter at every opportunity, and his repeated failures didn't change that. Somewhere along the way, though, it had stopped being a fight against Potter. Or maybe, where the two of them were concerned, fighting for and against each other amounted to the same thing.

But none of that mattered, because Potter didn't want his help. Draco sat there, realising how big the role Potter played in his life really was, how so many of the things he had done in his life had been because of Harry Potter's presence in it. He knew now that he had always believed, or wanted very badly to believe, that he had been equally important to Potter, and now he had the irrefutable truth that, even when Potter had no one else but an ancient house elf to help him, he thought Draco's presence in his life superfluous.

Draco had lost track of how long he sat there, wondering what to do next, where to go, thinking up and discarding plan after hope after regret, when he heard a rustling sound at the door.

There was a piece of parchment on the floor just inside; it had obviously been slid underneath. Draco walked over and picked it up.

Malfoy, it read, in messy, childish handwriting, blots and smears of ink obscuring some of the letters, I'm sorry for what I said. Please come out. I'm glad you stayed.

Before he could think, he flung open the door, and there was Potter, sitting on the floor against the wall opposite, a smudge of ink on his cheek.

"I was only trying to help," Draco burst out.

"I know," Potter said.

"Well. You're all right, then."

Potter smiled, just a little, without showing any teeth.

*

"I'm trying not to...to show it," Potter said a few hours later.

Draco looked up from his book. "Show it?"

"You know. I always—I always take a bath before I get in the bed. I was rather hoping—I mean I know it must be weird. I'm trying not to be a big smelly dog."

He wasn't looking at Draco, playing instead with the tip of his quill, as if it were fascinating. "I'm sorry that I’m so—so disgusting."

Draco felt distinctly uncomfortable. "Er. You...it's not. You're all right."

"I mean," Potter continued, his voice low. "It's because it's not so hard when you're around. I can let go, a little bit, when I can see you or—or hear you or touch you. That's why I keep getting on the bed with you."

"It's fine, Potter," Draco said hastily. "I only said it because I was angry. You're not a...a big smelly dog."

Potter looked up at him for a moment, his gaze very piercing, and then he resumed laboriously manoeuvring his quill over the parchment, the tip of his tongue sticking out a tiny bit as he concentrated on trying to write legibly.

"It will get easier," Draco said after watching this for a while, in what he hoped was an encouraging tone.

"What?" Potter said, looking up from the parchment.

"The writing. I could tell from the note that you're having a bit of trouble, but you'll get your normal handwriting back."

Potter blinked at him. "Er," he said finally. "Er. Malfoy. That's pretty much what my handwriting always looks like."

Oh. "Right."

*

"Potter!" Draco yelled a few days later, tossing Lycanthropie aside. A dreadful thought had just occurred to him.

Potter was nowhere to be found. The sun was shining through the windows. It looked like spring was finally coming, though it would probably start raining in a few moments, and if Potter were outside he was going to come back in tonight and drip rain and mud all over the floors, Draco thought crossly.

He went outside. "Potter!" he called. He walked around to the other side of the house and found Potter vigorously digging a large hole in the ground with an old shovel.

At the sound of Draco's voice, he straightened up and looked over, and Draco saw he was quite sweaty, and there was dirt on his shirt and trousers and even on his face.

"What are you doing?" Draco said, momentarily forgetting why he had sought Potter out.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" Potter said evasively, turning back to digging.

"Digging a hole, obviously," Draco snapped impatiently. "What I was wondering is why you have chosen to deface the lawn."

"Deface the lawn?" Potter echoed, looking around at the overgrown grass and unkempt shrubbery.

"Answer the question."

"Why can't I dig a hole if I want to?" Potter demanded.

"Because it's stupid and pointless and you're ruining the landscaping. What are you going to do, plant a tree? Are you a gardener all of a sudden? Is this some futile attempt to—" Draco broke off as a thought occurred to him. "Is it because of the wolf? Are you—is this something you take irrational enjoyment out of, now?"

Potter's expression blackened and he threw the shovel aside. "I'm burying those," he said, pointing at a pile of bones and dead animal flesh lying a few feet away.

Draco shut his mouth.

"There, now you know," Potter said maliciously. "I had to do one for Greyback last week, but I used my hands for that. You told me to fight those impulses, so I found a shovel."

Draco still didn't know what to say.

"What, did you think his body just disintegrated?" Potter smiled mockingly, and he looked distinctly more wolfish.

Seeing how much pleasure Potter was taking in his discomfiture, Draco began to feel angry. "No, I thought you probably ate it. You don't seem to have a problem doing things like that."

Potter made a little growling sound. "I'll eat you if you don't stop doing your best to piss me off."

"Oh yes, resort to threats of violence! It's a great comfort to know that I'm trying to help someone who fantasises about how I taste."

Potter looked at him oddly.

Draco felt himself reddening. "You are such a tosser," he said hastily.

Potter picked up the shovel and resumed digging. "What did you want, Malfoy?" he threw over his shoulder.

Draco took a shaky breath. "I was just reading and—it occurs to me that you might be infectious. Even though you're in human form. I mean, because you're in human form, and there's still a wolf in your head that you're—that you're fighting." Draco wondered if he had to worry about Potter drooling when he was asleep in their bed. Or touching Potter's blood with an open wound! Would it be in Potter's sweat?

Potter's shovel didn't even falter as he stabbed it into the earth again. "No, I don't think I'm infectious," he said calmly.

"How do you know?" Draco asked.

"I bit your dad, that first night, before he got away," he grunted, dumping a large shovelful of dirt aside. "It didn't do anything except mangle his arm, even though I was completely out of my mind." He paused, digging for a few moments while Draco digested this, and then continued. "I—I thought about this a lot, after you decided to stay, about whether or not it really is safe for you here. With me."

"Oh." Draco felt extremely foolish, for some reason. "Well. D'you...need help here?"

"No."

"Kreacher is coming with dinner in an hour, unless you're too full from this feast of flesh," Draco said.

"These are quite a few days old. I'm trying very hard not to do this anymore."

That made Draco feel worse. "Fine. That's—that's great, Potter. I'm going back to the house."

"All right."

*

Though Draco had made lots of headway in the lycanthropy books, he had had no luck in discovering the origins of any curse that would induce werewolf behaviour in mind only, and absolutely nothing that would induce it during any time other than the full moon. He looked over Potter's notes and saw that they consisted mostly of the alphabet written over and over again, as if Potter were practicing his penmanship.

Potter was useless at the research, then, but as Draco studied the way Potter had paid particular attention to the curves of his Gs (the word Gryffindor was spelled out a few times), he found himself smiling and not feeling the slightest bit resentful.

Potter appeared late one afternoon, dusty and looking extremely pleased with himself, holding an old quaffle. He demanded that Draco come outside with him, and to compensate for forcing Potter to coop himself up in the library all day, Draco spent the next few hours learning how to kick a ball around the Muggle way. The quaffle was a bit too large and heavy for their purposes, Potter noted, but he was flushed and laughing as he ran, forcing Draco to wheeze and gasp and pretend that the muscles in his legs weren't burning from running so much more than he was used to. When, finally, he couldn't keep up with Potter any longer, he collapsed on his back on the lawn and looked up at the sky. The sun had set, and Potter was still running, kicking the quaffle around, looking as if he could go on all night.

Draco closed his eyes and let himself feel weak and tired, his muscles relaxing and making it seem as if he were seeping slowly into the ground. As his breathing slowed and he began to feel chilled, he realised that Potter had stopped running and was standing very still, the quaffle forgotten a few metres away.

Draco immediately got up and walked over.

"Potter?"

Potter didn't move, didn't even turn his head. His eyes were shut and his breathing was shallow.

Draco reached out to touch Potter's shoulder. At the instant he made contact, Potter's eyes snapped open and he knocked Draco's hand away.

"Something's—happening," Potter croaked hoarsely. His eyes gleamed in the gathering darkness.

Draco began to feel scared. "What—what is it?"

"I feel—strange," he said, and then his eyes widened and he made a terrible noise. In an instant, everything human about his demeanour vanished, and he started making those choked groans and snarls that Draco had not heard since that first day. He fell to his knees and clawed at the grass, his body contorting strangely, and Draco could only watch, horrified and transfixed and telling himself he should run now, run into the house and lock himself in somewhere where Potter couldn't get to him, but his feet wouldn't move; he was rooted to the ground. And then something caught Draco's eye; he looked over to the horizon over the treetops, and he saw—a full moon rising.

It all happened very quickly. Draco heard Potter's bones crack in quick succession and saw his skin tearing before it knit itself back together in a new shape, dark grey fur beginning to appear, and Potter's glasses fell to the grass as his face elongated into the snout of a wolf. His clothes stretched and tore, and he struggled to free himself from them.

Draco stumbled backward and fell, and then scrambled to get up and run, thinking that Potter had finally transformed completely, but he couldn't resist looking back after only a few steps, and he saw that the wolf was just lying there, whimpering a little. Then he raised his head. Instead of baring his teeth, or growling or lunging at Draco, though, he just looked at him, eyes large and sad.

Draco turned back, stepping closer one step at a time. "Potter?" he said finally.

Potter-the-wolf raised himself very slowly onto his four legs and then ambled over to Draco, nudging at his hand and looking up at him. He was enormous, much bigger than any dog.

"Can you—can you understand me?"

He made an exaggerated nodding motion, and then butted his head against Draco's hip.

"So—you—you aren't going to try to rip my throat out?"

That caused Potter to flatten his ears and look reproachfully up at Draco.

A thought occurred to him.

"So—you aren't fighting anything? You aren't trying to keep the—the wolf brain, or whatever, from taking over?"

Potter shook his head.

This development excited Draco and gave him a few more ideas about what to research. "I wonder," he said slowly, "if you were ever meant to be able to overcome the curse when you're in human form. If not, then it's much more cut and dry, isn't it? And maybe it will be easier to find something about what my father did to you."

Potter yawned hugely and then began trotting back to the house. He stopped after a few steps and looked back at Draco, as if to make sure he was coming. Draco picked up Potter's glasses and followed.

Dinner was amusing for Draco but appeared to be embarrassing for Potter; he poked delicately with his paw at his food, and finally tried sticking his face in it in awkward, self-conscious motions entirely different from the way he wolfed down his food with abandon in human form. After a few bites, he had food all over his nose and lay down on the floor, facing away from Draco, grooming himself and then hiding his face under one paw.

"There's no need to be so fastidious," Draco said. "I already know table manners were never your forte, even in school."

Potter turned his head around to glare at Draco. Then he got up and loped out of the room.

*

There was still no sign of Potter when Draco went up to his bedroom, but just as he was pulling back the sheets to climb into bed, he heard the door creak open, and Potter shuffled in hesitantly. Draco blew out the candles and patted the bed next to him, but Potter just lay down on the floor next to the bed, his head resting on his paws and his eyes darting to the window occasionally.

Draco fell asleep. He woke to pained whimpers, but they were very soft, and he opened his eyes just enough to make out Potter standing upright, naked and shivering.

He knew he had to speak, to make sure that Potter could focus if he'd lost his grip on human consciousness.

"You all right?" he mumbled.

"My—my clothes," Potter said, after a pause.

"Didn't Kreacher bring you more? Where did you put them?"

"I don't know! He just brings them to me."

He was shivering in earnest now, looking miserable and pale in the darkness.

Draco weighed the wisdom of inviting a naked Harry Potter into his bed. For some reason it wasn't a horrifying notion. He held up the blankets. "Come on, don't be an idiot."

Potter scrambled into the bed with him, his skin cold and dry, like ice. Potter wrapped himself around Draco as if they did this all the time.

"Mm, you're so warm," Potter mumbled and then paused. "I like the way you smell."

Draco was suddenly very embarrassed, and despite being surrounded by a block of ice, he felt himself flush.

He ducked his head and found that this resulted in his face being buried in Potter's neck. He liked the way Potter smelled, too, now that he was bathing regularly. But it would never do to tell him so.

"We'll have to start keeping track of the lunar phases," Draco said.

Potter was silent, however. He had already fallen asleep.

*

When Draco woke, he saw that Potter was already awake and still quite human-shaped, thankfully, but he wasn't himself.

"Potter!" Draco said, sitting up and putting a hand to his shoulder.

Potter flinched away from him, snarling. Draco saw that he was trembling slightly, but otherwise lying very still on his side.

As carefully as he could, he got out of the bed and got dressed. He found Kreacher cleaning up in the kitchens and asked him to bring more clothes for Potter and a pain potion along with his breakfast.

When it came, Draco dumped it into the food and took the tray up to the bedroom, where Potter was still lying on the bed, whimpering and hostile.

The lure of food was irresistible, however, and he ate as quickly and messily as ever. The potion began to take effect soon after, and Draco sat and watched Potter's eyes clear and his shoulders loosen.

"Better?" Draco asked.

Potter nodded, the lines in his forehead visibly smoothing out as the pain receded. "It got really bad a few hours after I changed back. I couldn't—I tried really hard not to slip, but I couldn't concentrate." He closed his eyes. "It was nice, though, last night," he said, his voice soft. "It was really great. I wasn't fighting anything in my head, I was just—myself. I wish I could have talked to you."

"Well, we've learned two things from this," Draco said briskly, standing up and dumping the clothes Kreacher had brought for Potter on the bed. "Number one, the full moon does affect you, though in body only. In effect, the werewolf curse is completely reversed for you."

Potter grimaced.

"And number two, you don't try to eat me now when you're...not yourself. Even when you're in pain and angry. You've probably got used to me."

Potter flopped over and buried his face in the pillows. "No, I think I just decided you probably wouldn't taste very good."

"What?" Draco said, his jaw dropping.

"You're so bony and sharp."

"It's a wonder my elbows didn't cut you last night, then," Draco said, offended and embarrassed. "You were practically smothering me."

Potter looked up from the pillows, his expression contrite. "Sorry about that."

Draco flushed and decided he should leave before he admitted that he had liked it. "I'll be in the library." As he reached the door, he turned. "I put your glasses on the table." And he left, shutting the door quietly behind him.

*

He spent a long time trying to find information on reversing curses, but that just yielded lots of theory on how to undo them.

Draco tried to think of words that meant "reverse" in the sense that he did, but nothing useful came to mind. He was also having trouble concentrating; he kept remembering the rumbling, affectionate tone of Potter's voice after the pain potion had started working for him, and then he remembered the shadowy glimpses of Potter's naked body, and the way he had held him so tightly. Draco had wanted to be completely enveloped by him, and the sudden onset of such intense feelings toward Potter, or rather Potter's body, since he had always had intense feelings of some sort toward Potter, was disconcerting and embarrassing.

He finally decided that it was unwise that they continue sleeping together. Draco knew he was bound to humiliate himself sooner or later, and Potter wasn't even gay; his need to be close to Draco seemed to be a general and impersonal need in Potter just to be touching someone, to assure himself that he was not alone. It was innocent of any sexual suggestion. Draco knew if he banned Potter from sleeping with him, he would feel the loss of Potter himself, whereas Potter would feel only the loss of a body, and that disparity made all the difference.

The door to the library opened, then, and Potter came in, a few cuts on his face.

"What happened?" Draco said, starting up and crossing over to him.

Potter looked embarrassed. "Er. I asked Kreacher for a razor; I wanted to shave the Muggle way."

"What's wrong with depilo?"

"It makes my face burn more than a razor does," Potter said. "I've been using depilo but I thought since I can hold a quill now, a razor would be safe."

Before he could think, Draco reached out and ran his fingers lightly over the unbroken skin along Potter's jaw. It was smooth. "Very nice," he conceded.

Suddenly his wrist was caught in Potter's hand.

"I—don't," Potter said, his voice sounding oddly shaky.

Draco snatched his hand away. "Sorry," he said, and then blurted, "I don't think you should sleep with me anymore. It's—I don't—I don't like it."

It was a lie, but of course he couldn't give Potter the real reason.

Potter looked hurt. "Is it because—I just, er, I'm sorry about last night, I was really cold."

"Well that could have had something to do with the fact that you were naked," Draco said.

Potter's eyes were really almost too green if one looked into them too long.

"The bed in my parents' room is better anyway, it's bigger," Draco went on hurriedly, trying to bypass the awkwardness of the moment. "And you can bolt the door from the inside. I'm sure you'd like your privacy for—for transformations and such, and anyway I haven't been sleeping well, and you're always up so early—"

"I can be still," Potter said. "I—I'll try not to get up until you do. And I don't need—I don't need to be alone. When things happen. Unless—unless you're afraid," he said haltingly.

"Of course I'm not afraid," Draco said. "It's just odd, that's all."

"What's odd?"

"Two blokes, you know..."

Potter looked blank.

"I'm a homosexual, all right?" Draco snapped. "There, you know my deep dark secret, now laugh it up and call me a nancy boy or a pillow biter or whatever, let's just get that out of the way right now."

Potter turned bright red. "Oh," he said.

"I'm going out for a walk," Draco said hastily, and tried not to fulfil Potter's inevitable expectations by flouncing out of the room.

*

When he came back in for dinner later, Potter was sitting across the table, concentrating on using his fork. He looked up when Draco appeared in the doorway and followed him with his eyes, but he didn't say anything, a state of affairs that was perfectly acceptable to Draco. Or so he told himself.

He sat down and chewed his food with determination, deliberately not looking at Potter. It was therefore something of a surprise when, a few moments later, Potter did speak.

"So, have you ever, you know, done anything?"

Draco glared at him. "If, by the extremely unspecific and ambiguous use of the phrase 'done anything,' you mean have I ever had a sexual experience with another man, the answer is no."

Potter looked down at his food. "So—well, how do you know that you are?"

"Because I wank thinking about taking a cock up my arse," Draco said coldly.

Potter turned red again.

"Also, I like nice clothes."

"Oh, you're having me on," Potter said, looking both relieved and uncertain.

"Not at all," Draco said.

Potter was silent again.

"The thing is," he said finally. "The thing. Is. IthinkIamtoo."

For a moment, Draco felt bereft of the power of speech. "What?" he managed finally.

"I told you—I told you about Ginny, and remember you said—you said I must have been doing something really...wrong."

Draco felt a mad desire to laugh. "Did I?" he said weakly.

"Well—yeah. Yes. And. She accused me of it one night, after we'd—you know."

"Really."

Potter sighed. "And I hated her for saying it. Everyone—after the War we all expected things to work out. I was going to join the Aurors and she wanted to try for professional Quidditch and we'd wait a while and get married. So I joined the Aurors but I hated it. And she didn't get picked up by any team she wanted, only a Japanese one, and she didn't want to be so far away. And the two of us—it was never—the way it was supposed to be, I think. Things got worse and worse, and I never wanted to be at home, because of what she—but I hated work, too, and I could see that we were disappointing everyone."

"Just because it wasn't working out with her doesn't mean it wouldn’t have worked with any other girl," Draco said. "It was all over the school that you liked Chang." Draco remembered how triumphant he had felt when he heard it hadn't worked out. "And you went to the Yule Ball with Parvati Patil."

"Both disasters," Potter said darkly. "And I thought—for a long time—that I wasn't interested because I was under so much pressure. But it didn't get much better after. It was all right sometimes, but I don't think it's supposed to just be all right, is it?"

Draco didn't know whether to be flattered or horrified that Potter was becoming so garrulous about his personal life.

"I—I really wouldn't know," he said in a suffocated voice.

"You went to the Yule Ball with Pansy Parkinson," Potter said.

"She—that's how I knew," Draco admitted reluctantly.

"Oh."

Draco pushed the remaining food on his plate around for a few moments, and then stood up abruptly.

"I'm going to bed," he announced. "And—well, I think it's best, all things considered, if we—"

"Yeah. I suppose so." Potter said quietly.

"Right."

"See you tomorrow."

"Yes."

*

It was awkward for the next few days, and Draco was generally too preoccupied with the awkwardness to concentrate on the dusty old spell books and the dry theory they contained. He thought instead about what it would be like if Potter kissed him, if he kissed and fucked like he did everything else, putting his whole self into it. He thought about Potter leaning forward, he thought about feeling Potter's weight on top of him, the roughness of his hands, even what it would be like to call him Harry, if that would make a difference.

But fantasising that way was useless and frustrating, and Draco tried not to indulge in it as frequently as he wished to. Instead, he turned his mind to more practical matters—namely, that he was starting to worry about his father, how he was doing, whether or not he was going to come back, whether the Auror in charge of his parole was going to check in with him and start asking awkward questions, and whether some kind of investigation would lead someone, the Aurors, or Granger and Weasley, or anyone, to the Manor.

"I think we should ask Kreacher to start bringing us the Daily Prophet," Draco said one afternoon, when they were in the library.

Potter looked up at him blankly. "Why?"

"We need to know what's going on."

"I would think the Prophet would be the last place you would want to look, if you really wanted to know," Potter said with surprisingly little rancour, and went back to his parchment.

Draco quelled a stab of impatience. "Why don't you want anyone to know you're alive?" he demanded. "That would be a good way to find out what's happening."

Potter's face darkened. "I just don't. They would all come and—and try to—it's just too much. I don't want them to know, and I don't want their help and their pity. It's still really unpredictable. I know I offered to be locked up, before, but—I don’t want it, not really."

"You think they would?"

Potter looked down. "I don't know. I think they might. And they would be right to," he said quickly. "I'm not like a regular werewolf. We don't even know if wolfsbane would work. I can't go back until we've fixed this. Sometimes it's just little things that make me...lose it."

"But even when you do, you don't hurt anybody."

For some reason, Potter looked embarrassed. "I don't hurt you," he mumbled.

"Well if you recognise me I would think you'd be able to recognize Granger and Weasley—all the Weasleys," he said with asperity.

"You don't understand. You're not like—it would be different, with them," Potter said lamely.

"Of course I understand," Draco said quickly, almost pettishly. He did understand; he wasn't as important to Potter as Granger and the Weasleys were. But it hurt to hear Potter say it.

"No; I really don't think you do. When I'm feeling—particularly wolfish, I start to think in terms of—what's mine and what isn't, and what I defend and what I attack. And you—I think—I think the wolf likes you."

Draco didn't know what to make of this bizarre speech. "Presumably, since you are 'the wolf,' it also likes Weasley and Granger."

"I don't think the wolf knows them, and anyway, it would be different," Potter said tightly.

"Why?"

"Er. I'd rather not say, if it's all the same to you."

"But it's not the same to me," Draco said.

"I take it back: I'd rather not say, full stop."

"You're being needlessly mysterious."

"Just. Give it a rest, Malfoy. Please."

"Whatever."

But Potter did ask Kreacher to start bringing the Prophet for Draco.

*

The only thing in the Prophet about either of them was a small box of text near the back that ran every day, saying, "The MINISTRY OF MAGIC is offering a REWARD to anyone who has VERIFIABLE INTELLIGENCE regarding the DISAPPEARANCE of HARRY POTTER. Please contact the Auror Division with inquiries or information."

Potter refused to look at the Prophet, so Draco threw each one in the fire after reading it through.

Potter did speak more often about how disappointing his life was after the War, and Draco told Potter about his own disappointments, though he could not articulate his despair. Privately, Draco doubted that Potter was as unhappy as he made himself sound. How could he have been? Draco used to mock Potter for his lack of family, but now Potter had a huge family, so many people in his life who loved him and looked out for him and wanted the best for him. Draco had gone the opposite way, and he knew which was worse.

But he watched Potter struggle every day with trying to hold his quill, his razor, and his fork, to speak when he wanted to growl, to be still when he heard an unexpected noise, and to control himself when Draco was unwise enough to say something to set him off, and Draco felt something he never had before.

One day Draco realised had given up trying to think of ways to leave weeks ago. They were slowly—well, mostly Draco was slowly making his way through the stack of books he had found on lycanthropy and curse reversal. With every book he abandoned as useless, he became more desperate to find something, anything he could tell Potter to encourage him.

Because Draco wasn't good at saying words that were encouraging or kind; he had no vocabulary of affection, no expressions of gentleness, and he baited and laughed at Potter even as he wanted to comfort him and soothe his frustration and anger. He had come upon Potter one day, again on his hands and knees, his head hanging low between his shoulders and his breathing very laboured. The magic in the room was crackling brokenly around him.

"What happened?" Draco asked, rushing forward and kneeling beside Potter.

"I—don't—know," Potter panted. "It—was a really strong wave, it caught me by surprise and I used too much magic to try to push it down—"

Draco could only touch Potter's shoulder tentatively, and hope it would not be shrugged off, as it was, sometimes.

The moment he made contact, however, Potter seemed to relax considerably, and he collapsed onto the floor. "I hate this," he murmured. "Don't leave me—not yet. Please."

"I—I won't leave," he said with difficulty, wanting to fix things for Potter, wanting to make it better. I promise I won't leave. I couldn't.

Potter closed his eyes.

*

It was the second full moon; Draco had the pain potion ready, this time, and he left the room to allow Potter to strip down and avoid ripping up another set of clothing when he transformed. He sat down on the floor in the hall, and then saw a shadow move under the door and heard the sound of Potter sitting down on the other side.

"Are you there, Malfoy?"

"You know I am."

"Yes. I can smell you."

"Thanks very much."

"No, I mean. I told you before that—I like it."

Draco did remember, of course. "Right," he said awkwardly.

"Draco."

"Yes?" he replied, startled by Potter's use of his name.

"D'you—did you ever hear about how I was able to defeat Voldemort?"

"Yes. You used my wand."

"No, before that."

"I don't think so."

There was a long silence, and Draco began to think Potter had already transformed when he spoke again, even softer and more muffled than before. "I had to be willing to let Voldemort kill me. I had to not even try to fight back. I thought, after that, that there could never be anything I would be afraid of. But there is. I'm going to have to fight this for the rest of my life. I have to, because—because I'm afraid of what I'll become if I don't." He paused, and then said, so softly that Draco could barely hear, "I can feel it. It's there, all the time, like it wants to pull me under."

Draco tried very hard to find the right words, but in the end, all he could say was, "You won't have to fight it. Not for the rest of your life. We'll find something."

It sounded like an empty promise, placatory and inadequate, even to his own ears.

He heard the sounds Potter made when he was in pain and lost control of himself, and then a scratching sound at the door. Draco opened it, and there was Potter-the-wolf, who extended his front paw to touch Draco's shoe. He went in and they got on the bed, Draco still in his clothes and shoes, and both lay down to wait until the moon disappeared and Potter could transform back.

He buried his hand in Potter's thick, almost black fur. It was clean, unlike the fur of other dogs Draco had touched in his life, and softer than it looked.

"Harry," Draco said. For some reason it was easier to talk when he knew Potter—or Harry, now, couldn't reply. "You're not alone. You know that, don't you?"

Harry closed his eyes and made a whuffling noise.

They waited.

*

Draco was dozing when Harry got up off the bed and started pacing in circles restlessly. He got up and went out of the room to wait, and a few moments later, he heard a few bumps and a half-stifled groan of pain. When it was silent, he knocked on the door.

"You can open the door now," Harry called hoarsely.

Draco walked into the room and saw Harry sitting on the bed, clothed and bespectacled once more. He walked over and stood in front of Harry.

"Did you take the potion?" he asked.

"Yeah."

"Everything all right, then?"

Harry still looked restless. "I suppose."

Draco half turned. "I'll just be going to my room, then," he said.

Harry reached out quickly and grabbed his wrist. "No!"

"Harry," Draco said, exasperated, "we talked about this."

"You talked about it. Draco—"

With a quick movement, he drew Draco close, between his legs at the edge of the bed, and wrapped his arms around Draco's waist, burying his face in Draco's chest.

Draco could feel Harry trembling slightly. He raised a hand to rest it on Harry's head, then stroked down the back like he had stroked Harry's fur. "What is it?"

Harry mumbled something against Draco's shirt, a few rumbling vibrations that Draco could feel all through his body.

"I didn't catch that."

Harry looked up at him, and even in the dark Draco could see every feature clearly.

"I want you," Harry said, his voice low and deliberate.

Draco felt a plunging sensation, all at once, in his stomach, and had to stay very still to keep his knees from buckling. He saw the want in Harry's face and wondered if it was reflected in his own. The darkness seemed to close in on them and make everything else fade away, and before he knew what he was doing, he reached down and removed Harry's glasses, very slowly, setting them carefully on the bedside table next to them. Then he leaned down, rested his fingertips on one side of Harry's face, looked into Harry's eyes, and touched Harry's lips with his own.

In an instant, he felt Harry's arms tighten around him and Harry's mouth open to catch his. Draco made a sound, of need or something infinitely more desperate, leaning into Harry's kiss, and then tumbled forward, Harry rolling them over so that he landed on top of Draco, still holding onto his wrist. They lay there for a moment, panting heavily, and Draco looked up at Harry, at the way his eyes were sweeping over every inch of Draco's face, at how he stared at Draco's mouth and then looked down at his neck.

Draco reached up with his free hand and put it at Harry's shoulder, wanting to bring him back down, and he was immensely relieved when Harry lowered his head and began mouthing the line of Draco's neck. He felt just the tip of Harry's nose, and then his lips, and then his tongue, and he wanted to laugh and clutch him closer, all at once.

"What are you doing?" he asked shakily.

"I was wrong," Harry murmured. "You taste really good."

Draco laughed.

And then Harry stopped, raising his head again and looking down at Draco.

"I went to a Muggle club once."

Draco looked away. "Did you?"

"Just the once. To see if I liked it better than—with Ginny."

"Oh."

"I think—I mean, I know what to do. Do you—do you trust me, Draco?"

Draco looked back up at Harry, and knew, in that moment, that he would have trusted Harry to kill him and make him love it.

"Of course I do," he said, trying to sound casual, but it came out sounding stilted and nervous.

"I don't want to hurt you," Harry said, running his hand down Draco's chest and coming to rest at his waist, as if Draco were curved like a woman.

"I won't break," Draco said sharply.

"I know you won't," Harry said quickly. "It's not that. I just—I'm afraid—I won't be able to control myself. If I lose it—" His voice sounded shaky too, and that calmed Draco considerably.

He reached up to rest his hand on Harry's shoulder again. "You won't." And then, very softly, "I'm here."

Harry bent and kissed him, long and deeply.

*

"You'd better know how to do the lubricating charm, though," Draco said a few moments later, as he was unbuttoning his shirt. "I refuse to do this with spit or—or other less desirable fluids."

Harry chuckled as he pulled off his denims. "I think every boy over age fourteen knows that charm," he said. "Thirteen, in my case."

"Yes, but your magic has been unpredictable to say the least—"

Harry murmured something under his breath, and suddenly there was an excess of clear fluid dripping from his hand.

"Ugh," Draco said. "Not yet. Get rid of it."

Harry grinned. "Just wanted to make sure. It would be terrible to get to the crucial moment and realise my magic wasn't cooperating."

Draco couldn't help smiling back. As he removed his underclothes, though, he began to feel nervous again, and he quickly moved beneath the sheets.

Harry didn't seem nervous at all. He chucked his clothes to the floor, and Draco had a moment to admire his lithe form before he joined him in the bed and eagerly reached over to pull Draco down into a kiss. The movement was proprietary, as if now that Harry knew he had the right, he was going to take what he wanted, and Draco was surprised at how much this attitude excited him.

He let Harry push him down on the bed, let Harry rub himself languidly against his leg, let Harry reach down between his legs and press his palm against Draco's cock, even spread his legs wider when Harry's fingers reached farther back.

"Turn over," Harry panted finally, after they were both desperate and breathing hard, and Draco complied, getting up on his hands and knees, trying not to think about how dogs had sex.

Draco felt very wet, felt the lubricant dripping down between his thighs, but it was still very tight and painful. Harry kept stroking his back and his sides and murmuring words of encouragement. He didn't want to move, he was afraid he would break after all, but then Harry gathered him up and tilted him back so that they were sitting up, Draco's legs splayed and knees folded on either side of Harry's, his back pressed up to Harry's chest, and suddenly everything inside him seemed to rearrange itself.

Harry fucked him, then, long and slow and purposefully, and Draco let his head fall back on Harry's shoulder, hands scrabbling to hold onto something and finally finding Harry's forearms. He let himself just feel what it was like, to have Harry so hard and deep inside him, his own cock hardening again, and he knew, then, that he was completely at Harry's mercy, that he had submitted utterly and completely to whatever it was he felt for Harry Potter—all those years of intense hatred, rivalry, bitterness, jealousy, hope, pity, want, love—he felt it all, then, and knew he had been well and truly conquered. When Harry finally wrapped his hand around Draco's cock and pulled him off, Draco turned his head and groaned into Harry's neck, giving it all up to him.

After Draco came, Harry made a savage sound and leaned forward. Draco propped himself up and pushed back against him, and Harry thrust harder, wildly, and then leaned over and bit Draco's shoulder as he came. Draco felt Harry shudder and jerk over his back, and then they both collapsed, exhausted and wet and trembling.

"You—okay?" Harry asked.

"Mm," Draco replied.

There was a long silence, during which Draco concentrated on the damp feel of the sheets bunched up against his stomach, and tried to ignore the feeling of being utterly exposed.

"I think I did lose it for a minute there," Harry said, his voice low and fearful.

Draco turned his head to look at Harry, and saw something like his own insecurity reflected in his eyes.

"Well, whatever it was that you did, I liked it," he managed, smiling slightly.

Harry smiled back, looking so happy that Draco felt his heart squeeze painfully.

"Come here," he said softly.

Harry shifted closer and draped his arm around Draco, tucking his head under Draco's chin, and they fell asleep like that.

*

There were many nights during the next few weeks when Harry wouldn't let himself fool around with Draco. "I'm too—unstable," he would say haltingly, but he would want to be close to Draco, to hold onto his shirt, his hand, his waist.

Then on other nights he couldn't get enough, and would be so enthusiastic that Draco could barely keep up. Even if he couldn't get hard three times in one night, though, he was glad to let Harry have his way with him. It was easy to be generous that way, and he knew he gave so little in every other way. Harry was so eager to please, and had no trouble saying things that made Draco flush with happiness, but when Draco tried to reciprocate, the words stuck in his throat, or came out sounding laboured and ungracious.

He was happy, though, for the most part, happier than he ever would have thought he could be if someone had told him, even a few months ago, that he would be stuck in his abandoned old home with Harry Potter, unpredictable reverse-werewolf.

Then, one day, there was small article in the Prophet announcing that the official search for Harry Potter had been called off.

It has been the general consensus, the article read, after a thorough investigation and extensive questioning of Potter's friends and surrogate family, that he has in all likelihood disappeared of his own free will.

"Harry has always talked about taking a break," an anonymous source said. "He used to say that things never let up. Even after the War he still felt a crushing sense of responsibility to serve Wizardkind. Perhaps it just got to be too much."

This reporter can't help but wonder what sort of sense of responsibility allows an Auror to abandon his job without so much as a by-your-leave.

Despite its obvious slant, Draco felt that the article was something Harry should be aware of.

Harry read through it, his expression going black.

"What utter rubbish," he said angrily. "I never said I felt a crushing sense of responsibility! And who is this anonymous source?" He threw the paper aside and began pacing.

Draco watched him for a few minutes. When Harry showed no signs of slowing down, he said mildly, "At least you know they're not worried."

Harry stopped and sank into a chair, burying his face in his arms on the table in front of him.

"They didn't look very hard, did they?" he said, his voice muffled.

"But you don't want to be found," Draco reminded him.

"I know," Potter said harshly, looking up. "But it would have been nice to know that they—that they believed in me a little bit more."

That night, Potter was still too high strung, and he thrust Draco away from him even after he had been the one to lunge forward and kiss him first.

Draco was hurt, a little, but he rolled onto his back and tried to go to sleep.

"I hate this," Potter said into the darkness.

"Yes, you've said," Draco said irritably. "I'm trying to find something, you know I am—"

"I just want to go back to normal. To how things were before."

Draco was suddenly wide awake. He felt very cold.

"Before," he repeated, his voice tight.

"I barely remember what it was like not to have this thing in my head, constantly clawing at me. It's like there are actual claws in my brain. I'm constantly fighting, and every day I think about the day it happened and how I could have done a thousand things differently to not end up here with your father and a rogue werewolf."

Draco was silent. He knew Harry was right to hate it, he saw every day how much it cost Harry, this perpetual battle with himself, but he had begun to hope, recently, that Harry had begun to feel like maybe, just maybe, it was worth it because it had brought them together. That had been a foolish, self-indulgent thought, he saw that now.

Still, he wanted Harry to say something, something like At least I have you, but Harry didn't. He just rolled over, turning his back to Draco.

*

Draco couldn't sleep after that. He got up, careful not to wake Harry, and went down to the library, where he lit a few candles and began to read, now more determined than ever to get Harry back to his old self, which, in turn, might allow Draco to begin rebuilding his own life.

That that life would, in all likelihood, have to be built without Harry in it caused an endless chasm of depression to open up in Draco, but he had too much pride to try to indulge himself any more with false hopes.

Dawn was beginning to creep up on him, a grey light starting to filter through the cracks in the boards that had been nailed up over the windows, when he saw a footnote that made him sit up from a slouch that had begun to make his back ache.

†The integration of such methods of chiral reconfiguration and resulting Dark Curse enantiomers is explored extensively in Archimedes Astor's Curses Inverted (1702).

A frantic search of the library for Curses Inverted proved fruitless; however, Draco knew that, in all likelihood, it was in his father's possession. He had always known that he would not find the specific text his father had used in the library unless there were duplicate texts. He had hoped, at best, to find alternative explanations, and now he had only this title to go on. It was clear, however, that in looking in lycanthropy texts for the answer he had been wasting his time. His father had obviously chosen a template, a dark curse function, rather than a specific outcome. He wondered why this particular curse function had been deemed most appropriate; Lucius always chose a punishment to fit the crime, in his mind, and Draco knew without doubt that there must be some great significance in an inverted curse, or some great significance in the way the curse must be broken, for his father to have chosen it. The part of the plan involving lycanthropy had likely been chosen only because Fenrir Greyback was convenient.

"What are you doing?"

Draco was so startled that he dropped the book.

Harry was standing in the doorway, looking extremely on edge.

"I—I couldn't sleep," Draco answered, flustered and making a split-second decision not to inform Harry of this development, in case nothing came of it, or worse, it led Draco to some terrible conclusion that there was no cure after all.

Harry strode forward, frowning, and jerked Draco close to him. "I didn't know where you'd gone. You're never gone in the morning. I thought you'd left," he said.

"I told you I wouldn't," Draco said. But now he thought that maybe he would have to, to get hold of the book from his father. But not for a few days. Not until after the coming full moon, at least.

*

When an article about his father appeared in the Prophet two days later, he was forced to reconsider the decision to stay until after the impending full moon.

It was buried in the back, and he had nearly missed it.

DEATH EATER AT DEATH'S DOOR?

Lucius Malfoy, former right-hand to Lord Voldemort a.k.a. You-Know-Who, has been admitted to Hospice Care at St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. The former Death Eater, 46, was moved Monday to St Mungo's from the Psychiatric Ward of Azkaban Prison, where he had been committed early in February after claiming, in apparent psychotic hysteria, that Harry Potter, who has been missing since January, was behind the death of his son, former Death Eater Draco Malfoy, 20, who is also missing, though the disappearances are thought to be unrelated.

Malfoy Senior, who served nearly two years in Azkaban Prison after the Second Wizarding War, has previously been committed to the Psychiatric Ward on several occasions because of delusions and erratic mood swings. When deemed stable and harmless late last year, he was released into the custody of his wife, former Death Eater Narcissa Malfoy, lately deceased.

No wonder his father had not been back. Lucius, it seemed, had thought to set the Ministry on Harry and probably have him ostracised and committed when they discovered his strange malady. But like all his father's plans, Draco thought contemptuously, this one had failed on all counts.

Even as his lip curled in a sneer, though, Draco felt an undercurrent of worry. Was his father faking an illness, or was he really deathly ill? Azkaban was not known for its humane treatment of prisoners, and his father had come back from his first stint there with a bad cough, rattling chest, and very gaunt face.

He had to see Lucius, not only to find out about the curse, and the book, but also to see if he really had to say goodbye. Despite everything he had done, he was Draco's father, and Draco could still remember his childhood, and how much he had loved and looked up to him.

Telling Harry would be difficult. Draco could only hope that he would understand, and trust Draco to come back.

*

"Harry."

Harry looked up at him; they were sitting outside, having exhausted themselves kicking the quaffle around all morning, and Harry had his head in Draco's lap.

"Draco," he said, smiling.

Draco's heart sank. Harry was looking calm, which he usually did only after strenuous physical activity. He didn't want to watch Harry's expression change.

"My father is ill," Draco said.

Harry's face did change. The smile faded and his expression began to darken. "Is he," he said.

"Yes. He's in St Mungo's. I read about it in the Prophet."

Harry clenched his jaw and turned away, looking out onto the overgrown lawn.

"Harry, I have to go see him."

Harry still said nothing.

"He's—he's my father, whatever else he's done. And—and I have to see him, I have to ask him about what he did to you, before it's too late. I haven't been able to find anything here."

Harry sat up quickly. "You said you wouldn't leave me," he bit out, his voice hard.

"I know. But I promise I'll come back."

"Will you," Harry said cynically, glaring at him.

"I will. I swear I will."

"I have no reason to trust you, do I? Not really."

"That's—that's not fair," Draco said, stung.

"Don't you think you owe it to me to stay, Malfoy?"

Draco gaped at Harry's use of his surname, at the whole question. "What?"

"You know I can't—without you I—" Harry seemed to struggle with himself, and then he stood up abruptly. "I can't talk about this right now. I'm going for a run."

"We just spent the last two hours running," Draco said. "Don't—Harry, I need to go, can't you see? Don't you want me to find out what I can from him?"

Harry started off down the path that led to the wood. "He'll keep you there, and you'll forget about me," he threw over his shoulder. "Everyone does."

"Harry, I won't. You're being childish. Come back! Harry!"

But Harry started running and didn't look back.

*

Draco heard crashing noises from the drawing room several hours later. He ran down the stairs and skidded to a halt in the doorway, looking on in horror as Harry staggered around the room in a rage, hurling things at the walls and tearing at the heavy wall hangings. The sun filtering in through the windows cut through the dust he was kicking up, making it look like every movement of Harry's made the air shimmer with his anger.

When Harry finally collapsed and bent down on his knees, Draco moved forward quietly. As he got closer he could see that Harry was breathing very hard, but then Draco trod on a piece of glass and in a flash, before Draco had even registered the sound of it crunching under his shoe, Harry had sprung up, his eyes blazing, and knocked Draco over, landing on top of him and holding his wrists above his head.

Draco hadn't felt afraid of Harry for many weeks, but he was now. He could feel his heart beating furiously, and could only stare up at Harry, at his crazy, wild eyes. He couldn't find his voice for what felt like forever, but when he did, he could only croak weakly, "You're hurting me."

Harry closed his eyes and seemed to go limp above him, though he didn't roll off and he didn't let go.

"If I leave, you can't let go of yourself like this," Draco said. "I won't be here to talk you down."

Harry made an anguished sound and pushed himself off of Draco abruptly. Draco concentrated on breathing and the feel of his blood beginning to circulate again.

*

Harry didn't come back that night, and Draco tossed and turned and worried, about Harry, about how he was going to get back to London, about what he would say to his father. Finally, a little after dawn, he got up and went down to the kitchen.

Harry was sitting at the far end of the table.

"I—" Draco began, stepping forward.

"Don't," Harry said. "I'm sorry. You should go."

Surprised, Draco stopped in his tracks.

"It's just, I'm being selfish, I know. I'll be all right."

"Harry. I will come back. You know that, don't you?"

"Yeah," Harry said, but he didn't meet Draco's eyes. Instead, he pushed something forward on the table.

It was still quite dark in the kitchen; Harry never turned lights on because his night vision was so good, so Draco had to squint at the object for a moment before he gasped and realised—he would have known it anywhere—it was his hawthorn wand.

"You'll need it to get around, won't you," Harry stated. "I had Kreacher bring it."

"You didn't get rid of it after the War?"

"No."

Draco felt his eyes stinging. He walked blindly forward and stopped in front of Harry, putting his hands on Harry's shoulders.

"I won't forget about you. I never could, no matter how hard I tried, even before all this happened," Draco said.

Harry stood up and put his arms around Draco, holding him very tightly and burying his face in Draco's neck for a moment. He inhaled, a great, shuddering breath, and then let go.

"I'll miss you," he said.

"I won't be long," Draco said. He picked up the wand and turned, forcing himself to believe that it would be better this way.

*

Now that he had his old wand back, Draco decided to risk Apparating, thinking that the urgency of his purpose would help insure himself against splinching. He also wanted to see his father as quickly as possible, and he had no money and had never ridden the Knight Bus before.

Concentrating as hard as he could on the lobby at St Mungo's, he said the spell and waved his wand, and to his relief, he appeared there.

It was disconcerting to suddenly be among so many people when he had spent over two months with only Harry. Draco made his way to the Inquiries desk, fighting a slight agoraphobia and the feeling that everyone was staring at him.

"May I help you?" said the Welcome Witch sitting there.

"I—I'm here to, that is..." Draco cleared his throat and straightened his back, looking down his nose at her. "My name is Draco Malfoy, and I'm here to see my father, Lucius Malfoy."

The witch looked unimpressed. "Finally decided to show your face, did you?"

Draco was already quite high strung, and her lazy insolence woke that old impulse in him to lash out and make people feel as small as he did. "I beg your pardon?" he drawled as haughtily as he could manage before his brain caught up with his anger. "You're lucky my father donated enough money to this hospital to buy a chair big enough for your fat arse. Now," he finished, taking malevolent satisfaction in her evident shock and anger, "I am here to see my father, and I would appreciate knowing where to find him."

She sniffed. "He's in the hospice wing of the Janus Thickey Ward, bed number 15."

Draco was vaguely surprised that his words had actually wiped that complacent disdain off her face. Every time he tried that with Potter, he always ended up feeling worse about himself; somehow Potter always turned things around on him.

"Thank you," Draco said uncertainly, and made his way to the lift.

*

"Father."

His father looked terrible. His hair had been cut very short, but it was patchy, and he had bruises almost everywhere. He turned his head and his clouded eyes settled on Draco, but then they narrowed, and the moment of recognition was obvious.

He smiled, but it looked more like a grimace. "Draco," he wheezed weakly. "You're alive after all."

Despite himself, Draco felt pity, guilt, and regret. He reminded himself that his father's current state was of his own making, that he was dying alone at St Mungo's because being an extremely wealthy, influential and respected man with a loving family had not been enough for him, and he had done everything in his power to ruin things for them.

None of that mattered, however, when he saw his father's eyes fill with tears as he looked at him.

"My boy." He reached his hand out, and Draco took it, clasping it firmly.

"Is it very bad?" Draco asked.

"It is as bad as it looks, if that's what you mean," Lucius said wryly.

"So this isn't some kind of impenetrable glamour or complex spell?"

"Not this time. I fear my powers do not extend that far." His hand tightened around Draco's palm. "It is doing me a world of good to see that you are well."

Then he closed his eyes. "I'm tired, now. I must rest."

"I'll be here."

*

Draco sat with his father for the rest of the afternoon and then ate an unappetising meal with him. When the ward closed to visitors, he inquired after his father's effects and found a key to the flat and some money, which he took. He Apparated to the flat and let himself in.

There were papers and books scattered everywhere, but Draco was very tired, and depressed about his father, and missing Harry very badly. He went into his old room and collapsed on the bed, which looked like it hadn't been touched since he had last slept in it—only a little over two months ago, but it seemed like another lifetime.

The next morning, he went back to St Mungo's and sat with his father some more. Lucius seemed to be perpetually too tired to talk. Draco tried asking why he had left him to be eaten that day.

"What?" Lucius said, looking disconcerted.

"Don't you remember?"

"Remember what?"

"Why you left me in the tower with Harry Potter, whom you turned into a deranged wolf man," he hissed impatiently.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Lucius said, beginning to sound distressed.

Just then an orderly came by, and Draco was forced to abandon any inquiries regarding Harry Potter for fear of being overheard.

He wanted to go back to Harry, wanted to make sure he was holding up. But he weighed the urgency of Harry's condition with the inevitability of his father's death, and concluded that if his father had only weeks, or days, to live, then Harry could and would have to wait.

It must be soon, he thought, day after day. That was what the healers told him—that his father couldn't last long in this condition. Every day, Draco tried to ask his father about the curse, about his plan, about why he had left Draco, but his father never answered, never even seemed to know what he was talking about. Every day, Draco thought, today will be the day, but it wasn't, and days turned to weeks.

After he had been there almost seven weeks, Draco was beginning to feel frantic. He had gone through all the papers in the flat again and again and found that they were mostly nonsense, the rantings of a madman. None of the books were the one he sought, Curses Inverted. He worried about Harry almost constantly and then hated himself for wishing his father would hurry up and die.

And then, on a day when Draco was almost completely resolved to go back to Harry even though he had no answers, was ready to abandon his father to his lonely, painful death in a public hospital, he tried asking one last time.

"Father, please. I have to know. What was the curse you cast on Harry Potter with Fenrir Greyback?"

He expected his father to continue feigning sleep, or to tell Draco how tired he was, but Lucius did neither. He turned his head slowly toward Draco.

"Why, Draco? Why do you wish to know? Is it not enough that you managed to escape him and find your way back here?"

Draco was too stunned to speak for a moment, and then he leaned forward.

"It didn't work, you know," he told his father, hoping to provoke more response from him. "He didn't try to kill me after all. He overcame it and spoke to me."

It was as if something in his father's face cracked, the pieces shifting and disfiguring him; he looked broken and furious and terrible. "No," he said finally, his voice even thinner and weaker. "Then I have failed even in my final effort."

Molten anger coursed through Draco. He gripped the railing on his father's bed. "That's all you care about? You're here, on your death bed, and still obsessed with defeating a man who has vanquished a wizard far greater than you? You're dying, Father! Does it not occur to you that there are more important things—that there are—were people whose lives you ruined because of this futile plotting and planning and—and failure after failure—Mother died still believing in you—"

"She did not," Lucius said venomously. "She tried to stop me, she burned my books and urged me to give up—"

"Wh-what?" Draco gaped. It couldn't be—not that, he thought desperately, please, not that.

"I had to keep her from interfering with my final service to the Dark Lord."

In that moment, Draco knew he was speaking to a stranger. This man was not his father; it was not the man who had kissed his wife and held her hand with such affection in earlier days, it was not the man who had depended on her strength and wisdom, who had loved her. Draco knew his father had loved his mother, had loved him. This man had murdered Narcissa because he had not known her.

He remembered his mother urging him to stay home, to help her care for Lucius instead of disappearing to avoid him, and now he knew that, because she had been there, she must have found out much sooner that he was planning something, that his madness was far worse than they had ever suspected. If only he had listened to her; she was always right. If only he had helped her when she had asked for help, as she had always helped him even when he couldn't ask. He knew that her death was on his hands as well as his father's.

Draco took a deep breath. "You have to tell me how to fix it," he said shakily. "You must."

His father smiled. "There is no fix, of course. The beauty of inverted curses is that the inverse properties are expressed in more than just the effects of the curse; it is in the very makeup of the curse itself."

Draco's head was throbbing—so many revelations in the last few moments, and he tried desperately to focus on what his father was saying. "There must be, every curse has loopholes."

"Of course. But the likelihood that anyone would perform the act necessary to counteract this one is...nonexistent."

"What act? What do you mean?"

Lucius was looking vague, his clouded eyes seeming to rest on something far away in the distance. "The willing act of creating an inverted curse requires a willing act of destruction to be reversed. It is a curse of opposites. I willingly created the curse in Potter; he must destroy something willing to be destroyed by him, something that has free will, which can only be a person."

He turned to Draco, a look of pride on his face. "It was perfect," he said, the smugness of his expression contorting his bruised, gaunt face grotesquely. "Of course trying to kill the apparently immortal Harry Potter would be futile; he has proved himself able to cheat a direct killing curse twice. But this way, not only does he have to turn into a vicious monster whose very nature goes against everything he purported to stand for, he is aware of his state only once a month, and never able to speak of it, because he cannot talk in either form. Thus he can never get help, and no one will ever know what is wrong with him, and no one will ever be...willing when he is ready to sink his teeth into someone's neck."

Draco watched his father's gleeful countenance in that sunken face. He didn't know what to say or what to do.

No, that wasn't true. He knew what to say. "Don't you see," he said slowly, "that you forced mother to do just that?"

Lucius frowned.

"She willingly sacrificed everything for you, even when she began to realise how dangerous and—and stupid you had become, she stuck by you and put herself in the position to be murdered—" Draco choked on his words. "You sunk your teeth into her neck as surely as if you were a werewolf. Harry would feel remorseful, after, at least. He would regret. But you don't."

"Harry?" Lucius' eyes narrowed.

"I'm going," Draco said tonelessly, and stood up. "I won't be back."

"Draco, sit down!" Lucius ordered, his weak voice rasping. "Come back!"

But Draco strode purposefully toward the door, now devoid of any sympathy or grief for the dying man who bore no resemblance to the father he had known and loved.

*

Draco went back to the flat. He stopped by the door to his parents' bedroom and remembered seeing his dead mother lying there. The memory made him feel sick and angry and helpless, and he turned abruptly to go sit on his own bed, burying his face in his hands.

He played what would probably be the final game of comparing himself and his situation to Harry Potter. He thought about his father: his father had given him life, but had left him to die when he had been sure Harry would kill him. He had nearly gotten them all killed in the War. Harry had given him his life many times, now: when he had saved Draco from being eaten alive by flames, when he had kept Draco from being eaten in the forest after his father had abandoned him, and then when he had given Draco purpose and a reason to live after that.

Narcissa had said that Lucius needed Draco's help. Draco thought about how he might have prevented his mother's death if he had made more of an effort to understand his father after he returned from Azkaban. He could have saved her life.

Harry had needed Draco too, and now, Draco knew, he needed him more than ever, not just to be there, to talk to him and call his mind back from whatever deep recesses under which the wolf buried it, but perhaps to be able to break the curse once and for all and atone for his father's crime. His father's many crimes.

He had failed his mother; he could not fail Harry, too, not now that he loved him.

Harry had everything to live for if he were cured. His friends and family and the entire Wizarding world would welcome him back; he could go back to his job, build his own family, perhaps, and live a full, happy life. Draco, on the other hand, had nothing to live for if Harry were cured. Harry needed him now, of course, because Draco was the only person besides his father who knew what had happened to him, but if he were cured he would not need Draco any longer. Draco could never compete with the Weasleys for Harry's attention or affection. And he had no career prospects, no family, no standing in society, no skills and no money. Out of all the people in Harry's life who loved him, who might even hypothetically be willing to perform this sacrifice, Draco knew he was the most eligible, since he had no one and nothing, apart from Harry. It was only right, he supposed, that he should give his life for him, since Harry was his life, now.

Harry had walked willingly to his death by Voldemort, despite the fact that he hated him. Would it be easier for Draco to go willingly to his death by Harry, because of the fact that he loved him? Draco was no Gryffindor; he had no vaunted bravery and had not come of age believing in the possibility of his own death. He was afraid, both of death, and of his courage failing him at the crucial moment.

Draco sat there for hours. The sun set and the night passed and he went over these same thoughts again and again. When the sun began to shine through the window, however, he got up, knowing Harry would need help afterward if he did this, and started trying to think of ways he could get hold of Hermione Granger without being dismissed or arrested.

*

Granger,

This isn't a ransom note, or a trap, or anything of that nature. I know where Potter is, and he's in trouble. You have no reason to trust me, and frankly, I have no reason to trust you, but I know that he trusts both of us, and that has to be enough. He told me I should go to you rather than to anyone else, and he trusted me enough to give me my hawthorn wand back, which I hope is proof enough to get you to at least consider hearing me out, rather than dismissing this out of hand. There's a lot I have to explain to you. I would appreciate it if you would meet with me. I will be at the Leaky Cauldron at noon today. Please come if you are able. I will wait.

Draco Malfoy

He also had to hope that Granger would be willing, even if she met with him, to follow him to Malfoy Manor, where she had been tortured. Draco knew that it was unlikely, and if worse came to worst, Harry would be on his own after mauling and killing Draco, but as long as he were in his right mind at last, things would probably be all right.

Draco went to the Leaky Cauldron. He saw a few looks of recognition and disgust, but it did not bother him as it might have a few months ago.

To his surprise, Granger appeared only a few moments later.

She looked very good, much better than she ever had in school. Her eyes scanned the tap room and came to rest on Draco; he knew his hair stood out. And then she was striding toward him, looking grim.

"I came only because we're desperate for news about Harry," she said, "not because I trust you any farther than I can throw you."

"You might be able to throw me quite far, actually," Draco said dryly, remembering how hard she had slapped him in third year.

"Yes, I must trust you to some degree," Granger said dispassionately, "since I didn't send your note immediately to Ron and have him bring the Aurors to meet you."

Draco swallowed. Her words were a threat, he knew, that she had a back-up plan, should he prove to be untrustworthy.

"Thank you," he said woodenly.

"Don't thank me. Tell me what it is you know. You've spoken to him? Show me the wand."

He drew it out from his pocket and put it on the table in a gesture of submission.

She examined it, pulling out her own wand and performing a few spells on it before she was satisfied that it was the genuine article.

"How did he get it to you? He hasn't been home since he disappeared."

"Kreacher brought it to him."

Granger showed the first sign of emotion since arriving; her face flickered. "We should go somewhere where we won't be overheard," she said. She grabbed hold of his arm and performed a side-along Apparation with an ease he envied. They landed near a bench in a park; there were only a few Muggles walking the paths.

"Where is he?" she said urgently.

"He's at Malfoy Manor," Draco replied.

"So it was you," she said furiously, but her angry expression melted into one of confusion. "But—Lucius Malfoy said that Harry had murdered you."

"I had nothing to do with any of it," Draco said coldly. "I'd been working at a Muggle grocer's. You must know my father was not in his right mind. He went missing and I went to find him, and when I did he was at Malfoy Manor, and he'd turned Harry into a werewolf—"

"What?" she cried, looking furious again.

"No—it's more complex than that. He tried to perform a...a reverse werewolf curse on Harry, so that he had the mind of a werewolf but the body of a man, except on the full moon, when he transformed into a wolf but got his human mind back. Unfortunately my father always underestimates Harry, and didn't count on Harry's being able to throw off the—the wolf brain, if that's what you want to call it."

Granger looked a combination of horrified and fascinated. "Yes, Harry can throw off Imperius," she said, as if talking to herself. Then her eyes snapped back up to Draco. "But—but if that's the case, why didn't he come back? And how do you know? Have you been with him the whole time?"

"He said he didn't want you to see him that way."

"You've said that he was perfectly able to throw off the wolf—"

"I misspoke," Draco said. "He can do it, but only with great effort, and sometimes it overcomes him when he's not concentrating, or when something happens to startle or anger him. He has to be constantly on his guard, and it's terrible to see him when he—when he turns into a beast. It helps when there is someone human around, someone he can focus on, but he didn't want it to be anyone he—anyone he actually liked, in case he wasn't able to overcome it, and ended up killing them." Draco felt ashamed, as if he were revealing his own secrets rather than things Harry had said repeatedly he didn't want anyone but Draco to know.

Granger's eyes were sad. "Oh, Harry."

Draco continued. "And I stayed because—because my father left me there, trapped me, really, thinking that Harry would kill me, and then he was going to go to the Aurors and have them discover Harry in that state, having murdered someone who was—relatively innocent," he finished wryly.

Granger was watching him, her eyes keen. "Why—why have you come to me now, then?"

Draco took a breath and gave her the reason he had thought up before Owling her. "He said that he was tired of trying to fight it himself, and that he wanted you to help. He knew that you would know where to look and what to do."

Granger looked as if she were going to cry. "He should have had you come sooner." She looked at him. "I'm going to go to him," she said firmly. "Are you going to take me?"

"That's what I was hoping to do."

She stood up briskly. "You should know that three people are tracking my every movement, so don't think to try anything."

Draco glanced at her, her prim hair, her upright posture, the determined look in her eyes. "I wouldn't dream of it."

*

In the end, they decided to Apparate simultaneously to the lawn in front of the Manor.

Draco felt shaky and sick with dread, every step they took bringing him closer to Harry, whom he hadn't seen in over seven weeks. He reached out to push the door open and his hand was shaking so badly that Granger looked at him strangely and had to help him.

When the door creaked open, Draco gasped at the wreckage inside. There was broken furniture everywhere, long streaks of blood across the carpet, even a half-eaten animal carcass lying at the base of the staircase. The smell was nauseating.

He couldn't even speak, and looked at Granger beseechingly.

She looked horrified.

"He's worse," Draco finally managed, his voice croaky and strange. "I—I can't—call him."

"Are you afraid?" she asked him. "You're shaking like a leaf." Then her eyes narrowed. "Is this a trap after all?"

"No!" Draco said. "It's been—seven weeks, and I just don't know—if he will—" He swallowed convulsively and hoped he was not losing his will to do what he had to do.

"Seven weeks?" she hissed. "You've left him alone for so long? You waited that long to get me?"

"I had to," he whispered. "I didn't want to, I was waiting for—" He broke off.

She glared at him and then looked toward the staircase. "Harry?" she said tentatively. When there was no sound in response, she called again, louder. "Harry!"

And still there was no response.

"We have to look for him," Draco said slowly. "He may be in one of the rooms."

He went to the staircase and Granger followed.

There were torn tapestries and curtains strewn across the hall upstairs, scratch marks on all the doors, ripped portraits, and broken glass everywhere.

When they reached the door to his parents' bedroom, the room where he and Harry had slept, he stopped and took a few deep breaths through his nose.

"You should wait here, in case he's inside and—just. Stay here," he said to Granger, who was looking more and more horrified.

She nodded, pursing her lips and grimacing as her eyes continued to dart around the desecrated hallway.

He steeled himself and closed his eyes for a moment, then pushed the door open.

It was very dark, and smelled even worse. Draco took several moments for his eyes to adjust, and then he saw a dark shape huddled in the corner.

"H-Harry?" He stepped closer.

It was Harry, but a very different Harry, Harry with fur all over his body and grotesquely long teeth. He was crouching in a position unnatural for any person, his face inhuman and terrible, and he was watching Draco, eyes gleaming and feral.

If Draco hadn't already felt sick from his apprehension, his fear, the terrible stench of carrion that permeated the room, the sight of Harry like this would have made him so.

"Harry," he said softly, again, and then he reached up to touch his own face, feeling the wetness there, realising that he was crying.

Harry was still staring at him, unmoving, but as Draco's eyes raked over his body, he saw a deep purple gash in his side. It must have been fresh, since he healed so quickly, but it looked very bad, oozing blood sluggishly, dirt and matted fur mixing together in the wound.

Draco took another step forward almost involuntarily, and then Harry tossed his head a few times as if trying to shake something off. He shifted, back arching slightly, and then slowly rose, his movements painful and slow, until he was standing upright.

He was making little snarling noises, and then he staggered a few steps, almost drunkenly. When he was finally able to look up at Draco, his mouth tried to form a word, but all that emerged for a few moments were growls and strange coughing noises.

Draco watched Harry struggling, his heart feeling as if it were cracking a little more with every laboured sound Harry made. Even if Harry succeeded, Draco knew he would have to lie to Harry, say terrible things, anger him enough to lose consciousness again and do what was so against his nature to do.

"Dra—co," Harry said, and those two syllables felt to Draco as if they were ripping his heart out of his chest.

"Harry," he replied, trying to steady his voice.

"You, you—you came—back," Harry said.

Draco knew that it was time, that he could not allow himself any kind words. Strange, that it should be so hard now, when he had wanted for so long to say kind words to Harry before and found himself completely unable to.

"Not—not because I wanted to," he said, trying to sound as indifferent as he could. "It took me more than two months to get away from this godforsaken place, you and your stinking animal ways, and the last thing I wanted to do was come back."

The look on Harry's hideous, beastly face when he said that was painful to behold. It was as if it crumpled, as if he had no control over it.

"You—can't," he broke off, making that strange choking sound, and then continued: "Can't—mean—that."

"Of course I do," Draco said when he wanted nothing more than to go to Harry, to calm him and hold him still, because he knew it was easier for Harry, when he could touch Draco.

"I came because of Granger."

Harry's eyes snapped up.

"You—what," he bit out, the words strangely amplified by the burr in his voice.

"I brought her to see. They're paying me, you know."

Draco saw incredulity battle with mounting anger in Harry's face. "Why—are—you doing—this—to me," he groaned with difficulty.

"It's true; can't you smell her?"

Harry's head jerked to the side, as if following his nose against his will, and then he snapped his head back to Draco, furious.

"I—told—you—" And then he broke off, panting, "I—told—"

"Oh, shut up. Look at you, you're filthy and disgusting. They'll clean you up in the asylum, I'm sure, and you'll have your own padded cell and everything. I've always thought you belonged in one. They've paid me to tell them where you are, and your friends get to take you back and do what they like with you. Everyone wins."

Harry still looked like he was trying to disbelieve Draco, but Draco could tell it was getting more and more difficult; every breath he inhaled made his face contort more and more, made his lips curl back to reveal more and more of his teeth, and his body was trembling violently.

"No," he growled.

"Yes," Draco said mockingly.

Harry was working himself up into a lather, fighting down his anger, he was starting to froth at the mouth in his rage and confusion, growling louder and louder, the sounds of his heavy breathing catching every few seconds when his head jerked, trying to keep it at bay.

And then things happened very quickly. The door creaked open and Granger stepped in and said, "Harry?"

Harry dropped onto all fours and gave a strange, wolfish scream and tossed his head again, looking crazed and murderous, and then he lunged at Draco. Draco heard Granger scream, too, and then he felt Harry's teeth sink into his neck, felt blood flowing out of him like it was being sucked out, and he felt empty, cold, his arms involuntarily trying to push Harry away from him, and he struggled, twisting and writhing, but the wolf was too heavy, and his flesh was being ripped apart. It would be over soon—he was so weak, and the pain—and then his vision began to go black at the edges, his hearing to fade away, and then there was nothing.

*

Draco couldn't pull himself out of unconsciousness. He tried, he heard noises, voices, and then even when he felt like his eyes were open, everything was dark, shadowed, and it was easier just to close them again.

*

After several failed attempts, he was finally able to open his eyes and take in the fact that he was in a hospital room, white and sterile, and his throat hurt.

He slanted his eyes to the side, and saw that he was alone in the room. He didn't understand why he was alive; as the realisation hit him he closed his eyes again and felt as if a great weight had been lifted. He was relieved, he was free, he was so glad to be alive.

And then other thoughts began intruding: had it worked? Had he broken the curse? Where was Harry?

A healer in white robes came in.

"Awake at last," she said briskly, checking his pulse and performing diagnostic spells on him. "We were beginning to wonder."

"How long have I been out?" Draco croaked, the slight movement causing his throat to hurt even more.

"Two days. Don't try to speak too much yet. We were able to heal you and regenerate some blood, but the new tendons and nerves in your neck and chest will take a while to be fully functional."

"Where's—" he began, disregarding her instructions, but she looked down at him sternly, and he realised he didn't want to ask after Harry anyway. Harry would have been here if it had worked, and if he wanted to be; Draco was sure of that.

"Lie still. You should feel better in a few hours. We'll bring you some food then."

She left. Draco lay there in the bed. He felt so tired. He didn't want to think, didn't want to wonder why he was alone, why the room was so empty; didn't want to know why the muffling charms around the room, intended to give him quiet, instead made the silence so deafening; didn't want to think about why what had felt like the involuntary, reflexive hope and happiness at realising he was alive earlier now felt so painful. The memory of the feeling seemed to hover over him, sharp and taunting and out of reach. He wanted it back.

*

Harry did come to see him two days later, but it was a very different Harry, a Harry Draco realised he did not know. This was a Harry he had never known.

He stood tall and handsome and very much alive, his green eyes tempered by stylish yet serviceable glasses, dressed in an Auror's robes and looking every inch the man who had defeated Voldemort. There was no effort in his movements, no difficulty in the way he picked up the quill to sign in on the visitor's log at the door to Draco's room, no awkwardness as he stowed his wand in the slim, needlessly ostentatious holster at his thigh. There was no hint of the snarling beast Draco had somehow fallen in love with.

"Draco," he said formally.

Draco was sitting up, a tray of largely inedible food before him. He found he still couldn't speak, though his throat and chest didn't hurt any more and he would probably be released the next day, once they confirmed that the blood replenishing potions were not going to interfere adversely with his system. He looked away from Harry, feeling stupid in his hospital gown, his hair matted and stringy from being in bed so long. He knew from looking in the mirror earlier that his face was even more pale than usual, and that his eyes looked sunken, his cheeks gaunt.

"Draco," Harry repeated, his voice smooth and normal, no hint of an angry burr in it, no poorly concealed snarl. "How are you feeling?"

Draco suddenly wanted nothing more than for Harry to leave. He had allowed himself several fantasies in the last few days as he drifted in and out of consciousness: Harry recuperating in the next room and being barred from getting up to see him, Harry alive and well and absent only because St Mungo's was denying Draco any visitors who were not blood relations so that he could recuperate fully. Even the sinking feeling that accompanied the reflection that Harry didn't want to see him at all was better than the presence of this cold, formal stranger. This was not how he had imagined it.

When Draco still did not respond, Harry began talking. "Hermione is the one who saved your life," he said evenly, as if he were reciting a speech. "I wouldn't be here, Draco, except for the fact that I want to thank you for what you did. And for all your help during the past few months. I don't remember everything, but I remember a lot, and I'm glad you were there. I'm very sor—" Then Harry's voice wavered a bit, but he cleared his throat and continued. "I'm very sorry for what I did to you; I am aware of how traumatising this whole experience must be. I—the fact that I almost succeeded in killing you will always be a source of great shame to me. I think you should know that I have made arrangements, over the last few days, to repay you for the time you spent with me, though I know, of course, that money could never adequately reimburse you for the danger you exposed yourself to every day, and most especially on the last day. I hope that you will accept it, however, and again, I thank you and apologise for what must have been a horrific experience."

And still, Draco could not bring himself to look at Harry.

"I'm sure it will be adequate, Potter," he said finally, using Harry's surname deliberately. His voice sounding dull in his own ears; the chasm between them was growing exponentially wider and wider. "Anyway, I can't afford a solicitor to make sure, can I?"

Harry was silent for a moment. Then Draco heard the sound of the chair scraping on the floor as he stood up. "You should be able to, now. I sincerely wish you well. Thank you again."

He was long gone by the time Draco was able to make himself look up.

*

It was very adequate. More than adequate. Draco knew Potter was rolling in it, but when Gringotts Owled him a statement a few days later, Draco was shocked in spite of himself.

He should have felt free, then. He could build a new life for himself. He didn't need anyone, if he had money. He had no father tying him down, no mother to try to keep him close by. No Harry to rely on him, to depend on him, to need him.

Draco realised that he didn't miss Harry needing him as much as he missed feeling able to help Harry, to be able to do something for him, to give him everything he had.

He had received news of his father's death while he had been in St Mungo's, but it had been numbing rather than devastating; all his grieving was done. Draco moved out of the terrible London flat, throwing away all of his father's belongings but keeping some of his mother's.

He thought about going abroad, perhaps studying potions with some of the Masters on the Continent. He thought about learning a trade, learning to make wands or brooms, he thought about trying to write books, he thought about trying to live as a Muggle, about starting a restaurant, about doing research, about training to become a Healer. He thought about a hundred different ways he could do something with his life. But mostly he just sat in his empty new flat and missed people who were gone, who had left him.

Draco didn't understand why Harry had been so cold. He went through the one-sided conversation in the hospital room over and over again, thinking perhaps there was some clue as to why Harry apparently resented him for trying to break the curse. This train of thought never led anywhere, though, and Draco forced himself to try to forget, to try to stop remembering the way it had felt when he realised his act of love, which he had struggled so hard to be able to achieve, had been thrown back at him.

He had always known that Harry wouldn't need him, if he were ever to be cured. But Draco hadn't thought he would be around to know what that meant, and to know the pain of having been completely abandoned.

Finally he decided that his idea of travelling was the best, since he was unlikely to get any kind of work in England. He began to make plans, writing to several of the more well-known Potions Masters and dropping Professor Snape's name. He applied for International Apparation Clearance and began packing his bags, determined to go even if there were no specific career prospects, since there was truly nothing keeping him in England anymore, and he could see the world if nothing else. The prospect did not excite him like it should have.

It was three days before he was scheduled to leave, and Draco was reading a Potions textbook, trying to concentrate, when he looked out the window and saw a full moon, and suddenly he felt as if he couldn't breathe. He stared at it and felt his eyes watering. It wasn't fair, he thought angrily. He had wanted to give Harry everything, but Harry didn't want it. Draco knew he would never be able to leave it behind, would never be able to forget, and every time he was stupid enough to think he could, the moon would be there to remind him.

And then he heard a knock at the door.

Draco wiped angrily at his face and strode to open it, convinced it was the odd man from down the hall who seemed to find the stupidest excuses to start conversations that Draco obviously didn't want to have with him.

He yanked the door open and—there was Harry.

He wasn't wearing his Auror uniform, and his wand was nowhere in sight.

"Don't—don't close the door, please, Draco," Harry said, and he put one hand on the door, as if to make sure that Draco wouldn't try. "I know you probably—probably hate me—but I had to see you. I have to talk to you."

Draco felt rooted to the floor. He stared at Harry, at his clean-shaven face, no scars or cuts, his hair neat, if not ordered, his clothes not torn and dirty.

"Hate you?" he managed, finally.

Harry ducked his head. "I—I'm so sorry, Draco. We—Hermione and I found out what—what exactly it was that you did."

The anger was sluggish at first, as he realised what Harry was saying, but as it gained momentum he began to shake with it.

"You—you mean, all this time—you—" he bit out, "You didn't know?"

Harry looked miserable. "No."

Draco was truly furious by this point. "How could you not know? I—it had to be on purpose, why else would I have said those things—made you—"

"You didn't tell me, Draco," Harry whispered. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because you never would have done it then, you stupid berk! You—what did you think, that I dragged myself back to insult you? That I made up some idiotic story about G-Granger paying me just to make you feel bad? I know y-you hated me but—but even so, after everything I did, after everything we w-went through—" His teeth were practically chattering, he was trembling so hard. "I hate you," he breathed. "I hate you so much—"

"I thought—I thought you would hate me anyway," Harry broke in, "I tried to—to kill you, I was sure you wouldn't want me to—and I felt so bad, after, and I just—Hermione didn't know that you'd said what you did about—about paying you, she didn't know you'd goaded me on purpose, and Draco, I—"

Draco made a sound of frustration and rage and reached forward to shake Harry, to knock him over or punch him or yank at his hair—

And then Harry had his arms around him and had pushed him up against the wall. "Please," he breathed, his cheek next to Draco's, and Draco could feel every inch of him, feel the way he pushed back when Draco's heaving chest expanded and contracted against him. "Please forgive me."

Draco wanted to struggle, to demand that Harry explain why he had had so little faith in Draco, but Harry kept talking.

"When you left, and you didn't come back—I waited and waited, and it got harder every day, and then by—by the third week I thought you were truly never coming back. And I started to hate you, but even then—" He choked and gripped Draco even tighter. "But then you did come back and I thought it would all be all right, you had come back to me and I thought—and you said those terrible things and I lost control, and everything happened so fast, and then suddenly I felt something—explode in me, and I was looking down at you, bleeding out under my hands, I thought you were dead, I thought I had killed you—I was so scared."

The trembling eased, a little, and Harry's warmth began to seep through Draco.

"I thought you would never forgive me for—for trying to kill you. It wasn't until just a few—a few days ago that Hermione finally found something about what might have happened."

He pulled back, suddenly, looking into Draco's eyes. "Why did you do it, Draco?"

Draco turned his head away. "I didn't think I'd have to explain," he said slowly.

Potter gave a little groan, and then buried his head face in Draco's neck. "Don't you know," he said, muffled, "that if you had died, if I had killed you, I never would have forgiven myself?"

"I did it for you. Because I loved you," Draco said, his voice brittle.

Harry stilled against him and drew back, cupping Draco's face in his hands carefully.

"I—when I realised—it was as if—" He took a deep, shuddering breath. "These past few weeks have been awful. I tried to stay away because I thought you would hate me. I thought you would be glad to never see me again."

"That's because you're an idiot," Draco said.

Harry laughed, but it was a choked, desperate sound, and his eyes were so open, and so dark. Draco shivered.

"I know I am," Harry replied. "But if—if you could ever forgive me—Draco—" Draco felt his knees weaken. "I—I can't live without you," he said simply.

Draco remembered the first time he had kissed Harry, and the look in Harry's eyes. There was no lurking beast, now, but it was Harry, and that was all that mattered.

He reached up and pulled Harry's glasses off, just like he had the first time.

Harry's eyes softened. He leaned forward carefully, still unsure, but Draco leaned forward to meet him, and Harry kissed him, very gently.

*

"I thought before," Draco said, panting heavily in Harry's bed several nights later, "that you had so much stamina because you were an inhuman beast."

Harry was stretched out on his back next to Draco, also breathing heavily, but he looked a little embarrassed at that. "Er. Sorry, that's just...how I am, I guess."

"I'm not complaining," Draco said, smiling.

Harry smiled back at him, and then leaned over and wrapped his arms around Draco.

They were silent for a few moments, and Draco began to drift off to sleep.

"It's better here, isn't it?" Harry asked suddenly, sounding uncertain.

Draco turned his head slightly. "What do you mean?"

"You—do you think you'll like it here, with me? It's going to be so different from—before. In the Manor."

"Well, for one thing, I much prefer not shagging you in my parents' bed," Draco said lightly.

"Ugh," Harry said. "Ugh. I—I'm glad I never really thought about that." He paused. "It's just. There...we were alone. There wasn't anyone else."

"Did you like it better that way?" Draco said, surprised.

"Well—well, no. But Draco, even here, I don't really have anyone else. I mean there's Ron and Hermione, but they have each other, now, and the rest of the Weasleys—I think they'll always be upset that things didn't work out with Ginny, and—" He buried his face in the back of Draco's neck like he used to do. "I liked having you all to myself. And I wanted you to—to want me all to yourself. I'm just afraid that—that being here again, in the real world, it's going to change things."

Draco felt the weight of Harry's arm resting on his hip, the warmth of Harry's chest against his back, the prickliness of his hair tickling his neck.

"It's always been you, Potter," was all he could say, hoping Harry would understand what he meant. "Even before we met. Things have changed, but nothing is different."

Harry's hand tightened around his, and they lay there in the still, silent darkness. Through the window, Draco could see the moon making its way across the sky.

 

end