Every You, Every Me
by daftfear

Pairing: Draco Malfoy/Harry Potter
Rating:
NC-17
Warnings:
Drug use, attempted rape, violence, angst
Word Count: ~49,800
Genre(s): Angst, Drama, Humour, Romance, Smut

Canon: Through DH (EWE)
Other characters
: Narcissa Malfoy, Hermione Granger, Dudley Dursley, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Molly Weasley
Artist: leochi

Summary:
I thought I had already hit the lowest point in my life, but as the universe seems intent on proving, I was wrong. The only thing that could possibly make this worse is Potter. And more Muggles.

Author's Notes: This fic is primarily designed as a character study of Draco interfacing with the Muggle world. Please note that the opinions are that of the characters, as presented, and do not reflect the opinion of the author. All information regarding coolers/heaters, government organizations and potions ingredients is inference and may be slightly inaccurate. I apologize for any obvious errors or holes in research.

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.




Prologue

You are your own worst enemy. You are the one who will cause your own doom, bring about your own end. You are the one responsible for your own darkest fears, for your own nightmares, for your own undoing. You are the one who fabricates your pain, your anguish, your punishment. You are the one who holds every key to every lock in your mind and, given the right incentive, you are the one who will unlock them and set your psyche to chaos. You are the one who, when tortured and tested and probed, will give you up in the faces of your enemies. Before anyone else can do it, you will betray yourself. You are your own worst enemy.

This has always been true but I never considered the weight of the statement until recently. I was sure that I was always out for my own, to save my skin, to help myself, to improve my life and my lot in it. I was certain that, of everyone in the world, I was the only one I could trust.

I was wrong.

I am my own worst enemy.

I stood in the centre of the room. It never looked quite so cavernous before. Then again, I had never viewed it from this angle before this week.

There were hundreds of not-so-nameless faces looming over me. All of them darkened from their ridiculous, raised perches. All of them stern and condemning. All of them just blurred versions of one face, the same face I kept seeing at night.

I couldn’t look at any of them. I didn’t want to. The people in front of me, all wearing the same, hideously coloured robes, implored my attention. All of them gazed down upon me as though demanding that I attempt to return their glares. All the people behind me implored me to look down, to shuffle my feet, to hang my head and slacken under the weight of their judging eyes. They wanted me to show my shame, show my humiliation in every way imaginable.

I did neither.

Instead, I stared straight ahead at the plain wall in front of me. I kept my head straight and my gaze fixed. I tried to keep my shoulders relaxed but square. I wanted my posture to suggest confidence but not arrogance, control but not boredom. I needed them to think that I believed in myself while still showing them that I knew my life was in their hands.

I’m a good actor, but not quite that good.

I was terrified.

There was one other person standing in the centre of the room with me and she had put on much the same outward demeanour as I had. I wanted to look over to her, to catch her eye and find some kind of reassurance there. I wanted to hold out my hand for hers and know that there was still hope, that it would all be alright.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to lift my hand, to reach out. I knew she wouldn’t take it anyway. Not here. Not now.

Visible signs of fear were dangerous.

Time ticked away slowly. I counted the beats of my heart in an effort to assess the minutes but knew it was a fool’s endeavour. My heart rate was too fast, too erratic. I tried to calm myself down, to slow it. I tried to relax, but how can anyone relax when they face the audience of men that will send them to the slaughter?

“Draco and Narcissa Malfoy,” a man’s voice said. I couldn’t continue to stare at the wall. I was forced to look up at this point. I knew the procedure. I knew I had to. But I still wanted nothing more than to stare resolutely ahead and pretend that I was unaware of what was happening above me. “You both stand before the court of the Wizengamot today to receive its judgment in regards to the accusations against you. Step forward when your name is called to acknowledge your charges and the verdict.”

The man who spoke I did not recognize. He was old. They were all old, now that I could see them. I knew this. Each of them survived and each of them looked as though they had aged ten years in two days. We all did, really. Everyone who survived bore the physical evidence of their part, whatever it was.

His eyes were dark and hard behind his oval spectacles. His hair was blond, once. It was choppy and grey in the unnatural lighting of Courtroom Ten. He might have known my father once. He might have taken our money when it was given. He might have tried to suck up to my father in the past. He might have asked him to tea.

But that all seemed to be another life and, if he recognized my mother and I for any other reason than our crimes, he did not show it. He saw nothing human in me. He saw nothing worth saving.

“Draco Malfoy,” he said. His voice had not increased in volume, but he might as well have been bellowing, the way it echoed in my head. I stepped forward after a moment, not trusting my limbs not to betray me and shake. I barely moved half a step, but he seemed to accept it. “You have been charged with innumerable counts of Torture, Kidnapping, Unlawful Imprisonment, Harboring a Wanted Criminal, Hateful Acts against Muggleborns, Half-breeds and Half-blood Witches and Wizards, the attempted murder Katherine Bell, Ronald Bilius Weasley and Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Extortion, Unlawful use of Underaged Magic, Muggle baiting, undermining the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy and, finally, use of the Unforgivable Curses.

“You have pleaded Not Guilty, stating duress and self-defense as justification for your crimes. You have testified to the members of the Wizengamot that you undertook such criminal actions as a result of direct threats to your well-being, as well as the well-being of your parents, up to and including threats on your life. You have provided Pensieve memories as well as Veritaserum testimony to support your claims. Your testimony does not support, nor have you claimed, a defense of Not Responsible by reason of the Imperius Curse, therefore this court can only find you Guilty on all charges. Step back.”

I felt my body comply with the order but I was not paying attention. My eyes were unfocussed and my mouth had fallen slightly open. I know that much for sure, but nothing else about what I might have looked like to the people surveying the scene. I felt myself shaking slightly. My lungs expelled any air I tried to inhale. I couldn’t breathe. Something pressed constantly, but erratically, on my chest, forcing me to pant awkwardly. I could feel my throat tighten and my eyes well up with tears. I would not cry before them. I could not let myself.

But I was heaving and shaking. I was staring, wide-eyed at the wall again. I wanted to sob and cry and shake my head. I wanted to hex them all and run. I wanted to escape. I wanted to go to sleep and wake up, and think -and know -that this was all just a horrible nightmare.

I knew the verdict before he spoke it. I did, really. But it hadn’t been real then. It hadn’t been true. Now it was true. Now it was so real it was tangible and I knew what would come next. I knew that the next part involved sentencing. I knew that the real blow would fall then.

“Narcissa Malfoy,” he said curtly. I felt a small rush of air as she stepped forward, her head high and calm. She was always stately and collected. Except when I was in danger. She lost her cool when I lost mine. She would lose it soon, I knew already. “You have been accused of Aiding and Abetting in Torture, Kidnapping and Murder, Harboring a Known Criminal and Engaging in Hateful Acts against Those of less than Pureblood Descent. You have also faced charges for Muggle baiting and undermining the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy.

“You have pleaded Not Guilty, stating that every criminal act undertaken by yourself was under duress. You have testified to the Wizengamot that your actions were forced upon you by Lord Voldemort under threats to your well-being, as well as the well-being of your son. You have provided Pensieve memories, as well as testimony under Veritaserum to support your defense. Given, however, that Duress is not a legally acceptable defense to the Wizengamot, this court finds you Guilty on all charges. Step back.”

There was a murmur running through the crowd of gathered spectators. My mother stepped back to her place as I stared resolutely at the wall. Then I felt her shift again and lace her fingers through mine. She squeezed my hand the way she used to embrace me: it was tight but gentle, offering all of her soothing and as much of her strength. She hugged me that way when I fell off my broom on the grounds and skinned my knee. She hugged me that way when I woke in the night from a bad dream. She hugged me that way before I left for Hogwarts each year and, more vigorously than even, when Snape brought me home at the end of my sixth year.

This kind of touch meant that bad things had passed and I was alright for the moment. It also meant that terrible things were to come and I must be strong.

It was an ill omen.

“Do you both acknowledge the verdict dealt to you by the Wizengamot and understand the implications of such verdict?” the man was now screaming in my head, though he still spoke in the same monotone. His words ground against my ears and scraped my heart. I clenched my jaw and grasped my mother’s hand in return. I needed her comfort. She needed mine.

She did not pull away as she might otherwise have under this level of scrutiny.

“I do,” she answered, her voice remarkably even. I wanted to scream that I did not, that I would never acknowledge it and that I could not understand how they could ignore the fact that we had already suffered so much more than anything they could offer. They had already sent my father back to Azkaban, probably never to release him. They had already torn down my family name, taken the Manor, taken our dignity. Voldemort had taken everything else and kicked us all while we were down, just for good measure. Surely we had suffered enough.

But the Ministry was out for blood. They wanted Death Eaters’ heads on spikes outside their doors to warn off future dark wizards. They wanted to send out a message and prove that they were still in control, even after they had lost all control.

We were the sacrifices for order.

“I do,” I said, my voice sounding distant to my own ears. It was even, though. It did not quaver like I had expected it to.

I waited, then. There was nothing to do but wait. I waited on baited breath for the blow to fall, for the sentence to be dealt. I knew that my crimes were enough to sentence me to not one, but several consecutive life sentences in Azkaban. I knew that they had no qualms with the notion of sending me away for the rest of eternity. I knew that they wanted to.

Desperately.

“Very well,” the man finally said. He took a deep breath and I felt all the oxygen leave the room. It didn’t matter. “Under the current laws of the Ministry of Magic the crimes of which you both have been convicted merit a life sentence in Azkaban Prison.” All the moisture left my throat. I stopped breathing, I’m sure. I don’t know how I managed not to pass out. I guess I would see Father sooner than I ever thought. At least we would all be together... “However, in light of the witness testimony in your defense, as well as the irrefutable evidence proving your unwillingness to comply in the crimes, the Wizengamot has been encouraged to offer your both less severe sentences.” I inhaled sharply. What? “Also, considering the role both of the accused played in the outcome of the war, the Wizengamot has consented to employ a new method of sentencing.”

I glanced at my mother at this point, unable to stop myself. My eyes were wide, my brows knitted to crease my forehead. I started shaking again, both hopeful and horrified at the notion of a new form of sentencing. That could mean anything.

My mother’s eyes were not as wide as my own, but still wider than usual. This fact alone conveyed her concern to me. The fact that she squeezed my hand tighter was further proof that she was frightened. I took a half-step closer to her and tried to fight the urge to speak. I couldn’t reply to anything without being asked. I couldn’t jeopardize what might be our only chance at life.

“In a show of good faith,” the man went on. The audience members were listening raptly now, as though this was all a fantastic performance for their benefit. “The Wizengamot had decided to allow each of you, individually, to decide on a punishment to fit your crimes.”

My eyes widened further, if it was possible. My jaw dropped and I shook my head, almost imperceptibly. Almost.

That wasn’t possible. He must have been lying. They would never -never -let the accused choose their own sentence. That was ridiculous! If they were to trust prisoners to decide when they had been punished enough, then Azkaban would be empty and there would be dark wizards running loose all over Britain. They would never do that.

It was too easy, too good to be true.

There had to be a catch, a trick. It had to be.

I felt the trepidation in me grow exponentially as my mind raced. I was too much of a Slytherin not to recognize when I was being given venom in my glass of pumpkin juice. Right then I was being presented a gift that would no doubt be covering a nightmare.

“Narcissa Malfoy,” the man’s voice pierced my frantic thoughts. My mother squeezed my hand very tightly once more before releasing it and stepping forward. “Follow the instructions provided to you by Officers Donnelly and Turgout and take a seat.”

I looked over and suddenly realized there was a table on the floor near us. There was one chair and a long strip of parchment with one quill. I watched in muted confusion as she was escorted over to the chair. They sat her down and handed her the quill. She took it, apparently rather confused as to the situation as well.

I couldn’t hear anything for the blood rushing through my head, pounding against my ears. My mother looked up at me, her eyes sad with love and worry. My heart clenched and I nodded to her, trying to at least give off an air of strength that I knew I did not actually possess.

Donnelly and Turgout pulled out their wands and pointed the tips to my mother’s temples, one on each side of her. I gasped slightly, worried they would stun her, or Imperius her, or kill her before my very eyes. I twitched slightly as the impulse to run to her coursed through me before it died.

Her face was unchanged for a few moments before their spell took effect. There was a purple light shining from the tips of each of their wands and then the whites of her eyes shone purple as well and she looked inhuman. She looked nothing like my mother, for a few moments. The light faded from her eyes and I realized I had whimpered slightly, shaking now from the shock of the image.

Her eyes widened abruptly and her head snapped up. She was gritting her teeth in an effort to fight something. I saw her hand rise with the quill, tightly gripped. It shook violently from the effort she put in to fight it off. I watched in horror as it eventually touched down on the parchment and began to scribble violently. What was going on? What were they doing to her?

She stared at me the whole time she fought and then, briefly, shut her eyes. The one simple move was capitulation and I knew she couldn’t fight it any longer. I knew she had given in to whatever they had cast upon her and that all was lost. She opened her eyes again, singular tears streaming down her cheeks. She mouthed something to me before finishing the scrawl on the parchment and slumping forward as the spell released her.

‘I love you,’ her lips had told me.

She looked dazed now. Her head was lolling slightly to the side as she hunched in the chair. Her long blond hair fell forward and hung limply around her face. Her eyes were unfocussed and I wanted to run over to her and hug her. I wanted to help her.

I had never seen my mother that vulnerable before. Never.

One of the Officers picked up the parchment and held it out to read it. His mouth quirked at the edge when his eyes scanned the page.

“Officer Donnelly,” the man said suddenly. I had forgotten he was there as I watched my mother fight her own hand. I continued to watch her now, listening but not listening. “What sentence had Narcissa Malfoy identified for herself?”

Donnelly stood taller, craning his head back to look at the Wizengamot.

“She is sentenced,” he began, his voice a deep timbre. “To have all contact severed between her and her son, Draco Malfoy.”

I gasped and knew, immediately, what she had written on the page. She told me that the worst torture she had ever undergone was during the final battle at Hogwarts, when she did not know where I was, or whether I lived or died. She needed to know if I was alright.

Now she never would.

“Very well,” the man said as though this was completely logical. “Take her away.”

“No!” I found myself crying out. I reached out to go to her but someone held me back. I felt hands on my arms, on my shoulders.

My mother was lifted from her chair and led toward the door. She came to her senses as she was escorted and shook her head vigorously. She turned back and reached out for me. I fought against the people restraining me.

“Draco!” she cried out, trying to force her way back to me, having shed all pretence of dignity. “No, I’m sorry, Draco! I love you!”

“Mother!” I called back, feeling my face contort with anguish. It fell back into familiar lines. I clawed against the restraining bodies now. “No, no, come back!”

Then I felt my body stiffen with a spell and I couldn’t move at all. My heart thrummed angrily in my chest and I watched, helpless, as they pulled her through the doors.

I knew, then, that it was quite possible I was seeing her for the last time.

Once the doors were closed and she was gone, they released the spell and I stumbled forward slightly, still in motion. I coughed and clenched my jaw. I glared at the two men behind me who had stopped me from running to her. I glared up at the Wizengamot. They were dealing me a double punishment by cutting me off from my mother as well as having me sentence myself. They knew it, too.

I clenched my fists and stared back at the door, as though hoping that she would burst back through it. I had lost both my mother and my father now.

I was entirely alone, no matter what.

“Draco Malfoy,” the voice interrupted me again. I wasn’t listening really. I was too distraught at the notion that I was entirely alone in the world now. No one out there would speak for me. No one cared whether I lived or died, other than my parents. I had no one. “Follow the instructions given to you by Officers Cramer and Thistle and take a seat.”

I did not move, but felt myself forcibly escorted to the same chair my mother had occupied. Then it occurred to me I had a more pressing matter than my loneliness.

Their spell would search my mind for the truth and pick a punishment from my fears, from my nightmares. I could tell from my mother’s sentence.

I wracked my brain to identify a plausible sentence. I tried to decide on one that might be acceptable both to the Wizengamot and the spell, as well as being something I could, potentially, live with.

Being forced to return to Hogwarts? Have my home taken from me? No, they had already done that.

Have to work for a living? Yes, that could work. I never considered having to work for a living. That could work as a possible punishment. Working.

I tried to focus on the idea of it, tried to grasp at it with all my might but as I felt the quill forced into my hand, and the tips of wands pressed to my temples, the idea slipped away into the ether of my psyche, like happiness slips away in the face of a Dementor.

The spell filled my head with a brilliant purple light and I went blind for a few moments. Then, when the blindness faded, I felt hands reaching into my brain, probing and flipping through my mind to find the answer it sought. I tried to force my own idea on it but it threw it away. I felt myself being to shake.

There was pain erupting behind my temples as I fought the nature of the spell and tried to control it, rather than let it control me. I gritted my teeth and sobbed and groaned as memories were flashed through my mind. Emotions flooded through me and every one of my psychological compartments was thrown into disarray.

Then the spell found what it was looking for and I nearly cried out.

No! Not that! No no no no no no! Please no!

I felt my hand jerk toward the parchment and I tried to fight it. Every one of my muscles burst into flames as I struggled against the insistence of the magic that coursed through me. My face was wet with sweat and tears. My teeth hurt down to the root, I clenched my jaw so hard.

Anything but that. No, anything but that... please.

My fist thumped down onto the parchment, sending a jolt of pain through my wrist. The quill started to scratch against the parchment in a scrawl that was not my own. The jagged edges of the letters were angry and violent as I fought desperately not to give in, not to write what it wanted me to write.

I couldn’t keep going and I watched in horror as the words spelled themselves out in front of my very eyes. I struggled as long as I could but my whole body ached and felt weak. I watched the last word as it wrote itself out and then the spell drained from me and the magic released my body. I dropped the quill and slackened, my head crashing down onto the table in front of me. Pain bloomed behind my eyes but I couldn’t see anyway.

I gave into the weakness because I couldn’t be bothered to fight it. I felt the parchment tugged out from under me and felt myself lift my head and lean it back against the chair. My eyes rolled back and I lolled, boneless and empty. Tears were streaming down my face but I couldn’t lift my hand to wipe them away.

“Officer Cramer what sentence has Draco Malfoy identified for himself?”

Silence and then a quiet voice, a voice very much like my own, echoing in my ears, spoke up.

“Draco Malfoy is sentenced to live without magic.”

~~~~~

Every You, Every Me

~~~~~


“There you are, boy,” the Officer spat, treating the word boy as though it had been another noun entirely with a far more derogatory definition. He shoved me roughly into a narrow hall with so much force that I stumbled and fell to the ground. “Welcome to your fully equipped Muggle flat.”

Again, the words were spoken as though they were each euphemisms for others and his meaning was entirely obscured. I scrambled on the floor but he moved and knocked me in the side with his boot. I gasped and collapsed again deftly trying to remember his name.

Ah, right. Thistle. And he was prickly as any.

Officer Thistle grimaced down at me. I decided that, given that my sentence was already decided, showing him defiance would do me little harm. At least, little legal harm. I glared back at him and tilted my chin up. I hated him and his dark eyes and ginger hair. I hated his broad shoulders and round belly. I hated every part of him and the fact that he looked like an older, uglier version of Weasley only helped fuel my loathing.

“I don’t imagine physically abusing your charge is well looked upon by your superiors,” I said with more than a hint of a threat. He studied me for a moment as I got to my feet, determined to maintain at least some of my dignity. When I looked up, his face was dangerously close and I could smell the coffee on his breath. I grimaced.

“You going to rat me out, Malfoy?” he asked, using my name like one might use a curse word. I understood him completely, that time. It was already apparent that being a Malfoy was a curse in the new world that the war had built. Or forged. Depending on how you look at it. “I’d love to see it.” When he spoke, he spit a little. He was too close for me to wipe it away. I was pressed back up against the wall. “I’d love to see your little worthless arse whinging at the Ministry. You know why?” He leaned in closer and I felt nausea overwhelm me at his proximity. His gut pressed against my stomach and I tried to suck in to put distance between us. “Because nobody would care if I beat you bloody, Malfoy.” I felt my blood run cold, not because I didn’t believe he wouldn’t try –I knew he would do it in a heartbeat –but rather because I knew it was true. “They’ll check my wand when I get back because it’s procedure to do so.” He pulled back with a very dangerous grin. “But why would I need a wand when you’re so helpless and unarmed, with no magic to hide behind?” He inhaled through his teeth as though tasting the air. “No one will check on you.”

He pulled back and laughed. It sounded like a rabid dog barking.

Like Fenrir Greyback.

I shuddered involuntarily and he walked back to the door.

“Enjoy yourself, Malfoy,” he sniggered. “I’m sure you’ll survive fine.”

He slammed the door on the way out and the walls rattled like sick lungs. As the rattling stopped I started breathing again, swallowing down the air as though I had been without it for years. I tried not to think about what he said. I tried not to consider all the implications of his words. I also tried to steady myself enough to hold myself up without the benefit of the wall.

I failed at all these things.

Burying my fingers in my hair, I screwed my eyes shut. Thistle was right, really. He was.

The Ministry didn’t give a damn about me anymore. They had never really cared, to be honest. They played eager puppies to my father when he was still influential and had Galleons to throw about, but they never cared about him. In fact, they probably all hated him even then. Call it jealousy or mistrust or whatever you want. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything.

The truth is, when I considered it honestly, they probably shipped me out here to back-alley London in the not-so-vain hope that I would expire as a result of one thing or another. They knew as well as I did that I would be completely useless without magic. I don’t know how to fend for myself because I’ve never had to. Even when the Dark Lord was living in Malfoy Manor we had house-elves to prepare food and keep the pantry stocked.

I can’t cook. I mean, I could probably figure it out if I had magic. It can’t be all that different from brewing potions, really. The right ingredients, in the right quantities, mixed at the right intervals and you achieve what you want.

But I didn’t have magic anymore.

I was little better than a Squib...

And then, even if I could somehow manage to survive without food, there was this bloody hole they set me up in. Thistle Apparated me there and just the front of the building was enough to tell me this was the seediest part of London imaginable. The old bricks had cracks running through them like veins, crumbling from the inside out. The doorway was bloated wood and the stairs creaked loudly when you didn’t walk on them. When you did step up, they whined and wheezed and threatened to give out under you.

Then there were the other inhabitants. Muggles with white, drawn skin, unfocussed, red eyes, and nervous habits. They lingered in doorways and then disappeared hastily behind them when you walked by, but their eyes were always on you.

They were starving dogs and vultures, biding their time and salivating at the prospect of untainted meat.

I shivered uncontrollably and clenched my jaw hard, fighting off tears and hysteria.

They wanted me to die here. They wanted me to give in and let the hell they built for me consume me. Everyone was waiting for me to disappear into the depths of misery so that they could happily clap themselves on the back for their genius. They would never be burdened with the task of actively destroying me. It was much more effective to let me destroy myself so they could then don the sash of the merciful and proclaim that karma had defeated the wicked while they had showed me lenience in their all-forgiving wisdom.

I grimaced and shuddered through the shivers, then slammed myself violently back against the wall, hoping to knock some sense back into my own skull.

I couldn’t let them win that way. I wouldn’t let them. I’m a Malfoy and, whatever else we are, we are not quitters. We do not give in easily. We do not die easily.

I gathered up my scattered wits and determination and turned to look at the hovel I was made to inhabit. Live in would suggest I expected to enjoy myself here.

I did not.

I glanced around the hall. The floor was old wood, much like the doorway to the building itself. There was a threadbare rug haphazardly thrown at the threshold. A small door next to the entrance seemed to conceal a small cupboard, probably meant for shoes and cloaks.

The walls were dirty and speckled with brown and yellow stains, water and grime having left permanent tributes. I stepped cautiously down the small hallway and glanced into the door to my left.

Through it was a ridiculously small kitchen. The counter was probably once a shiny green laminate, but was covered in a layer of grime, like the rest of the place. The tiles were white masquerading as grey. The table stood on shaky, uneven metal legs and the top was speckled white. The chairs were mismatched and there were only two. One was entirely metal, and dented in the seat. The other was wooden and one of the back support bars was broken and jagged.

There were other things in the kitchen –things I imagine were meant to be used for preparing meals. But I have no idea what they are.

I mean, there were cupboards there, in old white-painted wood with uneven hinges. Those I understood, at least. But then there was a battered silver box sitting atop the counter with two identical slats along the top. Next to it was a large, apparently metal, box as tall as the counter. There were four circles on the face of it and a handle on the side with a window that showed nothing but metal racks. There were knobs and dials but I had no idea what they were for.

Then there was the other box. It was massive –much larger than the previous ones –and there was a long vertical handle on the side that suggested it would open like a door. But before I could muster up the courage to open it, it started grumbling at me. It vibrated and roared loudly in the empty room and I stumbled backward in surprise.

The sound was grating and constant and reminded me the dungeon doors scraping across the ground as they were pulled open and unlocked to add prisoners in the depths of the Manor. It reminded me of the growling of the werewolves as Greyback lead them off into the night.

I whimpered and ran from the room, unable to linger in it. I didn’t care what that thing was. I had no intention of opening it again for the length of my stay in the hell-hole.

Holding myself up against the dirty wall, panting and shaking like I had just run from Death Eaters, I realized that that was essentially what I had done. I had run from the memories, from the feel of them encroaching and slowly threatening to destroy me.

Other people called it a war. They referred to the events as ‘battles’ and catalogued them in neat little stacks of parchment for the history books. They treated the fighting like all good English things are treated: as polite and courtly. Given the descriptions I had read in some of the papers, it seemed as though they were already clinical, already dry in the reports. It was already history for them, already ink on parchment.

But that was not what happened. There were no disciplined armies marching in straight lines into battle, their heads held high and wands at the ready. There were no stately leaders with civilized tongues and carefully laid out strategies. It was not a game or a scene from a book. It was not clean or clinical.

The time that passed was not describable in solid words or physical things. It was all of the mind and the spirit. It was horror and terror all rolled into one, living and breathing within the flesh walls of madness. It was fear, flying on frozen promises and dying dreams. It was pain, trudging through the fires and the splattering of unknown blood. It was agony and grief. It was regret and adrenaline and survival.

It was relief, if only for a moment.

I remember relief, very clearly. I remember holding my parents and feeling alive and free again, close to tears because I never thought I would feel that way again. I remember Potter walking by, as if in a trance, as if lead by unseen forces, and then nodding to me. I remember loving him then, if only briefly.

I loved him like you love the person who wakes you from a nightmare and reminds you that it was all a dream. I loved him like you love the sunlight after wandering, lost, through a labyrinth. I loved him like you love the sweet, gasping breath of fresh air once you break the surface of a pool you nearly drowned in.

I loved him until I remembered that he was no friend of mine and reality lay just beyond the walls of the castle.

Hell, reality was the walls of Hogwarts and the floors and everyone that laid upon them. Reality was in the bodies on the stone and the cloths covering the worst of them. Reality was in the grieving celebrations, the knowledge that it was over but had only just begun.

I pressed my hand to my stomach until the skin and organs gave way beneath the pressure, forcing my insides to flatten against the wall with me. I grounded myself in the present pain and then let go, taking a deep breath.

This couldn’t be that bad. This couldn’t be as bad as all that. I couldn’t let it be.

But at least then I had my mother with me. At least then I knew I wasn’t entirely alone. At least then I had a small glimmer of hope that it might, one day, be over. I didn’t know then that I would end up here.

“Get a hold of yourself, Draco.” The words sounded distant and unreal to me, but my voice was still speaking them.

I forced away the thoughts of the past and, with them, the sound of the grumbling metal box on the kitchen.

I walked down the short hall to what I assume was meant to be a sitting room. It looked nothing like any sitting room I had ever seen in my life. The sofa was small and looked very much as though a dragon had attempted to eat it but spat it out in disgust. The cushions drooped sadly in the centre and the fabric –a hideous brown and orange concoction –was torn and pilling in various places. There were even black singe marks on it and a liquid stain on the back.

Grimacing, I turned my attention to the armchair, which was in marginally better condition. It was a dark, dusty green and the cushion was still intact. It was stained and pilling, like the sofa, but did not have singe marks or unpleasantly placed tears.

They were both oriented at an angle, the sofa mostly facing a rather sad-looking fireplace, the armchair facing the wall to my right. Beneath them was a rug so worn it was little more than threads. When I turned to see what it was the armchair was facing, my gaze fell on another box.

This one had a bevelled glass piece on the front and it was mostly black. There were odd-looking knobs on the front of it and a plastic string leading from the box to the wall. It was set upon a spindly wooden table that did not quite look as though it would hold. There was a small black plastic...thing with buttons on it set atop the box.

This box did not groan at me in any way, so I heartily ignored it and turned my attention back to the rest of the room.

The walls were bare and had been given much the same treatment as the sofa and entranceway. There were two windows on the far wall; side-by-side and so dirty I couldn’t see what was beyond them. The curtain hanging in front of one window was completely sheer and torn in several places. On the sill of the other window was yet another box. I swear, I don’t understand Muggles and their need to have everything in cubic form.

This box unnerved me slightly more than the last, but not quite as much as the one in the kitchen. This one made a noise but it was low and whirring. There was also a plastic string emerging from it and attaching it to the wall.

The whole room was cold and there was an unpleasant breeze of air that traveled through me. I shivered and tried not to give in to the torrent of things I was feeling. I had always been particularly good at schooling my features, at fighting off my emotions. I could do it still...

I shivered again and noticed the dimming light. The sun was disappearing behind the forest of buildings. Wrapping my arms around myself in a vain effort to reproduce my mother’s embrace, I turned away from the sitting room and walked down the next corridor.

I was tired, then. So very tired. I felt the exhaustion through every bone in my body and sought desperately for sleep. Ignoring the toilet completely, I walked on to the door at the end of the hall. It was small and hung weakly on its hinges. Pushing it open, what was to be my bedroom revealed itself.

The room was painted blue, once. The walls were dirty here as well, though I couldn’t understand how this much dirt could accumulate anywhere. The floor was cold wooden planks, all uneven and the varnish flaking and worn away in certain places. To the side was a large but ancient wardrobe –and not ancient in the good way. The wood was unfinished and splintering at the edges. The handles on one of the drawers was wrecked and hung like a broken limb. Inside I knew there would be “Ministry approved clothing” for me to wear. Robes were apparently unacceptable in the Muggle world.

In the corner of the room was what was supposed to be my bed. Though the space was not large, not by any means, the bed was dwarfed by it. It was flat and hard, like a cot, with only one loosely knitted blanket thrown haphazardly over the top. The pillow was flat and lumpy from overuse. It creaked.

I pressed my lips into a thin line and crawled onto it. It nearly buckled under my weight. I curled into a ball, still wearing my shoes and my robes, and buried my face in my arms.

One year, I told myself. One year of this and then I can appeal. One year and there will be a review. The cot wheezed and jerked as it tried to accommodate my weight. I whimpered and held myself tighter, trying to force out the real world and disappear into my dreams, if there were any more to have. One year and I can find my life again.

There was a siren outside and a pattering of rain against the small window above the bed. I glanced up and realized there was a crack in the glass and water dripped down off the sill.

I shook, fisting my hair as I hid my face and finally gave in to the storm, hidden away in my hole as the sun passed over me, unnoticed.

I cried into my robes, for the first time since sixth year.

++++

Morning brings no reprieve when you’re lying in hell. I did not sleep that first nigbr />Morning brings no reprieve when you’re lying in hell. I did not sleep that first night, nor any of the following. I decided that I hate London. The air in my flat (if you can call it that) was cold and moved like wind. The windows sweat and rattled against the weather. There were siren calls wailing into the wee hours, booming horns and the chatter of life moving along down the street. It never ended. The night was never fully dark because the lights in this city are eternal, which hardly made sense to me because the light was only on the outside and never within.

As much as the streets were bright through the night, the rooms and hall of my little hovel were dark as dungeons once the sun set. My bedroom never grew fully black because of the window, but the loo was like walking into a void. There were no windows in there, so no light filtered in. Even in daylight it was gloomy and shadowed unless the door was wide open.

How do Muggles make their way inside their houses in the dark? I didn’t have anything that I could use as a torch and, even if I did, I wouldn’t know how to light a fire for it.

My nights were full of moving shadows and lengthening terrors. The people who lived in the flats all around mine were most awake at night. I... heard things through the paper-thin walls. I heard them crying and moaning and grumbling. I heard them talking to themselves... and I know they spoke alone because there was only one voice, because the incoherent words were the ramblings of mad men.

I know mad men.

So I didn’t sleep. My fear wouldn’t allow it. I curled up into myself, back to the wall, eyes moving between the window and the doorway, always watching for unusual movement in the darkness. The blanket covered me but didn’t shirk the cold.

Once the sun rose, I did too. It hurt too much to lay in that bed for too long. The only reason I went back every night was because it was slightly warmer in that room than the others and I felt... well, I felt safer there. I know it’s ridiculous. I know I shouldn’t have been frightened. I mean... I was surrounded by Muggles. What could they have possibly done to harm me, anyway?

But I did feel scared. Trepidation grew on me, crawling over my skin and soon beneath it, with every passing second. The night was too hard to face unarmed. I had no protection, no defense. Without my wand...

“Fuck,” I whispered, mostly to remind myself I can speak. I can’t keep wandering down that path.

The first morning I decided to try and live as though nothing had changed. I should have known, going in, that it was a ludicrous goal. Everything has changed.

The bath was... an experience. There was no deep tub to fill with hot water and bubbles enough to coat a dragon. There was no organ’s worth of pipes and taps to turn and find what I needed. Instead, there was merely another box, walled by frosted glass that jammed along the tracks and barely parted enough to let me through. Even in my state of malnutrition.

There was only one tap and two knobs, presumably ‘hot’ and ‘cold’. I was wrong about that, too. Apparently, Muggles do not find it necessary to bathe in warm water. No matter how I tried to turn the knobs, changing, adjusting, fighting with the left one that simply refused to turn more than a quarter-inch, the water that shot out in sharp jets was always ice cold.

Ice cold water to soak through my skin. Ice cold air to finish the job of freezing me alive. Apparently, there is no warmth in the Muggle world.

There exists, also, only shampoo. There was a small bottle of what was the equivalent of a scourgify on my hair and nothing else. My hair is naturally soft and silky. The soaps and lotions I used at home were only meant to amplify that.

When I stepped out of the shower, onto the cold tile, wrapping the one brown towel around me, my hair felt like straw.

Then I saw myself in the mirror. Through the spotted dirt, my skin was pallid and there were dark circles under my eyes. My hair stuck up in odd places and reminded me, frustratingly, of Potter. I was thin –thinner than I had ever been, and must be even thinner now.

Have you ever looked in the mirror and not recognized the face you saw there?

For the last two years, I have not once seen myself reflected in the glass.

I stopped trying to bathe every day. There was no reason to, anyway. No one came to see me. I never left the flat. I did nothing to soil myself. And it just didn’t matter.

It was just too cold, too empty.

+++++

On the sixth night, I crashed spectacularly. I hadn’t eaten since I’d arrived at the flat and had not slept in longer. The sky wasn’t even dark when I collapsed into a fitful sleep. Nightmares and terrors plagued me. Visions of white faces with condemning blue eyes, followed by snakes that laughed manically, their red eyes glinting like embers were the ghosts that haunted my mind.

I don’t know how long I slept, but when I woke it was very bright outside and I still felt tired. I’m not sure how many days had passed, then. I wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

I wandered out of my room, once I convinced myself that there was no more sleep to be had and, even if there was, I didn’t want it. I needed to go to the kitchen. I needed to go in there and see if there was some kind of food. Anything at all.

I needed to eat something because, if I didn’t, then I would never survive and the Ministry would win. They would have their desired outcome. It was barely enough incentive, but it got me to the threshold of the kitchen, anyway.

Standing in the doorway, I faced the grumbling metal monsters that served as reminders of my otherness, of my incapacity.

The large box in the corner was not grumbling, yet. I had noticed that it was silent sometimes and vocal others. I took that as a good sign and stepped inside. I stared at the cupboards for a long time before I got up the courage to open then.

I’m not afraid of cupboards. Please. I was only afraid that they would crumble into dust if I touched them. Everything inside the flat seem as though it was shattered on the inside and only putting up a strong front.

Destroying themselves from within.

The doors did not crumble under the weight of my touch, but neither did they proffer much either. I opened all the cupboards to find most of them bare and hollow with the want of food and life.

Just before I gave in to self-pity and despair, I found a small bag of crisps in one corner and a box of dry flakes which bore only a passing resemblance to cereal I had eaten once or twice at Hogwarts when I had arrived late to breakfast. I took them with me and escaped the kitchen as quickly as I could. I did not dare try and open the corner box. Whatever it held inside was clearly too angry for me to deal with on my own.

What else could grumble like that?

I curled up on the middle cushion of the sofa, where there were no gaping tears or protruding springs, and nibbled on the crisps. I tried to ration them all out so that I didn’t run out too quickly. I knew that I could hardly live for a year on the meager portions, however.

The chill breeze that I had come to understand inhabited the flat with me suddenly blew slightly stronger. I shivered and looked down at the little crisps in my hand.

“Mother would never approve of my eating crisps as a meal,” I muttered to myself. “And cereal was for common folk.” I laughed coldly because it was the only way to stop myself crying again.

It didn’t matter what mother would say or of what she would approve or disapprove. I would never see her again. I couldn’t talk to her or hear from her. She would never know what was happening to me. And there was no one else to care.

I gasped as a thought struck me hard.

If I died, no one would know. The Ministry might find out eventually, but it would be too late by then. They wouldn’t care at all. And my mother would never find out.

My mother would never know I was dead.
+++++

Four more days passed, from the sketchy count I kept, before I ran out of cereal. I waited one more day, hoping that more food would simply materialize, but it didn’t. I checked the kitchen again, just to be sure. The Ministry couldn’t so blatantly leave me without means of survival, could they? They had promised me that I would have all the tools necessary to live (though smugly aware that I had no means by which to use those tools).

Surely they wouldn’t actually leave me to starve. I must have been missing something.

I searched the cupboards quickly when the box in the corner stopped grumbling. I pulled at the doors and stuck my head into the cupboards, hoping I was missing something. I even moved the little silver box on the countertop to see if there was something in it, or under it. There wasn’t.

It was then that I realized there was a small envelope on the table. It blended with the tabletop well enough that I hadn’t seen it before with my cursory glances.

Snatching it up I tore it open, hoping for instructions of some kind, only to discover little strips of coloured parchment. There were only a few of them. They had different numbers printed on them, but all had an illustration of a woman, varying in age but clearly always the same one. I stared at the small print.

Bank Of England, it said. Ten pounds. The woman was wearing a crown.

“The Muggle Queen,” I mumbled to myself. My father had told me when I was very young that the British Muggles had a royal family along with their own form of a Ministry. Though he couldn’t quite remember what the point of the royals was, he always shrugged it off, laughing at the possibility that any Muggle could be something as high as royalty.

I asked him to learn more about it once. It was rather interesting to me, that the Muggles had a Queen and the wizarding world did not. Our money bears the face of no monarch. It’s Goblin made, after all. They hate wizards, I don’t see why they would think it a good idea to imprint the face of a Muggle on their coins.

In any case, my father scolded me for taking interest in Muggles and sent me off to study Malfoy family history instead. He said that the Malfoys were practically wizarding royalty; therefore my attentions were better devoted to that.

If only he could see me now...

I counted out the money left me. There were two ten-pound notes, three one-pound coins (which reminded me a little of Galleons, though smaller and less gold), and what came out to fourteen pence (apparently).

There was a message scrawled on the inside flap of the envelope.

Calculated average necessary for the survival of one adult per month in Muggle Britain. Five pounds to a Galleon.

I stared at the scrawl and then back at the strips of parchment. Forty-three pounds was what it took to live for a month? A feeling of dread washed over me as I considered the little bits of currency. Four Galleons a month, roughly, was what they were giving me.

That couldn’t possibly be enough to survive for an entire month. Not unless I began to grown my own food in the box on the windowsill. Not unless they didn’t expect me to eat enough to stay healthy.

Which is exactly what they expect. Why should a Death Eater live in health?

My stomach growled and my body ached. I clutched the notes in my hand and told myself not to panic. Surely I could find a market that sold food cheaply enough for me to live on it for a month. Surely...

My breath was becoming laboured as I wandered back to my bedroom. I had to go out and get food, whatever it might be. I had to get it. I had lived for almost two weeks on nothing but crisps and cereal, had I not?

And crashed every night, getting thinner and thinner every day.

I forced the thought aside and went to the ancient wardrobe in my room. I was expressly told not to wear my robes out among the Muggles. Under a penalty, they had said. Ministry approved clothing would be provided for me.

Fine. They wanted me to dress like a Muggle as well as live like one, then fine. I would do it and I would do it well.

They don’t want you to simply live like a Muggle, Draco. They want you to live like a poor Muggle.

I pulled open the drawer of the chest and pulled out the clothing they had left me.

The first two items were what looked like exceptionally long pants. I had seen Potter and the Mudblood wearing these in Diagon Alley before. Even the Weasel, sometimes. Trousers, I believe they were called. I had never worn anything other than robes. One pair was a faded beige colour and the other were coarse denim in light blue.  

When I pulled them out further, I noticed a rather egregious problem.

They were, by all accounts, something close to ten sizes too large for me. I tried to pull them on, but they dropped They were, by all accounts, something close to ten sizes too large for me. I tried to pull them on, but they dropped immediately back to the floor, pooling around my ankles, every time I tried. There was nothing in the world that would keep them at my hips, where they were supposed to stay. There were loops at the waist, suggesting that I could slip something through them to tie them, but I had no such thing. Some of my robes had belts to go with them, but I had no belt with me. There was no rope anywhere in the flat and I couldn’t think of anything better to tie them with.

Taking a deep and shuddering breath, I tossed them aside and kept searching. There was one more pair of trousers, in the bottom drawer. This pair was still too large, though much less so than the previous two. It also had the benefit of ties in the front to adjust the fit, however slightly. They were thick and woolen, though soft from wear. They were also a greenish-yellow colour with an owl pattern all along them.

As I stared at them, I knew something was off. I had never seen anyone wearing trousers like these. Potter certainly never did. Not that I paid particular attention to his wardrobe. Still... they reminded me of a set of robes I had when I was six. They were dark blue, instead of greenish-yellow, but they had embroidered owls. My mother had me wear them for one of my Father’s benefit dinners for the Board of Governors. She said they were smart.

A dangerous wave of nostalgia flushed through my body and then coiled in the pit of my stomach. I kept the trousers on.

I searched through the drawers for something to wear over them. A shirt, or jumper. Something. I found a number of shirts, anyway. Two of them I knew were women’s clothing. They had elaborate floral patterns on them. One was even trimmed in lace. Chucking them aside, I cursed the Ministry officials who were clearly intent on humiliating me completely.

There was one thin, ribbed shirt that reminded me suspiciously of undergarments, as it had no sleeves and there was a tear in one side. The last shirt was marginally more promising. It was a silky fabric with swirling green patterns on the front but the collar dipped in a wide ‘V’ and there was a black band running just beneath it and hung in thick ribbons at each side. The appeal of the fabric and colour was too much. I pulled it over my head and looked in the grimy mirror in the loo.

The shirt did not fit me well. The sleeves were far too short and pulled over my shoulders like caps. The front was slightly baggy over the chest and then tighter below. I knew I had lost weight but I couldn’t have ever been large enough to fit the garment properly, now could I?

With a low sigh I turned back to find a cloak of some kind. It was already chilly enough when I touched the window that I couldn’t go out without one.

There were no cloaks in the chest. There was only one item that might have passed as a jumper of some kind. It was knitted with thick wool, anyway. Black, with long sleeves, it had toggles along the front and hung down to my knees. Pulling it on, I realized it fitted me better than any of the other items and reminded me of my robes.

The Ministry approved of it. It must be fine. Or, acceptable enough that the Muggles would not think me completely mad...

The last thing I needed were shoes. My own were leather with thick rubber soles but I didn’t dare wear them. I searched the wardrobe instead and found nothing that could pass for shoes. I bit my lip hard and glanced around the room. I needed shoes. They wouldn’t let me wear the ones I had, would they? It made no sense.

I shoved the money into my pocket and stepped back out in the hall. There was a cupboard in the entryway. Perhaps there were shoes in there. Yes. There must be. Perhaps there was also a cloak of some kind, for winter.

I opened the door and found one pair of battered trainers. These actually looked like they could have belonged to Potter. They were canvas and a dull, faded black. The white strip around the bottom was scuffed and flat in places from wear. The canvas was ripped along the sole on one shoe and the laces of the other were frayed and thick with unraveling at the end.

I clenched my jaw and pushed them onto my feet, fumbling slightly as I tried to tie them. I had not worn trainers in years and they had certainly been in better condition than these.

There was no cloak in the cupboard. Nothing else.

I fastened the toggles along my jumper and stood frozen, facing the door. I had not left the flat since I had arrived. I had not even opened the door since Thistle had left behind it. I had never even been in the Muggle world before. Not really. My father hated Muggles and did everything in his power to avoid them at all costs. The most Muggles I had ever been near were at the Quidditch World Cup in fourth year.

I shuddered at the memory and took a deep breath. It would be alright. I could do this. It was just walking among Muggles. It was going to the market. I wasn’t expected to make friends with them. No conversations. No real interaction, right?

Besides, whatever happened, they were Muggles. They had no magic, by definition. Without magic, how could they hurt me? If they wanted to assault me, they’d have to catch me first, no? I’m rather fast. Seeker’s reflexes. I can outrun them.

And what else do they have that could harm me? The Ministry had warned that the Muggles thought Sirius Black had been armed with a metal wand back in third year. Apparently that was actually dangerous to Muggles. What anyone could do with a metal wand, I didn’t know. Aside from prodding you with it, metal wands were useless.

Everyone knows that metal is a terrible conduit for magic. Which is why wands are made of wood.

Knives can still be dangerous, a traitorous voice in my head warned. I shook my head. Still. You have to be near someone to hurt them with a knife. I could run fast. I could get away in time. All I had to worry about were weapons that could hurt from a distance and Muggles did not have any of those.

I squared my shoulders and reached for the doorknob. I would have to face the Muggles sooner or later.

The halls of the complex were dingier than I had thought they were that first day. The floors were uneven hardwood and the walls slouched inward as though the floor above was too heavy a burden to bear. There was light coming from just around the corner, but it flickered weakly every so often. I trod carefully along the hall, seeking the light to try and understand it, but once I got there, I only found a beveled piece of yellow-coloured glass attached to the ceiling with what might once have been ornate handles.

It bore down on me now, like a massive, all-seeing eye, trying to blink away an image forever imprinted.

How did the Muggles do that? Why was there light in the hall but not in my rooms? Had they managed lighting charms, but not perfected them? Was the coloured glass meant to hide the source of the magic?

I tried to reach up and feel it, but could only manage to touch the pointed metal centre that formed the pupil of the eye. When my finger brushed it, I immediately regretted it because it burned. My finger in my mouth, as though that would help with the pain, I glared up at the offending light. Perhaps it was enchanted...

But that made no sense. Muggles don’t have magic. Then I realized that the more probably answer was that they had somehow contained fire within that glass. That’s why it burned me. That’s why it flickered like it did.

Shrugging and grumbling to myself that Muggles should put up warnings if they’re going to use something as dangerous as real fire, I continued my journey out of the inwardly crumbling building.

Somewhere in the stairwell –a damp and dimly lit space that reminded me uncannily of the stairs that led down to the cellar of Malfoy Manor, creaking and accusing with every step –I heard a pair of voices. I stopped and looked around, searching for the source, but found nothing. I couldn’t see far into the darkest corners of the floors beneath me, nor could I spy what hovered above my head. The voices were muffled slightly and I realized that they must have been coming from behind one of the doors that leads to the staircase.

I continued downward, my shoulder pressed against the cold stone wall, still listening for the voices. But as I ventured lower, I realized that there was no door that lead off the landing that seemed to be the source of the conversation. Pausing, I tentatively pressed my ear to the stone while a more rational, more self-preserving part of my brain informed me that this was how one got caught eavesdropping and rarely does that turn out well. The other part of my brain told me that listening to the conversation was important to protect myself for a number of reasons. If whatever was going on was something dangerous or criminal, then I would know and could avoid the parties involved. Or, I could hand over the information to the Aurors and possibly improve my current status.

If the conversation proved to be nothing more than a domestic spat, between friends or neighbouring tenants, then at least I could file it away for later use. If I was to live there for a year, then I wanted to have leverage against some of my cohabitants if the need should ever arise.

The problem was that I could barely understand a thing that was being said.

“It was unlike any other,” the first voice was saying. “This time, I made mistakes. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. You need to help me –”

“No,” the other answered. It was more forceful, more authoritative. “This isn’t enough. I’ve already done you enough favours. What do I get in return? When are you going to give me what I asked for?”

“I –I’m working on it. But, you’ve got to –”

“I’ve got to do nothing. Get out. Don’t come back until you’ve done it.”

I frowned and pulled away from the wall. Something about the echo in the voices made me sure that the wall was not, in fact, the source. I wandered further down the stairs and stopped in the doorway of the main floor. I pressed myself up against the doorjamb and flattened myself in the shadow. A man emerged from the dark corner beneath the stairs looking frazzled and ill. His eyes were red and rimmed with purple. His skin was drawn and his hair looked filthy. He didn’t notice me as he climbed the stairs. I waited until he was out of sight and wandered over into the darkness when no one else showed signs of departing.

There was nothing in the shadow. Nothing at all. A solid wall connected with another solid wall –one wood-paneled, one stone –and a carpet worn to the point of colourlessness spread out along the floor. There was nothing else.

I inhaled and then held my breath, trying to quiet myself completely to hear someone else’s breathing, someone else’s footsteps or whispers. I heard nothing.

If I hadn’t known better, I would have suspected hidden rooms or passages. But the fact that it was impossible was a gloomy reminder of the fact that I was not back at Hogwarts –however much I complained about it –nor was I home or anywhere in the wizarding world where secret passages and hidden doorways made perfect sense.

There was no magic here, no enchantment, no mystery hidden within the stones themselves. This was a world without glamour.

I let my shoulders fall slightly and wandered back toward the doorway. The sky was already showing signs of darkening beyond the glass of the door. The air held a bitter chill that was unusual for late September in the city and the streets spread away from me like broken stones leading away from a ruined castle.

The sky was grey. It was always grey, I imagined, in London. I glanced down at my hands and they looked grey, too. The city drained the colour from every living thing. I looked to both sides and saw nothing but more of the same. None of it could compare to the living feel of the wizarding world.

How do Muggles not go mad living in a world as mundane as this?

I shrugged into my jumper and stuffed my hands into my pockets. Finally, I picked a direction at random and then began to wander. All I needed was to find a market where I could buy something to eat. That was all.

It couldn’t be that hard.

+++++

I haven’t got a watch. I mean, I have. I own one. But it’s somewhere back at the Manor, along with my mother and other things I’ll likely never see again. It’s a platinum and white gold watch, with little alexandrite stones in a deep green to mark the time. There is an engraving of the constellation Draco on the back. My mother gave it to me, secretly, on my seventeenth birthday.

It’s tradition.

She was crying when she did. No one was watching but me. My mother doesn’t sob or wail. There are barely any tears, in fact. There was only one, a painted symbol, down her cheek when she wished me happy birthday when the Dark Lord’s back was turned, busy terrorizing my father instead.

She told me not to wear it to the hearings. She didn’t want us to appear too well-off, too pure-blood for the first time in my life. Probably the first time in hers. She said that if the Wizengamot perceived us as being on a pedestal, with riches and wealth beneath us, they would feel more compelled to punish us out of spite and jealousy. If we appeared more conservative and drab, they would think that we had already been knocked from our positions of prestige and be more lenient.

They were, in a way, right. We were knocked from our positions. We had fallen. But they had barely been less cruel in punishing us.

I wish I had taken the watch with me. If I had, I would have known how long I had wandered down how many streets in search of a market. I’m sure there was one very close to the flat. There must be. But I also know that I must have taken every wrong turn imaginable.

All I was sure of was that it had been hours.

My feet ached from the cold and the hard ground and the unforgiving search. I was freezing and tired and worn. When I did find something suitable in which to shop, I nearly cried with relief. I didn’t even bother to look up and check the name of the shop, I merely looked inside and noticed Muggles with vegetables and bread in their baskets.

So I stepped up to the glass wall to find a way in. As I did, the wall slid away with a whooshing sound and the passage opened up before me. I started slightly, wondering how this made sense in a world without magic. I panicked briefly, wondering if I hadn’t somehow found my way back to a wizarding establishment because it would be a source of comfort. I couldn’t risk going into a magical place and getting caught. Even if it was for food.

But the people inside were decidedly unmagical in their appearance. I decided to chance it and stepped in just as the wall slid closed again, apparently having had enough of waiting for me.

I glanced around me in the harshly lit shop and sought out items I understood. There was a stack of baskets against one shelf so I picked one up, snatching it desperately from its peers, and wandered down the first aisle I saw.

The first recognizable thing I found was bread, for which I was infinitely grateful. I picked up a large loaf and placed it in my basket, wondering if I should take more than one. It was supposed to last a month, after all.

On that logic, I placed two more into my basket and began to wander again. There were boxes upon boxes lining one aisle with all forms of items. Some I had seen before. Others were very strange, indeed. I gathered that I had found the sweets aisle, given the cookies along one side, but there was nothing I recognized other than that. No pumpkin pasties, no cauldron cakes, no licorice wands or Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. I took a deep breath and stared blankly at the shelf of cakes and pastries that I had never seen before in my life. How was I to know if I liked them?

Then my eyes fell on something I did recognize. There was a small stack of boxes that boasted “Authentic Treacle Tart”. They were tiny, personal sized portions of the dessert. I don’t even like Treacle that much, but I shoved a box in with the bread anyway. It reminded me far too much of home.

A waft of the scent escaped the box and prompted a vivid memory of hundreds of students, sitting at long tables and laughing as massive pumpkins lined the sides of the hall and glittered with light. Twelve massive Christmas trees, another time, shining with snow and happy voices calling out to one another. Two large boys sat at either side of me and a girl with short, black hair, directly in front of me. She was staring longingly at me and barely noticed that I was looking across the hall to another student with dark hair.

I just couldn’t remember why.

I shook off the feeling of nostalgia and sped off along another aisle. I picked up potatoes and carrots, though I hadn’t the foggiest idea of what to do with them. I found some crisp green apples and tossed them in the basket as well. I came across some meat and stared at it, wondering why none of it was pre-prepared and how, precisely, I was supposed to cook something that was apparently still bleeding.

You could just eat it raw. Like Greyback.

I cut off the thought and shuddered violently. A package of sausages caught my eye. If I could figure out how to prepare the potatoes and the sausage I could have bangers and mash. Which was a real meal.

Picking up the package, I placed it in my almost overflowing basket and wandered around to find something to drink. There, again, I was disappointed. The Muggles apparently had never heard of pumpkin juice and the closest thing I found to butterbeer was something called “root beer” but I suspected it would not be the same. Instead, I picked up a small carton of apple juice and a bottle of caramel liquid called Coca-Cola. I haven’t the slightest idea what that might be, but decided to try it. I had to try something new. The bottle was small, anyway.

I collected a few other things –crumpets, butter, marmalade, tomatoes, broccoli, crisps, etc –and then found my way to the counter to pay. The queue wasn’t terribly long, but it took time. With every passing second, my heartbeat sped up. I began to panic. I would actually have to speak with a Muggle now. I would have to communicate and hope they would help me. I would make a bloody fool of myself.

“Next,” a young woman called. She had light brown hair that fell in weak curls and honey-coloured eyes. There was a light dappling of freckles over her nose, but not so many as to remind be of a Weasley. I tried simultaneously to sneer and smile, then to suppress both and the result was probably a twitchy expression that either made me look completely mad, or completely desperate.

She offered a small smile and began to pick things out of my basket and run them over a dark glass pane within the countertop. Every time she did, something beeped loudly. There was a display with bright green numbers and every time the thing beeped, the numbers climbed. I watched in muted horror at the thing and forced myself not to seem completely terrified of something that was so clearly not going to eat me.

She shifted uneasily before me and moved more quickly. The last of the items went through and she placed them all in thick plastic bags before turning to me.

“Thirty-two pounds fifteen,” she said with a false brightness. I stared at her and gaped. What? Thirty-two? How could that be? I had barely enough food to last me a month in front of me.

“W-what?” I stammered, completely unable to comprehend.

“The total,” she informed me carefully. “Thirty-two pounds and fifteen pence,” she repeated more clearly. I shook my head.

No. No. This wasn’t possible. I mean... I knew it would likely be too little, so I kept my choices to a minimum. Hadn’t I? I... I didn’t look at the prices, but then... I never have.

I’ve never looked at the price of something before purchasing it. I’ve never not had enough to pay. The colour drained from my face and my breathing hitched. I shook my head again.

“It can’t be.” I was dimly aware that I was mumbling to myself. I pulled out the money the Ministry had given me. “They said there would be enough. There has to be enough. I can’t... I can’t live on less than this... I barely... no...”

“Hey,” the girl said suddenly. My head snapped up and I realized she was leaning over with a soothing and sad expression on her face. She was pitying me. “It’s alright. We’ll just go through what you got and see what you can do without, yeah? No need to worry.”

I was being pitied by a Muggle and I didn’t have enough money to pay for food to live for a month. I was poor and desperate and magic-less and pitied by a Muggle.

I wanted to throw the food at her and scream. I wanted to punch and kick the counter, smash the windows and the moving walls. I wanted to yell that there damn well was need to worry because I was not likely going to live to see Christmas with the way things were going now. I wanted to explode and curse them all and show them how little Muggle things mattered in the face of magic.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

Instead, I nodded weakly and bit the insides of my cheeks hard, until I tasted blood, and allowed her to pull out one of my loaves of break, the tomatoes and broccoli and the crisps. I allowed her to remove the crumpets and the potatoes, as I couldn’t cook those anyway and the bangers and mash would have to wait until another time, perhaps. Then it came down to one last choice and I knew it would have to be between the Coca-Cola and the Treacle tarts. The Treacle was more expensive than the Coca-Cola and I knew I should get rid of that. I didn’t need it. It wasn’t a necessity.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t leave it behind. It was the only thing that reminded me of home in this unfamiliar and uncaring world. It was the only thing that allowed me escape into memories of when I was happy and the whole world was ahead of me, opportunities laying themselves at my feet, money pouring out of my pocket and people who looked up to me. It reminded me of the days before nightmares turned real and the pain that came with the war.

The pain and the humiliation. The knowledge that I’m nothing special.

I clutched that box like a lifeline before nodding mutely to her. She took it from me but I couldn’t watch her put it on the back counter. I couldn’t watch her remove the price from the total.

I barely heard her when she gave me the new total and I dropped all of the money I had been given into her hand. All of it. For a month. She handed me the two bags back and offered me a sad smile.

“Have a nice night,” she told me quietly. I bit my lip and walked out with the bags in hand, unable to look at anyone, unable to acknowledge the humiliation of not having enough.

I stepped outside and walked a few paces until the glass walls turned to brick and I stopped, looking around. Night had fallen and there was little light on the street. I looked ahead of me and blinked a number of times. Then I turned and looked behind me. I leaned to look left and right around the corners and then panic set in.

I had no idea where I was or how to get back.

I stumbled around a few times, desperately looking for something that might ignite recognition but I saw nothing. It all looked different in the light! It seemed so unfamiliar now that it was dark out, now that I had lost all my money and was saddled with food. It was like stepping through worlds without realizing it.

I backed up until I hit the brick wall and then dropped the bags, sliding down the brick, scraping my back, until I was sitting on the cold sidewalk. My arms and hands were shaking and tears were running down my face, unbidden and unwelcome. I was breathing in short and shallow gasps, gazing up into the empty sky, looking for answers or direction.

I was going to die. I was going to die on the street and then no one would ever know at all. I had gotten lost and I had no magic to help me find my way back. I had no magic and no money. Not only that, I had no names. I knew no one, I didn’t know the names of the streets or the address of the building. I didn’t know from which direction I had come. I knew nothing.

The world unraveled around me and I clutched the last of my dignity to me like a shield. I pulled the bags to my sides and sobbed silently into my knees.

Why has this happened to me? Why did it have to turn out this way for me?

I was promised so much, in my youth. I was promised riches and power and prestige. I was promised popularity and love and adoration. I was promised success. My father promised me the world when I was a boy. He said that it would be mine one day.

Now he was rotting in a cell in prison and I was crumbling in the face of every challenge. I was alone in a foreign world of so-called ‘lesser’ people, friendless, wandless, helpless...

No. No, wait. I’m not helpless. I’m not. I promised myself I wouldn’t be. I promised my mother I would endure.

I’ve done amazing things. I’ve done things others my age only dream of being able to accomplish. I’ve faced horrors and destruction and come out alive. I’ve mended complex magical objects that no one else could repair. I’ve planned elaborate strategies and attacks that have succeeded against the most powerful protection that the Ministry of Magic had to offer. I have performed magic so difficult that most students my age would never dream of attempting it. I have tasted flight and defeated the ground. I have faced pain and evil and come out alive. I have faced my enemies and my own mistakes and managed to come out with my freedom and autonomy.

I have myself, still. No magic, no, but I have my mind and my determination. Slytherins are cunning and ambitious.

I will not fall under the weight of this challenge. I’m cleverer than that.

Swallowing hard, I forced myself to my feet and picked up my bags. One deep breath and I walked out to the corner of the street.

I chose my direction.

+++++

It was sunny by the time I found my way back to the sodding building. SUNNY. London was laughing at me. I had wandered all night and my hands were frozen to the bone, my feet were numb and my shoulders ached. The wretched place rose up in front of me and I stared at the front of it. 148. I would remember that next time.

I trudged into the building and made my way up the stairs. It felt much as though I was trying to scale a brick wall, given how exhausted I was. When I finally reached the correct floor, I stopped dead just short of turning into my hallway. There were voices in the hall, though what unnerved me deeply was that I recognized at least one of them.

“—people here really need help. It’s not a very affluent neighbourhood and the crime rates have spiked in the last six months,” one voice –a man –was saying. “The people I work with here are mostly young adults who fall under in the job market and wind up on the streets, trying to score whatever they can and stumbling along a downward spiral.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this part of London,” said the other voice, also a man’s and infuriatingly familiar. “It’s... different.”

“A lot of people pretend this area doesn’t exist,” the first answered. “But after you... and the whole business... and having to move somewhere no one would look for us... well, I realized I wanted to help people. You... Thanks, for that. I was a bloody wanker.”

“Er, yeah... you were,” the second man answered. A laugh. “But you’re doing good now, Big D. Who would have known? And working with the ‘freaks’ your father hated, no less.”

I nearly banged my head against the wall in frustration. I was so close to my flat. So close to collapsing into an exhausted sleep. But, of course he has to be there, standing in my way, as always.

Fucking hell.

I took a deep breath and decided that I didn’t care. That sleep was far more important than my dignity, or anything else that I might otherwise express concern for. So, as the two of them kept blathering on, I turned the corner, my head held high, and walked right by.

Potter glanced momentarily at me as I passed and then turned back to his companion –a very large man with more muscles in his arms than I had in my entire body who reminded me unpleasantly of Vince. Then, the information apparently sank in and he whirled around with a disbelieving look on his face just as I reached my door.

Malfoy?”

Fuck. I stopped moving and took a slow, deep breath, screwing my eyes shut. I did not want to talk to Potter now. Or ever. Preferably ever.

Still, I turned.

“Potter,” I replied, deadpanned. Potter was wearing denim trousers and a zippered jumper. The man he was with was wearing denims as well, but a tailored jacket marked him as more professional. I suppose. It was then I noticed he had blond hair and looked more like a strange mix of Vince, Greg and myself. I pushed away the thought, unable to face it just then, given the situation each of us were in, each very different but hardly one better than the next.

The man was obviously Muggle, judging by the way he was looking at me. He distrusted me slightly but there was no outright loathing or disgust in his eyes. Potter, of course, had neither of those emotions in his eyes either. Bloody wanker.

“What are you doing here?” he asked me, apparently too stunned to immediately distrust me. I rolled my eyes.

“What does it look like, Potter?” I drawled, pulling my old demeanour out of nothing. Potter seemed relaxed by this. “I’m bringing in my groceries. You’re a bloody piss-poor Auror if you’ve missed that detail.” I shook my bags a bit to make my point and turned back to the door.

“Are you drunk?” he asked sharply after a moment. I gritted my teeth and curled my lip at the door. I wish I could have answered yes, that this was all some huge mistake, a stupid thing I had done while completely pissed out of my mind that I would laugh about in years to come, but I couldn’t tell him that, now could I?

I can’t even afford alcohol...

“Sod off, Scarhead,” I snapped. “Whatever you might think of my humanity, I do have to eat to survive.” He was slowly coming back to himself.

“Do you always do your own groceries and walk around in sleepwear and women’s clothing?” he said with a sneer. My body was caught between wanting the blood to rush to my face, and away from it. The result left me feeling rather nauseous. I swallowed. Women’s clothing? “Or have you found a new appreciation for Muggles?”

“I said sod off, Potter,” I shot back. “It’s part of my sentence.”

“What are you on about?” He demanded. I tried not to explode from frustration, which was quite the feat, given how little I’d slept or eaten in the past weeks.

“My Ministry assigned punishment,” I said slowly and deliberately. “Are you that daft?” I was passed the point of patience or civility. “They should have bloody sent me to Azkaban.”

I wanted Potter to just leave it there, but, of course, he could never do that.

“Are you really that much of an ungrateful sod?” Potter snapped. “Do you know how many people pulled strings and called in favours to keep you out of Azkaban and protect you from getting Kissed?” I shuddered involuntarily, but stood my ground. “Favours you didn’t deserve, I might add. People who hated you still did what they could to get you a lighter sentence.”

“Oh yes, because this is much better than Azkaban,” I gestured at my surroundings with a sneer. “Yes, quite the blessing, in my experience.” I gritted my teeth and ground out the rest of the words. “You have no idea what it’s like, Potter.”

Potter glared at me and then shook his head, shrugging off what I had said as though it was nothing more than dust. He laughed once, humourlessly.

“You know what, Malfoy?” he said with an uncaring smirk. “I don’t even care. I don’t give a damn what you’re going through because, whatever it is, you probably deserve it.”

I said nothing to him as he turned around and walked away with his friend. The other man studied me for one more minute before following. I turned to my door and pushed it open.

“Who was that?” The other man asked.

“Just a bloody tosser I went to school with,” Potter answered with disgust. “No one.”

I slammed the door behind me and dropped my bags, sinking to the floor, too weak to do anything but breathe unevenly. I hadn't even the energy to cry, if I had wanted to.

I pushed my fingers through my hair and tried to exhale all the tension, all the pain and desperation, but it helped little. The Muggle world was underneath my skin and it was eating away at me while Potter's disdaining face haunted my thoughts, telling me that I was a fool for so many reasons.

When I picked up the bags and placed them on the counter in the kitchen, I noticed something that didn’t belong. The box of Treacle Tarts was carefully placed between the two loaves of bread and there was something written on a little slip of white paper. I picked it up and shut my eyes after reading it.

I hope things start looking up for you. :)

+++++

A few days passed and my suspicions that the food I had purchased on the meager allowance the Ministry gave me would not last me the month were steadily confirmed. I had eaten half the treacle tarts that first day, mostly because I needed to pretend, best I could, that I was not in fact imprisoned in my own personal nightmare. I tried to pretend I was back at Hogwarts... even though I never really considered Hogwarts a particularly liberating place.

I guess I was wrong about that. Compared to where I am now, Hogwarts was heaven... bloody, nosey Gryffindors and all.

I stopped eating. I don’t mean I starved myself –I did have food after all –but to say that nibbling desperately at one slice of bread a day, rationing my food as though I was trying to survive the winter in a cave, was eating would be a lie. It wasn’t eating. It was surviving.

By the end of the week, however, I noticed that some of my rations seemed to be rotting. Slowly, but still rotting. I catalogued all I had, organizing it all in the cupboard and then realized that some of these foods really should be kept cool, rather than at room temperature. Like the extra loaf of bread. It should have been frozen or something to preserve it. But the bloody Muggles have nothing in the way of heating and cooling charms.

That, of course, discounting whatever invisible sodding curse they used to ensure that my rooms were only mildly above freezing on a daily basis.

I eventually realized that the box in the window was rather cold, so I placed the bangers atop it to keep them cool. Little good it did, however, considering the odd smell they were emitting. I considered putting all the food near the window to keep it chilled, but then thought better of it. Whatever was going to spoil was going to spoil regardless of whether it was room temperature or slightly chilled. Nothing was cold enough to keep the food, which was a rather disheartening realization, given that I was freezing, but the food couldn’t.

I wasn’t sure what to do. What do you do, after all, when you know that your food needs to last a month and likely won’t? Do you try to eat as much as possible in one go and hope that you’ll survive until the next allowance comes? Or do you try to ration it, knowing that you’ll lose part of the portion in doing so?

I stared at the stale slices of bread, willing them to be fresh again and knowing that, without my wand, no amount of willpower in the world was going to make them keep.

I picked up an apple, instead, and took a bite out of it. At least apples last quite a while without help. I needed to remember that. I would have to live off of apples for the next year, I decided. They were the only food that could be trusted. In the Muggle world, at least.

I wandered back toward the sofa and sunk down into one of the seats. And by sunk, I do mean I sunk into it. The wretched thing nearly ate me alive the first time I laid down on it. It took me ten whole minutes to climb out of the hole. It wasn’t so much a couch as it was a trap. I figured out quickly that it was not meant for napping.

Almost as soon as I sat down, I nearly jumped out of my skin. There was a loud, insistent banging on the door that jolted me to attention. I sat there frozen, wondering what I should do. There really was no reason for anyone to knock at my door, was there? I didn’t know anyone in the Muggle world and none of the people I did know could –or more likely would -come visit me here.
The only logical conclusion was that the person (or persons) on the other side of my door were strangers. Unwanted strangers. They could be anyone. Anything. There could be any number of them. Without magic, I could see nothing, know nothing of them and do nothing to protect myself, if the need arose.

The point, really, was that, whoever they were, they were dangerous to me.
“Unless...” I found myself muttering.

It could be one of the Ministry officers, couldn’t it? Coming to check on me, make sure that I haven’t used magic or found any kind of help... or perhaps coming to ensure that I was as dead as they likely hoped I was.

A swell of anger and defiance filled me. If they wanted to find me dead, they certainly wouldn’t be getting what they wanted. I’m not dead. I’m not going to be. I will survive this torture and whatever else that might have in store for me.

I will. I’m a Malfoy.

I forced myself out of the couch and ambled over to the doorway. There was no way to know who was on the other side, but my sudden defiance led me to be more careless than I normally would have been. I had to prove myself. I had to show them that I was getting on just fine. Whoever that person was, they needed to know that I would not be broken so easily.

I fought the shaking in my hand and inherent reflex to run, and turned the knob. My heart was beating in my chest as though determined to break free and there was nothing I could do about it. I tried to calm down, but adrenaline had started surging through me.

It didn’t matter, then.

Pulling open the door, I found a remarkably large man wearing a charcoal jacket and denim trousers standing before me, staring determinately down at a little notebook in his hands. His hair was a dirty blonde colour and his eyes were too small for his face.

“Good afternoon, my name is Dudley Dursley and I am with the Derpartment of Social Services. We’re doing the rounds of all the government housing in this area,” he introduced himself in one, practiced breath, never quite looking up from his pages. I could have been poised to attack him and he would not have noticed. “Regular procedure for the quarterly inspection to ensure the safety –” He finally looked up at me and stopped, mid-sentence. I hadn’t been following much of what he had said, anyway.

The reason he stopped dead was probably the same reason I paid no mind to what he had been saying.

“Hey,” he said suddenly, his tone and demeanour changing completely. His eyes sparked with recognition and I felt the urge to simultaneously curl my lip and shrink back from him. “You’re that bloke Harry went to school with.” I cringed despite myself and grimaced. He watched me do it, but his mind seemed to be elsewhere. “Ah, Malfie, right?” Apparently inaccurately recalling my name.

“Malfoy, actually,” I drawled, my cold mask of disinterest slipping back into place. I stood straighter. “What precisely do you want?”

He stared at me and a number of emotions and thoughts chased themselves over his face. He did not give off the impression of much intelligence, but I was sure that he was nowhere near as stupid as he looked. He reminded me more and more of Goyle, though Greg rather was as stupid as he looked.

“Do you mind if I come in?” he asked suddenly. I stiffened. I didn’t want him inside my rooms. I didn’t want him to even be at the door. But refusing him might only give Potter reason to suspect me of hiding something. And if anything got back to Potter, I was sure to be in shit with the Ministry before long.

Without saying anything, I stepped aside and allowed him entrance. He walked purposefully in, eyes scoping out every detail of the living room and the kitchen in one swift glance. I shut the door and tried not to feel vulnerable and exposed. The rooms were still lit because the sun hadn’t yet set, but they were growing darker very quickly.

The man –Dursley, he had said –weighed his options then quickly turned into the kitchen and glanced at the counter. He then turned back to me.

“You went to school with Harry?” He asked, despite the fact that it was improperly phrased. I sucked on my teeth and then nodded once. If he knew Potter, then the statute of International Secrecy no longer applied. I could not be charged with breaking it. He studied me a moment and then sighed. “The truth is, I do work with the Social Services Department, but I’m the Wizard-Muggle Liaison for my sector.” There was a mild jolt of discomfort when he said the word ‘wizard’, but he gave nothing else away. “I’m questioning people in this area as part of an ongoing investigation, so I need you to be completely honest with me when I ask you the following questions.” There was an unspoken ‘got it?’ as he cocked his eyebrows at me.

I raised one eyebrow in return and he swallowed. Keeping my expression and neutral as possible, fighting the urges I had to fidget and force him out, I waited for his questions. I needed to appear perfectly normal so that he had no reason to linger, no reason to report me to Potter. If he honestly was a Wizard-Muggle Liaison, he likely worked with the Aurors, if not another department of the Ministry and my being a Wizard living in a Muggle area must already look suspicious.

Particularly a Pureblood. Particularly now... after the war.

“Go ahead,” I told him and crossed my arms over my chest. He studied me and then nodded.

“Are you using, or have you ever used any narcotic or controlled substances?” The question was so formal, so government that I almost laughed. They had asked me similar control questions before my trial.

“Am I on drugs, is what you’re saying?” I shook my head and glared at the wall. “No.”

Again, he studied me a moment and then nodded.

“Are you currently practicing any illegal magic or brewing that is not licensed by the Ministry of Magic, or else deemed illegal under the Law, both Magical and Otherwise? If not, have you noticed any strange behaviour or events recently, in this area, that might lead you to believe someone else is involved in illegal brewing?”

I stared at him, my eyebrows knitted together, the anger clearly etched across my face. Was he serious? The only people who had any right to be asking me those questions were the officers of the Wizengamot and they would know if I had been practicing any magic at all. If I were, they would have swooped down on me faster than you could say “Dementor’s Kiss”.

“Is this a joke?” I asked him sharply. He didn’t recoil from the words, but looked as though he was considering it. He weighed the worth of his fists and brute strength against the perceived power I had in my magic. He didn’t know that I didn’t have a wand. “Did Potter put you up to this, Dursley? He must have.” I took a step forward and he stood his ground, eying me carefully. “Surely he’s the only person who would bother to put together a ruse this elaborate when he could just as easily look into my file or ask my bloody court appointed officer for whatever dirt on me he wanted. He’s the fucking saviour, now, isn’t he? He could have anyone he wanted answering his questions and willingly telling him what he wants to hear about how I’m cheating my way out of punishment and breaking the law.” The expression on Dursley’s face changed to one of confusion. I glared at him. “No, I am not practicing magic, nor am I brewing potions or anything else. How could I? And, yes, I’ve noticed strange behaviour recently because everything in the Muggle world is strange to me! So go! Run back to Potter with your little update and sod off.”

I turned back out and pulled open my door to get the point across. He stared at me and then glanced back to the counter where the stale loaf of bread sat, below the open cupboard with the apples and the carrots, then back out to the living room. His eyes lingered on the sausages sitting on the window box-thing.

“Do you always keep your fruit and vegetables in the cupboard?” The question was so inane I nearly screamed. Instead, I rolled my eyes and glared more directly at him.

“Where else am I to keep them?” I answered him with venom and disdain, but his expression of calm understanding did not waver. It frustrated me even more than his bloody questions. Why wasn’t he turning purple or red? Why not get angry and snap back? Or else run in fear or distress? His reactions were completely illogical.

Bloody Muggles.

He walked out to meet me but paused in the doorway, just shy of the threshold. He turned back to me and I decided that pushing him out the door was not the cleverest idea.

“You and Harry don’t like each other, do you?” he asked and I nearly exploded into hysterical laughter.

“Well spotted, Muggle,” I told him harshly. “Have you noticed anything else, at all? Perhaps that the sky is blue? Tell me, what gave us away? Was it our clever use of pet names like ‘daft arse’ and ‘ungrateful sod’ that clued you in? Or perhaps it was when Potter proclaimed that he didn’t give a damn about what happened to me?”

Dursley stared at me for a few moments, still obstinately refusing to get angry or offended.

“I used to beat Harry senseless when we were kids,” he volunteered suddenly. I stilled, but kept glaring at him. His eyes were almost sad as he told me. “I would tease and bully him, then get everyone else in school and the neighbourhood to join in. I alienated him completely from the rest of the world because he was scrawny and short and awkward looking and, mostly, because I could.” He pursed his lips briefly, considering something. “I enjoyed it, too, because it made me feel strong and superior. I know he hated me because of it, but I hated him too. I hated him for existing. Then, one day, without being forced to, without my asking him to, he saved my life.” I gasped softly and stopped breathing for a moment. “He saved my skin even though he hated me and I made his life hell.” He shrugged and offered a sad smile. “Now I spend my days working with people the rest of the world wants to ignore. Drug addicts, the homeless, prostitutes and others... I help them however I can, protect them however I can, to make up for the terrible things I did when I was younger.”

I stared at him and swallowed, unable to say anything or to move. He simply stood there, offering me an answer I didn’t want –wasn’t ready –to accept. The man nodded and then turned to walk down the hallway.

I stepped into the doorway, unintentionally watching him leave and highly uncomfortable in the knowledge that Potter had saved Dursley’s life even though they hated each other. The familiarity of the story was far too painful to analyze. I clenched my jaw and stared at the empty space at the end of the hallway. There was no one there. No one anywhere nearby.

Then I gasped and spun around, looking to my left. The hall was empty there too, but it couldn’t have been. Not a moment ago.

I ran down toward the bend and spun to see both sides, as much as I could. There was no one there either. No sign that anyone had been. But they must have been.

MUST HAVE.

I took a deep breath and forced myself to calm down, flattening my back against the wall and closing my eyes. I tried to feel it, tried to sense what was beyond me. I should know it if it happens. I’ve been around it all my life and then abruptly cut off. I should feel the sudden appearance of it. Notice the change.

But I could hardly feel anything and all I had to go on was the illusion of a whispered word.

Still, I swear, in that moment, I heard someone whisper cave inimucum.

+++

The nights were steadily getting colder and colder, the days shorter and shorter. I had no way of knowing precisely how much time had passed, but I’d taken to scratching little notches into the wall by my cot just before going to sleep at night. I had been using the silver ring my mother gave me when I turned eleven to do it. It’s magically reinforced white gold wound around plated silver and it matches the watch that’s kept safe at home, in the Manor. There is a serpent inlay, consuming its own tail. I only wore the ring inside the flat and tuck it away into the formal robes at the back of my cupboard when I had to leave.

So far, I had twenty-seven notches on the wall but I hadn’t started on the first day of my sentence, so I really had no idea how long I’d been there at all.

I walked along the narrow hall of my tiny flat, my hand running along the wall as though I might fall off the edge if I let go. I spent most of my time in the bedroom because it was the warmest room of the flat, but only just.

The kitchen was nearly bare again given that one half of the second loaf of bread began to rot. The bangers were rancid and the apples were nearly done. There was only one left, along with two crumpets and very little marmalade. The only thing still full was the bottle of Coca-Cola that I was, admittedly, mildly afraid to try.

The rubbish bin in the corner was beginning to smell. I stared at it from the doorway, still unwilling to spend more time in the kitchen than necessary. The grumbling of the box in the corner still unnerved me. What I don’t understand is why Muggles have anything that grumbles at all. If you want your furniture to be vocal, why not make it capable of proper speech, rather than disgruntled groaning?

I sniffed indignantly at the rubbish bin and wondered what I was supposed to do with it now? I couldn’t have it lingering in the kitchen, not when it was close to full and reeking of rot.

But there were no house-elves –nor anything comparable that the Muggles might have –that came around at all. Hell, nothing came around at all. There hadn’t been a knock at my door since the unwelcomed appearance of Potter’s sodding Wizard-Muggle lapdog. If it weren’t for the alarming sounds that echoed through the night, I would have imagined that the building was completely devoid of activity.

Though the noises sounded remarkably like poltergeists, I suspected that the place wasn’t actually haunted. I don’t know what Muggles get up to at night, but I had no interest in investigating further. Not without a bloody wand.

The box in the corner of the kitchen suddenly began to grumble again, snapping me out of my thoughts and spurring me into action. If the rubbish wasn’t going to take care of itself, I supposed the only thing to do was to get rid of it myself.

I studied it cautiously. It was an open bin with no lid made of what appeared to be exceedingly cheap plastic. I picked it up gingerly and held it far from my body, averting my nose as much as I could. It smelled absolutely horrid. Like rotting flesh and death. Putrefied fruit.

I pushed open my door and walked out carefully into the hall, looking both ways to see if anyone was nearby. Coast clear, I wandered out toward the stairwell before I noticed a sign to my left that read “Please dump rubbish in designated room on ground floor”.

Very well. Convenient when Muggles state things plainly.

I trudged down the cold staircase, the bin still held out at arm’s length in front of me, and followed the signs to the appropriate room. The door was heavier than the Grand Entrance doors at Hogwarts and was made of iron or something. I dragged it open and edged in without letting it close behind me.

The rubbish room was more putrid than anything I had ever smelled before. I gasped and then gagged, having allowed the thick scent to coat my throat. I covered my mouth and nose with one hand, considered the bin, then shoved it into the room and escaped empty handed, gasping and sputtering for clean air.

So I was down one rubbish bin, but surely there was a solution to that? I mean, the plastic was so thin and cheap that they must have meant it to be disposable. I did have one more bin in my bathroom, but after that I supposed I would have to purchase a number of new ones and keep replacing them. But bins, however inexpensive they might be, would cut into the little money I was allotted for food.

The Muggles were clearly not very clever if this was how they had been handling their rubbish until now.

Nibbling on my lower lip, I climbed back up to my floor and tried to come up with a solution. Somewhere around the third floor I stopped, a wondrous smell filling my nostrils. It smelled of mint and burning wood and Quidditch leathers with just a dash of sugar. It was familiar and brilliant. A jolt of excitement ran up my spine. It smelled like a brewing potion.

I looked around and sniffed again, trying to find the source of the smell but as quickly as it filled me, it disappeared. There was only a faint warmth remaining with the memory of mint and sugar. It was probably some random Muggle baking cakes or something of the like.

My nostalgia was too strong for my own good.

There was a light tinkling noise followed by an abrupt scream coming from the floor above me. From my floor.

I rushed up the stairs and down the hall to the bend that led to my door and stopped in my tracks, my heart racing. There was someone down my hallway, sobbing and moaning. It was probably just a Muggle. Just a Muggle who had dropped something. There wasn’t anything to be worried about. Muggles couldn’t hurt me.

They have no magic. They are no threat.

I peeked slowly around the corner to assess the situation. There was a man with wiry, unkempt hair wearing filthy, ill-fitting clothing. He was on all fours, his face to the ground, muttering incoherently to himself through his sobs.

“No, no, no, can’t be, must save it, must!” was all I could understand. I peeked a little further and realized, to my deep and unyielding horror, that he was licking the floor. I took a step closer, against my better judgment, against every fiber of my being that told me to run or to hide. There was a very fine golden powder scattered on the ground around him and it was this that he was, apparently, trying to lap up with his tongue.

I gasped softly as he scrambled around but he saw me, his wide, glassy eyes fixated on my face. My heart stopped and I couldn’t breathe. He looked completely mad, completely out of his head. There was powder sprinkled on his scraggly beard, giving him an almost absurd glittery appearance.

I glanced to my doorway and noted that it was only two metres away. The man was at the other end of the hall, at least five metres from me.

I can make it. I can make it to my door and then shut it behind me and be safe.

I tried to convince myself to move, just as he seemed to be cueing in to the fact that I was real and not imagined. He shrieked suddenly and I bolted, my heart racing as he cried out, his arms flailing wildly and his voice breaking through his cries.

“Mine! It’s mine! You can’t take it from me!!”

He lunged toward me but I was already pushing through my door and I slammed it shut just in time to see him wildly running passed the doorway to the bend in the hall.

My heart was pounding in my ears and I was shaking madly. A cold sweat beaded on my skin and I held the door closed for hours, simply standing and refusing to let go, afraid that he would suddenly sense the weakness and attack.

Eventually, when I stopped shaking, I ran into the kitchen and grabbed the more stable of the two chairs, lodging it between the doorknob and the wall, wedging the entrance shut.

I stumbled back until I hit the wall and let myself slide to the ground. There were tears running down my cheeks, I think, but I’ve no idea when I started crying.

Every time I think I have a handle on my situation, on living in this foreign, empty world, I lose my grip and find myself hurtling down into a void. It’s not safe here. Nowhere. It’s not safe for me and I can’t make it safe.

I can’t protect myself without magic, without the comfort of the wizarding world around me.

I can’t sleep without wondering, at the back of my mind, whether I’ll ever wake up again.

+++++

It was another three notches in the wall before I dared to remove the chair from under the doorknob and return it to the kitchen. By then there was no food left but half a crumpet, some dregs of the marmalade and the bottle of Coca-Cola.

I was feeling weaker and weaker with every passing day. I didn’t dare look in the mirror at all. I didn’t want to see what was reflected there.

I finally decided that I had no choice but to drink the odd liquid. What did I have to lose, really?

I pulled it off the shelf and had to work the cap painfully for a number of minutes before it would budge at all. I had no energy for it. No energy to even open the bloody bottle of Cola.

Eventually, it wheezed and hissed open, releasing gasses and bubbling meekly before calming. I eyed it suspiciously, but then shrugged. Butterbeer could do the same thing if you were drinking directly from the bottle.

One deep breath and I took a swig, letting it sit on my tongue momentarily before swallowing. An unusual burning sensation trailed down the back of my throat, but the sweet, caramel flavour was too good to pass up. Sighing contentedly that the Muggles had finally done something right, I took another swig and wandered into the sitting room.

Sinking into the sofa, I picked up the little plastic thing with the buttons on it and studied it. Taking another swig of my new favourite drink, I flipped it around and realized that next to each button was a letter, number or symbol. There was a red button at the top left of the thing. Above it the writing said “ON/OFF”. That puzzled me for a moment.

On or off what?

I smirked oddly to myself, feeling better and more awake than I had in days. Shrugging, I took one more sip of the drink and pressed the mysterious red button.

The box in the corner with the beveled class front suddenly flickered and a person appeared inside of it. He smiled brightly, wearing a crisp grey suit and sitting behind an overlarge desk.

“Good afternoon! I’m Michael Dodger and this is Skynews.”

I started at the abrupt greeting and glanced around myself, suddenly worried that I wasn’t supposed to use this particular box. Surely the Ministry didn’t want me communicating with regular Muggles, did they? But then, why would they leave me the box?

And how was he talking to me? Was this the Muggle version of Floo? Firecalling? Did I accidentally ring him?

I shifted uneasily and crossed my arms over my chest, sitting straighter and taller than I had. If he could see me, even in my state of malnutrition, I wasn’t going to allow him to think I was a vagrant with no manners.

“Hello Mr. Dodger,” I responded politely. “I’m Draco Malf –”

“The top story today is the scandal in Parliament! Can the Prime Minister survive the speculation that he has been having an illicit affair with a man? Captured in new photos released to the press, the Prime Minister is at tea with a man in a purple cloak and green pinstriped suit. Experts say that body language suggests the mystery man is clearly propositioning the head of state with less than negative results. Later in the program, can Manchester come back from their humiliating loss last night?” Dodger prattled on, rudely interrupting my introduction and showing no sign of having heard me at all.

“Excuse me!” I said, indignantly. “I don’t really care about your poofter Prime Minister and his queer lover, nor do I know anything about Manchester losing anything recently. I believe you just –”

“For more details, we go now to our special correspondent, Lisa Hargrove, at the European Union meeting in Rome. Lisa?”

Dodger seemed completely intent on ignoring me and then the image flicked abruptly to a woman with short, dark brown hair who reminded me remarkably of a dumpier version of Pansy. My offense waned slightly at the possibility of talking to someone who might actually listen to me, but my hopes were quickly dashed when she immediately began rambling about some unheard of union of Ministers for Merlin-knows-what in Rome.

“What the bloody hell are you on about?” I snapped, glaring at her. She showed no indication of noticing me at all. The image flickered to seemingly random scenes, though I could still hear her voice.

I stared in disgust for a moment before groaning in disdain and pressing the wretched “ON/OFF” button again. The image flickered and disappeared, leaving me in silence.

“Bloody fucking Muggles,” I grumbled. “No manners or sense of courtesy at all. If you want me to listen to your bloody self-interested stories then at least have the courtesy of allowing me to introduce myself and finish a bloody sentence.”

I picked up my bottle of Coca-Cola and finished the rest quickly. It was really rather good and left me with a sense of energy like I had not had since my first Quidditch game at Hogwarts.

I didn’t fall asleep until dawn.

+++++

At some ungodly hour of the day, which was probably closer to three in the afternoon than I would like to admit, an insistent banging woke me up. I snapped awake and tumbled out of bed. Stumbling down the hall and cursing the powers that be for everything I could possibly think of, I made it halfway to the door of the flat before realizing that I was not in my own home and that I was not expecting anyone and that the determined –and now somewhat violent sounding –rapping at my door was probably some crazed Muggle intending to assault me.

I hovered in the doorway, carefully listening to the sounds of the hall and wishing that I had not, in fact, removed the chair from it’s home wedged between the doorknob and the floor.

I held my breath and listened closely but could only hear the impatient shuffle of feet outside the door. There was a rush of air that sounded like a heavy sigh and then another determined knock that nearly caused me to jump out of my skin.

Who could possibly be there? The only person I could think of that might bother, for whatever depraved reason, was the bloody Muggle Potter set on me before...

Dursley, wasn’t it?

I took a deep breath and set my shoulders about to open the door to tell him to piss the fuck off and tell Potter to do the same when a voice suddenly called from the other side of the barrier.

“I know you’re in there, Malfoy.” There was a warning in Potter’s distinct tone. I froze, trying to catalogue all of my actions in the past... thirty-something days to ensure that I had an alibi for every moment. There was no reason for Potter to visit me unless it was related to his Auror work. And there was no reason to visit me unless he believed that I had either violated the terms of my sentence, or committed some crime another way. “Just let me in, Malfoy. You don’t have to be afraid of me.”

I felt my face burn and flung open the door with a snarl. Potter looked somewhat startled by the sudden obedience to his wishes, likely suspecting I was not standing immediately beyond the door. My lip curled.

“You don’t scare me, Potter,” I sneered through my teeth. “Don’t flatter yourself.”

He opened his mouth to say something but didn’t. Instead, his eyes widened slightly behind his ridiculous glasses and his face drained of both anger and surprise. It settled on something remarkably like pity and I didn’t appreciate it for a moment.

“Malfoy,” he repeated, his voice tinged with the same emotion etched on his face. “Can I come in?”

“No,” I responded more quickly than I had intended to. My grip was tight on the door, but I knew that, given my current state, if Potter wanted in, all he had to do was walk through the door and I couldn’t stop him. But he didn’t know that.

“Why not?” His voice was slowly regaining some of the usual snap. I much preferred him to be aggravated than pitying. I don’t need anyone’s pity, least of all Potter’s.

“Why are you here?” Potter sighed and glanced behind me, into the flat. I shifted to block his line of sight as much as I could. His eyes then traveled to my face, tracing the lines and dark circles that I knew had to have drawn themselves under my eyes.

“Dudley was concerned that you weren’t acclimatizing well to your surroundings,” he responded after a moment, his words clearly practiced. They flew off his tongue and splattered on the door like ink on a page. I frowned and tilted my head back, sneering more visibly. Dudley must have been Dursley’s given name.

“The Muggle oaf was worried about me,” I repeated with disdain. “That is both unlikely and a poor excuse to try and convince me to let you enter.”

“It’s true,” Potter said flatly. His aggravation was growing but the pity in his eyes demanded that he force his shoulders to slump when they would usually square. The effect might have been comical, if I could only remember how to laugh. I realized, then, that it had been a very long time since anything had been genuinely funny to me.

“Right,” I snapped, suddenly very angry with myself as well as Potter. “And you came to have a look for yourself and get your kicks on my suffering, yeah?” I shook my head. “Well, your Muggle watchdog was wrong. I’m perfectly fine, so you can just sod off and leave me the fuck –”

“When was the last time you ate anything?” Potter asked sharply, cutting me off. I stopped and glared at him. My stomach quickly betrayed me at the mention of eating and grumbled loudly. I ground my teeth together and cursed inwardly. The expression on Potter’s face didn’t change. He should have looked smug. But he didn’t. He still looked pitying.

“We can’t all have overbearing Weasel slags shoving food down our throats every five seconds,” I shot and his jaw immediately tightened. “Are you officially a Weasel yet, or have they not gotten their grubby paws on you completely? Before you agree to marry the She-Weasel, you might want to get her checked for fleas or any other nasty things she might have picked up from her –”

The pain exploded through my jaw before I knew he had hit me. I stumbled backward and fell to the ground. Potter flung open the door and pulled his wand on me, his eyes no longer filled with pity, but with anger. I preferred them that way. I stared at the tip of his wand and felt the anger drain from me, but I didn’t know why.

“You would attack an unarmed man?” I rasped, unaware of when my voice had decided to flee. There was blood dripping down my lip but I ignored it. He glared down at me and, for a moment, we both lingered, frozen in place and unable to look away. A very cold waft of air hit me in the back as the box in the window whirred loudly, something clattering around inside it.

Potter’s eyes traveled up to the source of the noise and then the anger disappeared from him entirely. His lips parted slightly and he looked around quickly, taking in everything he could. I did nothing. I thought briefly about kicking him in the knee, but couldn’t even gather up the energy or the hatred to do it. I felt empty.

“They set you up in this rundown flat but gave you a cooler?” he muttered to himself. I had no idea what he was talking about but it was likely something to do with the Ministry. “They hate you more than I thought they did.”

I shut my eyes briefly, willing away the sudden shooting hurt that rocked me. I clenched my jaw and glared up at him through my hair. His wand was gone and he walked into the kitchen. I wiped the blood from my mouth on the back of my hand.

A door opened and slammed with a sucking sound and by the time I looked up Potter was looking through my cupboards. The tension in his body was radiating off him in waves and his jaw looked tight enough to shatter his teeth. He turned back to me and glared.

“When was the last time you ate?” he asked again. This time every word was deliberate and sharp, promising danger without compliance. My lip curled.

“I don’t need you, Potter.”

He exhaled heavily and shook his head.

“Fine,” he snapped and stormed out, slamming the door as he went. The walls rattled for seconds after he left and I slumped against the wall, holding my face in my hands and refusing to allow myself to feel anything.

It became painfully clear to me that I had likely just rejected the only help anyone might ever offer. And I sorely needed it.

But I’ve never been able to react normally when it came to Potter. When the two of us meet, it’s always explosive.

+++++

I made it another five days before the pain from my stomach’s growling became too much to stand. I drank water from the shower because it was the coldest in the flat. Otherwise, I didn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t. I didn’t have the energy.

I spent hours staring out the grimy, cracked window of the bedroom, wondering how long it would take me to die of starvation. There were still days to go until the Ministry should give me another allowance.

If they gave me another at all. They could probably neglect me and then claim it was a problem with the paperwork or that I should have found a way to support myself by then. Who knows.

I scratched off another notch on the wall and let myself fall asleep, too hungry to do anything else.

+++++

I shouldn’t have been surprised when it was a knock at the door that woke me from my hunger-induced dreams. Or maybe it was delirium.

Either way, I wasn’t really expecting it.

I’m not sure how I got myself out of bed and upright, or how I managed not to collapse on the way to the door, but I suspect it had something to do with pride.

Potter was waiting on the other side of the threshold, his arms full of bags. I stared wearily at him but before I could consider saying anything, he gave me a stern look.

“You will say nothing about the Weasleys or Hermione,” he informed me seriously. “You can insult me as much as you like, but break my one rule and I won’t come back. Whether you like it or not, Malfoy, you do need me.” His eyes traveled the length of my body and he exhaled as though it was painful. “Make your decision.”

I stared at him and the bags in his arms for a number of moments, but my hunger was driving me now and my pride would simply have to sit back and wait for its turn.

“Why do you always have to save me, Potter?” I mumbled, under my breath. If he heard me, he made no show of it. Instead, he pushed past me and went directly into the kitchen. I closed the door behind him, needing to hold onto solid things to keep upright.

“I told your sentence officer that I would deliver your monthly allowance and complete the check on you as part of one of my training exercises,” Potter explained as he unloaded items from the paper bags. I leaned against the doorway and watched him, my hatred and humiliation growing with every word he spoke. “He didn’t seem to care as long as it got done. I suppose he thought I only came to have a laugh at you.”

“And presuming he was wrong,” I rasped, feeling dizziness begging to swirl in my head. “Why the hell are you here?” He continued to empty the bags. I noticed a bottle of Coca-Cola. “Oh wait,” I feigned realization. “That’s right. You have this desperate need to constantly play the hero.”

He stopped and turned around, his face essentially blank as he looked at me.

“It seems to work to your advantage more often than you can complain about,” he retorted. I frowned and took a step forward but the dizziness increased and soon my vision went spotty and black and I felt myself falling before I slammed into something hard and warm. It smelled of burning wood and leather.

Some time later, I opened my eyes and saw the ceiling of my sitting room. I shivered violently from the cold and tried to sit up. A hand pushed me back down and Potter’s face came into view.

“You need to answer me this time,” he said quietly. “How long has it been since you’ve eaten?”

I tried to blink away the weakness in my limbs but it wasn’t dissipating. I tried to clear my throat but that didn’t work either. The blanket from my bed was draped over me.

“I’m not sure,” I answered quietly, after a few moments. I didn’t really know.

He sighed and reached around me to pull me into a sitting position. I might have protested if I could have done it without him. But I couldn’t. He offered me a plate with a sandwich, filled with meat and cheese and greens, as well as a cup of orange juice. I took the cup first and drank, my throat too dry to eat without it.

Then I bit into the sandwich and nearly fainted in relief. Whatever was in it didn’t matter. I consumed half of it in seconds before he realized it.

“Hey, hey, not so fast,” he said, alarmed. “You need to eat more slowly or you’ll be ill.”

I almost told him to sod off, but he was probably right. I took a moment to breathe, drink, and then continued to eat, ignoring the fact that he was watching me the whole time.

The sandwich wasn’t that large, but once I had finished I felt almost overly full and leaned back against the sofa. He took the dishes to the kitchen. I shivered again, glaring half-heartedly at the box in the window. Wrapping the blanket around me more tightly, I turned to see if Potter was coming back.

What was I supposed to say now? What was I supposed to do?

He had fed me and cared for me when I was weak and...

What was this? What was he doing? I already owed him life debts. How could this benefit him? I had nothing left. Nothing. What did he want from me?

It made no sense. Even if he felt compelled to help because it would make him a hero again, how was I the best task to take on? No one would care if I lived or died. No one would applaud him for saving me.

I forced myself to my feet and wandered back to the kitchen. Potter was at the sink, cleaning the dishes by hand and placing them back in the cupboard. I wasn’t sure if they had been there when I arrived at the flat, or if he had brought them himself. I was still too delirious to remember.

“No one asked you to save me,” I said because I had to. Because I needed to protect myself somehow, though I’m not sure from what. He did not turn.

“Your mother did.”

The words shot through me like a Cruciatus and knocked all the air from my lungs. I screwed my jaw tight and said nothing. I couldn’t. I watched him finish with the dishes before he turned to me. I glared at him but it was empty and we both knew it.

“There is milk, meat, butter, bread, marmalade, vegetables and coke in the icebox,” he said calmly. “There is cereal and crisps in the cupboard. I’ll be back in a couple days to show you how to use the stove and have a look at the cooler in the window.”

I stared at him and he said nothing further as he walked toward the door. I wanted to just let him walk out without acknowledging his words, but my desperation to keep from being hungry again refused to allow me that.

“Right,” I answered, affecting nonchalance. “And which one is the icebox?”

He stopped and turned around, a mildly surprised look on his face. I felt my face flush and damned myself for betraying my own embarrassment. His eyes softened and he shook his head, walking back into the kitchen.

“This,” Potter said, gesturing to the large, loudly grumbling box in the far corner. “Is the icebox.” He pulled the handle on the front and the door opened, revealing a lighted cupboard-like compartment. I stepped closer cautiously, pretending not to be alarmed by the discovery. Peering inside I saw all the items he mentioned and felt an icy waft of air drench me in cold. I shivered and stepped back.

So, apparently Muggles do have a way of keeping their food chilled.

I tried not to let the embarrassment show on my face but it was rather a late stage in the game now. Potter studied me and put on a reassuring face.

“I’ll be back soon,” he said again, this time with more encouragement and I grimaced and turned away. “I’ll explain everything, yeah?” He sighed and walked away again, muttering under his breath. “I can’t believe they abandoned you here without telling you anything.”

“Believe it, Potter,” I said suddenly, loud and in control as I had not been before. He turned to look at me. “It isn’t such a shock, really. That’s the institution you work for.” I tilted my head. “I really thought you were aware.”

Potter stared at me for a moment, his eyes hard and his expression unreadable, and then he was gone.

I waited a few moments before opening the icebox again and studying the inside despite the cold. How did it work? Where was the ice and how did it stay frozen enough to keep the box cool?

Eventually, I plucked out two slices of bread and some meat to make myself another sandwich, too hungry still to care.

Finished eating, I crawled back into my bed and curled up under the blanket, trying not to be sick.

Damn, Potter.

+++++

True to his word like the bloody Gryffindor he is, Potter showed up again a couple days later. He seemed determined to be in good spirits when he walked through the door with another two bags in hand. I had eaten more in the prior days than I had in the whole month before he showed up. He studied me a moment and then smiled.

“You look better,” he said wandering into the kitchen and placing the bags on the table. “Corned beef apparently agrees with you.” There was a smugness in his voice that I couldn’t identify. I cocked one eyebrow.

“Most people benefit from eating, Potter,” I drawled. “Particularly after starving. It’s not unusual.”

He laughed once, without humour, and pulled out bangers and potatoes from one of the bags. I stared at the sausages and tried to ignore the fact that my mouth was watering.

“Dudley mentioned you had bangers but didn’t eat them,” he said, apparently unsure of the information. “Either way, I thought it would work well as first meal to learn to cook.”

While he busied himself with finding something I couldn’t fathom, I stared at the second bag on the table. It was puffy and large but didn’t look like food. Not unless he had also decided to bring along an oversized marshmallow.

“Alright, you’ve got one pot and one frying pan,” he said, somewhat unimpressed. “And you seem to have three forks, two knives and six spoons, but nothing else.” I turned and walked over to peer into the drawer in which he was rummaging. “I suppose that will have to work.”

I cocked my head and waited for him to get on with it. He turned and started, surprised that I was standing so close.

“You cook?” I asked him. He held my gaze.

“I’ve cooked since I was seven,” he informed me. I narrowed my eyes. He was having me on, surely. No seven-year-old would need to cook for themselves, would they? He turned his attention to the as of yet unidentified box in the room. “This is the stove, in case you were unaware.” I glared and leaned against the counter, crossing my arms. He smirked and placed a large metal dish with a handle on one of the circular surfaces of the stove. “You put the frying pan on the element and turn it on like so,” he continued, twisting a knob with a symbol next to it. He had taken on a patronizing tone. “Be sure that the knob you turn corresponds to the correct element. That’s what the symbol is for.”

“Potter,” I said, my voice low. “If you continue to speak to me as though I’m daft, I swear –”

“You’ll what?” he asked smoothly, his eyebrows arched and a smirk on his lips. “Hex me?”

I grimaced and my eyes flashed. My fists clenched, I felt my entire body tense to match them and Potter seemed to notice. He took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his messy hair.

“Just,” he began awkwardly. “Forget it. Alright, I’ll... whatever, alright.” He turned back to the stove and picked up a bottle of oil that I had not noticed. “You don’t need oil, necessarily, but it helps. Just be careful and don’t put too much. It hurts like hell if it splatters on you.” I watched him and tried to relax as he poured out a small circle of oil onto the frying pan. Then he picked up the bangers and placed them down one at a time, careful not to splash the oil. “Cook them for ten minutes or so and then prod them with a fork. The juices should run clear, yeah? That’s a good indicator that they’re ready.”

I stared at him as he rolled the sausages on the frying pan, again and again, cooking them on all sides. His steady, repetitive movements were oddly meditative. After a minute or so, he picked up the pot, filled it with water and placed it on an adjacent coil.

“You need to boil the water before you put the potatoes in,” he explained, turning the knob to start it. “When the water boils, you put in a couple potatoes and let them boil until they’re soft enough to mash.” He picked up two potatoes and peeled them deftly with a knife, dropping the skins in a rubbish bin I hadn’t put there. When the water boiled, he dropped them in and then turned his attention back to the sausages.

Potter turned them again and again, prodding them occasionally with a fork. The smells that filled the kitchen were overwhelming. I licked my lips, unconscious that I was doing it, but he caught me. He smirked.

“Smells good, yeah?” he asked rhetorically. I shifted and frowned.

“Yes, well,” I responded. “After starving, slop would probably smell good.” His smirk grew and he tilted his head.

“Is that what you would have preferred?” he asked. “I should bring you some next time.”

“Sod off,” I shot with no heat and wandered over to the table. “What’s in the other bag?”

Potter continued to prod at the sausages to ensure they didn’t burn.

“I brought you another blanket,” he said simply. “The one you had on your bed was hardly warm enough. I figured you needed it.”

I pulled the rolled up blanket out of the bag and it immediately expanded. It was thick and down-filled and green.

And it smelled of Potter.

“You brought me... one of your blankets,” I reiterated for him. He turned the knob on the stove and then faced me, his cheeks slightly pink. It must have been the heat of the stove.

“I didn’t have the chance to go to a shop for that,” he admitted uncomfortably. Then, deciding he had nothing to be uncomfortable about, he shifted and squared his shoulders. “Is that a problem?”

There was a tenuous civility between us and I became hyper-aware of it in that moment. I was torn between wanting to keep it, wanting him to stay and help me, and wanting to reject him as he had rejected me so many times. I wanted to throw the blanket back at him and tell him that I didn’t need anyone’s secondhand care. That I could do it alone. My pride was fighting with my desperation and my loneliness.

I felt ill and wanted to vomit.

“Whatever you might think, Potter,” I said lowly. “I don’t need anyone’s charity.”

He looked at me for the first time in the years I’ve known him and actually saw me. I felt vulnerable and exposed and wanted to take it back, to cover myself with the blanket and obscure his view of my tender truths.

I wanted to cover myself with his second-skin.

“Whatever you might think, Malfoy,” he said, mimicking my words. “Charity is not what I’m offering you.”

Then it was set and the parameters agreed upon. He turned back to the potatoes and prodded them with a fork. I held the blanket close to my chest and took a deep breath.

“The potatoes are ready to mash.”

+++++

Potter showed up every three or four days, always with a new meal he could teach me and each time it was easier. We both knew that there was no way the Ministry was paying for the food he was bringing me, nor the blanket and pillow he had provided. They weren’t paying him to be there either. They certainly didn’t care if anyone checked in on me.

But we never talked about it.

I tried cooking once or twice, but it wasn’t going well. I undercooked the chicken he brought me once and only noticed halfway through eating it, at which point I threw up everything I had eaten that day. When I tried to make mashed potatoes, I mashed them with rather more enthusiasm than was necessary and turned them into what could essentially qualify as glue.

I didn’t tell Potter about these instances. Why should I? He would only laugh and I would be humiliated. It was enough that I was relying on him to survive. He didn’t need to know that I was doing poorly at it anyway.

The most frustrating part was that he compared cooking to potions, claiming it was all about mixing the right ingredients at the right time at the right heat, which is why I should get by at it.

“I did far more than get by in Potions,” I snapped at him and he rolled his eyes. “And if your comparison is sound, then why, pray tell, are you so shite at potions? Surely you should be just as good as you are at cooking, by your logic.”

His eyes widened and he stared at me for a long moment before bursting out laughing.

What is so bloody funny?” I demanded, crossing my arms and leaning back in the kitchen chair. He snorted through his laughter and I snickered before I could stop myself.

“I think you just complimented me,” he said through his chortles. I immediately stopped laughing and stared at him. He was right.

My eyes widened and I shook my head.

“What?” I asked, stalling for time.

“You basically said I was a good cook,” he laughed. It was eerily pleasant to know that he was laughing at something I had said rather than laughing at me directly. It was almost warm.

“And shite at Potions,” I repeated, trying to put the comment back into perspective. “Did you miss that part? Besides... complimenting you on a Muggle skill is still, essentially, an insult from me.”

Potter laughed harder and shook his head before taking a deep breath to calm himself down.

“Right, Malfoy,” he said, disbelieving. “Whatever you say.”

Still, conversation from that point on eased somewhat.

+++++

“You know, I think they hate you more than they hate Greyback,” Potter concluded aloud one day, after examining the thing he called a ‘cooler’ that sat in my window. It was a damning conclusion and the mention of Greyback caused an unconscious shudder to pass through me. I still had nightmares about him in particular. “They must have actually tried to find a flat this bad. They gave you a broken cooler set permanently to maximum. Merlin, it’s colder in the bloody flat than it is outside.” He shook his head and frowned at the offending machine. What confused me was that Potter seemed genuinely shocked and appalled at the idea that the Ministry had dropped me into this Muggle prison, furnished with broken devices and less-than-livable conditions.

Maybe it offended his fundamental Gryffindor principles.

“We’ve been over this, Potter,” I told him, rubbing little circles against my temples. “It’s the Ministry. This should hardly come as a shock.”

He spun around and made a desperate gesture.

“This is the kind of thing the old Ministry would have done,” he answered, baffled. I sat back against the weak sofa and waited for his rant to pass. “The one run by Crouch and Fudge, before the second war. But Bluefield was supposed to be better than that. She was supposed do away with the corruption of the Ministry and the unreasonable treatment of criminals who appeared before the Wizengamot. She was supposed to take action to make sure no one like Voldemort ever tried to rise to power again.”

I started, my eyes narrow and my brows furrowed at his words. Was he suggesting that I was somehow akin to the Dark Lord? Of course he must have no qualms with thinking of me as a criminal, deserving of punishment and forever marked as a convict. Of course, he would.

I’m nothing but Death Eater scum, right?

“Is that why you’re doing this, Potter?” I snapped sharply. “Because you’re afraid I’ll become hardened by my punishment and try to take revenge on the Ministry and your precious friends?” I laughed humourlessly. “Want to treat me alright so I don’t come after one of you later? Are you doing this for everyone else who was assigned a ‘less severe sentence’ too?”

Potter turned abruptly and glared at me.

“You know that’s not what I meant, Draco,” he said sharply and probably before thinking. The anger faded almost as quickly as it came and surprise showed on my face. His eyes widened slightly, probably aware of what he had done but he pressed on as though it hadn’t happened. “For god’s sake, they put you in a bloody icebox with no hot running water and barely enough money to survive for two weeks let alone a month!” He took a deep breath, ran his fingers through his hair and closed his eyes. “I’m saying that no one should be treated like this. This is cruel and unusual punishment for a pureblood who grew up without any contact with Muggles. It’s like forcing a domesticated, declawed cat to live in the wild and fend for itself.”

I ignored the reference to an animal and shook my head. How had he not seen it yet?

“You don’t get it, do you?” I asked him. “The Ministry decided that the best way to deal with criminals was to send them to Azkaban. A prison at sea, completely unplottable and inescapable and filled with creatures that suck the happiness, the warmth, the life right out of you! It’s freezing cold and devastating. You go mad within weeks and spend the rest of your numbered days in madness and despair.” He looked at me, again, as though he was seeing me for the first time. “If that isn’t cruel and unusual, even for Dark Wizards, I don’t know what is. This is just their newest form of legal torture.” I dropped back against the couch. “My father was never the same after his first incarceration. He was defeated and ill. All the time. Broken. And now they’ve sent him back there.” Potter opened his mouth to speak but decided against it. His shoulders dropped and his sighed heavily.

He sat down next to me and stared at the ground in front of him.

“I’m not supposed to tell you this,” he began quietly and I knew I wasn’t going to like what he had to say. “But you deserve to know.” When Potter looked up at me, his gaze was strong and unyielding and full of the kind of determination that says he believes he is doing what is unequivocally right. “Your father... he got very ill a few weeks ago. Envoys from the Ministry were sent to inform him of yours and your mother’s sentences.” Potter paused and my lips parted, ready to deny what he was going to tell me. “He was already weak going in... but the illness was too much... he -... he didn’t make it.”

Everything was frozen and brittle. I couldn’t move or breathe. He watched me carefully and with pity in his eyes again, this time mixed with something else. I started shaking and denying it in movement and in words.

“No,” I said breathlessly. “No, he’s not... He’s not gone. He can’t be. I... they can’t have...” I laughed painfully through the grief that overwhelmed me and felt my eyes fill with tears that could not fall. I was tired of crying like a child and letting everything break me down again and again. I was just tired. “He can’t be gone. He didn’t have a life sentence...”

“I’m sorry,” Potter said and I turned on him.

“No, you’re not.” I glared at him because he was the closest thing I had to a Ministry official. He looked unsurprised by my choice of response. He merely sat there, watching me. “You hated my father. You hate me. Why the fuck are you here? Is that what you wanted? All this time? To deliver that news? To be the one to tell me my father’s dead?”

Potter didn’t move, he didn’t get angry. He just sat there and listened to me. I wanted to punch him and beat him and break him so that someone else could suffer too.

“You deserved to know,” he repeated. His voice was too calm. “Whatever I felt about your father, you deserved to know. It’s your family.”

I dropped my head in my hands and pressed my fingers against my scalp until all I could feel were the pressure points. I screwed my eyes shut and drove all of my energy into my fingertips. The headache forming was almost deafening as it throbbed against my skull.

“I really am sorry,” Potter said quietly, his hand on my shoulder. I jerked away from him and opened my eyes wide, staring at the ground.

“Get out.”

And he did. I was left alone in the sitting room of my prison, wishing that I could have, just once, made my father proud. But I couldn’t before and I couldn’t then. The tears rolled down my cheeks and I had no power over them.

Now he was dead and I would never have a chance to save the Malfoy name for him. As much as it put things back into perspective, I realized something terrifying. My father and I were more alike than I thought.

Neither of us were capable of saving ourselves or sparing my mother the pain of our failures.

+++++

The next morning I woke up with a plan. I decided that I wasn’t going to accept that I couldn’t save myself and, for the sake of my mother, I would not only get through my year-long sentence, but I would come through stronger and more powerful. The first step on the road to accomplishing this task was to fix the bloody broken cooler in the window.

I walked out determinately and faced the offending box. It rattled and whirred at me, completely unimpressed by my sneer. I did not let myself feel disheartened at all. I couldn’t. This was necessary to my plan. Granted, it was a largely unformed and severely flawed plan, but it was a plan nonetheless.

Besides, I fixed the Vanishing Cabinet when no one else could. Surely this Muggle contraption couldn’t be more complex than that.

I cracked my back and reached around the thing, intent on pulling it out of the window to allow me better access. It screeched as I pulled, apparently lodged in tightly. After five minutes of yanking and pulling, my muscles were burning, my hands were scraped and the machine had moved a whole of a centimetre. Which may or may not have been in the wrong direction.

Panting, I wiped my forehead with the back of my hand and stood back to study the thing again. Perhaps I could simply dismantle it from where it sat in the window. Ignoring the blast of icy air directed at my face, I leaned in and ran one finger along a groove down the side of the machine. There was a cover that should, if my assessment was correct, snap off and reveal the inner workings of the thing.

Licking my lips, I set my jaw and pressed my fingers into the small trench, trying to force it outward so that the face would pop off. The more I pulled, however, the more the plastic protested. The sides were moving but the corners were firmly stuck in place. When a slightly cracking sound suggested that it was about to break, I stopped and stepped back again.

What was this Muggle device that kept the corners stationary? Glue certainly wasn’t strong enough to achieve that and mortar would not be used in conjunction with plastic. I leaned in and notice little metal grommets in the corners. They looked remarkably like the pin of a hinge, but there were slots down the centre of each one, as though something should fit in there.

The little pins were probably fitted in to keep the face of the machine in place. Removing them was a necessity. But how?

I pondered the shape of the grooves for a while before realizing that the only thing I had that could fit in there were knives. I collected the two knives from the kitchen and fitted them to the pins to see which was more effective. Choosing my tool, I began to push and tilt and pry until it became clear that the correct way was the turn the pins.

I slipped a number of times and left shallow cuts in my hands, but ignored the minor wounds in favour of the greater picture. Once the four pins were removed, I pulled at the face again and this time, after a moment or two of prying, it popped off and revealed the chaotic inner-mechanism of the machine.

It was rather terrifying, actually. There were wires and metal pieces coiled together and a sharp-edged fan spun rapidly in the top left corner. The knob from the face that should have changed the airflow from cold to warm was connected to the inside mechanism by a thin metal pin of its own. The attaching portion was cracked, which is why the knob turned but there was no change in the airflow. The metal pin, inside, was jammed with a piece of plastic wire that had somehow gotten caught there.

I studied the mechanism for a while, wondering what the best way to remove the wire would be. Shoving the knife in there was simply not a possibility. I reached up carefully flicked the exposed part of the plastic wire with my nail. It didn’t move, which meant that it would be a struggle to remove it.

“Wait,” I mumbled, running back to the kitchen and rummaging through the drawers. Finally I found the little container of toothpicks that Potter had brought for one of the meals. I plucked a couple from the box and ran back. The tip of the toothpick fit into the little crevice between the metal pin and the machine. I pushed upward and jimmied it, urging the plastic wire to move enough to weaken it and allow the pin enough room to turn.

The toothpick slipped and, after several intense minutes of prying, it snapped in half.

“Bloody hell,” I cursed, tossing it aside and picking up another to continue on. The plastic piece eventually shifted and slipped slightly. I plucked at it with my fingertips but it still wasn’t loose enough to remove, so I set back to work with the toothpick.

After some unfathomable amount of time, the piece of plastic came loose and I removed it.

“Yes!!” I cried, grasping at the troublesome piece of plastic. I reached in to turn the metal pin and test my success. My fingers slipped against the metal and nothing happened. I couldn’t grasp the pin properly to turn it. Looking back down at the inside of the face of the machine, the component meant to connect the pin to the outer-knob was cracked. I frowned and nibbled at my lower lip.

The knob wouldn’t be able to grasp the metal pin properly unless it was tight and the crack made that unlikely. I had to fix the crack. But I had no glue at my disposal, given that it was apparently not useful for cooking.

What I did have were elastic bands.

I weighed out the possibility in my mind. It was hardly clean or sophisticated... and there was a chance that the elastic could prove problematic in the future if the machine were to heat up... but surely the heater couldn’t reach a high enough temperature for the elastic to melt in a detrimental manner... and, even if the plastic did melt, I could always open the bloody thing up again and fix it a second time, perhaps with better tools.

I took a deep breath and ran, once again, back to the kitchen tossing things around until I found a suitably strong but thin enough elastic band to use. I wound it around the cracked piece as tight as it would go without snapping. It slipped off my fingers a number of times and snapped at my skin from sweat. The cold air on my back, coupled with the sweat from my work, made it painful to sit there for long, but I ignored it.

When the elastic band finally settled in place, I clipped the face of the machine carefully back onto the cooler, taking care to snap the knob into place over the metal pin. Then, twisting the outer-pins back into place, I left them loose until I could test the knob.

Taking a deep breath and hoping to Merlin that it would work, I reached up to the knob. It didn’t turn easily at first, though I wasn’t urging much, afraid it would snap and my problems would only increase. Putting slightly more pressure, I urged it sideways toward “warm” rather than “cold” and settled it on the warmest setting.

The machine clicked several times at me before the airflow stopped entirely. I paused, holding my breath and hoping that it wouldn’t simply explode at me. I shifted back slightly, putting as much space between myself and the machine as I could without running away completely. This was my problem and I was going to fix it. I needed to know what would happen, even if it went wrong.

Finally, after several tense moments, the machine whirred and hummed and began to blow slightly warmer air than before. I stared at it and took a step closer, raising my hand to the thing to see if it was, in fact, warmer. As I stood there, the air steadily heated and slowly banished the chill from the area.

I had done it. I fixed the machine. I fixed the Muggle machine and made it work for me! I had actually solved a problem and improved my own living conditions!

Without help! Without Potter or anyone and I was warm!

I whooped and jumped and felt myself smiling more broadly than I had done in months and when there was a knock at the door I ran and opened it wide. The smile on my face didn’t falter when I saw Potter and his shocked face only served to make my hysterical happiness grow.

“I fixed it!” I told him brightly. I ran back to the cooler and held out my hands in front of it again. It was definitely warm air that was coming from the machine now. He followed me, confused into the sitting room. “I took it apart and found the problem and fixed the bloody Muggle machine and now it works! It’s warm air! Feel it!” I grabbed his hands and placed them in front of the grille. I held them there and looked up at him, completely elated and excited and believing, for the first time in years, that I was capable of anything.

Potter looked from my hands around his wrists up to my face and, after a moment studying my eyes, a smile drew up his lips and he laughed.

“How did you fix it? There are no tools anywhere here,” he said, still smiling like I had only ever seen him smile at Weasel and the Mudblood. It was dizzying. “I don’t even know how these things work.”

“I’m infinitely cunning and resourceful, Potter,” I told him smugly, smirking but seemingly incapable of releasing his hands. “A true Slytherin in all of its glory, I am.”

He studied me a moment but the smile didn’t fade and the emotion in his eyes shifted.

“Yes,” he said with a laugh. “You really are.”

+++++

It started to snow. I still don’t know precisely what the date was, precisely how long I was in the bloody flat, but the snowflakes softly falling outside my cracked windows were a good indication that it had already been too long.

It must be into December. At least. Right?

I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t simply an early snowfall, that November was behind me and I was steadily moving toward my release, my freedom. I tried not to consider that December also meant Christmas and the fact that I would be spending the time completely alone for the first time in my life.

My entire life.

My mother would be spending Christmas in the Manor, or perhaps in France. She loved Paris at Christmas. But she wouldn’t have me or father. Neither of us would have father.

“Fuck,” I whispered to myself and fisted my hair. Maybe she didn’t need to have me to have a good Christmas. Maybe she would be entirely alright without me there.

The thought made my stomach churn painfully. I gritted my teeth and tried to calm down. I wanted my mother to be happy, didn’t I? I wanted her not to worry about me. I wasn’t a boy anymore. I didn’t need to be taken care of.

Then what has Potter been doing, precisely?

The traitorous part of my mind always appeared when it was least necessary.

I cursed myself and wandered down the hall toward the best source of heat in the flat. My fixed cooler –now turned heater –was humming away and producing a pleasant warmth. The only problem was that it didn’t travel very far so the only warm location in the flat was right next to the window.

There was a knock on the door. Potter, again. I might have minded that he kept coming, even once I learned to cook and fix the Muggle machine. The dark part of my mind might have volunteered that if I didn’t need taking care of, Potter should stop showing up, I should stop relying on him. But I couldn’t. I didn’t.

I was lonely. All the time. And Potter was there. Every time he came, he smiled a little more. Every time he showed me something new and I made a snide comment about Muggles he laughed a little more genuinely. The deprecating remarks we made back and forth had lost their heat and gained a hint of fondness.

It was strange and terrifying. Potter hated me. I hated him. That was that.

Except for when I didn’t.

I opened the door and found him empty-handed, which was unusual. He smiled awkwardly and shrugged.

“You’re early,” I said stepping aside. He laughed and closed the door behind him.

“How would you know? You haven’t got a clock.” I fought the urge to tense and rolled my eyes instead.

“It feels earlier than usual,” I responded with as much dignity as I could muster –which is a lot. “Besides, the sun is high in the sky. Usually you show just before evening.”

Potter’s eyebrows raised and he gave me a lopsided grin.

“You learned to tell time by the sun?” His hands were shoved deeply into his pockets and his eyes kept traveling the length of my body as though he forgot, from one moment to the next, what I looked like. I leaned back against the counter and crossed my arms over my chest.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s useful,” I shrugged, as though it was not the exciting achievement that I really thought it was. You shouldn’t ever let anyone see all of your cards, know all that you’re proud of. Potter had already seen too many of mine.

“Right,” he said and then glanced at the door, his tongue caught momentarily between his teeth. I watched him. “Well, get ready. We’re going out.”

I cocked my eyebrows and showed no intention of moving.

“Presumptuous of you,” I sneered. “I am not your dog, Potter.”

He looked up, blinking, and stood silent. After a moment he shut his eyes, exhaled and shook his head.

“Nowhere near obedient enough to be one,” he murmured and I furrowed my brows. He laughed. “What I mean to say is that you need to experience the outside world, too. Plus you need new clothes. The ones the Ministry gave you aren’t fooling anyone. You look like a bloody lunatic to the rest of the world.” I straightened and affected a defensive pose. His words stung. I knew I didn’t look right in the clothes I was given, but what was I to do?

“Then why would you want me to go out with you?” I asked, my tone laced with anger. “Why should you want to be seen with a lunatic?”

Potter’s eyes widened and his cheeks flushed. He shook his head and tugged at his hair before releasing the tension in his shoulders.

“No, I just,” he stammered and then took a deep breath. “This isn’t coming out right. I want to take you shopping to find you more suitable clothes. Then I thought we could get some takeaway for a change. This is meant to be...” he paused and lost steam, thinking on his words. “Fun.”

I stared at him and tilted my head. He shifted uneasily and swallowed an inordinate number of times before I spoke. A small smirk drew itself on my mouth and I tried not to laugh.

“You’re taking me shopping to entertain me?” I asked somewhat skeptically. He coloured slightly and nodded. “And the takeaway?”

“That’s mostly because I’m too bloody tired to cook,” he admitted sheepishly and he looked tired, all of a sudden, as though he hadn’t been a moment earlier. I watched him and then nodded.

“Very well,” I said. “But you’ll have to tell me what is appropriate to wear out, given the disaster of the last time I ventured out into the Muggle world.”

“Right,” he agreed, then thought on something as if wondering whether or not he should admit to it. “I was going to bring you some of my clothes to wear for the day but, er, I didn’t think they would fit you.”

I studied him in genuine surprise and tried to decide if I should feel offended or flattered. I’ve seen Potter’s Muggle clothes from Hogwarts. None of them fit properly and they were all worn away. They looked more like clothes the Weasleys would wear than someone with Potter’s means. But everything he has worn since showing up to my flat has been tailored and fitted. Sometimes robes, sometimes Muggle denims. A thought occurred to me.

“You know, you don’t really seem like the type who would enjoy shopping for clothing,” I told him. His face turned a darker shade of red and he smiled in embarrassment.

“I’m not,” Potter agreed. “But you need clothes and I thought you might enjoy it. I don’t know what looks good, but you probably do. I figured if I told you how and where to go to shop, you could make the right choices yourself.”

“So this is a chore for you,” I murmured without actually asking the question. His eyes widened and he shook his head quickly.

“No!” came the answer, sharp and fast. “I mean....” He groaned and tugged at his hair again. I should have told him to stop. It was hardly doing anything for the mess of it, but it was far too amusing to watch it happen. Not endearing. Amusing. “Why is everything so bloody hard with you?”

I laughed and cocked my eyebrow before giving him a mischievous smile.

“Making things hard is what I do best,” I told him without thinking. I would never have suggested that to anyone, let alone Potter. But the way his face flushed and his eyes widened so comically was too good a reaction to pass up.

“I’ve noticed,” he mumbled, giving me a rueful look and I couldn’t figure out if he meant me to hear it or not. What did it mean, anyway? He had clearly caught my meaning, but was he pretending not to? Did he take it seriously or as a joke? It was obviously meant as a joke. Of course.

Obviously.

+++++

An hour later, I was dressed in khaki slacks that were four sizes too large held to my waist by the waning power of a worn old belt Potter had brought and drowning in a button-up shirt meant for someone the size of a planet.

“You think this is less ridiculous than what I was wearing before?” I asked Potter skeptically. He rolled his eyes.

“This is all men’s clothing, first,” he said and then squinted at me. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was trying to figure out where I was under all the fabric. “Second, it’s not sleepwear. And the point of today is to find you better clothes anyway.” He paused and studied me. “Which might be a problem anyway. I don’t think they make clothes for people as thin as you.”

I glared at him.

“I was starving for months,” I informed him as though he had forgotten. “And you’re bloody well one to talk.”

“That is beside the point,” he muttered, then shrugged. “I guess we should just go then.”

I grumbled unintelligible curses at him and slipped on the worn trainers. He shrugged into his jacket and then stopped dead.

“Oh,” Potter said. “You haven’t got a jacket, have you?” I stared at him, unwilling to answer such an obviously stupid question. He thought a moment and then removed his own to hand to me. I held it up.

“No,” I told him. He seemed offended.

“What? Why not?” He asked, looking it over. “What? Not good enough for you?”

I glared at him.

“No, you bloody pillock. I’m not taking your bloody jacket from you. I’ll be fine.” Potter seemed completely dumbfounded by my answer. It was a good few moments before he managed to speak and, when he did, I didn’t expect to be so embarrassed by what he said.

“Malfoy,” he offered fondly and I wondered what precisely happened to make him ever speak my name with that tone of voice. The entire world had turned on its head, clearly. “You take the jacket. I can cast warming charms on myself, remember? You can’t.”

My face grew very hot very quickly. I snatched the jacket and put it on quickly before pushing passed him, out the door. Bloody tosser.

Through my embarrassment I felt a sense of dread. If it was so easy for me to overlook the glaringly obvious now, what would it be like at the end of the year? Would I even remember how to use magic?

The thought terrified me.

Potter led me downstairs and onto the street. The air was much colder than I expected it to be and the snow felt thick as it fell against my face and hands. It was as though everything in my flat was thin, tenuous, brittle, and the fluffy flakes were too much weight to bear. I stuck out my tongue before I knew what I was doing and caught a snowflake on it. It melted immediately and filled me with a warm contentedness that I hadn’t felt since childhood.

When I realized that Potter had seen me do it, had seen my face light up and was staring at me with an amazed smile, I coloured and shrugged into the jacket, trying to hide my face.

“We’ll take my car, if you don’t mind,” Potter said, clearing his throat. I looked up, alarmed. A car? Another Muggle contraption? When had Potter gotten a car? Why had he gotten a bloody car when he could Apparate or travel by Floo or Portkey? Who needs the bloody unreliability of Muggle mechanics?

He led me to the side of the building where a shiny silver vehicle was stationed. Well it certainly was an improvement on the bloody run-down death-contraption that Weasley had flown to Hogwarts in our second year. I stared uncomfortably at it.

Potter smiled at the car and then pulled open the door and gestured for me to sit. I hesitated and he opened his mouth to say something –likely to goad me about being afraid of Muggle things or to reassure me in that patronizing tone that it is perfectly safe (Ha!) –so I hurried and sat myself down before he could bother to speak and make me a fool again.

The cushions of the seat were comfortable and somehow warm. Potter pulled a thick band out from behind my shoulder and handed it to me. I stared at it and waited for an explanation. Whatever the band was for, I knew I wouldn’t like it. Potter waited but when I made no move to do anything, he took it from me, reached around me and clipped it into the seat. I gasped and inhaled a waft of him as he pulled away. He brushed my chin with his hair as he went. I tried not to think about it and instead focused on the fact that I was now imprisoned in the Muggle death-contraption.

“It’s a safety thing,” Potter helpfully provided, his cheeks red from the cold already. “You can undo it as soon as we get to the shop.” He closed the door and hurried around the car to get into the other side. As soon as he was seated, the door closed, I smirked and turned to look at him –at least as far as the bonds would allow me.

“If you wanted to tie me up, Potter, you need only have asked,” I whispered. Potter stilled, cleared his throat and then quickly turned on the car.

“Keep dreaming, Malfoy,” he answered and I laughed to shake off the impending sense of doom with which the car was filling me.

Potter pulled out onto the street smoothly enough and began speeding –or at least it felt like he was speeding to me as I tried to melt into the chair –down the street. I tried to remind myself to breathe several times before relaxing into the journey. Potter seemed to be a passable driver, though what do I know?

We made it to the shop without dying, to say the least.

I hurried out of the car as soon as I could and slammed the door behind me, intent on never getting inside it ever again.

“We will have to use it to get back to your flat, you realize,” Potter informed me smugly. I glared at him.

He led me into a rather large shop with a broad heading that read “Marks and Spencer”. It was rather large inside with rows upon rows of racks filled with clothes of all kinds. There were Muggles everywhere milling about, picking things up at random and traveling in arbitrary lines.

That familiar sense of dread washed over me and I froze. Potter placed a hand on my arm and squeezed. I jumped slightly and turned to look at him. He smiled and nodded to what was clearly the men’s area of the store.

“You can pick whatever appeals to you from this section,” Potter told me and gestured to a rack of what appeared to be trousers. “When you see something you like, then we can try to figure out what size you are.”

I bit back the painfully inappropriate retort that leapt to my tongue and stared around in horror instead. I had to “figure out” my own size? I had to choose from a pile of identical items and decide which one fit me best? What??

“Why doesn’t someone come and measure me?” I hissed, none too comfortable with the idea of a Muggle measuring me. Still, it was preferable to this experiment in trial and error. Potter looked as though he was in serious pain for a moment before he took a deep breath and cleared his throat.

“Well, it doesn’t work that way in Muggle shops like this one,” he said. He picked up a pair of dark denims and held them up in front of them. After a moment, considering, he shook his head. “Far too big.”

I frowned as he flipped through another few pairs before finding one that apparently seemed more appropriate. He held them up and nodded.

“This is probably better,” he said, mainly to himself. Then he picked up the same pair in another size. “But just to be safe.”

I felt compelled to cross my eyes in frustration but knew better than to actually try. I huffed once and then wandered off to pick up some other pairs of trousers and shirts that might work. By the time we were both satisfied, we each had a pile of clothing that could rival my wardrobe back home –if it weren’t for the duplicates and triplicates.

“You can try them on in here,” Potter said, leading me to a secluded area with a number of doors in a row. There was no one else around, here. Most of the Muggles in the store were women. I glanced around and my breathing sped up. I didn’t like how secluded it was, nor how many doors there were.

“Why here? I... this seems,” I began, unsure of how to finish the sentence without alerting Potter to my discomfort. Apparently the question alone was enough. He smiled and laughed.

“It’s ok, Malfoy,” he told me placing the piles of clothes down in one of the small change rooms. “I’m an Auror, remember? No one will attack you while I’m around.”

I rolled my eyes and forced myself to shut the door in his face, but my entire body relaxed. It was frustratingly nice to have Potter looking out for me for once, rather than intent on attacking me or catching me red-handed.

I stared at the pile of clothing and took a deep breath in preparation. This was going to be a long day.

The first pair of trousers were clearly too large as they slipped straight off my hips and to my knees. I chucked them aside and chose the smaller pair instead. They fastened nicely and didn’t slip down my hips at all and the charcoal grey colour was good for me. I nodded in the small mirror of the room and picked up a button-front light-blue shirt to try. It fit well enough, but seemed a little tight and the fabric wasn’t as soft as I would like. Was it supposed to fit like that?

I opened the door to ask Potter. He looked up at me and his expression shifted rapidly as though he couldn’t decide what he wanted to show. His eyes were wide and he licked his lips. He shifted uneasily and I frowned.

“Not good, then?” I asked and looked down at my clothes. “Is this not what Muggle men wear? What’s wrong with it?”

Potter swallowed and opened his mouth. He made a number of illogical gestures before finding something to say.

“No, no, it’s,” he stared at me, his gaze focused on the centre of my chest. “It’s right. I, er, I just wasn’t prepared to see you in proper Muggle clothes. Bit of a shock for a pureblood, you know.” I eyed him.

“Is the shirt too tight?” I asked, flexing my arms and moving them to see if it impaired my range at all. It didn’t seem to. Potter cleared his throat a number of times.

“Er, no, doesn’t,” he stammered. He coughed. “It doesn’t seem to be. Are you comfortable?”

I nodded and shrugged.

“I guess this works,” I said, still wondering why Muggles didn’t just wear robes like civilized folk. They were much simpler to deal with in general.

I closed the door before Potter said anything else and picked up a pair of the denims. They were thick and coarse, but the dark colour of the fabric was appealing. I folded the trousers and the shirt to one side and slipped into the smallest pair of denims. The zip went up without struggle but I suddenly became alarmingly aware of my entire body. They were fitted to every part of me from the knee up. I moved around and they shifted with me to accommodate the movement, but still felt inappropriately tight.

I picked up a long-sleeved t-shirt from the pile and pulled it over my head. The shirt was dark purple but roughly as tight as the denims. It felt like a second skin and, more than anything, emphasized how thin I had become.

I was always thin, really. But now my muscles were more pronounced than they were before, yet less defined at once. There were still circles around my eyes, but they were less pronounced, faded. My cheeks were no longer sallow but the angles of my face were sharp. I wasn't sure if I liked this new me. But I didn't hate him.

I flung open the door and –somehow –caught Potter off-guard again. He jumped and I was sure I heard him yelp before he straightened himself and cleared his throat -again.

“Some Auror you are,” I snickered. He glared at me and then, once he had taken in what he was actually seeing, he started to shift around again like he had before. “Are the denims supposed to be this fitted, Potter? I don’t understand. They don’t impinge on my movement,” I informed him and fell into a crouch for a moment to illustrate it. “But they feel strange.” I turned sideways and looked in the mirror again, contemplating. I could see Potter’s reflection behind me. He was focused on the trousers. I wondered if he was deciding on the best way to tell me I was too thin, or that I looked like a bloody fool.

“Er, well, maybe you just aren’t accustomed to wearing clothing that’s fitted to your legs?” He suggested very awkwardly. I cocked one eyebrow and pondered. “I mean, robes are loose, obviously. Maybe you just need to give them a shot.”

I turned back to him and he bit his lip, shrugging.

“Perhaps," I told him. “But I think the shirt is definitely too tight.” I laughed and shook my head. “I look like a bloody ponce.”

Potter’s eyes lingered on my chest and stomach, but his face fell. He laughed and then nodded, his eyes shifting away from me to the door.

“Right,” he answered. “Can’t have that.”

+++++

Three hours later, I had collected an assortment of trousers, shirts, socks , jumpers and a pair of boots to complete my wardrobe. Potter had disappeared to find me a suitable jacket, mumbling something about needing his back eventually. He had been acting rather shifty from the beginning of the outing and it was beginning to aggravate me.

If he was so uncomfortable shopping, then he shouldn’t have suggested it in the first place. It was hardly my fault the Ministry had left me with absurd clothing to live through a year. Honestly, shopping was hardly that painful to experience and I had only taken three hours. It could have easily lasted much longer than that.

I frowned and sorted through the clothes I had accumulated. As I counted the socks a horrifying realization hit me. I had no pants. I mean, I had some, but no new ones and I really should get them.

I schooled my features into a cool mask of disinterest and wandered over to the underwear section. The most frustrating detail was that I had no idea what my size was for these and that was not something I was prepared to ask Potter for help with.

Picking up a pack and realizing that the sizing was different than it was for the trousers, I had a minor panic attack. I might have to ask Potter after all. I glared at the packet and cursed under my breath. It was humiliating enough that he had been forced to take me out shopping at all, let alone having to ask him for help choosing pants.

“Hey, I found a jacket for you,” Potter said holding up his discovery. It was thick, black and wool with buttons down the front and a wide collar. I almost smiled at how fitting it was when I remembered what I needed to ask of him. He smiled and threw the coat over his arm before noticing the section in which we were standing. “Er, why are you in here?”

I forced myself not to flush with embarrassment. It would hardly help if I started there.

“It’s all I’m missing,” I informed him calmly. “I just need to figure out my size.”

Potter spluttered slightly and took a step back.

“C-can’t you get them yourself?” he asked in a falsetto tone. He cleared his throat and glanced around. I frowned and felt inexplicably hurt, unreasonably angry.

“No, I can’t, Potter,” I snapped at him. “Believe me, I would if I could, but I don’t know the Muggle sizing for this. I wish you didn’t have to bloody help me, too, but here we are. Plus I have no –” My breath caught in my chest before I could say the words. I hadn’t realized how terrifying it really was for me until I actually had to admit it aloud. “I have no money... at the moment.” I swallowed. “And I will be paying you back for all of this, mark my words, but I’m currently... reliant on your aid. If you’re concerned about when you can be repaid then feel free to inform the Ministry. They’ll surely be happy to dig into my vaults and provide you with whatever you want.”

Potter frowned and shook his head, his face red from what might have been anger.

“That’s not what I meant,” he answered harshly. I preferred anger. I glared at him. “I told you that charity was not what I was offering you and I know you can pay me back but I don’t want you to. I just...” He cursed and glanced around again. “You always assume the worst,” he told me. I took a step back but tilted my chin up. He was right. I did. Usually, I was right. People often did the worst that I expected of them. “When are you going to accept that I’m not going to betray you? Not to the Ministry or anyone else.”

I couldn’t breathe, then. Potter was staring at me with his wide, green eyes and they were clear. He wasn’t lying to me. He was never very good at lying anyway. I stood frozen, terrified of what his honesty meant. He sighed and picked up a package from the shelf before nodding over to the cashier.

He paid for all of my purchases and carried most of the bags back to the car. I wore the coat out of the shop. It fit perfectly and looked almost like my favourite set of formal winter robes did.

I wondered if he knew.

+++++

I carried the bags of purchases back into the flat while Potter set up the takeaway in the kitchen. I nibbled at my lip and examined all the clothes he bought for me. It was a strange feeling, to have Potter -Harry Potter -buy me anything. The food hadn’t affected me this way.

I plucked some items from the bags and changed into them, deciding that I would spend no more time than strictly necessary wearing items the Ministry had approved for me.

When I wandered back into the kitchen, Potter inhaled sharply and nearly dropped the little box of chow mein on the ground.

“You changed,” he concluded rather stupidly. I smirked and nodded slowly.

“Well spotted,” I drawled. “You continue to astound me with your awesome Auror abilities.”

“Sod off,” he said and chucked a pair of chopsticks at me, his cheeks pink. He then looked determinately away from me, clearly far more interested in the dumplings.

“You’ve been acting strangely all day,” I told him. He looked up quickly and I conceded. “Stranger even than usual.” He frowned. “If shopping made you that bloody uncomfortable, you shouldn’t have suggested it.”

Potter stared at me and licked his lips. His eyes traveled all over the room before settling on the takeaway.

“It’s not that,” he admitted and I waited. “I, er, just couldn’t stop thinking about a case I’ve been given. It’s why I’m so tired,” he added as though that was proof positive of his explanation. But something was still off and I am far better at detecting a half-truth than he is at delivering them. He handed me a box of food. “Just stressed out.”

Potter pushed passed me and sat himself down on the sofa in the sitting room. It creaked under him and the cushion tried to swallow him whole. I followed slowly behind him but stopped dead when an image of me pushing him down onto the couch and straddling him filled my mind.

Fuck.

I forced the image away, locking it up in my mind and burying it beneath other thoughts, then I slunk down into the sofa, leaving as much space between us as possible.

“So what’s this case, then?” I asked, nibbling at a dumpling. He sucked in some noodles and then looked at me, shocked. “Classified Auror data?”

He laughed and relaxed. I turned on the sofa and pulled up my knees to sit facing him.

“Something like that,” he said with a sigh. He ran his fingers through his hair. It was an odd action for someone whose hair was so unruly. He always did it most when he was stressed, as though he tried to enforce order on something, anything, to ease the stress in the other areas of his life.

“Ah,” I said and nodded with understanding. A rueful comprehension tainted my tone. “It’s the kind of information you can’t share with a convicted Death Eater.”

Potter jerked to attention, his eyes widen and his jaw tight. I stilled and carefully set my box of takeaway aside, preparing for the unexpected.

“Are you?” he asked me with more desperation than I expected of him. He seemed torn between two warring emotions. “Were you really a Death Eater?” A wave of icy reality drenched me and I sat frozen, empty and terrified.

I swallowed and immediately felt myself turning my arm inward to shield it from view.

“It’s not something I was given a choice about,” I whispered, unable to speak louder. “We all did things we regret, but you don’t have to wear the mark of your mistakes on your arm.”

“No,” he answered. His voice was intense, his expression unreadable. “I wear a mark on my forehead.”

I looked up sharply, my eyes immediately finding the lightning bolt scar.

“It’s still more a mark of my mistakes than yours,” I told him, feeling worse by inches. I held up my arm and, after hesitating, pulled back the sleeve to show him the ugly Mark. “Yours makes you a hero. Mine makes me a villain. I would give anything to get rid of it, but nothing can do that. Hell, if only I could change it that would be enough. But I can’t. I’m not powerful enough to turn my past mistakes into future choices. No one is.”

Potter suddenly reached out and grabbed my arm, his fingers curling over the exposed Mark, pressing his fingers tips into the black burn. I tensed and waited for the blow to fall, but he simply stared at me, his eyes boring into mine. I felt electrified.

Did you choose this?” he asked seriously, without the anger that the Wizengamot held. Instead, he seemed desperate. I wanted to recoil, to throw him off and show him nothing but my cold mask, like I did with everyone else. But I couldn’t. “I heard you talking to Snape in sixth year. I heard you tell him that your mission to kill Dumbledore was your time to shine, to prove yourself. Your moment.” His voice was hard but his eyes didn’t change. I couldn’t breathe. I was angry and terrified and so full of pain. “Is that really what you thought?”

I stared him down because that’s what I had to do. It’s what we have always done with each other.

“I never wanted to kill anyone,” I told him with as much conviction as I had because he needed to believe me. Someone needed to believe me when I told them the truth. “I never wanted the bloody Mark and I never wanted to fight in a war. All I wanted was power like my father had. The Dark Lord made empty and dangerous promises. You knew he was lying about how you would be rewarded but he never lied about how you would be punished. It was better to do as he wished and pretend that you were happy to. It was better for me to pretend that I didn’t need Snape’s help than to admit that I did and have him use it against me.” Potter’s grip was painful on my arm but I didn’t flinch or back down. “You had people to trust. The only people I had to trust were the people I was trying to save.”

Potter relaxed his grip and leaned back slightly. We both exhaled, releasing a breath neither of us realized we were holding.

“That doesn’t justify anything,” he said eventually, quietly. He sounded winded.

“Did I say that it did?” I asked him. “Obviously I don’t think I’m innocent in any of this. The Ministry used a spell to uncover what my mind thought was the best punishment for my actions. That’s how I ended up here.” I swallowed and gritted my teeth. “I obviously believe I deserve this.”

Fast as lightning, Potter reached out and fisted the collar of my shirt and pulled me up to him. He was panting and his eyes flicked back and forth between mine, searching for something I couldn’t give him.

Then his mouth was against mine, hard and unforgiving. He kissed me roughly, full of anger and desperation and frustration. His lips parted mine and I kissed him back, catching his lower-lip between by teeth and biting down. He moaned and slid his tongue into my mouth and I reached up to pull him closer, not thinking about anything else but his mouth.

Potter shifted and climbed onto my lap and our chests were flush together, his legs straddling my hips. I gasped and he arched into me. His erection pressed insistently against mine and we both moaned softly.

Then, somehow, the spell was broken and he pulled back and scrambled to get to his feet. Potter panted hard, his face red, his lips swollen. I held myself up on my elbows and panted just as hard as he did. He licked his lips and seemed terrified.

I had never seen him terrified before.

“I should go,” he said suddenly and fled.

I let him go. I shouldn’t have, but I did.

I dropped back down onto the sofa and shut my eyes, trying to catch my breath and ignore the throb of my cock against the new trousers.

“Fuck.”

+++++

Three days later and I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Potter. He vanished, probably into his Auror work, probably trying to forget the previous day had even happened.

Probably trying to forget me for good.

I brooded at the table in the kitchen, picking at what was left of the takeaway. The whole thing was too much to take in. I wasn’t sure when, precisely, Potter had gone from being Scarhead and a bloody nosy Gryffindor to being amusing and comfortable and –fuck –attractive. But it had happened.

And now I was even more angry with myself because he was gone and it fucking hurt and I didn’t want it to. Whatever had happened was obviously not going to happen ever again and it certainly couldn’t. It was Potter’s moment of insanity and my moment of stupidity.

I relied on him too much. I.... I even trusted him when I shouldn’t have. I shouldn’t trust anyone.

I grimaced and pushed away the food. It was late. I should just sleep.

I groaned and made my way to my bedroom. Sleeping was difficult because my mind would wander, unbidden, to thoughts of Potter and his tongue in my mouth and his cock pressed against mine.

I changed to sleep and pulled the blankets back before I heard an odd sound. It was quiet and fleeting but definitely there. It sounded like the click of a door. I froze and my mind raced. Could it be Potter?

I looked outside but it was dark. There was no real way for me to guess at the time. I hadn’t figured out the Winter yet. I licked my lips and skulked quietly to the door of my room to press my ear against it. I heard a faint sound of footsteps, but couldn’t be sure if they were from outside or above me.

My heart was racing but I tried to keep my breathing calm. It had to be Potter. Had to. Who else knew where I was? Who else would bother to come by? Perhaps he was just being overly quiet because he was afraid I was sleeping.

My mind offered up unhelpful possibilities and few solutions. Potter made the most sense but still made no sense at all. I steeled myself and turned the doorknob slowly, hoping to avoid making a sound.

When I pushed open the door, I saw only darkness there. The hall had no windows and so was the darkest part of the flat, next to the toilet. I swallowed and listened carefully, flattening myself against the wall and hoping that, if someone was there, they couldn’t see me any better than I could see them.

After a few tense moments, there was a creak and a soft thud and I nearly cried out in terror.

“Who’s there?” I forced myself to call out. “Show yourself!”

I tried to make my voice sound commanding but probably failed. It was stupid. I had no weapon, no defense. I had nothing but the weak cover of darkness.

There was a growl and shuffling and I slid sideways and then something hard and heavy caught me by the side of the head. There was a resounding clang and pain blossomed behind my eyes. I went tumbling to the floor with a scream.

“MINE!” a gravelly voice hollered and a dark shape jumped into the air before landing on me and pinning me to the ground. I could smell alcohol and sweat. The eyes that hovered above me were crazed, wide, glazed. I screamed and a thick, filthy hand clamped down on my mouth. “Mine now, little thief. You’ll be mine and pay for what you’ve stolen.” I struggled against him and was tense with terror and desperation. He was so heavy on top of me. His face was dirty and his hair was wiry and unruly. I cried out again but he pressed harder on my mouth and then a hand covered my throat instead and crushed it almost completely. I could hardly breathe, let alone scream.

He raked one long-nailed hand down my front, scratching welts into my skin and then tugged at my pajama trousers. He cackled manically and started muttering incoherent babble and with every word, every inch lower, my entire body grew hotter and the pain intensified.

“You’ll be mine and then I’ll kill you,” he promised gleefully. “So you can never steal my Fairy Dust again.”

Flashes of long, white fingers wrapped around a wand filled my head. Echoing promises and salacious growls and dark looks with darker smiles. I felt the air trapped in my lungs begin to go stale, become useless and I panicked. I couldn’t die here, not now, not under the power of a mad Muggle.

I felt the walls of my mind come crumbling down and my control shattered completely. An energy so powerful it terrified me rocked through me, then entire hall lit up and, suddenly, the man was catapulted into the wall at the other end of the hall. The force of the launch was so intense that the wall cracked on impact and, when he crumpled to the floor, there was a thick trail of blood down the paint.

I was shaking and crying and screaming. I scrambled to my feet and ran into my room, slamming the door shut. I pushed the wardrobe in front of it to barricade myself in.

Moments later there was a series of loud cracks and the door and the wardrobe were blasted out of the way. Three Aurors pushed in and held their wands to my throat. Their faces were dark and full of hatred.

“I didn’t do anything!” I cried out, pleading and desperate and knowing they didn’t care at all. “I was attacked!”

“You killed a Muggle,” a fourth Auror said, walking through the door, his wand up as well. They seemed to think I was such a severe threat unarmed that they couldn’t drop their wands for a moment.

“He attacked me and tried to kill me!” They wouldn’t listen. They wouldn’t care. They wanted me dead anyway. I was still shaking so violently from the uncontrolled release of magic that I couldn’t do anything but cower in a ball, trying to protect myself from all sides with nothing.

“Draco Malfoy, you broke the parameters of your punishment and, in so doing, have murdered a defenseless Mu –”

“Defenseless?!” I shrieked, my eyes wide. “I’m the one who was fucking defenseless! He nearly r-...r-...” I couldn’t say it. It was too embarrassing, too unreal. “He was going to kill me!”

“You used magic to commit the murder of a non-magical person,” one of the Aurors informed me. “Therefore you are under –”

“Wait!” a voice called angrily from the hall. Potter pushed into the room and stationed himself between myself and the Aurors. They dropped their wands slightly. “You aren’t even listening to what he’s saying!”

I couldn’t look at him. Worse now than before. I curled in tighter, holding my knees and shaking.

“He’s a convicted Death Eater, Potter,” one Auror spat. “He’s not capable of anything but lies to save his own arse. He hates Muggles, why should we believe he didn’t intentionally try to kill that one?”

“Because he had no wand, no way of using his magic with any kind of control!” Potter was shaking now too, with rage and with disgust. I could see him out of the corner of my eye, but kept my head down. “He’s completely defenseless here and you set him up that way, didn’t you?” The accusation was powerful and condemning. The Auror spluttered.

“Whatever you might have done, Potter,” the same Auror spat, his voice full of disdain. “I’ve been doing this for a lot longer than you have. You’ll follow my orders and take him in.”

“You’ve been doing this that long, huh?” Potter asked sharply. “Your entire life? Because I have. Did you fight in the final battle at Hogwarts? No? Because I did. And so did he.” I knew he was pointing to me now but I couldn’t do anything but hold myself and shake. All my pride and confidence was gone. I had nearly lost my life, my dignity, my.... fuck, everything to a fucking Muggle. “What did you do during the war, Bradford? As I recall you were doing Umbridge’s bidding and quite happily, too.” Potter took a step forward. “But you got off because you claimed you were simply following orders, didn’t you?” I had only ever heard hatred like that in Potter’s voice when he was speaking to me. “Get the fuck out of here. I’ll take care of this. Valhurst will clean up the mess out there.”

Potter stood, waiting, until the Aurors grudgingly nodded and disappeared.

After a moment, shadows moved and Potter’s hands were on my shoulders. I jumped and jerked away. He paused and then tried again, more slowly this time.

“Draco,” he whispered. “They’re gone now. Everyone’s gone. It’s just me.”

I looked up slowly, unable to say anything because that would only make it worse. I didn’t want to admit to what happened, all of what happened. Potter’s eyes were full of concern and apology. I reached out slowly, tentatively, and grabbed his arm. He didn’t move away and I didn’t stop shaking.

“Potter,” I whispered and then, somehow, found myself in his arms, clinging to him like I did once before but this time there was no smell of burning flesh and he held me back.

His arms were tight around me, so tight it should have been painful, but anything less would have been too little. I fisted his robes and buried my face in his shoulder, sobbing without sound or tears.

He helped me to my feet and laid me down on the cot. I realized I was half-naked, then. His eyes traveled to the long red lines down my stomach and his jaw dropped slightly. He looked pained, then murderous, then something else chased itself across his face.

Remorse.

“Draco,” he whispered, his fingers hovering over my stomach. He wanted to touch, to soothe, but hesitated. I had stopped shaking, but was exhausted as a result. “What did he do to you, Draco?”

All the muscles in my body tightened and then released and I felt limp and empty. I looked up at him with tired eyes.

“He said I was his,” I whispered dispassionately. “He said I would pay for stealing his fairy dust from him and he would have me, then kill me.”

Potter’s eyes traced the lines on my stomach. They ended somewhere beneath the waist of my trousers. He shut his eyes and sucked in his lower lip.

“He said you stole his Fairy Dust?” he asked quietly, steadily. I stared up at the ceiling.

“I didn’t steal anything from anyone,” I shot with slightly more vigour than before. “The man was a lunatic. I have no fucking clue what he was talking about.”

Potter paused and then rested his hand at my side instead of on my stomach. He looked defeated.

“I do,” he answered sadly. I blinked and tried to sit up but he pushed me back down as gently as possible. “It’s the case I’ve been working on,” he said by way of response to my unasked question. “I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. Right now you need to rest.”

I inhaled sharply and reached out to catch his wrist without thinking. He looked surprised. I swallowed.

“Are... are you leaving?” I asked him, trying not to sound desperate.

“No, Draco,” he told me and ran his thumb over the back of my hand. “I won’t leave you.”

+++++

I woke, bolt upright, with a gasp and doused in a cold sweat. I held the edges of the cot in a white-knuckled grip. The feel of filthy hands on me, on my face and my stomach was overwhelming. One hand to my stomach, I traced the lines of the scrapes and shuddered violently. I needed to shower. I needed to wash it away.

I blinked away the images and the sleep, calmed down and swung out of bed. It was then I realized that Potter was on the ground, sleeping and covered with the thin blanket he had replaced for me.

He had stayed. Actually stayed. Right beside me.

I relaxed and crouched down over him. His messy hair fell over his face and his glasses were askew on his nose. He looked completely vulnerable, innocent, unthreatening like that.

Not like the powerful wizard he was.

I reached out and brushed the hair from his forehead, uncovering his famous scar. I held no contempt, nor jealousy for it now. Looking upon it, I felt...

I don't know.

I brushed the pads of my fingers against his cheek.

“Potter,” I said softly, hoping only to rouse him partially but he jerked and swung one arm around in a reflexive move. He fisted my hair and held me in place, his eyes widening in an instant all sleep gone from him. “Figures your Auror reflexes only kick in when I’m trying not to startle you,” I gasped and he released a breath. His fingers relaxed and buried themselves in my hair. He pulled me closer and I collapsed on top of him, unable to stay crouched. He groaned against my skin and turned us both onto our sides.

Potter caressed the skin of my back with his hand and hummed softly against me. I froze. Did he know what he was doing? Would he be doing this if he were fully awake?

I thought probably not and the knowledge nearly crushed me. I hated it.

“Potter,” I said again, this time with more force. He smiled through sleep and pressed a chaste kiss to my mouth. I gasped despite myself. He opened his eyes and it apparently hit him. I watched it happen, as realization sunk in.

He tense and released me, but didn’t pull back and scurry away like I thought he would.

“Sorry,” he mumbled instantly. His cheeks were scarlet. “I didn’t mean to... I... “ He was breathing fast and shut his eyes, probably dizzy from trying to force sleep off himself so quickly.

“I need to shower,” I told him, trying to ignore the lead weight that seemed to have manifested in my stomach. “You can sleep in the bed. It’s slightly more comfortable.” That was not an exaggeration.

I pushed myself to my feet and stepped around him as he sat up, rubbing his head. I stopped in the doorway to the toilet, trying to bring myself to say what I needed to say, but I couldn’t.

I shut the door behind me and fell back against it, the sinking feeling stronger than before. I tore off my pajamas and stepped into the cold shower, grateful for the burn of freezing water against my body. I rubbed myself raw with soap and tried to scrub away something that wasn’t dirtying my skin.

When I finished and wrapped the towel around my waist, I was shivering more than usual. I stepped out into my bedroom to find it empty. I thought, for a moment, that Potter had gone, run away from what he had done just like the last time, but then I heard him yawn from down the hall and relaxed slightly.

I changed and padded out toward the kitchen. Potter was leaning against the counter, unconsciously adding enough sugar to his tea to turn it to paste. I glanced back at the space where, the previous night, a crazed Muggle lay dead. There was no mark on the wall, nor the floor. No crack where he had hit. Nothing.

That’s what magic could do. Make it as though something never happened at all. But it did happen and the memories and the evidence are engrained in our skin. You can’t wash away scars and burns. I turned my arm inward, shielding the Mark.

“Morning,” Potter said through a yawn. He held up his mug. “Tea?”

I swallowed and tried to smile.

“Don’t you mean sugar?” I asked, picking up my own mug from the counter. He gave me a tired grin and sipped at his syrup.

“For energy,” he informed me. I shook my head and took my tea black, if only to make up for how ridiculously sweet Potter’s tea must have been.

I sat down at the table and held my cup tightly to let the warmth spread through me. Potter sat down opposite me. He shifted in the chair and sipped his tea.

“Listen,” he said eventually and I felt myself pushed closer to the edge of my nerves. “About, er, earlier. I’m sorry. I didn’t –” I waved a hand.

“I know, I know,” I cut him off sharply. “You’re sorry. You didn’t mean to kiss me just like you didn’t mean to kiss me the other night. Right. Let’s just forget about it, yeah? That’s what you want.”

He glared at his cup and shook his head.

“No, that’s not what I want,” he said quietly. “I didn’t mean to kiss you like that.” The clarification was hardly effective. I stared at him and shook my head. He sighed and licked his lips. “I just... I didn’t want... none of this is going right.”

“How is it supposed to go?” I asked, grasping my mug so tightly it could have shattered.

“Ideally, this wouldn’t have had to happen all,” he mumbled ruefully. I frowned. He shook his head. “Damn it, that doesn’t sound right, either.”

I felt my heart beat faster.

“Let me help you,” I provided darkly. “Why did you kiss me? The first time.”

He looked up and seemed to remember who it was he was talking to. Potter found some of his confidence again and looked me in the eye.

“Because I wanted to,” was his answer and not one I fully expected. I shook my head slowly and he sighed. “I’ve wanted to kiss you since you repaired the bloody cooler on your own.” He coloured. “But it just never seemed right.”

I glared at him and pushed back, tense and fuming.

“Why? Why would you want to do that?” My entire body was wrought with my anger. “You’ve got the bloody She-Weasel sitting at home for you. Why would you kiss me?”

Potter got to his feet, his eyes hard and his brows knitted.

“No,” he answered sternly. “I’m not dating Ginny. I haven’t dated her or anyone else since sixth year.” He tugged at his hair and it was less amusing this time. “I didn’t want to kiss you then because it would turn out like this. You would, fuck, I don’t know, do exactly what you’re doing.” He clenched his fists and seemed to fight the urge to hit me. “Draco, I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking about you non-stop. You’re bloody difficult and frustrating and a complete prat but... Merlin! You’ve got me completely wired!”

“Then why did you bolt like a skittish unicorn?” I snapped, unwilling to believe him. It didn’t make sense. “You ran and I’ve never seen you run away like that.”

Potter sighed and looked aside.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “Honestly, I didn’t want to take advantage of you,” he said after a moment, clearly struggling with the words. “But I realized you probably didn’t see it that way and... I just didn’t want you to think it was a spontaneous decision.” He carded his finger through his hair. “Hermione thinks I’m bloody mad.”

I stared at him for a while and sought to channel my anger into some kind of action. I needed to do something.

Finally, I stepped forward and threw all of my weight into a punch that landed squarely at his jaw. Potter gasped and stumbled backward into the wall. I bolted after him and pinned him there, crushing our mouths together.

He reached up and grasped roughly at my shirt. I buried my hands in his hair and kissed him hard, sucking in every minute trace of the sugar from his tea.

Potter dragged his hands down my back and arched into me. I traced his mouth with my tongue but when his hands grabbed my hips, I broke the kiss and pulled away, out of his reach. He looked up at me, panting, confused.

I couldn’t answer him. All I could do was stare into the middle distance and fight the burning feeling that seared through me, following the tracks of the wounds on my stomach. I reached up a hand, instinctively, to brush them away, but they wouldn’t go.

Potter swallowed and stepped forward, placing his hand on my wrist.

“It’s alright,” he said. I nodded slowly. “Come on. I promised to tell you about the case.”

I pulled away from him and walked ahead of him into the other room. I sank down into the sofa and stared at the wall ahead of me. Potter followed and sat down a short distance away. He took a deep breath.

“Did you hear anything I was talking about with Dudley when we first met here?” he asked by way of introduction. I arched one eyebrow.

“Vaguely,” I said but did not elaborate. He nodded.

“That’s where it starts,” he began. “There have been a lot of deaths in this neighbourhood in the past months. That’s not terribly unusual, considering this is a bloody terrible area, but the people who were dying we different than usual. They were addicts and the homeless, yeah, but some of them had only become addicts or homeless a few months before they died.” He raked through his hair. “I mean, up until that point they had well-paying jobs, houses, families sometimes. It made no sense. They weren’t high risk.” He shook his head. “That and the Muggle Medical Examiners couldn’t identify what gave their blood such a particular property.”

He shifted and turned to me.

“The blood of each of the deceased had an iridescent sheen,” he explained. “And no amount of testing could account for it. They called in their official “specialist” to see. The specialist is an Auror liaison. They realized that the iridescent sheen was caused by a trace magical signature in their blood.” I listened closely, narrowing my eyes slightly. Something about this sounded familiar... like I knew where it was going, without knowing. “But all of the victims were Muggle with no magical background. So the Aurors were called in to help with the case and eventually uncovered that the blood wasn’t only tainted with a magical signature, but was degraded, in each victim. Blood doesn’t degrade like that inside bodies, at least not that quickly and not in that way.” Toxicity. “The Aurors tested the blood for all kinds of Magical ingredients and spells to figure out what might have happened.” Potter looked up and seemed grey. “As it turns out, it was something magical degrading their blood. The Muggles were imbibing inordinate quantities of cocaine laced with a very dangerous potion.”

“What potion?” I asked though my mind was already providing the likeliest answer.

“Felix Felicis,” Potter answered. He rubbed his temples. “Apparently, someone is soaking cocaine in Liquid Luck and then cutting it and selling it to Muggles. The only effect cocaine has on Felix Felicis is to weaken the power of the potion while amplifying the high that being that lucky can give you. The biggest problem is that, while these people were taking Felix Felicis and experiencing fantastic luck for a couple hours at a time, the cocaine was creating a serious dependency. They became addicted and had to buy more each time to hit the same high. But with every dose, Felix Felicis becomes less effective and, eventually, acts as a toxin in non-Magical bodies.” Potter got to his feet and paced, apparently unable to sit still when there were people to be saved. “These Muggles go completely mad after only weeks on the stuff. They lose their jobs, their families... their entire lives come crashing down around them because their proverbial luck has run out. Without money they can’t support the habit so they resort to stealing or, sometimes, killing just to get a hit.”

My mind raced, absorbing and sorting all the information I was given and cataloguing it for better understanding.

“So, you’re saying the man who attacked me was out of his mind with withdrawal from this drug?” I asked, wondering if that made it at all forgivable. I concluded that no, not really. It was his own damn fault for doing any kind of drug at all. I couldn’t let myself be upset over his death, even if I had caused it. Even if it meant I had actually killed someone.

“It’s called Fairy Dust,” he admitted. “And yes. I got word from Kingsley while you were in the shower. Tests confirm that the man who attacked you had a magical signature and degraded blood.” Potter looked as though he was holding something back.

“I see,” I said, studying him. “And what does this have to do with me?” He cocked his head. “You’re obviously keeping something from me.”

He seemed surprised, then offered me a small smile.

“Kingsley said that the other Aurors on the case,” he explained, his tone tinged with disgust. “The ones who showed up last night... well, they’re calling for your arrest because they think you’re involved.” I froze, my eyes widening. He nodded. “In fact, they think you’re the one brewing the Liquid Luck.”

I was on my feet before I knew it. I shook with rage and hatred for the Ministry and the bloody Auror corps. The corruption within their ranks was ridiculous. Law Enforcement is a fucking joke in the wizarding world.

“How the fuck can they think that?” I snarled, my fists tight. Potter made a face and shook his head. “I’ve only been here for four months and I have no access to any kind of magic! This is completely absurd.”

“I know!” Potter answered abruptly. “I know. It is. You’re right. They’re just determined to pin someone for it because we’ve got what amounts to essentially nothing. Dudley’s the social services liaison for this area and he helped us narrow down the location to this building. The dealer is here somewhere, but no one is talking and he’s like a fucking shade. The Aurors just think you’re the best suspect because of your history.”

I gritted my teeth.

“My history,” I repeated. “You mean the fucking Dark Mark on my arm, yeah?” He glared but it wasn’t directed at me.

“Yes, in part,” Potter admitted. “The other part is that you’ve always excelled at Potions and this is a bloody difficult one to brew. It can’t be just anyone.”

I collapsed back down on the sofa and wondered why I bothered getting angry. It was hardly surprising that, given the situation, the Aurors were determined to arrest me for it. It would give them an excuse to put me in Azkaban, anyway.

“So that’s it?” I asked him, calming down enough to breathe. He sat down next to me. “You’ve got nothing more to go on than that?’

“Now you understand why I’m so bloody exhausted,” he muttered. I laughed softly and laid my head back against the sofa. I felt so drained. Potter sighed and then got to his feet. “I’m sorry, but I have to go. Duty calls and I need to go make sure no one puts a warrant through for your arrest.” I grimaced and then sat up straighter. He looked at me, hesitating, then leaned in and pressed his lips to mine, briefly. As of yet, we had not shared a kiss that felt so much like a kiss. Potter straightened and smiled. “I won’t be back for about a week this time. Work is going to be hell with everything that needs to be done before next Tuesday.”

I licked my lips and nodded, trying to stave off the feeling of panic that gnawed at my nerves.

“I’ll survive,” I told him, rolling my eyes and wondering if it was completely true. It was daylight now, but the darkness brings terrors with it.

As he left, Potter laughed.

“Don’t forget to lock the door behind me,” he said, joking. I got up and gave him a questioning look. He caught my eye and stopped, confused by my expression. “So that no one breaks in again.” My eyes widened. Potter took a step back toward me, alarmed. “Draco. Tell me you’ve been locking your door.”

I felt like a fool, an idiot. It was ridiculous. I should have known but then, how would I? How could I have? I came from a world where locking charms were built into magical structures. No one had opened my door freely before...

My eyes flashed back and forth from nothing to nothing and I shook my head, feeling worse and worse by the second. Potter took a step forward and I took a step back. Had I allowed this to be done to me? Was this my fault?

“Draco,” he said quietly. “Draco, it’s ok. Here. Let me show you.” He walked back to the door, shut it and turned a little metal latch. There was a loud click and the door was bolted. I never even thought about it. It never even occurred to me.

I wrapped my arms around myself and wondered how I had even managed this long before being attacked.

“I...” I couldn’t even speak. Potter reached out and grabbed my hand before I could pull it away. He squeezed it like my mother squeezed my hand the last time I saw her. I felt broken and, worse, broken down by myself.

“It’s alright, Draco,” he whispered. “You’ll be alright. I’ll be back in no time. No one is going to hurt you again.”

Potter left me as though some outside force pulled him away but I was glad it did. I needed to be alone and remember how to survive, how to defend myself, be aware, on my own.

I turned the latch in the door just as Potter had done and then went and retrieved the chair from the kitchen and wedged it in place.

“I’m an idiot,” I told myself angrily. I stared at the door and decided that it wasn’t enough. I needed more. I needed more safety, somehow.

I ran into my room and closed my door, then pulled the cot out from its corner and shoved it up against the door. I curled up there, facing the entrance, and waited. Like an angry wasp lingering on the edge of attack, I hit a new level of hyper-vigilance.

In the morning, when I slipped through the door to get something to eat, I realized that something had changed. I pulled away the chair from the front entrance and opened the door. Within centimeters of my threshold, I felt it. It pulsed and radiated a familiar warmth I missed so deeply. I reached out and palmed the invisible wall, but felt better knowing it was there at all. Even if it made me weak... I was too happy to care.

Potter had set up wards just outside the perimeter of my flat.

+++++

The first few nights alone were the worst. I had nightmares. Bad ones. Memories from the war mixed with the sickening sensation of being strangled and mad eyes staring me down. Then I decided not to be afraid anymore. Of anything. I needed to not be afraid.

I’ve been scared all my life of things. I’ve run and cowered and tried to manipulate my way out of injury or abuse. It didn’t always work and then I would fall back into fear. But I had had enough. Being scared was exhausting and humiliating, when it meant that I was afraid to live.

It was an easy and obvious weakness and I couldn’t afford anymore of those.

So, on the fourth day, I replaced the cot where it was to begin with and removed the chair from the front entrance. I decided to take out the rubbish. Taking just the plastic bag this time, rather than the entire bin –as Potter had illustrated when he had done it the first time, unknowingly leaving me to feel a fool –I stepped through the wards and let the magic wash over me. It was hardly as good as feeling my own magic channeled through my arm, through my wand and exploding out the other end, but it was still something.

My trip downstairs was perhaps faster than I intended it to be, as I dropped my bag quickly in one of the bins and bolted from the foul room. I then realized how fast my heart was beating and how close I was to the edge of panic.

Deep breaths, I told myself. There is no danger here.

An abrupt sound to my right made me jump and I scurried to the recess behind the stairs and flattened myself against the wall. The darkness fell just short of my toes. I held my breath as a man sauntered down the stairs, toward the exit. He was shorter than I was, but broader. His shoulders hunched, he wore a dark, dingy jacket and his hair was slicked and dark brown. He had a thick, wiry beard and dark glasses covering his eyes. He paused in the doorway, flicked a metal canister that caused a flame and lit a cigarette. When he stepped outside and paused, looking left and right, I caught his profile. His nose was slightly upturned and didn’t match the rest of his appearance.

He looked... familiar. But that made no sense, really. I don’t know any Muggles. Other than Dursley, I suppose. And he certainly didn’t look like any wizard I had ever met.

And why would a wizard use a Muggle contraption to light a cigarette? He couldn’t have known that there was anyone around, otherwise he would have acknowledged me.

I realized that, while my mind was racing, my heart rate had increased. I ran back up to my room and locked the door again, panting in a cold sweat.

Next time I would have to actually go outside. Who knows what could happen if I couldn’t manage to overcome my own fear...

I walked over to the heater in the window and warmed my hands by it, watching the thick snowflakes fall into the windowpane and melt on contact. It reminded me of Hogwarts just before the Christmas hols. Except that I wasn’t in a gloriously ancient castle, learning new spells and tormenting first years.

I was standing in a run-down flat, with no magic and no friends. I didn’t even know when it would be Christmas.

Maybe I already missed it.

+++++

“Fucking hell,” I snapped to myself, rushing out of the shower and down the hall, just barely wrapping a towel around my waist. The knock at the door had become frantic, which could only mean it was one person. I flung open the door. “You have terrible timing, Potter.”

Potter’s eyes widened and he caught himself mid-knock. He stared at me in my soaked state and an awkward smile pulled at the corners of his lips.

“Er, Happy Christmas?” he offered, holding up several bags full of what smelled like a feast. My jaw dropped and I stepped back to let him in. He went immediately into the kitchen and placed the bags on the counter while I locked the door. “I’ve got everything here, really. Turkey and potatoes and pie and treacle tart. I even brought some butterbeer. It’s not actually magical, it turns out. Just made by wizards.” He laughed and pulled out two bottles before catching a glimpse of my face.

Potter dropped his arms and tilted his head, his brows knitted together.

“It’s... it’s Christmas?” I asked, struck dumb. I didn’t expect it to feel this bad. He placed the bottles back on the counter and walked over to me.

“Yeah.” His voice was soft. “I didn’t realize you... I’m sorry.”

I glared at nothing, the muscle of my jaw tightening painfully. Convicted felon. Live in solitude. Life goes on.

“Don’t you have a family to be with?” I shot, cold and full of venom. Potter’s face was set but he didn’t rise to bait. I wish he had.

“Yes,” he whispered. “I saw the Weasleys, Hermione and Teddy earlier today. Now I’m with you.”

I looked up sharply and sought the jest in his words, but came away empty-handed. I felt myself reaching out to push him but he caught my wrist and held it. I struggled and jerked but he held tight and pulled me close to him. I wet his clothes but he didn’t care.

“D-do you know... what my mother is doing?” I asked in a whisper, unable to speak louder. He pulled back and nodded.

“She’s at the Manor.” I swallowed but couldn’t breathe.

“I can’t even wish her a merry Christmas, tell her I’m alright,” I muttered. Potter tilted his head and made a face.

“That’s not entirely true,” he said awkwardly. What? He gave me a sheepish grin. “Well, I went to visit her, you see, strictly under Auror pretenses.” I arched one eyebrow. “I had to return stolen property to her. While I was there, I may have accidentally mentioned that you were doing well and even accommodating to your living conditions.”

I stared at him for long moments, incapable of moving, of conveying my appreciation. I could only think of one thing to do, but I couldn’t even bring myself to do it. Potter smiled at me.

“You... broke the law,” was all I managed to say. The unspoken words being for me. Potter laughed.

“I have difficulty following rules,” he said as though quoting a performance evaluation. “And I tend to have a problem with authority. Stupid authority, anyway.”

I laughed because I couldn’t help it and the lopsided grin on Potter’s face was priceless.

“What stolen property did you return?” I asked eventually, His smile was slightly rueful this time.

“Your wand.” I froze, images of the war flickering through my head along with the brief, terrifying realization that I had been, for a short while, master of the Elder Wand. Potter bit his inner-cheek. “I meant to give it straight back to you, but when the Ministry condemned you to a year without magic, I decided that it was safer to keep it.” He reached for the bottles of butterbeer and popped off the tops. “I needed a way to get into Malfoy Manor without suspicion so it worked out. It’s safe with your mum.”

He handed me a bottle and held it up for a toast. I took the proffered bottle, my fingers numb, and tapped it against his.

“To surviving another year,” he said, somewhat dramatically. I smirked slightly and took a sip. The familiar warmth spread quickly through me and I hummed in relief. Muggles had no idea what they were missing without this drink. “You, er, might want to go get dressed,” Potter added, stepping away from me. I blinked.

“What? Don’t like the view, Potter?” I shot, retrieving some of my lost confidence. Potter reddened and turned to face me again. His eyes were dark.

“Stay like that if you want, Draco,” he said in a low tone. I felt myself shiver. “But know that I’m not responsible for what might happen as a result of it.”

I cocked my eyebrow and smirked, closing the distance between us.

“Really?” I whispered, driven by the heat that rose between us. “Perhaps that’s what I’m after.”

Our mouths collided in a desperate surge and Potter’s hands were all over me, feeling every inch of my skin he could reach. I gasped and tore at his shirt, single-mindedly intent on evening the odds.

He pushed me back, through the door and I hit the wall hard. Potter broke the kiss only long enough for me to pull his shirt over his head and toss it aside, then renewed his hold on me, sucking on my lip. I palmed his sides and back, wanting to feel all of him and memorize it. I pushed against him, forcing him to step back, and our erections met through layers of unnecessary fabric.

I dragged him back with me, toward the sofa, pulling open his trousers. He tugged the towel off me just as I collapsed onto the seat of the sofa, pulling him down on top of me. He groaned into my mouth and I slipped my tongue past his teeth to taste him. My hands pushed under the fabric of his trousers, running over the curve of his arse and pulling his legs apart to straddle me.

“Ngh,” he groaned against my mouth again. “Too many clothes.” He pulled back and shifted so that I could push his trousers and pants down, then shimmied out of them. “Better.”

Potter kissed me again, his cock rubbing roughly against mine, my hands gripping his arse and urging him onward.

It was dry and rough but, Merlin, it was fucking amazing. I moaned and sucked on his tongue as he moved above me. I reached between us and grasped both our cocks, stroking them together, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted Potter so much, so bad. I wanted more.

“Wait,” Potter said, stilling my hand with his and sitting up. I whimpered despite myself, unable to deal with the possibility that he might turn and run now. He reached behind himself to where he had discarded his trousers and fished something out of the pocket. Holding it up, I saw that it was a small tube of lubricant. I arched a brow and gave him a skeptical look. He reddened. “I didn’t plan this,” was his only defense.

“Of course not,” I responded sarcastically. He ignored me and poured out some of the liquid onto his fingers, coating them with it. When he reached back, I expected to feel fingers at my entrance, but they didn’t come.

Potter had slid his lubricated fingers into his own arse and was thrusting back against them. The sight was painfully hot and my cock hardened further. I grabbed his hips and then ran my hands up his front, rolling his nipples between my fingers as I went.

“Oh god,” Potter moaned, tilting his head back. I wanted to push inside him more than I had ever wanted anything. I nearly burst from the heat that was growing within me.

“Potter,” I said, my voice breathy and desperate. He smirked and stopped moving. Potter removed his fingers and wrapped them around my cock, drizzling more lube over my shaft with his other hand. “Fuck. I want you now.”

Potter grinned devilishly and raised himself up to move up my body. He hovered over my cock and stared into my eyes. His glasses were slightly askew and his lips were parted, panting. I dragged my hands down his sides and held his hips tightly. He bit his lip and sat back, impaling himself on my cock.

I cried out breathlessly as he sank down, the heat and tightness of him almost completely overwhelming. I gripped him hard and he stopped, halfway down my shaft, moaning. His brows were furrowed. I stroked his thigh.

“So good,” Potter murmured, tense and hot all around me. He took a few deep breaths and then pushed himself all the way down. My grip tightened again on him and I bit my lip hard, desperately trying to make it last.

I slowed my breathing and then opened my eyes to see Potter in all of his glory, moving on me. He lifted himself and thrust back down and fuck but it was the best thing I’ve ever felt.

“Yes, god,” I groaned and he grinned. Potter started moving more and faster. He thrust hard so I pushed deeper inside of him and I bucked up to meet him every time.

He bobbed and moved on me but I wanted even more. I reached up and grabbed his head, pulling him to meet me in a kiss. He thrust his tongue into my mouth and I shifted and flipped us so that I was above him instead.

“Ah, Draco,” Potter gasped, fisting my hair. His kiss was demanding and I moved to comply. I repositioned myself and thrust deep inside him, changing the angle and suddenly he screamed and clenched around me. I pushed in again, and again, until my pace was erratic and we were both moaning and screaming.

I wrapped my fingers around Potter’s cock and stroked him rapidly, matching my thrusts and desperate to see him come. I leaned over him when I felt him tense and pumped him until he came, squirting out thick, white liquid against my stomach. His semen streaked down my stomach and covered the faint red marks that were left there.

I cried out and thrust once more before light exploded behind my eyes and I came inside of him.

Panting, my vision slowly returned and I tried to hold myself up but I couldn’t. Potter’s arms wrapped around me and I collapsed on top of him, unable to stay awake.

“Even better than I imagined,” he murmured sleepily against my ear and then I was asleep.

+++++

When I woke up, I was frustratingly alone, but clean. There was a blanket thrown over me and sounds coming from the kitchen, so Potter hadn’t disappeared completely. I swallowed and pressed my wrist to my forehead. I might have just done a terribly stupid thing in shagging Harry Potter.

Or the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Could go either way.

I got up and padded over to the kitchen doorway. Potter was only wearing his trousers but had set up plates and various dishes on the table. He turned and smiled and, almost instantly, blushed at seeing me naked.

“You blush far too easily,” I informed him, unsure of how to proceed. He smirked and shrugged.

“Maybe, it’s just you,” he suggested, his eyes lingering below my navel. He licked his lips. I wanted to trust the spark of excitement he triggered within me. I wanted to trust the warmth that spread through me at seeing the meal he brought just for me, on Christmas.

But I wasn’t sure that I could.

“Christmas dinner?” I asked gesturing to the food. “Where did you get it? Directly from Hogwarts?”

He gave me a sidelong glance and then shifted.

“Mrs. Weasley, actually.”

Those three words had an immediate chilling effect and nullified the possibility for a repeat of earlier. I froze, torn between the need to get some clothing and the need to understand how he had managed that. I also began to weigh out the possibility of the food being poisoned.

“What?” was the best answer I could offer, given that my mind was busy deciphering probabilities.

“She knew where I was going this evening,” he admitted. “She said that everyone deserved a warm, home-cooked meal on Christmas.”

My jaw dropped and I inhaled, prepared to deliver some kind of scathing remark. But none came. I didn’t know what to say. The Weasleys hated the Malfoys and vice versa. Always have. Since... well, who knows since what. Potter arched a brow.

“Is there a problem?” he asked, almost daring me to reply in the affirmative.

“I... why would she do that?” I asked, dumbfounded and skeptical. He paused and thought.

“Well, she’s a mother,” he said, finally. “She lost one of her sons to the war and she knows what the Ministry is doing to you and your mother.” He paused. “She told me that it was the not knowing that killed her, when it was happening. Not knowing if her children were dead or alive... if they would ever come home to her.” He smiled sadly. “I think she did it as much for your mother as for you.”

I stared at the food and thought. The things I thought I knew, the things I had been taught to believe were fundamental truths were all crashing down around me. I hardly knew myself anymore and I wondered if, by the time my sentence ended –if I was even allowed to return –the wizarding world might be completely unrecognizable, too. Maybe I just needed to start fresh and give up everything I thought I knew.

Maybe I needed to learn it all over again.

“Draco?” Potter asked after a while. I looked up at him but couldn’t quite smile.

“I’m just going to go get some clothes,” I told him quietly. He nodded, confused.

I went to collect the trousers I had intended to wear before Potter arrived and pulled the shirt over my head. I rolled up one sleeve to the elbow, but not the other. It still bothered me more than I could say.

I wondered if it would ever stop being a problem. I wondered if I could adapt to a world where Malfoys and Weasleys were equals –if we could even compare in the post-war era. I wondered if I could be myself in a world where Harry Potter wanted me... if I could meet expectations.

But I had been slowly adapting to the Muggle world –something I never imagined having to do. That had to mean something.

I decided to cross that road when I came to it.

“You alright?” Potter asked, eying the unrolled sleeve of my left arm. I smiled slightly.

“Yeah,” I told him. “I was just reevaluating things.”

“What things?” I smiled.

“Everything.”

+++++

“Are you honestly telling me that there was something other than hatred between Marcus Flint and Oliver Wood?” Potter’s expression was comically incredulous. I laughed and nearly spilled what was left of my butterbeer. “But... Flint was such a...”

“Troll?” I finished for him, laughing uncontrollably. Potter pulled a face and shuddered.

“Wood was fit,” he admitted and then shuddered again. “Flint was...”

“Hung,” I completed, again. Potter did a surreal double take and then turned violently red.

“How do you –” he spluttered. “No.. no. Did you? What... Argh!”

There were tears in my eyes from laughing as hard as I was.

“You are ridiculously gullible, Potter,” I said through snickers. Potter’s jaw dropped and he made a face.

“You bloody –”

“Slytherin,” I said, laughing harder. He threw himself at me and pushed me down into the sofa, pressing himself between my legs. I reached up to push him back but he caught my wrists and slid his grip down to my elbows. The sleeve on my left arm hiked up as he did and I tensed unintentionally.

He paused, looking directly into my eyes, and then, without turning away, he brushed the pad of his thumb over the black Mark. I tried to pull away but he kissed me slowly and held tight.

“You said you would give anything just to change it,” he whispered, inches away from my mouth. I swallowed.

“Yes. But there’s no one who has the power to do that.”

Potter smiled strangely and kissed me again.

“I’ve been thinking about that,” he said and leaned back running his thumb over the brand again. “That may not be true.”

I shifted and sat up quickly, keeping the distance between us short. He watched me with an unreadable expression.

“You know someone?” I asked, excited and desperate and jumpy. “Who could possibly have enough power to do that and care to help me?”

Potter smirked.

“Me,” he said softly. I shivered and he released my arm. I couldn’t look away from him. His eyes were bright and tentative at once. I couldn’t believe it.

“You?” My voice wavered slightly. “You can... can change the Mark?”

He smiled and nodded slowly.

“Theoretically,” he admitted but my excitement didn’t fade. “I’m master of the Elder Wand.” His smile was more of a grimace, then, but he shook it off. “If it can be done, I should be able to do it.”

I simply stared at him, searching for some indication that this was a joke, or a dream. I couldn’t wake up if it was. I would never wake up.

“We need to go into the hall, though,” he said, rubbing tiny circles into my arm. “There’s a trace on this flat, after all.”

I nodded and got to my feet, following him outside into the hall of the building. He led me to a small alcove, darker than the rest of the hall and far from other doors. He pulled out his wand and pressed it to my arm, to the centre of the Mark.

I swallowed hard and waited, staring at him and unable to stop. Potter took a deep breath and whispered a Latin chant under his breath. I had never heard anything like it, though there was a melodic quality to the phrases that filled me with calm.

Then there was a powerful burning sensation that spread from where his wand tip touched my arm. It radiated through my body and consumed me. I tried not to scream, biting down hard on my lip. I was glowing faintly and his wand soaked in what looked like black ink. The Dark Mark slowly disappeared from my arm but the black ink –which could only be Dark Magic in visible form –had to go somewhere. It shaped itself back onto my arm in a different image and, rather than be black, the lines had faint colours.

When Potter was done, he gasped and fell back against the wall, shaking from the energy it took to complete the spell. I reached out and caught him, trying to support him. He smiled and leaned against my shoulder.

“Do you like this better?” he asked, breathless. I looked down.

The image on my arm was of a faintly green serpent entwined around a flaming feather in pale red tones. The eye of the feather was shaped into a paw print. I laughed and shook my head.

“You’re a bloody romantic, Potter,” I told him but before he could say anything in reply, I kissed him, soft and warm and full of promise. “I’ll never be able to thank you.”

It was the closest I could come to saying it outright and he seemed to know that. He smiled and pulled me against him.

“I can think of a few ways you could try,” he suggested mischievously. I was so overwhelmed with hope and happiness that I forgot to be concerned or wary. I didn’t care.

I pulled Potter back into my flat and pushed him up against the closed door, kissing him deeply and dragging my hands along his body.

“So how should I start?”

+++++

I sat, Coca-Cola in hand, staring at the wall in front of me. I was nervous and the little sips I was taking of the bubbly drink were hardly helping. I tapped my toe against the ground in an erratic pattern, my mind racing. I was nearly buzzing with anticipation.

Potter had told me, shortly after Christmas, that the Aurors had gotten a new lead in their case. The suspect had been willing to trade smaller quantities of Fairy Dust in return for white rabbit feet, which were a component of Felix Felicis. Rabbit feet are difficult to come by in Muggle venues due to the illegality of purchasing animals in order to kill them. The wizard apothecaries would know immediately what you were brewing because Felix Felicis was the only potion that required them.

There seemed to be increased wolf activity in the areas surrounding London, given the number of rabbit carcasses discovered with missing legs. There was also a handful of break-ins at local pet stores. Only white rabbits were taken.

The London Police apprehended a woman as she tried to escape with several white rabbits concealed under her dress. Aurors discovered that she was under the Imperius curse, as well as having a trace magical signature. When interrogated under Veritaserum, they discovered that her assignment was not only to produce rabbits for the suspect, but also to find red panda hearts.

Red panda hearts are extremely expensive in wizard shops and can only be found on the black market in the Muggle world –or so Potter informed me.

The woman in question admitted that she met her dealer outside the building, under the front steps, at twilight, to do business.

Now I knew what I had to do.

There was a knock at the door. Twice quickly. Pause. Then one more. I went and allowed Potter in. He seemed even more tired than usual. It was beginning to show under his eyes and around his mouth. He set down a bag of Italian takeaway on the table and then went to collapse on the sofa. I followed him and sat next to him, feeling unnaturally rigid. My nervousness was showing.

“Rough day?” I asked, but the conversation was stilted.

“It’s this bloody case, still,” Potter nearly growled, grabbing his head by his hair and sighing heavily. “I became an Auror to protect people, to keep them from getting killed. But this bloody tosser is always three steps ahead of us. Even the leads are weak and leave us few options.”

“It’s only the stupid criminals who get caught, really,” I told him, a trace of disgust echoing in my words. “Or the ones who never wanted to be criminals anyway.”

He sighed again and turned to me, reaching out to stroke my arm. He tended to touch me as much as possible when he felt as though he was losing control of everything around him. I wondered if there was something I did when I felt that way. Then I realized there was.

I pushed people away.

“Maybe,” he answered and thought. “I just never expected it to be this difficult to catch dark wizards legally.” I smirked.

“It’s not easy operating within the rules, is it?” I sneered. He laughed, despite himself.

“It’s frustrating.” Potter eyes fell on my collarbone for a moment and he licked his lips. “Right now the Aurors are trying to figure out the best way to catch him in the act. Going undercover would probably work best, but no one seems to be innocuous enough.” He rolled his eyes. “And if this bloke’s as practiced as he seems, there will sure as hell be a number of magical countermeasures to protect himself from that possibility.”

I cocked my head and shifted closer. He smoothed his hand from my arm to my stomach and hummed softly. He relaxed.

“What kind of countermeasures?” I probed. He shrugged.

“Wards and alarms to signal when someone with a magical core is approaching,” he suggested. “Possibly glamour-negating runes as well. So that and Polyjuice are essentially out of the question.” He pulled a face. “Now it’s a matter of debate over who could blend in the most as a Muggle. I was the first candidate until they remembered.” He gestured in the general direction of his face and I tried not to laugh.

“Then I think the answer is obvious,” I told him, quietly, calmly. He arched one eyebrow in a strange mirror of my own signature expression. “Send me.”

Potter’s eyes widened and he seemed caught between the desire to laugh and the impulse to refuse immediately.

“W-what?!” was his most coherent reaction. I steeled myself. “How is that obvious? H-how does that make sense?”

“Well, I’ve been living here for months now,” I began, cataloguing all of the logical arguments in favour of my idea. “I have Muggle clothes both proper ones and some completely appropriate for a street urchin. I have a working knowledge of Muggle behaviour as well as a sharp eye for detail. I can recognize a thousand different potions and poisons by sight and smell. I also look pathetic enough thanks to my living here to be a likely candidate for luck-enhancing drugs.” I eyed him as he stared at me completely dumbstruck. “Oh yes, and I’m a much better liar than all of your Aurors combined.”

Potter simply stared and shook his head slowly, gaping for a number of minutes before catching up with his mouth.

“B-but you aren’t an Auror!” he exclaimed as though it negated all of my perfectly logical arguments. I should have known logic was lost on Potter. “You can’t use magic!”

Exactly,” I went on, attempting to stay calm and not roll my eyes. “You said yourself he would have countermeasures in place for that. My magic has been mainly dormant for months now and those wards are usually designed to pick up the presence of a wand.”

“You’ll be defenseless against a dangerous wizard,” he pressed on, urging me to see his ultimately weak point.

“I didn’t say send me in without cover,” I shot. “Obviously there should be Aurors stationed in obscured places to keep watch. But I’ll blend in, like none of you can. The fact that I’ve been here for months suggests that I belong amidst the kinds of Muggles who seek him out. He’ll be more suspicious of an entirely new person appearing out of nowhere.”

Potter gaped, again, and then affected a stern look I’m sure would have been very effective had I been four years old and guilty of pilfering a cookie before dinner.

“Draco,” he said as calmly as possible. “The Aurors won’t suddenly believe you’ve changed if you do this. They won’t hate you any less, in fact, they’ll probably be more suspicious. They won’t reduce your sentence. I... I don’t see how this can benefit you.”

I pulled sharply away and glared at him, grinding my teeth. I got to my feet and stood before him, full of rage. That’s it then? Potter still sees me that way...

“Is that what you think?” I asked him venomously. “That I only ever do anything if it’s for my own benefit? Am I incapable of doing what’s right? Of doing something good without seeking a reward of some kind?”

Potter looked frantic and angry and hurt.

“No!” he answered immediately, then shook his head, confused and frustrated. I stood my ground. “I mean... you know that’s not what I was suggesting. Draco, you just... This is not the kind of thing you do... you’ve never done something like this before.”

My eyebrows shot up and my gaze was sharp.

“Oh no?” I snapped, sarcastically. “Manipulating someone more powerful than I am into believing what I want them to so they reveal something incriminating about themselves... no, of course not. I’ve never done that.”

Potter shut his eyes and clenched his fists.

“Draco,” he said more quietly. “Draco, I don’t want you to do this.” He seemed on the verge of something that terrified him. “Please.”

My breath caught in my chest but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t just agree to not act and to continue to live in fear for the rest of my life. I couldn’t continue on without knowing whether or not I could face the absolute worst-case scenario and come out alive. This –facing down danger and terror with no defenses, with no magic –was the worst-case scenario. I needed to know that, if I didn’t ever get the use of my magic back, I could still live and be useful.

I needed to know that I wouldn’t waste away in a Muggle flat for the rest of my life, living only in the moments where Potter managed to drop by.

I had to do this because, if I didn’t, I was dead.

So maybe it was self-serving, in the end. But what isn’t, if only in some small way?

“Potter, you can either be there, in the shadows, tonight at twilight, and watch my back,” I told him sharply. “Or you can stand on principle and let me go in alone.”

+++++

The air was bitter cold. The snow had stopped falling and the night had rolled in with an army of clouds to block out the moon and the stars. There was no light on the street but the distantly placed lanterns along the sidewalk.

I shoved my hands into the pockets of my coat and shuddered against the wind. I was wearing a pair of torn denims and the wrecked canvas trainers and regretting every minute of it.

Eventually I saw a shadow move and decided that it was time for me to make my move.

I walked back along the street toward my building, casually shrugging my coat. The slope that led beneath the front steps was clear but icy. I glanced around me a number of times to ensure that no one was watching, then ducked down the slope. It was difficult not to slide the whole way down, but there were specific places where the ice felt almost sticky.

Remnants of a sticking charm, I thought. So the ice is part of your set-up.

I promptly let myself slip awkwardly and fell back against the wall of the building. I gasped silently and swallowed, urging my body to find its balance again.

“You make a wrong turn, boy?” A gravelly tone broke the silence but then fell short of the light. It was heavy on the air. Silencing spells.

“Dunno,” I answered and thought carefully about my words. “Been told I ken get summat ter, er, help wif me troubles down ‘ere.” I sought out a language cross between the oaf gamekeeper and Weasley. I wasn’t sure it sounded right, but at least it didn’t sound like me.

“Who told you that?” The tone was even more gruff, put on. The man was hiding the truth of his own voice just like I was. Apparently, it was important.

“A friend,” I said with a shrug. “Was ‘e righ’? Or should I bring me interests elsewhere?”

“Depends,” he answered. My eyes grew accustomed to the darkness and I realized that he had his back to me. “What’ve yeh got?”

“Eh?” I answered, shifting.

“Quid, you bloody tosser,” he snapped. I thought quickly. What was he talking about?

Quid... wait, that’s Muggle money. Fuck.

“Nah, nah,” I answered quickly. “Me mate said yeh’d take a trade.”

He turned around abruptly and I nearly gasped. Dark, slick hair and a wiry beard. The man who stood before me was the one I saw two weeks ago. He seemed frozen for a moment but I couldn’t read his expression through the beard and his dark glasses. Damnit, he looked familiar.

“Have I met you before?” he asked slowly. I slanted my shoulder and made a face.

“Maybe,” I told him, hoping to get the conversation back on track. “Been livin’ ‘ere fer months now.”

Fuck, wait. Maybe I shouldn’t have told him that, if he didn’t already know.

He studied me –or looked as though he was –and then took a step forward. He seemed larger than the last time I saw him until I realized that it was an illusion.

“What’s your name?” he pressed. I swallowed.

“Drake Malloy,” I offered quickly, wondering why it felt like a mistake. “Yers?”

He shook his head.

“No name,” he went on, his voice still gruff but cautious. “What’ve you got to trade?”

I stuck my tongue into my cheek.

“What’re yeh after?” I asked by way of response. He tilted his head back slightly.

“I want red panda hearts,” he said sharply. “Ten of ‘em.”

I made a sound of angry surprise.

“What?” I snapped. “Bollocks! Where’m I s’posed ter find ten bleeding panda hearts?”

His mouth twisted into something that might have been a smirk beneath the beard. He leaned close and growled in response.

Red panda hearts,” he corrected. “And you looked like a cunning bloke. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” He turned around. “You’ve got one week. I’ll pick them up from you directly. Go.”

I said nothing but made my way back up the slope as quickly as possible, my heart racing. I kept my pace calm as I walked up the front steps but, once inside the building, I bolted and ran to my door.

I felt as though there were eyes watching me from all sides and a gruff voice kept echoing in my ears. Why was it so familiar? Why did I feel so exposed?

I ran into my bedroom and tried to shut the door but Potter was already pushing through and wrapping his arms around me. He was winded and his voice was full of concern.

“Draco,” he said quickly, trying to calm me with his arms. “Draco, it’s alright. What happened? What did he say? I couldn’t hear anything from my position.” I was on the verge of hyperventilating. “Draco? Please tell me he didn’t hurt you...”

“No,” I answered and grabbed his shirt for support. “No, he didn’t. I don’t know why... I’m fine. I’m fine.” I pushed away and carded my fingers through my hair. I tore off my jacket to breathe more freely. Potter stood, his arms out and wary as though he was watching a spooked Hippogriff. “He wants panda hearts. Ten of them. And he said he would pick them up here. In one week.”

I made an impatient noise and dropped down onto the cot. Potter relaxed slightly and I realized he was breathing as heavily as I was.

“Why would he ask you for such a difficult item first?” he pondered aloud. “In so little time... and then say he was going to get them himself? How does that make sense?”

“I don’t know, Potter!” I yelled, unable to stop myself. I was wound tight and needed release. “I don’t fucking know why he wanted those things. Something’s off about this. Something’s off about him, I just don’t know what it is.”

Potter growled and tugged at his hair. He paced a few steps and then collapsed against the wall, his muscles still too tight. I clenched my fists and released them, hoping to ease my own tension.

“Draco, if you don’t want to go through with this,” he began slowly. I rolled my eyes.

“I’m not backing out now, Potter.” I glared at him and shook my head. “I’ll be fine. Just get me the bloody panda hearts and be here one week from tonight.”

Potter hesitated, then reached out to me but I waved him away.

“You should go,” I told him. “Make your report to the Ministry.”

A muscle in his jaw twitched, but he nodded and was gone.

All I could think of was the smirk on the man’s face and the way his mouth quirked when he said cunning.

+++++

It was dark with no moon and I lingered in the doorway of my flat. There was a box of red panda hearts on a chair next to the door. It smelled wretched and, if I hadn’t known better, I could swear that they were still beating.

But the enchantments on them had been removed so that I could keep them in my flat without alerting my sentence officer. Apparently some of Potter’s coworkers didn’t believe that using a convicted criminal as an undercover operative was a good idea.

He had told them that he would stop me from acting, then promptly disregarded Auror Conduct rules and got me the panda hearts.

I waited by the door for hours, wondering what time it was and how the dealer would know when it was twilight with no moon. I sure as hell didn’t.

But by the time there was light in the window, I realized that he wasn’t coming at all. I stared at the panda hearts.

Why wouldn’t he come? He had asked for something and then gave a timeline. Why shouldn’t he, himself, keep it, if it was so important?

I rehashed every word of what he had told me again and again, until Potter showed up and shrugged his shoulders.

“That was somewhat unexpected,” he admitted, picking up the box of hearts and placing them in the icebox.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” I murmured, dropping down into the sofa and holding my head. Potter eventually followed, yawned and nodded.

“You’re right,” he agreed and yawned again. “But we’ll have to discuss it later. I’m going to be late for work.” Potter sat up but his shoulders sank. “Today is going to be a nightmare.” Potter got to his feet and stretched, arching his back and revealing a strip of his stomach in doing so. I stared at it but urged myself to sit still. “Get some sleep, yeah?”

“Right,” I murmured and he left.

I stared at the wall and thought. Felix Felicis only required a sliver of red panda heart for a full cauldron. One heart should last long enough to produce one hundred cauldrons.

Ten hearts was reckless and ridiculous.

It was greedy.

The odd thing about Felix Felicis was how easy it was to come by the magical ingredients. Only the non-magic ingredients were rare or unusual. Furthermore, red panda hearts were the most expensive ingredient on the list. Why would he ask for the most expensive ingredient as a starting price?

My mind raced and I grew anxious, but my body was exhausted. I couldn’t sleep, so I took a bottle of Coca-Cola from the icebox and downed it instead. It burned down my throat and I took a deep breath.

Something was wrong.

+++++

Later in the evening, once the sun had disappeared beyond the skyline of buildings, I realized that I had made no real headway on figuring out who the mystery dealer was. I groaned and wandered into the kitchen, with dinner in mind. I pulled out some remaining takeaway and tossed it into a frying pan on the stove.

I felt exhaustion down to my core and wondered if perhaps taking Potter’s advice might have been a better idea than what I did.

“Bloody Potter,” I murmured, stirring the noodles and yawning despite myself.

There was a slow knock at the door. I looked up curiously, turning down the flame of the stove, and moved cautiously toward the door. Three knocks, but I wasn’t paying attention to the spacing.

I stared at the knob and tried to think.

No more fear, remember?

I took a deep breath and opened the door a crack. There was a young woman standing there, directly in view. Her eyes were honey-coloured and her hair was a soft brown. She might have been pretty if it weren’t for the slightly sallow look to her skin and the still-visible circles beneath her eyes covered with some kind of Muggle cream, no doubt.

“I’ve got a delivery for whoever is at this address,” she said and held up a thick brown box. I tilted my head.

“From who?” I asked, trying to remember what my accent from the previous night had been. She shrugged.

“Dunno,” she said. “I just deliver.”

I licked my lips.

“Er, yeah,” I said finally, with no other recourse. I opened the door a bit further and she handed me the package. I took it and she nodded to me once, then flashed me a smile.

“You’re fit,” she said brightly, but the words sounded odd, as though she didn’t quite mean them. I arched an eyebrow.

“Thanks,” I told her, uncomfortable. She nodded again and I closed the door.

Turning back into the kitchen, I placed the box on the table and examined it from every angle. There was no writing anywhere, nor any remarkable qualities to it. I pressed my ear to it and listened, but there was no sound.

I shook it once or twice. Muffled sliding indicated something soft, but rather heavy.

I removed the string and tore the paper, pulling open the ordinary box to find something completely extraordinary and unexpected. I gasped and stared at the contents, frozen in place and trying to decipher the meaning.

Neatly folded within the box was a set of Slytherin Quidditch robes.

I ran my fingertips along the hem of the collar.

“Hello, Draco,” a familiar voice drawled. I spun around in shock to find the bearded man standing in the doorway to my kitchen. The girl from outside was behind him, spinning a small metal device in between her fingers. The man smirked and tilted his head. “You don’t recognize me, do you, Draco?”

I felt my muscles tighten in anticipation of flight or fight. I took a step sideways, away from the table and toward the stove.

“Name’s Drake,” I shot. He laughed and it was low and barking.

“Malloy, yes,” he mused. “Never would have pinned you for Irish, Malfoy. I’m sure Lucius would be mortally offended.”

I clenched my jaw, tossing the ruse altogether.

“My father can’t be offended by anything anymore,” I snarled. “He’s dead.”

The man hummed and then turned the noise into the edge of a laugh.

“Not surprising,” he replied. I clenched my fists. “Better that he not know you’ve turned rat for the Ministry.”

“I’m not doing anything for the Ministry,” I sneered and stepped back toward the icebox. I pulled it open and picked up the box of hearts. “Malfoy or Malloy, you made me a deal. I got you your bloody hearts.” I held up the box.

“And you want me to give you luck in return?” He laughed and shook his head. “You’re a bloody fool. I know better than to trust a Slytherin like you. You should know better, too.”

There was a sudden knock at the door and I froze. Potter didn’t knock like that. Who the fuck would be ringing now? The man stepped into the kitchen and slid out of view of the doorway. He nodded to the girl he was with and she smiled adoringly at him before opening the door.

I couldn’t breathe. My eyes darted around the room, looking for weapons... anything.

“Hullo there,” a man’s voice came from the door. No. “Er, is Malfoy home? I’m, er, a friend of his.”

“Yes, of course,” she said with false politeness. “Right this way.”

Dursley lumbered down the hall and appeared at the door. The moment he did, the bearded man held his wand to Dursley’s throat and I found myself screaming.

“NO!” I cried, launching forward. Dursley was paralyzed with fear. I stared directly at him, trying to shake off my terror. I turned to the man and pulled out my best sneer. “Are you really as stupid as you look?” I drawled. “There’s a trace on this flat, you daft prat! Do you want to bring the entire Auror department down on you? Because that’s what using magic will accomplish.”

“So you admit to working with the Ministry?” he sneered. I curled my lip.

“Yes, of course,”I answered sarcastically. “The Ministry and I get on wonderfully, me being a convicted Death Eater and all. Have you been living under a rock these past, oh, three years?”

He stood, unmoving, and stared at me.

“Isla,” he said to the woman behind him. “Tie up this oaf with the rope that I gave you.”

“Of course, Terry,” she answered happily. I froze and suddenly understood.

“Fan of the Imperius curse, are you?” I asked nonchalantly. He gave me a dark smirk.

“Did you know that the Imperius curse unhinges the mind and tends to become less effective over extended periods?” he asked in a matter-of-fact tone that reminded me remarkably of Granger. Isla tied Dursley tightly to strongest chair, using a rope with a silvery sheen. She walked back over to Terry and fawned over him. “Amortentia, rather, has no such drawbacks. And, in fact, has a number of added perks.”

I caught myself before I gagged completely. Dursley was looking from the man to me and back again. He put away his wand and smirked.

“You really have no idea who I am,” he concluded in awe. “I used to think you must have something hidden up your sleeve for you to act the way you did. Turns out, all you had was money. You’re as thick as Goyle.”

I took a step forward, eying his wand.

“And you’re clerverer?” I asked, edging my way across the room. He flicked his wand idly.

“Infinitely so,” he said. “Because I know that pride based on money is the worst kind of all. And that I don’t have to give you anything in return for these rare ingredients,” he added. “If you’re dead.”

I grabbed the sizzling pan from the stove and flung it around to hit him but he moved out of the way and the burning noodles and sauce hit Isla in the face instead. She screamed in pain and lunged just in time to get boxed in the ear with the burning pan.

It slipped from my hand and I felt the man grab my shoulder and push me back into the counter before a blinding, sharp pain exploded in my gut. My eyes widened and I fought to breathe.

“I learned, long ago, Malfoy,” the man told me as he twisted the knife in my stomach. I grimaced and cried in pain. “That there are even better ways to kill a man, than with magic.”

He yanked the knife out of my stomach and let me drop down to the floor. My head hit the tiles hard but I couldn’t feel it. My hands were pressed painfully to my stomach, trying to hold in the blood that was desperate to escape.

“Malfoy!” a voice kept calling me, but I didn’t know whose. “Malfoy, hold on!”

I coughed and choked, trying my best to breathe and hold on to consciousness. I couldn’t move, the pain was too great, the weakness too strong. I just kept staring at the ceiling, struggling to breathe, to force myself awake. The same thought kept echoing through my head.

Knives can be dangerous, too.

Blood pumped faster and faster through my body, urged on by the instinct to survive and only worsening my ability to do so.

I wanted to close my eyes, just for a minute, just... just long enough to regain some strength, but a voice kept calling to me, demanding that I pay attention.

“Draco!”

Dark hair and green eyes loomed over me suddenly and there was a much stronger pressure on my stomach. I felt as though he was reaching into me to pull me back together.

I coughed and spluttered and Potter was calling desperately to me.

“Fuck, Draco, stay with me,” he said, shaking and terrified. Why was he always terrified with me? He pressed one hand hard against mine and then pulled out a small black thing from his pocket. He pressed a button with red-soaked hands and put it to his ear.

His hands were soaked in blood. My blood. My pure blood was dirtying Potter’s hands.

There was a part of my mind that was laughing hysterically and I wondered if that was the sane part of myself, or the mad one.

“Hermione, please, come quick,” Potter’s voice echoed in the distance. “Yes, he’s hurt bad. Please, please, god. He’s bleeding so much. No, no magic... I don’t know... just help me, please!”

The black thing was tossed aside and Potter cradled my head with his free hand. I coughed again and my mouth felt wet. Too wet. Blood dripped down my cheek.

“Draco, please, stay with me,” he was rambling, caressing my face. “God, please, please, stay with me. Hermione’s coming. She’ll take care of you. God, please... you can’t go, alright?”

I coughed again and gasped for air but the sound that came from my throat was wet.

“Ter-...Terr...” I mumbled, trying hard to speak. He needed to know. “Terrence Higgs,” I said finally, but it sounded flat and distant. “It was Terrence Higgs.”





“It’s okay, Draco,” Potter told me, the hand he had on my stomach pressing ever harder, as though he was trying to hold my life in. “The Aurors will get him. He can’t run now. I’ll make him pay for this, but you need to stay with me. You need to stay awake, Draco.”

He screwed his eyes shut and pressed his forehead to mine. “I refuse to let you die, Draco. I refuse. You can’t! I... god, I need you to stay with me.” He pressed his mouth to mine and I almost shut my eyes. “I need you to stay, Draco. I... god, I love you, I need you to stay awake.”

The blood wasn’t pulsing so hard through me, then.

There was another voice in the room but it sounded so strange, so light.

“Oh god.” It was a woman. More hands on my stomach and then other things. I couldn’t feel the difference. I could hardly see. Everything was blurred streaks of colour. “Harry, what happened?” Frantic movements against my stomach. “Are you alright, Harry? You’ve got blood on your mouth –”

“I’m fine, Hermione,” Potter answered in a panic. “Just help him, Hermione. Just save him.” His hands brushed my face again and he kissed my forehead. “Just save him.”

I felt so weak, heavy, then, standing on the precipice of death and tipping over the edge. But none of the emptiness I expected was there. No. I felt full and bright and all sorts of things that I never anticipated in my life, in my world after the war.

He loves me...

+++++

There was more light than I had seen in my entire life. It was all around me and inside. There was warmth and comfort like the caress of a loved one and it was everywhere.

The heaviness was overwhelming, like lead-filled sacks weighing me down, but I still felt like I was floating, drifting on a stream of contentment. I had never felt more serene in all my days.

Soon, I opened my eyes and saw a soft blue sky with the kinds of clouds you want to lie on when you’re a child. They were beautiful and reminded me of a field of dreams.

“Draco,” a soft voice whispered. It sounded as though it was in my head. I felt a smile draw on my face and somehow turned my head. “You’re awake.”

Potter’s entire face lit up and shone brighter than the whole rest of the world. He sounded as light as the clouds looked.

“Where am I?” I asked, my voice soft and raspy. He pressed a kiss to my forehead.

“At my flat,” he said quietly. “In my bed.”

The smile on my face didn’t fade, but I tilted my head in confusion.

“What happened?” I suddenly felt his weight on the bed next to me.

“Hermione managed to stop the bleeding and close your wound temporarily,” he answered softly. “She brought you to Grimmauld Place to finish healing you with magic because we were afraid that St Mungo’s would refuse to admit you.” He ran his fingers through my hair. “She put you in a magically induced coma for a couple days to help you heal without pain, then we brought you here.”

I blinked lazily, still unable to move much and mostly unwilling to try.

“I meant with Higgs,” I laughed softly. He shook his head.

“We caught up with him,” was the answer. His face changed as said it. “Arrested him, but he, er, resisted. I had no choice but to duel him and take him down by force.” I arched an eyebrow with a slight smirk. He smiled too. “I swear, all by the book.”

“Of course,” I whispered. He pressed another kiss to my forehead. “Is Dursley alright?” A nod.

“He’s the one who called me,” he answered quietly. “The wards I set up were partially disabled by Higgs’ magical countermeasures. Dudley rang me on my mobile while Higgs was focused on you.” His face was suddenly ashen. “I’m sorry it took me so long. I shouldn’t have left you alone, there. I should have known you were in danger. If I had been there, you might not –”

“Harry,” I whispered, pressing a finger to his lips. His eyes widened and he smiled. “You need to stop thinking that the world revolves around you.” He laughed and kissed my finger. “Now, how did you manage to keep me here without the Aurors beheading you?”

He gave me a rueful smirk.

“Well, I am the Chosen One, you see,” he mused. I rolled my eyes. “I told them how you acted to protect Dudley and identified Higgs on your own, not to mention how you managed to hand us the evidence we needed to arrest him. The Wizengamot is reviewing your sentence now and I’ve been assigned responsibility of you until they decide.”

The lethargy began to fade and I felt tight and close to bursting. It was strange and frightening and good.

“And my mother?” I asked with baited breath. Harry smiled.

“You can see her as soon as the Wizengamot does the right thing,” he added. Then smirked. “And they will. Kingsley is making sure of it.”

I laughed, consumed with hysteria and delirium. It was too much to even begin to take in.

“You’re amazing,” I told him.

“As amazing as a Slytherin in all his glory?” Harry asked with a grin. I laughed. “No, I guess not quite. You did out-detect me and the entire Auror department here.” He tilted his head. “Ever considered becoming one?”

“I already am a Slytherin,” I answered, hoping to frustrate him enough to climb on top of me. He rolled his eyes.

“An Auror, prat,” he said. I sighed.

“And work for the Ministry?” I affected an air of offense. “Too many bloody rules to follow.” Harry nodded knowingly.

“A private investigator, then?” he suggested. I considered.

“Hmm, then I could charge whatever I want, yeah?” I mused.

“You realize that to be a private investigator, someone has to be able to afford you,” he explained. I shook my head.

“Being affordable is overrated,” I informed him. Harry finally did climb on top of me and pressed his lips to mine. I kissed him back and buried my hand in his hair.

“I wouldn’t want anyone buying you anyway,” he said. He kissed me again. I rubbed my fingers down his neck and bit my lip. I needed to say it while I was still delirious. He needed to know.

“I need to tell you something,” I said, terrified that it was a mistake. But pushing past fear was something I’d learned to do better than I could have imagined. “For every one of you there is, the world gets ten of me.” He cocked his head, confused. “You fix the problems people like me cause and then turn around and help us too. Each time, we change and begin to realize that the reason we treat you so bad is because we want to be more like you.” He frowned.

“I’m not sure I understand,” he admitted. I shook my head.

“Ask Dursley,” I mumbled, then shook my head. “The point I’m trying to make –and having trouble doing –is that...” I held his face. “I... I love you.”

Harry smiled and laughed and kissed me deeply.

“I do speak Slytherin, Draco,” he told me. “I know.”


   

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