Actions

Work Header

Life skills outside the curriculum

Chapter Text

“I… I just can’t stand it” Harry said softly.

Mrs. Figg face seemed to crumble. “Oh, my dear boy…” she patted his hand awkwardly. Harry couldn’t remember her ever offering any comfort before. “You are very strong, you will be all right”.

---

But Harry wasn’t all right. Harry was hungry and tired and had a black eye from his last encounter with Dudley’s gang. He knew it wasn’t that bad, but somehow it had become too much.  Lately they were making some noise about Aunt Marge coming, and Harry remembered how during her last visit one of her bulldogs chased Harry into a tree and she had refused to call him off until past midnight.  Despite being late June it had not been a warm night and Harry spent all summer coughing.

Plus, they were talking about school arrangements for next year. While Dudley would be going to the prestigious Smeltings Academy, Vernon was debating whether to send Harry to Stonewall High or Blackpit School, the latter having been featured recently on the 9pm news as a place where corporal punishment was still inflicted.

Harry couldn’t say what exactly had been it. It was not the discovery that Dudley would be receiving a pair of boxing gloves for his birthday, with what that entailed. It was not being fed for dinner a bunch of vegetables that were about to go bad. It was not having to vacuum the house and do the dishes and ending up with no time to do his homework and hence getting disapproving comments from the teacher the next day, as well as enduring the laughs of everybody in the class.

It was, perhaps, something as simple as Uncle Vernon making a disparaging comment about Harry’s parentage. Nothing he wasn’t used to, even though mentions of them were scarce. Harry had listened as Vernon complained that he would never amount to anything, like his drunk and unemployed father, and suddenly Harry had felt like a stranger stepping for the first time on the house.

“Don’t look at me like that, boy” Uncle Vernon had grumbled and Harry averted his eyes. Slowly.

But the feeling remained. The feeling asked what was he doing living with those strangers in that strange house.

It was like lifting a layer of white dead skin after being sunburned and gingerly touching the pink skin below. It felt good and scary. The feeling shadowed Harry through the last few days of school, through the scraps dinners and nights under the stairs.

---

Harry left on a Friday night, because it was the night that Little Whinging saw more activity and people walking down the street didn’t draw so much attention. He put a change of clothes on his school backpack and what little money he had managed to save through the years. He took a bottle of water and as much as he dared from Dudley’s multiple chocolate stashes. As an afterthought he added a notebook and some pencils, as well as his stack of cards. There was always use for those.

He didn’t have any other belongings.

Privet Drive was quiet. Harry had waited long enough that the people at number 3 would be distracted watching TV and wouldn’t notice the weird kid at number 4 sliding down the kitchen window. Harry crawled through the garden and sneaked down the street. There was a train station to get to, and a train to board with not enough money for the ticket fare, and then a world in which to survive. So Harry’s mind was rather occupied and he didn’t look back to the house that had seen him grow for the last ten years.

---

Harry had read somewhere that the most daring adventures were only undertaken because people lacked imagination. Imaginative people thought about the risks and all the terrible things that could happen and never dared trying anything.

Harry thought that merely showed a general lack of understanding how people worked.

He was almost eleven and understood perfectly well that children by themselves were at constant risk. In fact, Aunt Petunia tasked herself with reminding him of the good they were doing by keeping him with them rather than kicking him out to the streets.

So Harry knew what he was doing. But he found that the possibility of bad things out there didn’t weight as much as the certainty of bad things at home.

No, not home. Privet Drive.

He wasn’t scared. In fact, he was quite confident that things would be bad, but not news headline bad. After all, he had a history of miraculous things happening around him. If he could grow a full head of hair over night after Aunt Petunia’s spiteful haircut, surely he would be able to avoid being murdered.

At the very least he could make some income selling hair to wig factories.

---

Vernon and Petunia Dursley did not notify the police of their nephew’s disappearance. As a result, since the school period had ended, it took Arabella Figg four days to notice Harry’s absence and two more to ascertain that The Boy Who Lived had vanished. She cried a bit before calling Dumbledore, blaming herself for not having said something before.

---

“I told you, Albus”, and it was not at all like Minerva to offer reproaches, let alone with that tone of voice that betrayed more hurt than anger. “Those muggles were horrible!. You have tightened the rope as far as it could go… The boy could not hold the strain forever. It had to snap sooner or later”.

Hagrid looked at McGonagall with red rimmed eyes open wide. Under his beard he was ashen and pale.

“We don’t know that they boy left” said Alastor Moody, always cheery. “He could had been snatched. There had been rumours coming from east Europe”.

“There is always rumours coming from East Europe. That’s about the only thing they produce”, grumbled Elphias Doge.

“Of course the boy hasn’t been kidnapped”. That was Diggle, who held the honour of being the second person at the meeting that had seen Harry Potter recently. “Minerva is right, those muggles were horrible. Why, after I shook hands with young Potter-”

“You contacted him?” Doge sounded quite scandalized.

“… and she yelled at him and looked quite…”

“Wasn’t he supposed to be guarded at all times?” that was Shacklebolt.

“Could have drawn attention to him by establishing contact…”

“There is no need to use that tone”

“One must remain always vigilant”

“…That poor boy with those horrible people…”

“And I was supposed to be stern” sniff “or they wouldn’t let him come” (sniff) “to my house” (nose blow) “because they didn’t want him to enjoy himself”

“That is not like the usual muggle behaviour at all! From my studies I gathered they are as affectionate as anyone”.

“He would had been better at the Burrow, I always thought so. Molly wouldn’t mind, wouldn’t you?”

“Oh, dear, of course not!”

The chaos and overlapping voices continued for quite a long while. Nerves were frazzled and accusations and should-haves crossed the room from all sides. Hagrid spent the whole time crying and mumbling how little Harry had been when he rescued him from the ruins of the house.

Few things were clearly established on that meeting. The horrible nature of the Dursleys was one of them. The necessity of keeping Harry near a blood relative was another. The certitude that the protective spell had faded was the third.

“I hate to sound crass” Shacklebolt started with a gentle tone “but if the worst had happened and the boy had been… killed”. Both Arabella, Molly and Hagrid sobbed in unison. “We would know by now, one way or another”.

---

Harry arrived to London on Sunday. Train tickets were way too expensive for him and the kind of people who would offer a ride to a ten-year-nine-months-and-a-half old boy, were precisely the kind of people it was best to avoid. So it took him a while, jumping from train to train and hiding in the luggage carrier, until he found a bus on Southampton that was taking a bunch of foreign kids to spend the day on London. Harry got in and one of the monitors gave him a neon bright green bag with the name of the language school printed on it. It had an apple, a bottle of water and a map of London and Harry thought he was very lucky indeed. He hanged out with them until they got to the British Museum. They had tickets for a special exhibition and they would realize they had a surplus kid, so Harry went away.

The city wasn’t a good place for a kid, they said. But so far things hadn’t been bad. Harry didn’t have any regrets.

---

McGonagall felt like she had had a constant headache for the last two months. It wasn’t showing signs of receding but she was learning to live with it, mostly because Madam Pomfrey worried at her excessive consume of headache relief potions.

She wrote the acceptance letter after her usual model, and then she crumpled it and rewrote another one that stressed the fact that Harry was a wizard and there was a wizard society that would welcome him.

They sent the letter with the envelope simply addressed to Harry Potter as no locating charm had managed to show his whereabouts.

In fact, after near three dozen spells, they still didn’t know with certainty if the boy was dead or alive. The ink would slide right out of the map, the pendulum would hang loosely pointing nowhere, the mirror would remain a mirror and the potion would turn grey and foggy and reveal nothing.

It looked, in fact, just like it had before they were aware of Harry’s disappearance and he had been relatively secure under the protection of the blood spell.

So he probably hadn’t been kidnapped by dark wizards. They knew that much.

---

Harry arrived to the city with the idea that it was a place to stay, but not a place that he would call home. Mostly because he didn’t have a house to sleep in and some days the city smelled really bad and just what was going on with the waters of the Thames? They were green and smelly and disgusting.

But with a single ticket (if you felt like buying one) you could ride the underground the whole day. And there were extra tunnels and secret stations that weren’t on the maps but that an unoccupied person with a knack for making himself unnoticed could find and explore. On Friday, the British Museum closed late and was free, and so was the Tate during the whole week, and listen, listen! he had been starved, not just for food but for a whole world of shiny things.

It was summer. There were parks. Covent Garden was crowded. Artist, musicians, jugglers, even the shops that Harry couldn’t afford were pretty to look at.

Harry felt a little bit in love with Turner, and later on with Millais’ Ophelia. And there was something about the Assyrian gallery that just felt very peaceful, seeing that carved stone from ancient times still hard and unbroken today.

Harry spent most of his time working on how to get his next meal, but on the low hours, when the cold was biting and the smoke and the darkness felt suffocating, Harry could promise himself that if he survived that minute, that hour, that night, then he could go to the Museum and discover a new picture.

Look, if you didn’t appreciate the existence of a whole gallery dedicated to clocks and watches, if you didn’t go and carefully examined each one and chose your favourite, what was the point of living anyway?

And then, of course, you would do the same with the vases, and the swords, and the portraits.

---

The first owl returned after an hour, the envelope still in her claws.

The second owl returned a week later, feathers rumpled and the envelope a bit wet and still attached and with the seal unbroken.

The third owl returned thirteen days later, tired and irritated and covered in smog.

Minerva removed the closed envelope. She petted the owl’s head and gave her a treat before sending her back to the aviary to rest.

She said nothing when she went to Albus’ office and deposited the crumpled envelope in his desk. Things had been tense between them, but that night, after seeing the tiredness hiding in the wrinkles by his eyes, she found she could almost forgive him.

They were both too tired.  

She accepted his offer of a cup of tea and sat there drinking in silence, the closed envelope taunting them.

---

It was Witch Weekly, of all people and organizations, the first to notice and comment on The Boy Who Lived’s absence from the ranks of first years at Hogwarts. The magazine went on to elucubrate that the young hero was studying at a foreign school, possibly Beauxbatons or Holzschuhkäse.

Apparently there weren’t any other news that week, because the Daily Prophet picked it up and went crazy with speculation. Remus Lupin’s personal favourite, however, was The Quibbler’s big reveal that Harry was asleep inside a crystal coffin in some witch’s garden. He actually went to visit said witch, because Dumbledore was adamant that they didn’t dismiss any theory. The witch was friendly and offered Remus plenty of tea and biscuits, although she refused to lift the blanket that covered the box in her garden.

He sneaked a peek anyway, while she was distracted looking for the second photo album. As he had suspected from the faint smell of earth, it was nothing more than a collection of apple crates.

Remus knew a little bit about wandering the earth, cold and hungry and with no resources. Mostly, he knew about the pools where everyone irremediable fell and from where you gathered your strength to climb back up.

He put feelers here and there. Asked around and made it known that there was an interest. Sooner or later, he knew, something would turn up. Because those were places of intersection. Home and homeless, sane and insane, muggle and magic.

Now, if only the Order gave him a bit more money for bribes and chats. They all assumed that he would spend it on himself, he knew. Some thought he would spend all of it, and the more compassionate and friendly thought he would only spend some.

As if James and Lily hadn’t been his friends.

As if he would skimp on their son to buy a pair of socks for himself.

---

Six months later, Harry was proud to say that he had not been murdered and he had found a place.

Not a place to live, exactly, as it was an open space between two abandoned buildings and little in the way of walls and roof. But a place to stay.

They called it the yard.

Most of the kids at the yard had one or two jobs and the occasional commission. Harry, with four, was an oddity.

There was the small household maintenance he did for the old folks in Cricklewood. He only had to go twice a week to take the garbage, trim the hedges and bring some of the heavier groceries. It wasn’t that different from all the household chores he had had to do at the Dursleys and although they didn’t pay much Harry like the air of normalcy. If you spent too much time in the yard, you forgot how the proper world spoke and thought.

The yard was welcoming, but it tended to devour her occupants.

Sometimes, some of the ladies offered him old clothes and Harry wasn’t in any position to say no to coats and jumpers. He couldn’t store the surplus but he always found some fellow kid willing to trade for them.

The second job was at the Falafel King. Harry had been going there since his first week in London, when he was starting to go light headed with hunger and he managed to convince the owner to let him clean the kitchen in exchange for a plate of food.

Harry had read about the Labours of Heracles (The British Museum had excellent pamphlets that Harry devoured) and the Augean Stables had nothing with the grease on that first frying pan. But after a lot of scrubbing Harry had left it cleaner than anyone had ever seen it in years and so he had secured two dinners a week for the price of a clean kitchen and bathroom.

Kaleem was a fair boss. Harry had held the hope that he would hire him full time, but he had seen that as much as they worked they couldn’t really afford to pay anyone else. Two meals and permission to loiter inside wasn’t a bad deal for a little bit of elbow work. The commentary on British society came free.

The third and fourth jobs were the same as every other street kid. They picked up bottles and cans for recycling and they ran whatever errand Clubs had for them.

Clubs, the de facto king of the yard, was a lanky fellow on his twenties with bright dyed yellow hair. He run a small subsection of Mr. Nice business and so he was as violent as this kind of people often are, but no more than that; for which he was often well liked. A guy like Mr. Nice had little to do with street kids, but a guy like Clubs had lots of errands for them. Stay here and give a voice if the pigs come. Go deliver this message. Go deliver this package (because pigs very rarely frisked kids). Follow that guy. And if you were older he would tell you what to steal and who to scare and what to sell.

Harry didn’t like the second part. But he was fast and reliable, so he often got tasked with messenger services. The pay was meagre, but it gave you protection and a roof in one of the nearby buildings.

Harry didn’t really fit in the yard. But he wasn’t actively disliked and as long as he didn’t anger Clubs, he would be all right. If washing weren’t such a hassle, to be done quickly and at risk in public bathrooms, he would have realized that for the first time in years he didn’t sport any purple bruises.

---

Remus was certain that any news would come from the underground. He still couldn’t get enough money to keep all the eyes and ears necessary to relay those news.

Remus did –

Not a bad thing. Not something wicked. No, no.

– something illegal.

Like selling his magic without looking too closely if it was muggle, squib or wizard, who wanted a quick fix against nightmares or a little fire in a jar to keep warm in winter.

And in exchange he got some rumours, many of them invented, a few mere hallucinations of shaken minds, and others, the most infrequent and rare… those were enough to convince him he was right.

---

By the time he was fourteen, Harry had gained just a few centimeters, quite a measure of muscle and experience, and he had lost his name. He was universally known as Green in the yard, not because of his eyes but because of the bright green bag from the Language School he still carried around. He was Harris at the Falafel King because it hadn’t occurred to him to give a fake name until the moment Kaleem asked. In Cricklewood he was Christopher, which was long and Christian and the folks there loved to call him “Young Christopher” and applaud his initiative to bring some cash home and engage in honest activities rather than demand alimony like kids these days.

There, he just looked like an eager young lad doing right by his mum. Everywhere else, he gave an air of permanent calmness that often was confused with cockiness and arrogance. Not like he was judging you but as if he had already judged and wasn’t very impressed with the result.

People didn’t like that, but on the other hand he was extremely hard to insult. Or make him feel insulted, that is. Plus, there was something serene about him that was contagious. A certain sureness that things would turn all right, an air of knowing something you didn’t, that perhaps your worries weren’t so.

“I am going to sit next to you” Toffee (nickname acquired because of his speech disability that made it seemed like he had toffee stuck in his teeth) told him once. “Cause I don’t have any pot and you are the next best thing”.

Which was an extremely odd praise but also not far from the truth. Harry did have a calming effect.

And is you stayed by his side a long time, you could end up witnessing some reeeeeal weird shit.

---

“What are you looking at, uh?”

“…”

“Want us to learn you a lesson, shorty?”

“…”

“We can beat you black”

“… …”

“You are a weirdo”

“.”

“… Better go. Yeah, but you look out”

“Yeah, you do that”. Said Harry, calm and smooth like spilled oil.

This was a new thing for Harry, not having to run from a beating.

---

Harry was aware that he had collected and astounding amount of quirks and superstitions. He easily tripled Mrs Tarry in Ellesmere Road, and she was a firm believer of the chemtrail conspiracy and that a coalition of Jews and lizards was controlling the world.

But, the thing was, as absurd and illogical as they were, many of them seemed to work. Harry’s, not Mrs Tarry’s.

Ok, his aversion to Charing Cross, King’s Cross and Whitehall was quite unreasonable, although the latter could be explained because Harry stuck out there with his permanent old clothes.

And perhaps the necessity to always carry a little piece of glass in his pocket, and an iron nail (surprisingly difficult to find) and a pebble, and three cat hairs, and a piece of paper with a perfect circle drawn inside and folded into a square; perhaps that was a bit odd too.

As was his habit of drawing circles everywhere. On the grease and the soap when he cleaned the kitchen at the Falafel King, on the dirt at the yard, on the wall of every Cricklewood house he visited and even in the windows on the underground.

But then.

There were the two separate incidents when he missed a police raid by mere seconds.   

And the shooting in Queensbridge.

And the miraculous reappearance of Mr Zusak’s wallet, with all the money and his medical prescriptions, after someone stole it from him after church.

And if he were inclined to be honest with himself (something he only did when he had the certainty that he was alone or when he was safe inside the thick walls of the museums) that first night at the Falafel King the grease had simply vanished. It often did. Harry made a point of creating lots of foam and spent minutes scrubbing kitchen utensils that were already clean.

And he was pretty sure Mrs. Adkins washing machine wasn’t even connected to the current, and yet it hadn’t given any trouble since Harry offered to look. The poor lady, ankle deep in water, had been so grateful she kissed Harry on both cheeks. She had pressed a twenty quid note to Harry’s hand and covered him with enough blessings to last him for the rest of the year.

Then there was the matter of the awl. Harry had nicked it from a workshop where Clubs had some business. It had a short steel spike and a soft wooden handle and Harry’s palms had itched with the need to take it. He had stripped some copper wire and coiled it tightly around the handle and he had no idea why.

But if he pointed it to a keyhole and focused, it would unlock. Like magic.

---

Harry wouldn’t go as far as saying that he had been friends with Ratty. Ratty (real name William or Gilliam, Harry wasn’t sure) was a bit overwhelming. He talked too much and moved too much and was so eager to please that he became irritating. You had to be careful not to make enemies in the yard, but if you automatically agreed with everyone, that was just as bad.

He also asked lots of questions, with no sense for how they were received. Questions about favourite cars and music, good. Questions about secret corners and where to lay low and how to jumpstart a car, good in moderation. Questions about your past and how you came to live in the yard, BAD, VERY BAD, DO NOT ASK THAT EVER.

Harry felt a bit sorry for him, because the kid was obviously trying to fit in. But he also had to put his foot down and tell him to get lost, because he insisted in following Harry to Cricklewood and maybe help him there. Harry just couldn’t risk Ratty nicking something or breaking something or just making a mess as he tended to do. All the time.

The last one had been very bad. Clubs had him vanished from the yard, with a broken arm and a few bruises, not to show his face there ever  again if he wanted to keep his ears attached. Ratty could consider himself lucky because Clubs had been furious, angry enough to have him killed on the spot. If he didn’t, it was most likely because Ratty made a pathetic figure, sobbing on the floor with his big ears and his too long and thin everything else. He had been called Needle, for a while, until spring came and he removed the wool hat and revealed an enormous pair of ears that hid everything else; the narrow face and the long neck and the stick thin arms.

So Ratty had left and people commented more on Clubs hitherto unknown soft side than on the kid’s future. London was a big city with many sectors. There is always somewhere to go.

Only now it was a week later and everybody had heard how some kids from up east took all of Ratty’s painfully gathered cans for recycling, and Harry had come to realize that with a broken arm you couldn’t steal shit.

Clubs had been tightening down the business and reducing commissions to the most trustworthy kids. Harry, for all his oddities, was still one of them as long as they only gave him messenger work. Now, for the first time since he came to London and started to work for Clubs, he took a longer route back from a service and stopped in Soho to ask.

You had to be careful there, because you never knew who were already spoken for and who were cocaine-crazed. Harry had sold a couple of coats to the girls there, and if you went around in the early morning they were more willing to talk to you. They didn’t feel like you were wasting their time.

Ratty had been there.

It was the last resource for many people. When all the trash had been rummaged and Clubs had no works for you and there was nothing to steal; then you went down there and sold whatever you could afford to sell.

The usuals didn’t like the occasionals because they dumped prices and took the clientele.  They made a very close circle, so if you went there and didn’t have someone to speak for you, you would be left outside to pick up whatever work scraps they left. And they rarely left any. Harry had actually received lots of free advice and offers to set him up because he was always polite and had pretty eyes and talked to the girls and the boys with casual easiness. He had declined, though. He was doing well enough so far and he already felt like the street was taking too much of him to go and sell some more. He feared that he could end up being a different person, someone made from all the absences in Harry’s life.

Ratty didn’t have the same luck, although Krystal and Tatiana did give him some pointers. Tatiana had long legs and big boobs and looked like she could crush kids like Ratty without much effort. Krystal was a veteran with little patience and wrinkles on the corner of her eyes and her mouth. They told him what to avoid, what he should definitely not do, and how much he should ask for and not a penny below that.

Did Ratty listen? They thought so. They saw him two nights straight, but they hadn’t for a while now. Maybe he just moved to other streets.

Maybe.

That maybe accompanied Harry all the way back to the yard and to the Falafel King, where he had dinner that night, (gulping down the hot rice with a hand and pressing his aching forehead with another) and then to Notting Hill. He had started a new project where he eyed posh empty houses that were too expensive for anyone to buy. Since the awl had proven to be a wonderful picklock (and he wasn’t examining that closely) he was looking for a couple of places with no neighbours where a dirty kid could enter and leave relatively unnoticed.

Harry had inordinately high standards for a squatter.

Tatiana’s pimp didn’t like her wasting time talking to someone who obviously wasn’t a client. But she wouldn’t say no to a quick midnight coffee and the chance to shake off the humidity. So after getting a couple of new addresses and crossing out three, Harry went back to Soho.

Just to ask. A few more questions and he would let it rest and go to sleep.

Harry prodded and the girl spoke. It wasn’t a concern of hers… She played a different sector, lots of middle age men with low level business jobs in the city, so she didn’t have all the deets. What Harry ought to do was speak with someone thin and young like that Rat friend of his. Try Venus or Aidan.

Harry thought Tatiana was a lovely girl, but apparently there was quite a lot of people whose tastes differed to the thin, androgynous… and young.

“You have to service them right here in an alley” Venus explained.

“A room is fine, but only if you choose the place” added Aidan. “McKinney is good”.

McKinney didn’t ask questions. He put air fresheners on the rooms and had a huge nephew that would force the door open if you cried uncle hard enough. You would have to pay for the door, though.

The key was learning soon and quickly to discriminate between the ones you could accompany and the ones that was better to get off within hearing distance of a colleague.

“Look, it’s as we often say, Green” Venus continued in between sips of her soup. They would talk to him for as long as the food lasted. “You have to know what you are and where you are. Nobody pays hundreds to a street whore. If they offer you that much, they don’t intend to pay”.

Aidan looked at her with serious eyes, nodding his head. They were both about Harry’s age, maybe a bit older, but they had been at it far longer. Professional survivors.

“Like Pit” Aidan said.

“Pit?”

“Yeah, just like. Come to think of it, he was around couple days ago. Sapphire was thinking about taking him until I got us that double job with the yuppie”.

Pete, actually, was a mild mannered individual with a power perversion and a taste for the young. There had been some trouble with a half choked boy a year or so back and people had been wary of going with him ever since. When things were bad some would take him to an alley but nobody wanted to do more than that, no matter how generous the pay.

Harry had his answer, then.

He thanked them, scratched his forehead, and rose to leave. As an afterthought he asked if Pit had any distinctive marks.

“Look for yourself”. Venus got her phone out and pressed the left button quickly. “That thing you said about studying and ac-qui-ring knowledge, got me thinking”.

Harry had meant going to Museums and feeling good with yourself when you read how bad people had it in the Middle Ages or how advanced the Romans had been. He didn’t talk often about that (fitting in and all that) but it turned out that both Venus and he were always on the lookout for cinema promotions no matter the type of movie, so they had met a couple of times outside the job, so to speak, and got talking.  

Venus had a unique perspective on Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Anyway. Harry had meant that studying was good, because at some point he would like to take his A levels, and in a few more years he would be employable and he didn’t intend to live like this forever. What Venus had got, after an autumn cycle on mob films (just four pounds in the early afternoon), was that information gave you an edge. So she had started collecting photos and rumours on her clients, and then on everyone else’s on the street.

There was some high hobnob from the Church of England and a guy who maybe worked at the BBC, and two minor celebrities.  

There was also a blurry thumb sized picture of Pit. A middle age, balding, man.

---

On Friday night Harry received a text message from Aidan. Just a street name and number in Soho.

The man was there. Harry observed from a distance as he was rebuked by every kid on the street. Fridays were busy nights and everyone could do better. And, perhaps, there was the sense of a spirit floating around. A physical absence that put everyone on guard.

Sometime soon after midnight the man gave up and took the tube. Harry followed, unseen. He pushed his fingers through his hair to make it stand on point, except for the long fringe he kept to cover the scar. Basic rule for the city, don’t put a hood over your head. Everybody suspects a teenager in a hoody. Instead, with the hair and the glasses he just looked like a student enjoying a day in town. It is a wonderful thing how trusting people are of glasses.

He needed some new ones, though. A new prescription and a new frame. He had had these ones since before he turned ten. Aunt Petunia had bought the cheapest pair available at the shop and they had been too big for Harry’s child head. They were a bit too small now, and dirty and ugly. A new pair of glasses would help Harry visit certain places. Make him seem less poor.

They rode Central line all the way to the north east. After that, they walked a mile or so to a little house in a quiet street not unlike Privet Drive.

Harry circled the house and peered over the fence to the garden and the shack on the back. There were some hydrangeas next to the house.

He… okay, he didn’t have much to go on. If he looked at it with a cold head, it was just a man like many others. Pervier, perhaps, but nothing more.

They had taken the last train of the night. Harry looked around but there was no obviously empty house he could sneak in to. He went to the church then and a small press of the awl over the keyhole unlocked the door. There was a room downstairs with a few chairs and couches and leftover biscuits, so Harry spent the night there.

---

In the morning, Harry went to the bus stop and looked at the timetable. Then he went back to the man’s house and waited for him to come out, all the while scratching at his forehead. The scar had been aching lately. Harry had been getting some strong headaches and, what was worse, strange dark thoughts that felt like too hot tea, leaving the mouth dry.

He was a bit worried, actually. In his three and a half years in the streets he had seen his fair share of loons and nut jobs, and everybody, kid and adult, had a faint shine of crazy about them. Mostly it was PTSD and schizophrenia, sometimes combined with something else. And the drug use was rampant, which didn’t help improve matters. But still, Harry wondered what came first, the illness or the street.

Perhaps this was the reason why he was following this Ratty business beyond what was sensible and practical. Like a last attempt at doing something good before letting the street engulf him. A last attempt at being a person before going mad.

The man exited the house, interrupting Harry’s morose thoughts. Harry turned around and ran down the parallel street, to meet him face front a couple of blocks down.

Harry put on his sweet Christopher voice.

“Excuse me, sir. Do you know when the 17th bus leaves?”

Unfortunately, the 17th had a reduced time on Saturdays and it had already left. Harry would have to wait nearly four hours for the next one.

“Oh, thank you”. Harry looked dejectedly at his broken sneakers and pouted a little bit. The man licked his lips, breathed hard and invited Harry home to wait in there. Rather than give the creeped out reaction it deserved, Harry blinked at him innocently and deferred, saying he really didn’t want to miss the next bus.

There was a tiny shop near the bus station, so the man accompanied him there and bought Harry a cup of weak tea. He asked all kind of questions about Harry. What he was doing there, who was waiting for him.

Harry gave him a straight Karol. A good lie needs to be fast and consistent, so it pays to have a few stories memorized. The Karol (Kasia for the girls) was the story of a British born kid (so you don’t have to bother with the accent) son of an immigrant couple who was always working. It was very rare for someone to question why a poor immigrant kid was not in school at any given time. It also gave a plausible excuse for being almost anywhere at any time without adult supervision, since you always had to run an errand for Uncle Szymon.

The man, Pit, licked his lips some more and said he was headed in Harry’s direction anyway, so he could give him a lift with his car. That way he could save the bus fare. Harry showed appropriate gratefulness and a criminal lack of common sense that nevertheless didn’t rise the man's suspicions. During the car trip to the mall Harry explained that he was saving to buy himself a new pair of glasses. He was almost blind without them and they couldn’t afford new ones at home.

The car was idling in the parking lot. Pit, call me Pit, we are friends, aren’t we Karol?; Pit would love to buy him a new pair of glasses. Wouldn’t that be nice? Really, Pit was a lovely man and he deserved some love in return.

And oh!, yes! yes!, Karol was so grateful that he could kiss him. Nobody at home was so nice, gave him such good things. Thank you, Pit!

They entered the mall and searched for the appropriate shop. Despite the relatively early hour it was busy and they had to wait in line. Harry merely looked around with a dazed smile. To be fair, it always felt weird entering a clean and brightly lit place. He felt all the more out of place with his baggy second hand clothes and his dirty shoes.

The smiling lady that attended them didn’t seem to mind and she kept smiling the whole time.

It turned out that Harry had lost some vision during the years, so hopefully the headaches answered to that rather than a latent mental illness. Surely the headaches also originated the dark thoughts.

When it came to choosing the frames and paying, the man started to shift from feet to feet and made some impatient noises. It was obvious to Harry, as Venus had said, that this kind of bog offers were meant to entice but not to be fulfilled. Still, Harry chose the frames he liked best and handed them to the shop assistant.

Pit only wanted to pay a signal. Harry wanted the glasses paid in full. There was a bit of tension and for a second Harry thought Pit was going to storm off and leave him there. He relented when Harry suggested they could come together to pick them up in a week’s time, and wouldn’t that be fun? Sharing another day together? Harry, that is, Karol would like to spend more time with Pit, that was all.

He paid for the glasses. Harry picked the receipt before him.

They walked a bit around the mall and Harry let him talk for a while about the virtue of gratefulness and the roman institution of young mentorship.

“Greek” Harry said absentmindedly. He went to the Museum weekly and read all the brochures, he knew the difference between an eromenos and a puer delicatus. Unlike Pit, who was making a big mess of History and Art Depiction to justify his request for sex. Harry merely nodded, too irritated to play along. He just wanted to get a straight answer about Ratty that went beyond any reasonable doubt. So far he only knew that Pit was a perv, but not necessarily the perv he was after. He did get another cup of tea and a muffin, though.

They went back to the car.

Pit passed the road back to the address Harry had given him.

“Silly me” he said. “I will have to pay more attention to the next one. Anyway, you were saying your family doesn’t have a visa…”

He passed the next turn, and the next one. They went back to the neighbourhood where they had started, and to Harry’s small surprise he kept driving. He had thought there had been something odd about the hydrangeas, but it was obvious they weren’t going back there when the city fell behind.

There was silence in the car. Pit had stopped making excuses a long while ago and Harry couldn’t bother to feign surprise and ask what he was doing. Besides, he was getting a headache again, like a hot iron ball sitting between his eyes. He could hear some airplanes not too far away, so he estimated they were somewhere near Stansted when they finally stopped in front of a warehouse.

Pit turned off the car and turned towards Harry.

Harry was waiting.

He knew it was working when Pit startled, swallowed visibly, and froze in place as if kept there by an invisible force. Harry’s old glasses rested folded on his right hand, while the left, the one with more room, closed tightly on the awl, the one sharp object he always had with him. Harry was looking straight at Pit and his eyes were green, green, green and captivating. It was beautiful. Once you looked, you felt like you were falling down a tunnel and you couldn’t look away. The green had you hooked and was pulling you in. The green was all encompassing.

“Tell me what’s on your mind, Pit.” Harry said, soft and sweet just like night radio hosts spoke. “Were you going to take me inside?”

Pit swallowed and answered right away. “Yes”.

“What were you going to do?”

“I…”

“Come on, Pit, you can tell me. We are friends. Look at me”.

Pit told him.

Harry had to make a true effort not to look away, open the car’s door and ran away as fast as he could. He swallowed on a gulp of bile and kept his eyes staring fixedly at the man. His fingers tightened on the awl. If this, whatever mad things that this was, failed, he would still have the sharp pointy awl.

“Is that what you did to him?”

“I… I don’t, please, I don’t”

“Look at me!” Harry snapped. And then, softer, “Answer”

“I don’t know”

The man was sweating. So was Harry. He could feel his temples pulsing.

“The boy. The boy with big ears. He was thin and young and scared and he had a broken arm.” Harry’s voice was rising, the world outside the car darkening as if storm clouds were surrounding them. “Do you know now?”

“yes.”

The world was black. Harry’s voice was dark and deep. There was a feeling of cold and wet, like the burrow of a creature that lives and hides in the earth. “What did you do to him?”

.

..

Harry blinked away some tears.

“Show me where he is”.

Pit started the car with shaking hands. They drove for thirty minutes to a country road and then to the river Lea. Pit pointed to a loop of the river and Harry made him get out of the car and to the shore and say exactly where.

There was a pungent smell of mud and industrial smoke. It was not a picturesque riverbank.

Harry had to close his eyes then, for a second, and pressed the palm of his hand to his forehead. Pit saw it and tried to run away to the car and leave Harry there. But Harry was quick, so very quick, and he slammed on Pit and threw the both of them to the floor. They rolled around and Pit actually had the audacity to try to fight, to put a hand to Harry’s neck and squeeze. Harry had knees and elbows and fists and teeth and the rage, all the rage that was rising its head like an ugly serpent. He could feel it in his chest, ready to strike, asking for blood. That little man, that filthy human, how dared he, how dared he with the filthy blood

Harry sent a good hit to the neck and the fight was done. He got up, shook the dirt from his hands and trousers and went to wait inside the car for Pit to get his breath back.

This time when they rode back to the city both their hands were trembling. Harry felt as if something had seized his chest and was never going to let go. Breathing hurt and his tongue felt heavy in his mouth.

Pit parked illegally near the New Scotland Yard. He didn’t dare meet Harry’s eyes.

“Pit”

“I don’t want to”

“Pit, look-”

“No! I w-”

Harry snapped and took his face in his hands, made him turn around and meet his eyes. Eyes of green, eyes so pretty and deep. His eyes were nothing but green, with a thin black line parting them in the middle. To look at them it felt like falling into sleep.

“When I let you go, you are going to walk inside, and you are going to tell them everything. Everything, Pit. What you did to him and what you have done to every other kid. Say I will.”

Pit’s whole body was trembling, but his voice was unwavering when he answered.

“I will”

“You will tell them, as many times as they ask. Say I will”.

“I will”

“You will insist to be locked away. Say I will”

“I…”

“Say it, Pit”

“I will”

“Good”. Harry paused, swallowed. His fingers were leaving white marks on Pit’s cheeks. “Once you enter the station, you will forget about me. You will remember only the need to confess. You will never know peace”.

---

Harry waited outside for a couple of hours, entertaining himself by ruffling through Pit’s wallet. There was an almost palpable buzz in the air. When he overhead two officers leaving the building say they had lost their dinners with that tale, Harry knew he was good to go.

---

On Sunday Harry went to Cricklewood. He took the trash, swept the first autumn leaves and got on a chair to change the lightbulbs at Mrs Adkin’s.

On Monday Harry got Aidan (who had never seen this side of Monday morning) and Toffee (who had been looking forward to any excuse not to take Clubs’ latest work) and they went to Tesco and cashed out Pit’s card. He sweetly explained to the cashier that they were doing a charity, so they got permission to take the shopping carts with them.

With deaf ears to Toffee’s complaints, who would rather have liked to get a console and new shoes, Harry took the loot back to the yard and distributed it with the same iron discipline of a pirate captain. Non-perishable food was actually quite affordable, and every kid got a couple packages of ramen, a can of soup and peaches in syrup.

Harry didn’t hold any high hopes. Most of them were going to eat them right away. But some would store it safely, for the bad days, and perhaps no one would ever be as desperate as Ratty had been.

That night, when Harry went to sleep, he could feel the snake receding in his chest.

 

Chapter Text

Remus Lupin couldn’t say when was the last time he had eaten meat, but he thought it must have been in Hogwarts. His abrupt departure from the school still caused a little ache in his chest, but it was nothing when compared to many of the events in Remus’s life. Ache or not he felt he had gained more than what he had lost in his stay at the school.

He had discovered the truth about Sirius and about Peter (see, his distrust with the Fidelio charm, that was something that really hurt Remus). Although that hadn’t brought much good because Peter had fled, and the dark rumours had increased, and Sirius had to run too with his only chance of redemption lost.

But! Remus had also spent nine wonderful months with hot meals and wolfsbane and he had started to lose the chill from the street. It had given him the chance to save some money for once in his life. So, no, he wasn’t going to complain.

He had kept saving, though. He still couldn’t afford wolfsbane by himself but he could do some repairs to his cottage and transform there. And now he could fund his little side project.

No, not the one about the homeless net of informants. Another one.

Arthur Weasley was delighted to hear about it. He accompanied him to Gringotts to change the galleons into pounds and then to the muggle’s house, all the way admiring their inventiveness and offering commentary.

They were greeted by an old, fat, woman with a kind smile. She showed them some paintings of marines and portraits of celebrities hanging around the place, making conversation until a young man with long hair came from the back room cleaning his dusty hands with a paint splattered rag.

Remus explained the case and showed him the photographs, charmed so they would remain still. The woman became serious and insisted on giving them a cup of tea while the young man studied the pictures.

“So, how old would we be talking about?”

“Fourteen” said Remus. “Probably not very tall” he added, because James only really grew after he turned almost seventeen.

“That doesn’t matter” answered the man. He looked back at him as if making sure his words hadn’t been too harsh. He had a soft face, just like the woman. Inherently kind. “It’s a pity you only have photos of him as a toddler”.

“Yes”. Yes, it was.

The old woman returned with the tea in a tray. She set  it down on a side table and peered at the pictures.

“Oh, poor dear, that little angel” she said. She looked at both Arthur and Remus. “Was he your…?”

“A friend’s son” Remus explained. “It is too hard for them, you understand”

“Oh, of course, of course. And bless you both for doing this for them. You now, my Michael here often works for the Met. Mostly he does robot sketches and fugitives, don’t you dear? He made a sketch of a robber who had changed his appearance and that’s how they arrested him”.

“I made a few sketches, mum. But yes, I can make a few pictures of a how person would look like. Different weight, hairstyles, glasses. You said his eyes were green?”

---

Clubs was not happy with Harry. Harry was also not happy with Clubs, as he thought he was in part to blame for Ratty’s end.

Clubs couldn’t afford to have someone as popular and different as Harry in his territory. Someone who broke the power dynamics and upset their carefully constructed balance. But the usual solution wouldn’t work here, as he suspected it was best no to mess with Harry and attempt to teach him a lesson. Others had tried and failed when he was just a twelve year old, there was no reason to succeed now. Specially because there was something about that calm gaze that told him that Harry, Green, wouldn’t let himself be beaten bloody.

Harry was tired of the yard anyway, the constant feeling of exhaustion and stress oozing from her inhabitants and invading everything.

They agreed it was better if Harry just left and they avoided any future confrontation. His voluntary leave made them almost allies when his remaining would make them enemies. It was good, this parting on good terms. A rare thing.

He had finally found a couple of promising places. Empty flats that wouldn’t be rented or sold any time soon. He would move there and decide how to proceed.

---

Wednesday was a busy and long day. But a good one, too. Necessary. Harry spent all the cash Pit had been carrying in his wallet, the only money he had kept for himself. First, he took the tube (actually paying for the ticket) to the south mall and picked up his new glasses. The smiling girl remembered him. Harry looked a bit down and muttered something about Dad being always too busy since he left home, and not being able to accompany him. The girl nodded in understanding and completely forgot that Harry ought to be in school at that time.

The glasses were excellent. Harry couldn’t believe he had been out of focus for so long. Now everything took on a sharp quality, no softness to blur the ugly details. It felt hard and so, so, right.

He took the tube back to the city. Then a bus to the suburbs in the north. Then a ninety minute walk clutching the flowers he had picked in one of the stations. The road was mostly deserted, with a few lonely cottages in between. Harry greeted every person he passed. People are always put at easy when you wish them a good morning.

The place looked different. The strong smell was still there, but the mud was full of footprints, the grass trampled. There was a white police line surrounding the river bank.

There was a small bouquet of yellow tulips, a bit limp from the night rain, and Harry felt an overwhelming wave of gratitude to the anonymous hand that had put the flowers there. It wasn’t anyone from the yard, he was sure, so perhaps some of the night kids or maybe somebody else. It didn’t matter who, the point was that someone before him had left some flowers for a homeless kid whose name nobody remembered. The point was that perhaps the world didn’t always have to have that layer of oily dirt over everything, that taste of ash and dry leaves.

Harry left his flowers on the floor. White surrounded by green.

He didn’t see it, and muggles eyes wouldn’t have seen it. In fact, not even magic eyes would see it unless they were specially trained and looking for it. When Harry crouched to arrange the bouquet in place, something dark and long wriggled from his chest and down his arm to the wet earth, and buried itself there.

But Harry was alone. No one saw it.

He walked back down the road and the lonely houses, greeted the old lady tending the flowers (red tulips, no yellow to be found) and the man walking his dog until he reached the bus stop to London.

He stopped having headaches. Must had been the glasses after all.

---

Remus was staying with Sirius in Grimauld Place. Supposedly it was convenient for Remus not to pay rent and for Sirius to have someone other than a half mad house elf to talk to. Also, Kreacher couldn’t be trusted for the most delicate errands.

It should have been fine, the old school friends reunited at last. However, it was in fact terribly tense and awkward. Sirius had paid a big toll in Azkaban and he was just starting to get his life and humanity back. He still hadn’t properly mourned James and Lily, and he was hung on Peter’s betrayal and on everyone thinking it had been him.

That was a big red hot point of hurt they had had to learn to dance around after that time Remus just couldn’t hear any more passive aggressive meaningful comments and pointed that Sirius had been the one to distrust first. Because he trusted Peter over Remus, because ultimately he hadn’t seen Remus as an equal, he was just the poor sick boy and it made him feel sooo good and nice to throw him a bone from time to time, didn’t it?. It had been so great, such a slap to his family face, hanging out with undesirable Lupin and showing to everyone that he was not like the other Blacks at all, he was different!. But when things got bad and the hour came to put you money where your mouth was, then of course they all believed the werewolf would be the traitor, because all creatures of darkness were one and the same, weren’t they? And he had trusted healthy, pure blood, Pettigrew instead. So did Sirius have anything else to say to Remus about betrayal and distrust?

No, no he didn’t. Remus thought so. They didn’t speak of the topic again, but they didn’t speak of much more either and their interactions were always forced and artificially formal and polite.

---

Remus went back with Arthur to the artist’s place. The same woman opened the door and pressed cups of tea on them and sniffled a bit and said what a pity it was and how sometimes you couldn’t believe the world, with the news you saw. Perhaps the police had called them after the River Lea Strangler?  They hadn’t identified all of the bodies, and oh! Look at her, so silly asking such dreadful questions, do forgive her.

Arthur assured her it was all right while Remus made a mental note to buy a muggle newspaper and see what she was talking about. He forgot when Michael showed him the folder he had prepared. It had four lovingly drawn pictures of what Harry could look like today in different muggle hairstyles.

It was an emotional punch and it was worth every knut and sickle Remus had been saving.

They decided to walk back after Arthur’s misadventure with the turnstile last time they tried to use the underground. Arthur was still looking at the pictures, marvelled at the muggle’s ingenuity and skill. (He had done that with just a pencil! Not even a charmed quill!) Remus was feeling conflicted, satisfaction mixed with sorrow. He thought this would help, just as he still thought that the homeless information net would. But so far he hadn’t gotten any tangible results.

Although, no else had. No one. The only thing they knew for certain was that Voldemort wasn’t behind Harry’s disappearance because at the time he had been busy occupying Quirrell’s nape.

That was still a bigger reveal than Sirius innocence and Peter’s survival, honestly.  

Remus looked to the other side of the crosswalk still lost in thought. Arthur’s lunch break would finish soon. After he walked him back to the Ministry he could go show the pictures to a couple of squibs that used to hang out around St James park. He wasn’t in a hurry to return to Grimauld Place… The light changed to green. As they started to walk his eyes focused on the people in front.

Harry had the glasses of the picture nº3 and the hair in spikes like nº4, with a long fringe that covered his forehead. He was thin and not very tall, as Remus had supposed, and there, there, breathing and alive.

---

“Harry! Harry Potter!”

Harry was so used to being called anything else, that he almost didn’t react to the two men waving and calling his name. In fact, it was more the vision of two adults running toward him that put him in motion, rather than the almost forgotten name.

He turned around and ran. No point in waiting to see what they wanted. If they were using his official name they must be cops, and so they either wanted to drag him back to Privet Drive (ha! Fat chance) or they wanted to question him about Pit (ohhohoo, no).

Harry was fast and nimble. He ran down the street and to the stairs of the tube, jumped over the turnstile and kept going to the platform. He ducked under the people waiting, removed his jacket and changed it for the other one in his bag and climbed back the stairs to exit on the north side of the station.

He was never, ever, coming near Whitehall again.

It was instincts and weird superstitions from now on.

---

They had to accept they had lost him and move on, as difficult as that was. Remus insisted on sending Arthur back to work, because the man certainly couldn’t afford getting on his supervisor bad side. Remus would call for Dumbledore.

They parted near the Ministry. Both still panting and with a dose of nervous energy. Remus had to exert all of his self control not to burst in to the Leaky Cauldron and demand they let him use the floo. He still had some muggle coins with him and he went and bought a chocolate and ate it slowly sitting in a bench while he put his thoughts in order.

Harry hadn’t looked bad. Of course he didn’t thought much of his muggle hair and clothes, but he hadn’t looked hungry or sick and he had run like an athlete.

Even if he had run. Remus could weep from gratefulness and joy.

---

There was a lot of give and take for the Order to meet. They started by chosing Hogsmeade, since it provided for a good cover for the ones at Hogwarts leaving the school. Sirius cried and moaned like the diva he secretly was and declared that he was going, regardless of his fugitive status. Of course Severus remarked that The Three Broomsticks didn’t allow mongrels in the premises and there was another big fight until Emmelina Vance shyly suggested they all met at the Burrow. By then they had been kneeling at their fireplaces for a while and everybody embraced the opportunity to finally stand up.

All the Weasley children were at Hogwarts and the nearest magical families were not inclined to gossip. They met there, flooing to the fireplace or apparating in the barn nearby.

Molly welcomed everyone with cups of tea and cucumber sandwiches. Arthur sat on the kitchen table furiously working at a stack of copies of the drawings, trying to draw over them the little details of the real Harry. Remus peered over his shoulder and agreed that the fringe was about right in length.

“So what is all this about?”

“Arthur said something about the boy?”

“I don’t know, Moony wouldn’t explain”

“Oh dear, that haircut is really something”

It took a while to have everyone take a sit. Arthur and Remus started the story by the end, with the fact that they had seen Harry Potter walking nonchalantly down the streets of London, and made their way to the beginning and Remus’ steadfast conviction that the boy was living somewhere as a muggle.

There was a long and thick silence as everyone digested this. Hagrid held a crumpled and tear stained copy of the drawing in his hands, touching softly the static face.

“I am his godfather, I should have been there”

“Ah, yes, the kid would benefit greatly from your arrest”

“Are you saying something, Snivelus?”

“What exactly did you say to him?” that was Elphias Dodge, who was quickly developing and ability to stop fights by cutting in the middle of the conversations and saying something that created another fight. “I fear that the boy would have reacted different if a more, um, if another kind of individual…”

“He is not gonna trust strangers now” interrupted Mundungus Fletcher, who disliked everyone in the group and Doge in particular. “You need someone street wise to lure the boy out”

“Oh and you are the epitome of trust”

“Why, yes, more than a –”

“… a feminine touch, perhaps…”

“A clear, trustworthy individual. An upstanding wizard who…”

“… I knew his family well and…”

Remus refilled his cup of tea and counted to ten, and then to fifty.

“Well, next time any of you come across him, you are welcome to try whatever you think is best to make him listen” said Remus softly and evenly.

And that closed the argument.

At least until the night, when Sirius started it again in Grimauld Place. But there Remus could just go to his bedroom and close the door.

The discussion moved to locating Harry again since, as Remus explained and Arthur and Mundungus corroborated, Muggle London was very big.

Someone asked about location spells and Minerva confirmed they had been performing them every week for the last three years and seven months. They turned nothing. So far, this chance encounter was the only proof of life they had and Remu’s drawing the only clue to work with.

However…

“It may be best if we do not attempt to bring him in” said Snape, to a riot of voices (and death threats from Sirius). His voice had been just as cold and calm as always, undisturbed by Sirius presence. His eyes, though, had a turmoil in them.

Snape pushed his sleeve up and laid his arm flat on the table. The dark mark was starkly visible, dark pink over his white skin.

“It has awaken” he said. “Karkaroff noticed it too. He is coming back to power. Unless we can guarantee his security, he will be safer if he remains hidden, even from ourselves”.

---

Later, when the meeting had ended and they were all going their way Alastor stopped Sirius and Remus.

“Snape thinks like a traitor and a spy. That’s all he knows and all he sees” he murmured “But we are not all double crossers. If he is returning, he will go after Harry. We shouldn’t leave the child alone”.

Sirius promised to keep Alastor informed, as he too wanted to find Harry and bring him home. Remus said as much although privately he had no intention of doing so. He had already lost his two best friends to misjudgement and he would not do the same for their child. Specially when he had seen with his own eyes that he was doing well for himself.  

Remus had not been in the first emergency meeting after Harry’s disappearance. But he had asked about it during the later years as they reported their findings. He had made a mental list.

  1. Minerva
  2. Hagrid
  3. Molly Weasley
  4. Arabella Figg

The woman who raged and the three who cried for Harry. They and no one else would Remus trust to really do what was best for the child, not for them or the wizarding world. And of them, Arabella felt indebted to Albus and Hagrid spoke too much, so he would have to be extra cautious. 

---

Harry received a text message from Venus.

People asking after you. Have a picture. Call you Harry.

Harry thanked her and said he was leaving the city for a while. He said goodbye to the old people at Cricklewood (so sorry to see you go, my dear, I hope your parents are happy at their new job) and to Kaleem (good for you, I hear that boy with the spade tattoo isn’t happy).

(Harry had always been tempted of informing Clubs of the little confusion between image and nickname, but never got to it).

He took the green bag and filled it with his belongings, a few clothes, a notebook. Then he went down to Paddington and loudly and visibly bought a ticket train to Bristol. Two of the homeless men who spent time there turned their heads with interest, but it could be Harry’s imagination.

He alighted in Reading, having changed his clothes in the bathroom and put his stuff in a Tesco plastic bag. The phone was thrown out of the window (he had already memorized his contacts numbers because Clubs was adamant about no one having him on speed dial). The rest he left under the seats, to be found when the train arrived in Bristol if someone were so inclined to search.

Harry stepped down the bus to London later that night. He had a new (and expensive, he had no idea how expensive it would be) haircut with a few locks dyed bright blue. But mostly his stance was different, he walked like someone who would not be pushed out of his home.

---

Harry moved to a luxurious empty apartment that had actually been fifth on his list. Recently, a singer had bought the attic of the building and the neighbours had fled from the loud music, the constant screaming fights and the drugs. For Harry, it was like every other day at the yard, only with a roof and less humidity.

The flat didn’t have power, which was inconvenient, but it also meant that no one was coming soon. Besides, the windows closed tight and the walls were good, Harry doubted he would ever be cold in winter. Not the cold of the streets that took your body heat and your will to live. And, he had as much (cold) water as he desired. That was a welcome novelty having a tub where he could wash his clothes.  

Now that there were two doors and a high number of stairs between Harry and the street he felt he could relax a little bit.

Well, not relax, attempt other activities that required extra concentration that usually went to checking his surroundings.

Nevertheless, Harry put an empty plastic bottle upside down over the door’s latch and left the balcony open for fast departure.  The flat barely had any furniture and Harry thought no one had really lived there in years. Yet he managed to find a pot nevertheless, which he filled with water and put on the kitchen stove.

He felt quite silly about the next part. But there was no one looking so only Harry would know. And it was about time, wasn’t it? After all the things he had done.

He looked at the water and wished it warm.

Nothing happened.

Harry rubbed his sweaty palms down his trousers and tried again. He looked at the water, he wished it were hot.

Was it, perhaps, a bit warmer? Hard to say.

He took the awl in hand. He had just opened two doors with it. He had! Not even twisting and picking, just pointing. Harry pointed it now at the water and thought warm thoughts, trying to reproduce in his mind the feeling of something hot. The underground machinery in summer, the kitchen of the Falafel King.

The water spontaneously boiled.

He hurriedly threw a pack of ramen, because on the streets no one let good hot water go to waste. He still wasn’t convinced he wasn’t going crazy, but if the madness could recreate the feeling of soft noodles and hot soup Harry was game.

---

Sirius was overcome by a nervous energy. He had Remus tell him again and again how had it been, how Harry looked, how he moved, did he speak? Was he hurt, hungry, cold?

And Remus found himself sharing it. The giddy thrill, the joy that James and Lily’s son was alive.

It was the first time they had really talked to each other since that night at the shrieking shack.  

---

Harry was really short on cash, his reserves depleting quickly, and unsure on how to get more. Stealing had never been his thing and he didn’t dare going to his old jobs. Or his old nothing.

There were people still looking for him and no street kid would pass over the opportunity to make some quick cash by ratting him out. He thought he had caught a glimpse of one of the two men from the crosswalk, asking around near Soho too.

Then, there were stranger things, like the man with the bulging eye Harry spotted on a bridge. Maybe it was just a disfigured man, but Harry had felt a jolt telling him to run at the sight. He spent seven hours changing trains in the tube and then bought a package of salt and put it in circles surrounding his street.

Why? Well… He just had to. And he knew exactly what to do.

Three times he had sensed a prickling on his skin that told him to switch directions. The first two he had seen a big black dog walking alone down the street, the third time it was a shaggy man that somehow walked and dressed oddly without there being anything specifically wrong with him.

It was perfectly irrational, but he felt that they had been looking for him.

Tatiana had told him once that he could make some quick cash if he let someone take some pictures of him. In case he wasn’t ready to take the big step yet. But having his picture taken felt just like the wrong thing to do, even if he knew that the public of those pictures wouldn’t be paying much attention to his face.

So the night work was out and he was bad a stealing and he couldn’t go work for Clubs or Clubs-like people; and as much as he tried he still look too young to fool anyone into thinking he was an employable young man over eighteen.

But.

He would turn fifteen in a few months. He had survived everything so far. He would continue to do so. For now, he focused of not being found and on abandoning everything from the last four years. He kept the awl and the going to museums. Nobody knew about the first and of the second only Venus and Aidan had a vague idea of it. He was sure Venus had talked to whoever was searching for him and taken the cash. It was the smart thing to do. But she had also sent him a warning, so she probably hadn’t spoken with much detail about him or his habits.

Still, he let two weeks pass before he dared showing his face in the National Portrait Gallery again.

And he changed his appearance frequently.

---

Harry didn’t need much. Just a few notes to buy discount food at Tesco and occasionally clothes from a charity shop.

He started working Friday to Sunday on the street markets. He had no license but by then he had honed his senses to the point that he could tell whenever a cop was setting foot on the street. Why, some of the other less than legal traders learned to keep an eye on him to know when to fold and leave.

Harry sold little trinkets that he made at home with the awl. Keyrings and bracelets and the like.

---

When spring came and Harry’s fingers weren’t numb with cold, he started to perform little magic tricks Saturday mornings at the park. He couldn’t bring back the card you chose, but by Jove could he put the queen of hearts in your pocket, or make a coin fall into a glass.

---

Meanwhille.

Victor Krum and Cedric Diggory barely survived the third task. It was all thanks to Fleur Delacour casting a series of non verbal charms from the shadows that caused enough of a distraction to allow the three of them to escape, although not unscathed. Alastor, well Barty Crouch Jr., made out with the goblet of fire and a few droplets of Albus blood. The blood of the enemy to join the bone of the father and the flesh of the servant.

The Death Mark shone over Hogwarts gardens. For the first time in thirteen years, certain wizards put on their black robes and their masks.

The sleeping death eaters in Azkaban awoke with the burn of the mark on their forearms. There were smiles and broken laughs. The guarding dementors shivered at the unfamiliar feeling of hope.

What Crouch did not get, thank Morgana’s teeth and hair, was any more information on Harry Potter whereabouts. Apparently Kingsley Shacklebot was as suspicious as Remus and unknown to each other they had been giving misdirecting information the whole year. What little he had learned was of not use, because Remus was positive that Harry had not gone to Bristol, although he had knowingly let the Order investigate that lead to their heart’s content.  

---

About a month before Harry turned fifteen he crossed paths with Bill Weasley, who stopped to see him perform his magic tricks on the park. Harry moved some cards and some coins and finished his number making an apple appear from a folded handkerchief. It was the perfect balance between magic and spectacle, so that people would clap and throw some coins but still would leave thinking they had witnessed some clever sleight of hand.

Harry had practiced a lot to make his performance short and attractive. He still didn’t know why he could only do the apple trick as long as there was an audience. But he got to eat the apple later, and they were usually good.

---

Bill Weasley regretted not carrying some muggle coins with him, as the young man had been quite charming. You had to value all that work with no wand or magic. He had also liked the multicolour hair, and he wondered how he would look like with a coloured strand on his long mane.

---

Harry hadn’t paid the license (he didn’t know under what name he could apply) so he didn’t have a proper table to sell his wares on the street. He put them on a blanket spread over a couple cardboard boxes. He had had to abandon the boxes and the chair twice, when the police came inspecting, but he always saved the blanket with the trinkets and he was never caught.

On July, Alecto Carrow stopped before him and looked at the earrings and the necklaces. She didn’t buy anything and Harry didn’t mind. He had gotten the bad feeling when he saw her, the one like a wet gelatinous hand caressing his chest. The one that told him to better tread carefully and leave as soon as possible.

Besides, summer months were good. He wasn’t making a fortune, but he was making enough money that he could buy tuna in addition to ramen.

---

Harry was… not happy, happy is a word too big, too intense for anything more than a few seconds. But he was content. He was whatever it is when you are free from all the big worries, when you stop and actively enjoy just for an instant the feeling of the sun over your skin, the wind against your face, the song of a bird. It was the absence of pain. It was sleeping well for eight hours. It was having your belly full. It was having a dry place to rest.

Even if at the start of the summer he got a migraine that lasted for three days, an occasional headaches afterwards. He was still more rested and at ease than he had ever been.

It was good.

Chapter Text

Draco’s first year at Hogwarts was good. He was sorted in Slytherin, he made friends with the right people and he excelled at his classes.

The end of the year revealed that his ineffective DADA teacher had been possessed by a demon or something like that. Draco worried a bit when he heard the gossip, because he had drawn some very unflattering pictures of him and perhaps composed a humorous limerick that became very popular very soon. But at least he hadn’t charmed a snowball to follow him around, like the Weasley twins; so if the demon came back looking for revenge Draco was reasonably certain that he wouldn’t be first on the list.

The return to Malfoy Manor was a bit cold. Father was not impressed with him because he was number two in his year, behind a muggle born no less.

Draco’s second year at Hogwarts saw a small improvement and then descended quickly in to Not Good territory when he was almost killed by a monster unleashed at the school by his father’s meddling. He was saved by that dirty Granger whom Draco had been following to see what exactly did she do to get such good grades. Whatever she did, it left her spare time to figure out the nature of Slytherin’s monster and warn Draco just as they left the library and turned the corner.

They spent the rest of the school year side by side in the hospital wing.

Draco’s third year was a joke. The Head of his House spent it distracted and following the scruffy DADA teacher like a fourth year with their first crush. The school was surrounded by dementors and everybody was seeing shadows of the famous murderer who, by the way, was a relative of his.

They got visiting privileges for Hogsmeade, though. That was good.

Draco’s fourth year showed that Mother had been right all along and they should have sent him to some proper school in the continent where teachers weren’t allowed to transfigure their students.

Also, the Triwizard Tournament was stupid and Draco wished they would just go away and he could study in peace. And, Quidditch. Bring Quidditch back.

Things got worse after that.

That summer Draco met his aunt and uncle and, incidentally, redefined his previous notions on madness. Then, before returning to school, he was apparated with his parents to some gloomy forest and presented to the one they called Lord Voldemort.

All his life, Draco had heard Lord Voldemort was high, Lord Voldemort was great, Lord Voldemort was the most powerful wizard in existence. Probably surpassing Dumbledore himself since the old fly had never dared confront him face to face.

What Draco saw was a hairless creature reminiscent of a house elf that had been enlarged to fit a teenager body.

Draco was made to kneel and kiss his feet and all the while he wondered what in Merlin’s beard were they all doing paying courtesy to that dreadful creature. Then he had a slight panic when he realized he had though all that while in his presence.

But that night, as he felt asleep in his old bedroom back at the manor, the thought assaulted him that he had conjured the worst possible words imaginable and the creature had said nothing. It couldn’t read minds nor even notice Draco’s curl of distaste in his lips.

For comparison: McGonagall could spot a daydreaming student on the back on the room with her back turned.

Draco’s fifth year ought to have been excellent, but instead it was mostly irritating. The Ministry denying what Draco knew to be true was convenient but exasperating in their obfuscation. The pure blood students whispering that things were going to change were equally infuriating, as if they hadn’t seen the same weak and pathetic creature Draco had witnessed.

The school was strange. Diggory went through it like a ghost, uncaring both of the whispered appreciation and the scorn. His left arm, that hadn’t healed right, kept close to his body. Draco was sure no one had ever cared about a Hupplepuff, but that year he found himself paying more attention than the previous one when he had been the Hogwarts champion. It seemed to him that, out of the whole school, Diggory was the only other person who saw the madness that was coming.

On December Draco lost his status as Inquisitor.

He didn’t meant to. It was that toad from the Ministry, that stupid woman, who refused to admit the truth. (He had seen him, kissed his ugly feet, kneeled before the sac of bones. There were Azkaban escapees hiding at Draco’s house and they had been freed by him.) Draco couldn’t stomach her. The woman was engaging in her favourite entertainment, namely the public humiliation of Hermione Granger. Lately the girl couldn’t so much as breathe without losing points for her house, which of course Draco enjoyed, because she was an insufferable know it all and a mudblood.

But.

Look, perhaps you could fool yourself and believe that Granger’s academic success answered exclusively to teacher’s favouritism. If you closed your eyes every time the girl casted a charm, you could believe that. But Draco felt that there were too many lies bouncing around already and he was tired of them.

“At least the mudblood knew when a basilisk was attacking students” Draco muttered. “Fat good this ministry book would do”.

Umbridge heard and called him to his office. She tsked at him and deplored his sudden lack of spirit after all the promise he was showing. She revoked his Inquisitor status until he could prove once again that he was ready to speak the truth and turn a deaf ear to all those radical lies.

The Dark Lord had only inspired him revulsion. Now Draco learned true hate.

Christmas break was an agonizing trial. Mother insisted on him practicing caution and diplomacy and lectured him endlessly on decorum and reputation. Aunt Bella got in her the idea that Draco’s convictions were weak and took upon herself to properly instil what she called “pure blood principles”, something his father hadn’t inculcated properly according to her. Father didn’t say much because he was terribly busy fulfilling some ridiculous task the little serpent had given them.

Mother’s concern he could understand, because he realized he had been rash with Umbridge. There were appearances to maintain and he had failed. Aunt Bella was something else. She spoke with shiny eyes of the restoration of the order and the days to come. And look, Draco was convinced of his own superiority because you only had to look to see he was a magnificent wizard specimen. But the whole argument for pure blood supremacy fell and crumbled into dust whenever you had to spend more than ten minutes in Goyle’s company. Father or son.

Draco returned to Hogwarts tired and ill tempered.

His aunt, signing under his mother’s name, started sending him exhortative letters under a frail code that made you wonder about Umbridge’s whole letter inspection. Subtlety had not been evenly distributed between the Black sisters.

Umbridge’s crusade increased and everybody was miserable. Even Snape looked unhappy at times, and some of the younger slytherins, who hadn’t known the other houses disdain, seemed to catch on the general air of despair. Draco really couldn’t bring himself to share the joy of his friends when the evidence remained that they were cheering for an ugly broken wizard who needed to rest for months after breaking his followers from prison. Was that the unseen power that would bend the knee of the world? Draco though not.

And he had to study for the OWLs.

On Easter, he wrote home saying he was going to remain at Hogwarts and use those days to study. To Snape he said he was going home. Draco boarded the train to London wishing simply for a true holiday and a few days for himself.

Chapter Text

Harry could honestly say that most days he was nearly happy. It was not delirious joy, but he found he was… Pleased. Good. It seemed all he had been missing in his life was a roof and new glasses. He slept dry and warm (still no power at the house, but he had multiple blankets) he ate reasonably well, he had something to occupy himself and since he had a fixed residence he had gotten a library card.

Life was good. In little more than two years, he would be of age and he could step back in the world without worrying about anyone making him go back to the Dursleys.

Although, as if they could do it now.

He still got strong headaches sometimes. He had had a terrible one during the summer that lasted for three days. But so far, he kept them at bay with aspirin, tea, and walks in the admittedly questionably fresh London air.

He read on the papers all the investigation and trial of the Lea River Strangler. He only saw him on the telly once, as the police took him to yet another field.

“Oh, please, please, don’t look there, please” the cameras caught Pit saying. “That’s where I put the body, don’t look there, you will find it and I will be in trouble”.

It had upset Harry’s stomach and that night all his attempts at crafting went wrong, the jewellery unravelling, the bookmarks creasing and folding. But mostly it had felt like your normal dread and sick. It had nothing on the wet darkness Harry had felt back then.

Still, Harry had made the resolution to keep a low profile, practice his craft and just focus on surviving until he was of age.

Keeping a low profile meant:

Changing his appearance, often. Dying his hair to keep curious eyes away from his face. Putting up wards. Spotting the weird people that over a year later were still looking for him and who may not all be police officers.

What it did not meant:

Adopting obviously upset and lost boys who were way in over their silly blonde heads.

---

It occurred to Draco that he ought to have planned this better.

He stepped on the Leaking Cauldron intending on renting a room for the week only to find Crabbe Sr standing there. Despite his, uh, intellectual shortcomings, Crabbe would no doubt remark on his presence and tell Draco’s parents. He couldn’t have that.  

Draco left quickly and hid in the alley behind Madam Malkin’s until he had some sort of plan.

The plan was brilliant in its simplicity. Go to Gringotts. Get access to his personal funds. Change it to whatever it is that muggles use. Hide in London in a place adequate to his status. Surely muggles had heard of the most basic commodities and he supposed he could do without the warm towels and the freshly pressed forest berries juice.

---

He found himself later that night near the Thames, tired and irritated at the unnecessary complexity of the muggle world and their habit of asking questions like “can I see an ID?”.

“Had a disagreement with you parents and run off, eh?”

Draco turned to the young man on the street. He looked briefly at his calm gaze to be instantly distracted by the riot of colour in his head. It resembled the hair of the cousin they never mentioned at home.

“What is it to you?” answered Draco on his snottiest tone. If he was going to be talked to by muggles, maybe he should just man up and go home and confess.

And listen to Aunt Bella, oh dear.

The boy smiled as if Draco had said something cute and funny.

“The board house in Notting Hill still doesn’t have a computer. You can stay there for the night and they won’t enter you name until Thursday. If perchance you are in need of a place to sleep without giving your name”.

With that, the boy turned to leave.

Draco followed. He would not be the impolite one in the conversation; have a muggle be nicer than him. He ran after him and thanked him, and also asked for more detailed directions on that knotted hill.

“What’s your name?” asked the boy out of the blue. He had very pleasant eyes to look at. Serene.

Draco hesitated.

“See. You don’t want to give your real name, that’s good. But you need to give one. Think of something similar to your own name, so you will always remember to answer” the boy explained patiently. Draco’s attention was divided between his hair and his eyes. Was there any green in the hair too? He could only see the pink and blue and yellow. “Understood?”

“What? Yes, of course. Name.”

The boy looked at him in silence. It was a look he had often seen both in Snape and McGonagall directed to a hopeless first year.

“Look, it’s probably better if you go back home. But. If you find yourself struggling… Ask around, okay? Don’t just jump to the first offer. And if you decide to try your luck in Soho, definitely ask around first. Learn the dos and the don’ts. And keep some stash of food and money hidden for the really bad nights. That’s the best advice you can get”

---

Draco spent the night in an adequate room in a B&B, having signed as one Marco Black. A good night of sleep and a full breakfast did wonders to improve his melancholic mood. Clearly, this was just what he needed and he would have his bearings back in no time.

He bought himself a chocolate pastry in a muggle bakery and spent the morning walking leisurely and trying new baked goods. His feet took him to a park where a riot of colour caught his eye.  

It was the boy. The boy from last night. The pale morning light revealed he had black, blue, pink and faded yellow in his hair. He was standing in the middle of a small crowd waving some cards. Draco joined the group while he finished his third pastry of the morning.

---

Harry had not expected to see the blonde guy again, let alone in the morning crowd for his magic performance. Standing there, happily munching a danish, he was a whole world away from the scared boy of last night. It just proved what Harry knew so well, a full belly instantly raises your spirit.

Harry finished his performance, gathered the coins (almost 15 pounds, not bad, not bad at all), and packed his things to make his way to Camden.

He spied the blond guy again twice more. During the first performance of the morning in Camden, and the one after lunch.

Harry was not used to this. The chase without dread. Usually, he only had to see someone twice in the street to feel a cold sweat down his back and know he needed to run and hide. With certain people, merely getting a glimpse of them from across the street was enough for Harry to pack his wares and start a seven hours long concealing ritual.

Now he had caught sight of the same person four times in less than a day and he only felt curiosity. None of the panicked voices rising in his head, or the usual headache emanating from his forehead.

Still, Harry was ready to stab him with the awl when the boy came towards him after finishing his evening number. General street caution, you know.

“How did you do that?” he demanded. Not asked, no, he demanded.

“Sorry mate, trade’s secret”. Harry smiled and kept an easy and relaxed posture, while also planting both feet down and bending the knees in preparation for running.

“You summoned that apple into the handkerchief. Wandless”

“That I did. If you liked it, throw some change in the hat” Harry pointed to the hat still in the floor. “If not, find someone else to bother”

The boy didn’t give up. He narrowed his eyes and studied Harry’s face. He couldn’t know that, but Harry really, really, disliked having his face examined.

“How old are you? You can’t be over seventeen. How are you doing all this in front of muggles without the Ministry closing you down?”

“I don’t know what you mean, I have all my licenses in order” Harry lied.

“I know what I saw. You summoned an apple, and materialised and vanished those coins and cards. I know you were doing magic, what I want to know is how are you getting away with it”.

Harry checked with the voices in his head. A phrase that most people find unsettling and worrisome, but they were not actual voices, exactly. They were the feeling that told Harry to avoid looking directly at redheads, to turn away from a street when a huge man in a ceremonial robe stood there (common sense agreed in that case). It was the irrational feeling chanting a litany of “go go go Go! Gogogogogogo Goooo!” when he had just arrived to the city and came across a sij with a purple turban and no beard. Once he hadn’t listened to the feeling and he almost came crashing face first in to Uncle Vernon. And there was the incident near Whitehall with the strange men chasing him.

Harry learned to pay attention after that.

The voices now came with a feeling of curiosity missed with caution, but nothing of the hot panic Harry had felt before. Harry looked at the blonde boy, still staring with an indignant expression. He hadn’t made any sense except for the tiny strange parts where he did, and Harry felt like he was missing a huge chunk of context. More importantly, he didn’t look dangerous.

He made his decision.

“Let’s go for dinner” Harry said, and after a quick glance to the shoes and the coat of the guy he added “you are buying. You may ask questions, but only if you answer my own”.

The boy only needed a few seconds to consider before answering “I am choosing the place”

“Absolutely not” Harry could sound snotty too. “You are new to the city.”

---

It shouldn’t have taken them so long to agree on dinner. The boy, Marco he said was his name, refused to even look at the fish and chips shop and was appalled at the notion of eating and walking. Harry (“call me Mortimer Oakenshield”. “I am not calling you that, that is not your name” “you wish you had thought of it, don’t you Marco?”) vetoed three different locals that not-Marco pointed at random, until he agreed to go to a pub which had an acceptable background noise and a table with a good view of the door.

They talked over sandwiches and fries. Harry was overwhelmed by the glimpse he was getting of a whole new world and culture he hadn’t even imagined that existed. Sure, he always thought there had to be some more magic crafters out there, but he had kind of assumed they worked reading cards or something like that. He had certainly not expected a Ministry with rules and laws and all that.

However, the conversation soon shifted to the fact that not-Marco, (currently looking for a cooler name), was out of school and the crazy things going down there. (Or up, Harry gathered Hog-warts was somewhere up north).

Learning of the wizarding world was good, very exciting, but don’t get Harry wrong, he was in no rush to get a closer look. Sure, it would be nice to properly learn how to do magic, and from not-Marco’s account, there were incredible things to do, including actual flying brooms. But Harry would rather start slowly, you know. Maybe check some books out of the local magic library.

“There is no such thing” not-Marco explained, as if Harry were particularly obtuse for not seeing that. “There is only libraries at schools and education centres. Otherwise, you buy them or if you are poor I suppose you borrow them from neighbours”.

Harry stared.

See, that, that right there was yet another example of how profoundly messed up the wizarding world was. Despite his uppity tone, not-Marco had made a very good job of explaining his society. He was quite the story-teller that boy once he forgot to be all haughty and dismissing. The result, however, was not a pretty picturesque image precisely.

Harry had gathered that there were three power groups. Like political parties, only not because wizards were still thinking like medieval aristocracy and had slept through most of the Industrial Revolution.

There was a Ministry of Magic that failed to notice an underage wizard performing magic in front of an enraptured (if Harry said so) muggle audience.

There was a School that failed to contact Harry for his education. The argument about Harry’s possible lack of magic power that merited his admission was still unfinished and would probably require dessert.

There was a Dark Lord, a Sith Sauron wannabe, with a fascist blood purity discourse that wouldn’t go very far. Not-Marco agreed. And, again, it seemed like Harry was another example of its fragility, because there he was doing magic while muggle.

Obviously, the interesting element here was Harry himself, more particularly, his ability to perform wandless magic and his masking from the world.

“My turn. You have asked four questions in a row”

“Well that Dark Sauron shit is really stupid” Harry argued. Like, really, three of those questions were a variation of are you kidding, is this for real?

“My. Turn.” not-Marco repeated and Harry sat back on the chair. There were hot brownies to consume before they went cold.

“You must have noticed something, haven’t you? And what did you do to keep hidden? Two questions, so I want long answers”

not-Marco didn’t like his answers. Apparently, vague feelings and voices that weren’t really such did not count like proper magic or, according to him, like anything that made sense. The hiding was better, because it had a practical side as well as the emotional one.

Harry explained about the fake names and about not leaving traces or awakening suspicions. The importance of blending. The essential, basic, can’t live without it, necessity of always having a stash of food and a place to fall back to. Or two or three.

Not-Marco paid the bill (Harry helped choosing the coins) and they parted ways, both with more questions than answers and a lot to think about.

---

Harry didn’t go back home. Instead he took out his old notebook and went house searching for a couple of hours. Get some other addresses of flats on sale.

When he was walking back to homebase he got the recurring feeling of uneasiness. The one he ought to have felt with not-Marco but didn’t. So at least he knew that was still working. He dared a look in the reflection of a shopfront and caught a glimpse of a familiar figure. A shabby man walking a big black dog. Harry was certain he had eluded them before.

He arrived home two and half hours later, after a boring circuit to make sure he wasn’t followed. He filled a pot with water and looked at it until it boiled and then went through every window and mirror in the house, misting them with the water steam and drawing a careful circle with his left hand.

---

Draco spent a whole day touring the city and eating whatever he wanted (there were restaurants with food from other countries! what would Father say of his debauchery?).

The next day he went back looking for the boy who most certainly wasn’t called Mortimer Oakenshield and in fact, now that he thought about it, he probably didn’t use that name with other people. He seemed to be aware of how ridiculous it sounded.

It took Draco four hours and a bit of fear before he managed to track him down to a corner of Camden where he was attempting to sell some truly ghastly jewellery.

Really, nobody was going to buy that. He could just as well pack his things and talk to Draco.

This time, Draco learned that Mortim- oh, for Merlin’s sake, fine, Mort! He would allow for that and only that. He learned that Mort could do quite a lot of simple magic beyond the parlour tricks he had witnessed. Nothing too big, but big enough that he should have been detected by the Ministry already. Which led to the conclusion that he must be doing something else, something way more powerful than heating water or colouring stones to make earrings (seriously, the guy had no sense of colour or elegance, Draco could do so much better). However, he was suddenly remise to any more confessions, and Draco couldn’t find out anything else.

Still, they talked about other things, this time over Ethiopian food because Draco had only a week and so much to explore and he could multi task. Mort asked a bit more about Voldemort and he was appalled at the things his followers (Draco’s dad, his aunt, his friend’s parents) had done in the past. He made it known in the sharpest of tones. They got in an argument and they fought all the way over the end of the meal and the walk back to Camden. They were so angry that Draco didn’t even notice how some bricks nearby developed sudden cracks, or the way an iron grate moaned and trembled. It was more important to make Mort see that he had gotten it all wrong. There were such things as standards to maintain. You couldn’t just accept everyone like Mort proposed. People aren’t equal. Some people are better.

“Anyway, you know I’m right or you wouldn’t be here” Mort yelled.

“You know nothing! You are nothing but a simpleton. You didn’t even know what you were doing! I had to explain all of it” Draco’s heart was beating so fast. “You don’t go to any school”.

“Oh? Well then go back to your fascist friends, if they know so much. You bloody inbred idiot!!”

 

And he would.

Only that night (in a different hotel, because Mort had the courtesy of reminding him at the start of their meal that he had to move soon if he didn’t want his name reported, and even suggested a couple of alternative places) Draco sat on the bed and had to admit he would rather move hotels, inadequate as they were, than spend time with his family or at Hogwarts in the luxury he was used to.

It was a difficult admission, one Draco didn’t care for. He knew… He had started his little adventure because deep down he knew they were all wrong. Or not as right as they believed. It was just that Mort used such hateful words. 

---

Sirius wasn’t supposed to leave the house. But! There was no one to stop him and only Kreacher knew. For all they had readily accepted his offer of the house as headquarters of the Order, there weren’t many people there. Everybody was busy negotiating the Ministry and investigating what the deatheaters wanted there and how else they were seizing power. There were many meetings and lots of comings and goings, but in the end it was just Sirius there.

Well, Moony still technically resided there, but he spent most of his time out, either in Dumbledore's missions with the werewolves or with his personal projects that he refused to talk about.

So Sirius left. Mostly because sometimes the house made him itchy and it pressed over his head. But also because he enjoyed walking the streets of London, even in dog form, and just looking at the people living there. He also hoped to be useful somehow. There were many things he could learn by sitting in the right places.

For example, that was that tosser Yaxley.

Sirius followed him.

Is there a back for an alley? That would be the street proper, wouldn’t it? But beyond that, sometimes alleys have other back alleys. Smaller and darker versions of them. Whatever the name, this was it for Knocturn Alley and if only Sirius could get a bit closer then he would see what exactly Yaxley was buying.

He followed him back, until they got to Whitehall and Sirius had to retreat. That was a place where a big lone dog attracted attention.

Neither of them noticed, during the walk back from the alley, the two young boys leaning against the railing overlooking the river. The soft apologies exchanged. The hands offered and the firm handshake. If any of them had stopped there, they would also have witnessed the two boys talking until it was way past midnight and too late for any of them to be out in the streets. They would have overheard them arrange a date for the next day, and the next, and the next, until it was the end of the week and they had to say goodbye with a reluctant shaking of hands that easily turned in to an embrace, having found they shared so much, they clicked so well.  

---

On Sunday morning Draco checked out of the hotel. He bought himself another pastry and went to King’s Cross to get his luggage out of storage. He dragged his trunk all the way to platform 9 and…

He had to stop and hide behind a pillar so Blaise Zabini’s mother wouldn’t spot him. He had thought about it and kids were fine, but he couldn’t let himself be seen by parents who would of course ask after his parents and want to greet them, as was proper, and then they would notice their absence and wonder about it. And by lunch time everybody who mattered would know about Draco absconding for a week.  

Just as he was going to move, Draco saw the Patil twins. Both heading back with their faces down and identical grim expressions. And after them came Granger followed by half the Weasley clan, who were less raucous than usual. The Weasley girl was last and she had the air of someone who was planning or perhaps had already executed a murder.

Draco did not move. He did not move as Pansy Parkinson, pale and pretty and proudly sporting her Inquisitorial Squad badge as well as the prefect one crossed the wall into 9-3/4 platform.

He didn’t move after the seven year slytherins came.

He didn’t move after Longbottom, sill with red rimmed eyes, took a deep breath and went through the wall.

Draco didn’t move at all.

He missed the train.

---

The trunk was a real drag, so Draco left it back in storage and went to Camden carrying only his bag of money and his wand. Mort was there, with his colourful hair and his serene eyes, still attempting to sell his ugly wares.

“I thought your train left today”. Mort spoke in a careful and deliberate monotone devoid of all inflexion.

“Yes” Draco said simply. There wasn’t much else to say.

“When will they notice you aren’t there?”

Draco couldn’t say. Maybe someone in the train would remember him being there on the previous trip. Maybe they wouldn’t realize it until they called roll in Hogwarts. He was too tired to think about it.

The boy, Mort, sighted. But he didn’t seem annoyed, not really. In fact, he had a worried and tired expression, just like Draco, that faded away to one of resolution when he raised his eyes to look at him. Green was truly the colour of hope and life.

“You will be wanting to hide, then”. Inflection was cautiously creeping back to his voice.

“If at all possible, yes. If they find me, they will want to take me back”.

Mort nodded. Draco didn’t know the whole story, but he knew that he sympathised about not wanting to go back to somewhere. 

“Right. We need five pounds. No, no” he stopped Draco as he made for his wallet where he stored the muggle money “they have to be earned”

“Earned?”

“Yes, as in, you have to work or trade for it”.

Draco stared. He was not familiar with the notion of work. Now that he thought about it, nobody in his family seemed to work. Maybe the halfblood cousin, but he wasn’t sure.

Mort rolled his eyes. “Look, I will help you. But you have to think of something that you can sell to me”.

Despite his words, Mort was not helpful at all. He rejected every object Draco offered him, even though his watch and his ring were both worth way more than the price asked. Draco would have thought it was a scam (he had paid for all of their meals up to this point, he wasn’t an idiot) if the boy hadn’t passed over such obviously good deals.

“So what do you want then?” huffed Draco.

Mort shrugged and looked around. That calmness could also be infuriating. “Don’t know. Can’t you do something? Like, with your hands?”

Which is how Draco was banished to the Costa Café nearby, where he doodled five drawings in the paper napkins. Mort looked them over with the eye of a Gringotts’s globin assessing a purchase. He rejected the shield of Hogwarts right away even though Draco had got the four animals pretty well. He settled on paying three pounds for a drawing of  a quidditch player dodging a bludger, and one pound each for a cauldron with a potion boiling and a shelf with a set of ingredients.

Mort passed him the notes with a formal gesture, carefully saving the drawings inside his wallet.

They walked back to King’s Cross and to the tube station there. Mort explained how to get his very own single ride ticket for the yellow line.

“It is not a perfect circle” Mort said as they went pass the turnstile “but it is circular. You can ride and ride all day in a loop”.

And that’s what they did. For seven hours (he was very insistent about the number). Occasionally getting down and waiting for the next train in what seemed like perfectly random stops. Changing direction twice. Drawing circles in windows and in the mirrors of the gents room.

“Do you… just… How exactly do you know what you are doing?”

“Dunno. Must be magic.” Mort smiled wickedly as he leaned back in his seat. “I just know. Draw a circle in the door before we arrive to the next stop”.

---

Minerva’s eyes met with Snape’s over Deputy Headmistress Dolores Umbridge who was quite sure that young Malfoy was not missing and that someone had not checked properly and failed at his or her job.

Snape’s eyes told a different story. They said that there was reason enough to worry and that he would like to question the other slytherin students and contact the Malfoys immediately.

He had quite expressive eyes. It was probably thanks to the brows and his magnificent frown, which was voicing his opinion about the little plump woman who kept chattering about how it was most likely a little juvenile prank and had anyone checked at Hogsmeade? Surely he had sneaked there. Or perhaps he was ill and his parents simply forgot to send an owl letting them know. They would receive it tomorrow for certain. Nothing to worry about. Nothing.  

Except, perhaps, for the murderous intent hidden in Snape’s eyebrows. The woman was a minute away from being discreetly poisoned and tossed inside a cauldron to hide her remains.

Minerva abandoned Snape to his much deserved fate of a person whom Umbridge talked to often, and went to send her messages right away. Which is how the Order learned of Draco’s disappearance three hours before the Malfoys received a floo call from Snape. Although neither of them knew what to do with the news.

Slytherins, and the Malfoys in particular, were behind the crimes not the victims of them.

---

Harry felt responsible for not-Marco and he did not like it. That is, he liked not-Marco. He was pretty funny and strongly opinionated and he shared his joy at discovering things (“And you can also put peppers on it?” “You can put anything on pizza, it as gift”). But it was a bit too much, the responsibility. He had only been responsible for himself before.

But he had planted the seed of the idea, hadn’t he? And now the poor guy had abandoned his fellow fascist friends (good) to become a homeless bohemian (not so good) due to Harry’s radical influence (unexpected). So now they would talk a lot about philosophy and die from tuberculosis, because this was how these kinds of stories went.

Harry would rather neither of them died hungry and cold while clutching an unexpected revelatory letter.

He hadn’t actually told not-Marco to become a fellow homeless secret wizard, but he had criticized a lot his choice of friends, so maybe Harry ought to make sure he knew how to navigate his new life. Plus, not-Marco was good company. Harry hadn’t noticed how lonely he had been until he started to talk so much last week.

---

They filled the hours in the Circle train talking about magic and muggle life and art and books and food and how to live the life of a fugitive. So Draco understood for what it was when Mort brought him back to his homebase, the place where he slept. He wanted to repay that incredible show of trust and the help received today, and so he told him his name.

He was not expecting the laugh.

“That is so not your name!” Mort exclaimed in an unnecessarily loud tone. “Oh, my, I knew you regretted Marco, but this is way over the top. Trying too hard to be cool”.

Draco was at a perfectly adequate temperature. He also defended the familiar tradition of naming after stars and constellations all the way down the lobby and the three flights of stairs. Until they reached the door a little out of breath and Mort said all right, he believed him, and that at least he hadn’t been named Camelopardalis or something equally dreadful.

For a homeless half wizard, Mort had quite the education. Draco really wanted to check out that Museum thing.

---

Draco understood that Mort’s place was an incredible step up from sleeping on the streets or in a bathroom in the Underground. The place was beautiful, spacious and clean.

But.

There was no heating.

And.

What… just, what was with the neighbours upstairs?

Mort laughed at the second complain. The neighbours, he explained, were a blessing, since it was thanks to their outrageous and loud behaviour that the rest of the property was empty and he had been free to move in. Also, nobody noticed they place was occupied, not even them, due to their extensive drug use.

This led back to the first complain, that there was no power because its sudden appearance would draw attention. Plus, Mort didn’t know how to connect it back. And if he did, someone would come to disconnect it and he would find him squatting there.

Which all made sense, but as soon as Draco got his bearings over his new renegade life he would be seeing about it because he refused to bath by heating pots of water in the kitchen. 

And so, the next morning Draco dragged Mort to the bathroom and told him to stare at the pipes and see if they managed to heat the water that way. It worked, except for the part that it required Mort to be there and Draco had the most awkward shower experience of his life.

(No, no, he couldn’t just say “forget it” and go back to the pots. He drew the curtain closed and tried to ignore the fact that Mort was standing there looking at the shower head that fortunately was visible over the curtain if he stood on top of the loo. All while Draco tried to enjoy an actual proper hot shower. Mort offered commentary and chattered away the whole time, because the poor guy couldn’t even say he had been raised by wolves and you had to forgive him this kind of things. Anyway, later on, Mort admitted it was a good idea when he tried it himself.)

---

“I want you to know, I really appreciate what you are doing for me”

“Oh, thank you Draco”

“I am not done. I mean” Draco coughed twice to cover his previous snapping. “I am very grateful and I recognise your help and the trust you have shown me, and I want you to know that I… also… trust you very much, and, yes, we should celebrate the confidence we have found in each other and the information shared”

“You are still calling me Mortimer Oakenshield”

“I AM NOT! It is ridiculous! I told you my actual real name, I am not calling you that preposterous name”

“…All right, Draco. Drink your tea.”

---

Mort thought they ought to celebrate Draco’s new life, and Draco wanted to do something else to prove that really he was very grateful. He had also just realized that he depended on Mort’s knowledge to navigate the muggle world, more than Mort could ever depend on his wizarding know how. Fortunately, Mort assured him he was “cool” about it, which Draco took to mean he was not angry, because one grew hot with anger.

Unless overcome by cold fury. Was Mort gearing up to a tantrum?

Draco was confused.

When Mort said to take the day off and go explore the city, he said yes.

---

There was a small panic in Hogwarts.

There was a controlled, worried, fright through the Order members.

There was fear and chaos in the Ministry. Some junior members locked themselves in the bathrooms and refused to go out.

Nobody knew how to call what was going on in Malfoy Manor, but the tension made Bellatrix uncomfortable and that was certainly new. Narcissa cracked every mirror in the room and she didn’t even have her wand with her at the time.

Meanwhile, Harry took Draco to the museums. He spent ten minutes staring at the Ophelia in a tense silence, swallowing past a dry mouth.

“I come here often. But trust me, the History one is better”.

Draco nodded silently and Harry let him go a bit ahead. Draco had told him about the wizarding moving portraits and that sounded wonderful. He would love to see one and interact with them! But nevertheless, there was something about the quiet immobility of certain images, the idea of a single moment captured there.

So, yes, he understood it if the guy needed a moment to compose himself. Soon after he was happily bitching about all the Warhols and Kandiskys and only reluctantly accepting Magritte.

---

They had lunch in a Chinese restaurant, because Draco had never been to one and apparently that was like the most basic stepping stone of normalcy. Everywhere in the world, people had Chinese food. Except for Hogwarts.

He could get used to the crab Rangoon.

Draco insisted on spending the last of his money taken from his Gringotts account, like a symbolic act of his new life. Mort forbid it, arguing that he ought to save some for emergencies. There was a back and forth until Draco agreed to keeping a twenty pounds bill and spending the rest on the next suitable activity they found.

So he bought them last minutes tickets to a theatre spectacle.

Mort enjoyed himself immensely. Draco was puzzled by the deep muggle abstraction of having real people pretend they are animals who can, nevertheless, speak and feel like people do; and put songs and dance on top of that.

He left the theatre with his mind reeling from all the political and real life implications of the play. The weak villain who relied on an unstable group with inbred problems to make the rows of his army. The fact that he didn’t really hold them in consideration and would easily abandon them, just like a certain someone hadn’t thought twice at making his servant cut his own hand. The scorched earth. The downfall brought from the lost child he never managed to kill…

There was much to reflect on. Draco was grateful it wasn’t known in wizarding circles.

Next to him, Mort hummed happily and murmured that when Draco said Hakuna, he answered Matata.

---

Draco lasted for three whole days before he snapped.

Ok, it was more like two and half.

And one of them they spent celebrating.

So it was one day and half the night before he gave up on sleep and went to talk to Mort, who was reading on the living room because when you are a homeless renegade you know no bedtime and you can stay up as late as you want.

But, really, it begged the question on how Mort had survived until this point and whether he was unawarely an hypnotist. Because no one, NO ONE, with even a speck of taste, no one with a working pair of eyes and the vaguest sense of style and colour matching, would ever willingly buy the horrible eye sores Mort was selling.

Mort looked a bit taken aback at Draco’s passionate tirade. He put the book back and threw a glance at the table, to the pieces of wire and twine and colourful pebbles.

“Okay” he said. He blinked twice.

Perhaps Draco shouldn’t have used such strong expressions like “vomit inducing” and “a sin against all that is beautiful in this world”. But for someone who spent so much time in museums, he really had horrible taste. It was probably all that “pop art” that had rotted his brain. That Pollock man.

“Do you want to try?” said Mort, who actually seemed incapable of taking offense at anything other than race supremacy talk.

So Draco did. Starting with clearing the table and arranging the supplies by material and colour, and then bringing some paper and properly sketching his idea before starting to glue.

One hour later he had just one pair of earrings to show, but a beautiful one.

“Ok. These actually… look pretty good.” Mort nodded and smiled. “Price them and we will see”.

---

Next time they went to Camden, Mort stayed at his table and Draco took off to look at the other shops. And then to the good shops, the ones that were inside buildings. He returned with a notebook full of sketches and ideas only to learn that Mort had sold his earrings on twelve pounds, rather than the usual five or seven he asked for.

By the end of the week, Draco was completely in charge of the Designing & Making Crafts operation while Mort was Chief of Security and Performance Lead. Grocery Acquisition and Preparation was a shared operation with multiple points of contention and careful negotiation.

---

The next meeting of the Order was a rushed affair. They did it late during a Saturday night, hoping that no one at Hogwarts would remark on the synchronic absence of three of their staff.

There was much to discuss. Voldemort was keeping a low profile, but they had all noticed movement between his followers. They were definitely about to try something in the Ministry. Oh, and since they were on that topic, Fudge was insane and being ridiculous uncooperative. And now Hogwarts had been taken by that toad and Albus forced in to hiding.

So it was understandable if Draco’s disappearance, while worrying, was featured only briefly in the discussion. Mostly they thought that he had been pulled out by the Malfoys, who no doubt had some inside intel of something that was about to happen.

Snape disagreed. He hadn’t had much opportunity to speak with other death eaters, and Voldemort certainly didn’t encourage them revealing their identities to each other, but he was still on good standing and other than the plan to take over the Department of Mysteries first and the Ministry as a whole on second place, he didn’t know of anything else.

Plus, he had seen the Malfoys. Lucius’ surprise had seemed genuine, as was Narcissa’s worry.

Even so. It wasn’t an urgent matter.

It wasn’t until almost three weeks later that Emmelina Vance remarked on the coincidence that Draco’s disappearance so mirrored Harry’s. They had both vanished one day and no charm or spell could find them.

---

Draco wouldn’t say he was deliriously happy, but he would say that the last few months at Hogwarts had been miserable and only now he realized the full extent of it.

Living in muggle London was exhausting and annoying… and there were actually very few places where he would rather be. He fought with Mort constantly over food and the house state and living in comfort and it was wonderful. He could say whatever he wanted and Mort would simply laugh it off and fight back just as hard. Other than that first argument in the Ethiopian restaurant, they hadn’t really fought, not like that.

And then, on the lazy morning hours when everybody was working, and on the days of heavy rain when people fled the streets, Mort would take him to a museum, or to a movie theatre to catch some special discount film, or to the library, where he let him take a book all of his own with his library card (Mort always got the other two books allowed to retrieve).

It was a huge world and Draco had to decide whether something was good or not multiple times a day. Obviously it had to be him, because Mort had no taste. Except with movies, and even then he never fully appreciated the nuances. Like, how could he not see the dramatic irony of the Sleeping Beauty where the king made his own enemy by his lack of manners? Or the reflection on man’s impact on the environment and yet his vulnerability in it, as presented in the master piece that was Jurassic Park?

So, see? There were so many things for Draco to pass judgment over.

In the evenings, when it started to get dark, Mort would ask and Draco would tell him about the wizarding world. There were many things he would rather not talk about. He didn’t want to think on what was going on at Hogwarts or at home. But he could talk about other stuff like quidditch, and learning magic and how wands worked and types of spells.

And like that, they were in the beginnings of summer.  

Ok, so Draco would not say deliriously happy, but pretty close.

---

Draco certainly had not expected to be the normal one, and yet Mort was incredibly weird. But that was all right. It just meant that sometimes he would wake in the middle of the night to find Mort drenched in cold sweat, and Draco would help him spread salt in the doors and windows, and he would sit with him inside a circle of salt with a silver piece in the centre. He also got really bad headaches and occasional nightmares of which he refused to speak. Those were less frequent, fortunately.

For his part, other than a few adjustments to his new life regime, Draco was fine. Better than fine. He slept more, and he was putting on the weight he had recently lost and although he was still pale, Mort swore he had better colour now. More pure white and less greenish.

Then there were the days where despite it being sunny and a weekend and therefore being the perfect time to get money, Mort refused to leave the apartment and Draco had to push him outside. You couldn’t have a bad feeling on a sunny day, that was just mental.

Although, of course, they hadn’t even reached their usual corner when Draco spotted a blonde head in the crowd, silver white just like his. So they had to duck behind a car and that’s when he saw that not only was his father there, but so were Yaxley and Dolohov.

Mort passed him his hoody so he could hide his hair, and they ran to The Tube, number one protection from all things magical. Mostly because wizards have a very hard time understanding the ticket machine and the turnstile.

Twenty seven hours they spent there. Seven in the circle line, and then three more randomly jumping from station to station only for Mort to open a couple of locked doors with the awl (Draco wished he knew more about wand making, because that looked like a primitive wand) and sneak through the secret passages to the closed museum station where they set camp.

At least Mort allowed for five minutes out of their route to buy some food and water in one of the shops. But Draco learned to accept all his quirks after that and even developed some of his own, like never going without a water bottle ever again. Running made you thirsty.  

---

The unthinkable happened in June and Voldemort entered the Ministry. Emmeline Vance was keeping guard there and was instantly murdered, as were two other wizards who had been working late.

The death eaters came in two waves. While one fought the people of the Order as they arrived, the other succeeded in locating and retrieving the prophesy record.

However, more and more wizards from the Order came, as well as some Hogwarts students who had snuck there. They managed to stop the invasion of the Ministry and Dumbledore’s sudden appearance made Voldemort flee.

It was a victory on both sides, and a bitter one.

That night, Harry got a severe migraine that had him on the bathroom floor shivering and fighting back tears of pain. Draco was so worried he forgot to remember about the end of the course and the OWLs examinations he was missing and his sixteenth birthday. Instead, he visited half a dozen different shops in London and a few parks and even a private garden to gather the necessary ingredients to make a healing potion from memory. He didn’t have a copper cauldron or a silver knife or garlic root gathered on St John’s night. Yet the mixture seemed to work and Mort reported feeling much better.

---

They didn’t go as far as to say it aloud in Grimauld Place, but both Remus and Sirius recognized that Severus had been right a year and a half ago when he said it was better for Harry to remain lost. Now they were back in a war and Remus gave thanks daily that Harry wasn’t touched by it.

They were fighting Voldemort at every front and they knew that he was looking for Harry. On the really bad days when the news of attacks on muggles and half bloods became too much, Snape’s reports on Voldemort’s increasing frustration were the only good thing.

It turned out that if Dumbledore’s power couldn’t locate Harry, neither did Vodemort’s.

---

Summer was there and with it an increase on possible clients. They spent most of their time preparing things to sell and polishing Mort’s magic act.

Draco liked the idea of a keyring. Not only as decoration but as an amulet that went with you, or that protected your house through your key. He also liked when they worked together, sitting side by side on the table, making the process from paper and ink to metal and wood. It wasn’t magic, exactly. He wasn’t waving his wand and casting charms, but there was a certain tenderness, a murmured wish on every keyring they made.

You will protect the door.

You will return to the true owner.

You will keep bad thoughts away.

Draco was thinking on making a line of rings and he had started with a few prototypes. Something simple, like a wire bent into a spiral. They could put some soft charms in them, to keep away loneliness and to bring calm.

It had seemed so complex at first, what Mort was doing. But now Draco almost understood his kind of magic, a magic that didn’t came from motion or words or ingredients or wands, but from the will.

---

Harry thought that Draco would miss doing magic, but the weeks passed and he seemed okay with his wand gathering dust in the kitchen closet. Of course wand magic was more powerful and focused, by they did fine with Harry’s.

Now potions and ingredients were another thing.

“Look, you have to use silver! You can’t use that cheap crap. It goes on people’s ears” exclaimed Draco, before amending “through, it goes through. You have to use noble materials”.

“I understand all what you are saying, and I would like to introduce you to the undoubtedly new concept of expenses”.

Draco huffed and puffed and accepted that maybe not all of it had to be silver, but definitely the hook part. Then the idea struck him that he was a wizard, and even if he couldn’t do magic (they haven’t dared try the limits of the concealing ritual) he could do potions and alchemy just fine as soon as he got the right tools.

Only, of course they couldn’t just go to Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley because what if Draco was recognized? And they would have to change their pounds into galleons. There was an easier alternative which was going to the station and getting Draco’s trunk out of storage.

Only when they went there Harry felt something like a twinge in his teeth and even Draco admitted that there was something in the air, like a whistle in his ears. So they took a detour and stopped by a newspaper stand and watched for a while.

They returned the next day. Harry found interesting that he had a feeling of alarm, but not fear. It wasn’t the need to run when he spotted Draco’s father, or Uncle Vernon, or the beardless sij, or the creepy man with the bulging eye. But it was a feeling telling him what he knew, that they were walking into a trap.

What they planned to do next was incredibly risky, but Harry had learned a lot from Clubs on how to run this kind of operation. So he gave five pounds to the drunkest hobo he could find and he and Draco sat back and observed as the homeless man tripped whatever magic alarms were by the locker that held Draco’s things.

Five wizards appeared, just appeared from five different directions accompanied by pops of different intensity. One of them came perilously close to them, emerging from the dark corner between the pillars. He walked briskly past them in a bright purple suit that did little to make him blend with the crowd.

“Are you sure you actually need it?” Harry asked again, because really, it was quite a big risk that drove attention to them. Or, well, not to them. But to the fact that someone would be interested in Draco’s stuff.

“Well if it is not too much bother” he answered airily, which Harry had learned was his automatic defensive response.

So then Draco went near the rubbish bins and threw three small Coca-cola bottles with a mentos inside. He ran away without looking back and Harry took the opportunity to sneak through the ring and take the trunk from behind the distracted wizards who had never seen anything quite like that outside of a potions classroom. The homeless man was making a big scene, free of charge, so that gave him ten additional seconds.

They met by the corner that led to the exit and they took a handle each of the trunk.  The closest tube stop was Euston, but Harry insisted that they ought to take Angel instead and Draco had given in without a fight. Angel sounded right.

The wizards of course had realized the bottles were merely a diversion and were chasing them. But chases were easy. Chases are just a question of time and distance.

They got fifteen seconds with the water spilled by the doors.  

Seven with the bag of corn dropped to the floor that attracted all the pigeons in the square.

And then they were in the alley next to a pizza place and they could put the trunk in the floor. It wasn’t enough to lose them, but it was enough that they wouldn’t see them for the next thirty seconds or so.

Draco got his wand out and Harry put his hand over his, fingers intertwined. Together, they pointed at the sky. There was a stream of golden and white light, three small fireworks, a dozen butterflies that quickly scattered and seven purple balloons. The balloons sung humorous and dirty limericks as they spread above the square.

Almost immediately, more wizards popped up on the street. Between obliviating muggles, exploding ballons, and figuring out what the other wizards were doing and who was the idiot who let that spell out, Harry and Draco had left the place, having transferred Draco’s possession to two old suitcases they had gotten for seven and half pounds at a Oxfam charity shop.

---

They didn’t go back home right away, of course. Instead they broke into one of the houses in Harry’s list. Harry filled the bathtub while Draco got the things out and started to wrap them with foil. In they went in to the tub and Harry stared until all the water was boiling, which was a bit harder than usual but not as much as you would expect considering the volume.

They had both seen enough movies by then to be familiar with the concept of trackers. Why this process would dispel any tracking spells put on Draco’s luggage Harry couldn’t say. But he knew it would in the same way that he knew that circles hid you and salt was a natural barrier.

The funny thing was that Draco had started to catch into it. Instinct magic he called it, to differentiate from the magic of the will. Which explained his new obsession with silver and iron or with the fact that he was sprinkling rosemary over the bathtub and dropping seven carefully selected bay leaves.

---

The school books were a bit creased and warped from the humidity, but Mort still took to them with delight, reading them cover to cover and asking a million questions.

Funny thing: The guy had lived isolated from the wizarding community and he could still tell that their DADA book was a piece of rubbish. It was the only one he didn’t finish.

And after carefully drying and cleaning all his tools, Draco had an adequate potion making set and he could start smelting and plating the jewellery hooks.

And yes, the irony that he was now invested into making crafts for muggles did escape him. He made valiant efforts that it would do so every day.

Besides, if Mort ever fell sick again, he would be much better prepared to brew him a cure.

---

Madeline Greenberg didn’t deserve this. She really didn’t. But she was the junior member at the office and the Magical Law Enforcement Department had drawn the short straw.

The Aurors had probably cheated. They seemed the type to cheat.

So now she was put in the difficult position of talking to the Malfoy couple, who were staring coldly at her across her small office desk.

“Thank you for coming” said Madeline. She pushed some papers around to give herself a second. Neither of them responded. “As you may know, in the course of the investigation over your son’s disa-“

“We know what happened” Lucius Malfoy interrupted “What we want to know is what you are doing to find our son”.

Absolute discretion is what Auror Shacklebot had told her when it was decided she would be the one to talk to them. They were almost certain that at least one if not both of the Malfoys had participated in the attack at the Ministry. Although of course they were masters at squirrelling, or rather slithering, out of difficult situations.

No wonder no one could find their son.

Anyway, the point was that no one wanted them to spend much time in the Ministry and no one wanted them to learn anything confidential.

Or, well, the aurors didn’t. Other departments were more welcoming and Madeline thought she had seen them talking to the head of the Department of magical Transportation before they came to her office.

“Well, all investigations follow their, er, course” said Madeline. “Today, I am here to talk to you about the recent events at the King Cross station when”

“You let someone steal my son’s things. The things you didn’t let us reclaim and take home”.

There were so many whispers and rumours about Lucius Malfoy. That he had been a death eater, a willing one, that he brushed his hair with a hair comb made of house elves bones, that in his younger years he had a French lover who committed suicide when he married Narcissa instead, that he could destroy the lives of three wizards before breakfast.

And yet people barely spoke of his wife. Nobody seemed to realize she was the terrible one.

Madeline coughed twice. “In the investigations of said event, the Ministry registered the performance of an underage magic act. However, the information about it is a bit, um, fuzzy, haha. Now, could you confirm me the make of your son’s wand?”

“Hawthorne wood and a unicorn hair”. Narcissa said each word as if she were chewing on ice. She was beautiful, despite the coldness and the hardness she exuded. There was something incredibly alluring about her. Madeline felt terribly ugly and clumsy and insecure in her old robes full of pills.

“Ah, yes, thank you” she made a show of writing a small note on her paper. The investigators had guessed it was probably hawthorne or rosewood. Now to explain about how they didn't know if that had been Draco.

Madeline barely noticed when Lucius Malfoy took his wand out, pointing at her. Her eyes widened with worry, but soon after she felt better, just sleepy and fuzzy and very relaxed. So relaxed!. It was good, everything was good. Really, the Malfoys were good people and Madeline would love to be their friend.

“Now, tell us. What do you know about the search?”

So she did.

It was the queerest thing. They got the alarm for underage magic and magic in front of muggles, but they didn’t know by whom or even the make of the wand. The readings were incomplete. Very strange.

They had found Draco’s trunk, abandoned with only a few garments inside. They had put a trace in all of the contents, of course, but it seemed to had been washed out soon after. So far, they had only recovered a box of chocolate frogs gone stale.

Oh, and they wanted to call Dumbledore in as a consultant. Since he had been night impossible to locate during his brief tenure as a fugitive, they thought he may know something about the equally mysterious disappearance of the young Malfoy and of whoever had taken his luggage. Because here was the thing, in recent history there were only three cases of truly untraceable wizards and Dumbledore was the only one who came back, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy being the other two of course.

Oh, yes, she would keep them updated. She would love to do that. She would do whatever they wished.  

---

The Malfoys didn’t speak when they left the office, or when they walked down the marbled hall of the Ministry. They didn’t speak when they apparated by the gate of Malfoy Manor and walked, slowly and leisurely, down the gravel path to the house.

Lucius went to his office and Narcissa to the sitting room she had claimed for herself early in the marriage. There, she ruled the house and took care of all the public relations for the family. There were letters waiting, they always were, and at least ten different models of thank you notes to choose and fill and send.

Bellatrix sidled to her, anxious to know whether they had the opportunity to imperius someone, to learn something for The Cause.

Narcissa barely glanced at her. Lately, whenever she looked at her sister she was reminded of the other one, the blood traitor, and Narcissa had the same feeling of disconnection, of not knowing or understanding her.

Out of the three of them, Narcissa was the only one that came close to making Mother proud.

“Bella, we went there to get information on Draco. You know, your nephew that disappeared”.

“We all mourn for Draco. But you must remember, His Mission comes always first. An what better memorial for Draco that to achieve a world for pure blood wizards?”

Narcissa didn’t know what hurt more, her obsession with Voldemort or the callous way in which she gave Draco for dead.

She didn’t say anything else, and eventually Bella left to go bother someone else. It was a kind of slow torture, going through lunch and the afternoon errands and waiting for evening and having dinner, all with the same stupid doll expression.

But at last, it was night. She lighted a spy candle and put it on the bedside table while Lucius went quickly through the series of nine steps that would open a secret flight of stairs from their bedroom.

The candle would emit the sound of their breathing and the rustle of the sheets and even the shadows of two figures lying in bed, so it would look like they were not missing. But after fifteen minutes it started to emit a distinctive smell of soap and wool. Very faint, but recognizable. And their house was now full of people who would think nothing of sending them to their deaths if that gained them the Dark Lord’s favour.

At the end of the stairs there was a narrow corridor that went under the grounds and the creek to just beside the stone wall that marked the northern limit of the state. It felt right, somehow, that they would discuss this outside the known limits of their house. Outside the area that he had claimed for himself and his cause.

Their conversation was brief and hushed, even though the corridor had medieval old enchantments for discretion. They didn’t have much to say, other than reassure themselves that they were on the same place. That they would follow Voldemort loyally and dutifully.

But not effectively.

Because he couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything to find Draco, but Dumbledore did. And as distasteful as they found it, they would make sure that the old gnat lived for as long as it took to get their son back.

Chapter Text

“Draco, no”

“You can’t be sure!”

“They are made from children, they are not cursed”

“There is a long history of cursed objects. Dancing shoes, books that can’t be put down, music boxes that turn people mad”.

“It’s just good music! They are supposed to be catchy”

“Three days I have had this accursed song in my head! Three days! Don’t tell me it is just catchy

“Well, no one gets in to your head like Gaston”.

---

Harry’s first years of his new life had been a turmoil. Now, almost two years after what happened to Ratty, he saw that they were a mixture of fear and freedom and pain. He had been dirty and tired and hungry, and still it was better than the memories of Privet Drive.

The year after that had been all about finding serenity and being, perhaps for the first time in his life, truly free of pain. It had been bliss. Like showering the dirt and sweat of a long day, like taking a splinter out and feeling the aching relief.

It had only been around half a year since he met Draco and Harry felt awaken. The past year had been necessary, a chance to truly rest and breath, but it had also been like living under permanent anaesthesia. And now Harry was rousing and noticing how lonely he had been, how removed from the world.

Talking to Draco and fighting with Draco and just living and interacting with another human being was wonderful, even if said wonderful human being was pants at sweeping the dust and had set fire to one of their towels trying to warm it. Because Draco shared his hunger for the world and now Harry had his energy back and he was ready to explore and learn and devour. He had less and less headaches and the shadows on the corner of his eyes and the dark voices that accompanied them receded.

Harry read and worked and went with Draco to every free exhibition and every discount cinema. And also, he went to a Trivial Pursuit competition at a pub (it was a good opportunity for Draco to discover new topics to ask about) and won a radio.

He actually went down to the shop and bough the batteries for it (rather than merely willing it to work) while Draco worked on something in the kitchen. Harry put the radio in the living room where they spent most of their time, mostly because the only real table of the house was there.

A raspy voice and guitar chords came from the radio telling about a woman who had Bette Davis eyes.

Harry had forgotten about music.

He was elated at getting it back, that feeling of rightness when you heard a good song. And Draco’s presence, drawn to the room by the melancholic and eerie melody, that was good too.

There was something spicy bubbling on the kitchen. Harry’s hand were still cold from the chilly wind outside.

This was something very much like a home.

---

In October, Draco checked out The Hobbit from the library. When he got to the right page Mort fled down the stairs and all the way to the street laughing hysterically, the cheeky bastard. It was a wonder he could get that far, he was laughing so hard.

Draco eventually caught him. He was at a loss on what to do with him, so he settled on putting his ice cold hands down the neck of his sweater until he begged for mercy.

---

A trick question.

What’s the difference between potion brewing, alchemy and cooking? The resulting state of matter.

Because the first produces liquids and the second solids and the third does everything in between. This is to say that Draco was admirable qualified for cooking and as Halloween neared he attempted baking.

Now, did the result resemble a castle with actual moving parts, a chocolate moat and sugar ghosts flying around the turrets? No. But it was very good and Mort assured him that as good as his description of wizarding confection was, the hideously ugly chocolate thing he had produced was much better. And it would be better still if they called it Chocolate Swamp.

---

Harry insisted that they were too old to go ask for candy on Halloween night. Plus they didn’t have any customs. Instead, they could do what adults do and go to the cinema to catch a horror movie.

Draco was not prepared for the experience. He sweated with the music and jumped at every scare and Harry did not joke about it, not once, not even when in the darkness Draco’s hand searched for his and squeezed.

To be fair, Harry jumped too when the creature burst through the poor crewman’s chest, and when they saw it had gotten in the pod with Ripley.

So if he had to comfort Draco during his first horror movie, Harry didn’t mind at all.

---

“You bastard! Houdini is not your real name”

“Hey, you never know. We have lots in common”

Draco threw him a cushion and felt very justified in doing so.

---

Harry didn’t talk much to the neighbours upstairs. He wasn’t a morning person but nevertheless Harry was familiar with the hours before eleven in the morning. He didn’t think anyone in that flat woke before two. So their schedules didn’t collide much, is what he meant. But eventually, they had met, and hiding behind a corner would just make him more suspicious so he talked to them. The typical British Exchange of Good Wishes he had learned in Privet Drive.

Only of course this wasn’t Privet Drive, so they went from exchanging hellos to “do you think his tattoo is stupid? I think it’s stupid” and having to form and express opinions on body modifications.

Harry suspected that the girl (and he was almost certain that it was her who rented the place and had the money) didn’t know all of the people following her, so she was just nice and talkative to everyone. And because she talked to everyone, so did her entourage. And this is how Draco was officially hit on by one of them.

“What? She has a boyfriend!” Draco said full of rigorous indignation after listening to Harry’s explanation of the elevator talk. He was still figuring out his new set of morals and values and when he got one he liked (ie: infidelity is wrong) he applied it to the ultimate consequences.

“No, she doesn’t.” replied Harry, and immediately regretted having spoken so quickly. “The one with the crazy hair is dating the guy with the piercing, but the others don’t have anyone long term”.

“Crazy hair really doesn’t help as a descriptor in this case”.

Harry snorted. Draco was right. That was probably another reason why they spoke to them, they both blended in.

“The one with lots of hair” he clarified.

“Oh, her”

“Yes. She is dating the guy with the ring through his nose”

Draco shuddered. “I really don’t like that ring”

“You have said”. He really had. “Now, the one with the WW2 bomber airplane tattoo is the one who has got a crush on you.” Harry explained. “Not that I care”. Because he didn’t. He really didn’t. Draco was free to explore the world and be liked by anyone. Because he was very likeable, that arsehead.

Draco’s response, however, was unexpected.

“That’s A WOMAN?”

“Oh my god, Draco, her name is Martha or something like that”

“They call him, HER, Spider!”

“I am sure she is perfectly nice” Harry went on. And why did he do this to himself? No, no, that wasn’t right. Jealousy, I know you when I see you, let go of my guts and chest. Draco is free to make his own friends, even if they have very questionable taste in lifestyle and they are stupid and smell bad and probably drink spinach juice or something like that.

At Harry’s insistence, Draco went upstairs to spend the evening with Spider and her crowd. Because it wasn’t right for Harry to keep Draco all to himself. It really wasn’t.

This of course didn’t stop Harry from screaming into a pillow and repeatedly hitting himself on the head with Sandokan before he was calm enough to start reading.

Draco returned two and half hours later, rosy cheeked and slightly trembling. He looked straight at Harry and announced that the upstairs neighbours were complete idiots and no wonder no one wanted to live near them and he wasn’t going back up there ever again.

Since by then they had both grown used to the loud music and the smells and the fights, Harry was fairly surprised by this reaction and the finality with which Draco spoke. It wasn’t the offer of booze and drugs that altered Draco so, although he declined both and had admonished them against consuming any kind of drugs without looking in to the manufacturing process and knowing their exact composition. Because, who knew what could be mixed in there? Were they following a proper hygienic protocol?

(This was serious. Harry wasn´t allowed near the potion equipment if he hadn’t thoroughly washed his hands first).

But no, it wasn’t the drugs. It was that Spider and some other guy who insisted in being called Nix had put Dali and Matisse and Picasso in the same bag with Kandiski, Pollock and Warhol. Warhol! And Nix kept talking about his “art” even though it was obvious he was just painting over photos, and not very good ones.

Harry took this with the seriousness and gravity it deserved. Draco had very strong opinions on art, but given how well his designs sold Harry was inclined to think he was right.

“I am very sorry” said Harry, and he really was, even if he would also love to jump over a table and dance.

Draco was still breathing hard and had a wild look. He argued with Harry all the time, but apparently he didn’t take it so well when other people disagreed with him and insisted in being stupid and wrong.

“Hey” Harry started softly. He didn’t know what was the matter with him today but he seemed unable to shut his stupid mouth. “Are you…? Is this a big deal?”. After all, it was Draco’s first attempt at making non wizards friends.

“I, er, I…” Draco took another deep breath. “No, I guess. This is not… important”.

“Because I could give you your Christmas present now, if you really need cheering up”

Draco’s eyes bulged out and Harry wanted to punch himself. Obviously the wrong thing to say.

“Christmas present?”

 “Yeah, well…”

“It is not even December yet!”

“Yeah, yeah, I know” Oh, lord, Harry was blushing wasn’t he? Later tonight he was going to drown himself in the bathtub. “Look, don’t think too much about it. I just saw it and it was on sale so I got it. It’s nothing fancy like you are used to”. He mumbled the last part.

Draco’s face did something strange, attempting half a dozen expressions at once. Then he sat next to Harry. “Nah, that’s all right” he said while looking through the papers in the coffee table and grabbing the most recent newspaper, dated from two days ago. “Don’t’ want to ruin my surprise”.

Their coffee table was made out of cardboard boxes with a paper tablecloth spread on top. Harry went back to reading while Draco looked carefully through the newspaper for any future free events. Later he picked up his copy of The Lord of the Rings and started reading, commenting on every single thing Merry and Pippin did.  

It was nice.

---

“Who are these again?” asked Draco. He was chopping onions in the kitchen for dinner, while in the backburner his personal recipe for a cold avoidance potion brewed slowly. It would take all night before it was ready, but it would be worth it. It was starting to get really cold and neither of them had proper winter wear.

Mort lifted his head from the table. He was deep in the mind numbingly boring chore of sorting coupons and planning finances. Draco was happy to cook dinner while M figured out the money.

“The Beatles” he answered, and then. “Although I think this is just McCartney singing.”

“I don’t like this song. It makes me sad”

“Eleanor Rigby. Yes. Yes, it makes me sad too.”

Mort fiddled with the dial and changed the station to some news bulletin. It was better, but the feeling of melancholy was still there.

“Hey Draco”

“Mmh?”

“PA! parapa pa pa pa pa Pa! parapa pa pa” chanted Mort, while hitting the table rhythmically with his pen. “Chaaaannnnnnn chan chan!”

“what”

“LET’S get down to busineeeess! To DEFEAT! The HUNS!”

Ok, Mort’s real magical talent was chasing the bad thoughts away.

“Did they send me daughters…”, Mort sung with closed eyes and full emotion, “when I asked… for sons?”

By the time he got to the chorus Draco had joined, of course he had. You couldn’t just listen to the song and not sing along. Even if it was a really bad rendition.

Despite there being two of them, they never agreed on who had to sing the backups and ended up trying to sing both at the same time.

---

The homeless community that hung around King Cross station had learned their lesson and kept well away from anything remotely magical. It was a damn pity they had been so quick to obliviate McPharne because Remus thought he must have known something. You don’t just walk to a random locker and punch in the correct code to unlock it.

But they would never know now, and if someone else had seen anything, they were not telling.

Remus went to Moorgate and down to Guildhall to check the gossip there. There hadn’t been anything new from Harry, not since the vague descriptions and maybes from the prostitutes in Soho. And hadn’t that been a wild few days when he went to ask there. He hadn’t been able to sleep the whole week and when he shared his fears with Sirius he had gone into a week long black mood. And that had been months later, when Remus had felt a bit more trusting. He was almost sure by then that Harry had never resorted to that, but the mere thought that he might have had to. That James’ son…

“Oy! Oy Lupine man” said a high pitched voice. Remus had to squint and still barely recognized the owner as Samantha Fick.

“Oh, my good, Sam! Is that you?”

“What? A woman gets her life straight and friends don’t say hello to her anymore?”

The voice was the same, and the accent, but the rest had changed. Lost was the unkempt blonde hair, the bloated face, the red skin. The woman looking at him still wouldn’t be able to walk around Belgravia, but she was nevertheless miles away from the Sloppy Sammy Remus knew.

“You are looking well” Remus said with total honesty. “Really well”.

“Yeah, got myself sorted out, didn’t I? Still drink from time to time, but I have a job now. Been there for five months”

This kind of stories were heart-warming but also repetitive and slow and a real bore to listen to for more than five minutes. But Remus had learned to listen. Even if you didn’t gather any useful intel you still got people’s trust, and lately they had been in much need of either of those. They had only learned of Voldemort’s plan to poison Dumbledore because they talked to some half mad muggle who sometimes hanged around Knocturn Alley. So of course Remus listened to the whole story of Sam’s change of habits and newly acquired life perspective.

“One hundredth and eighty three days of the new life” Sam said, nodding. It was the third time she said a variation of it. “Makes me real proud”.

“You have reason to be” Remus smiled, He was honestly glad for her. “Say, how do you know the date so well?”

“Oh, well, it’s when I got the ring, see? Never take it off and it has brought me lots of luck. First one the boy had made, or so he said”

Remus looked at the ring she was showing him and his heart skipped a beat. It was a simple plain circle of copper wire braided and twisted together into something resembling a Celtic pattern. It was also, Remus was quite sure of it, magical.

He barely had to ask to get the whole story. Sloppy Sammy had been slouched over in a park bench as usual when in came this young boy, pretty and fair like an angel, desperately looking for some plant. Acacia, maybe, or something starting with an A. He had been so distraught Sammy had offered him half a bag of almonds she had somewhere with her. It turned out that almonds have healing properties, that’s what the boy said, and he had traded her the bag for the ring which he had promised would bring her good luck.

And so it had been, because after helping the boy she had felt all good about herself and said, “Sammy, you need to change”. And look at her, all changed now. So she remembered really well that it was on the night of June the 18th when she quit the drink.

Of course Remus remembered the night Emmelina Vance was killed. Of course he remembered the night Sirius was almost murdered by his cousin. The night he saved Sirius life and he, in turn, saved his.

“Well Sam, you are a very lucky woman. Must be grateful for that trade. Did you got any chance to say thanks?”

“Of course I bloody well said thanks. It’s not like he is hard to spot, that boy, with the head full of white blonde hair like a proper angel and what not. You can see him in Covent garden selling his rings and necklaces”.

---

It was too cold for Mort to be making his magic tricks. No one would stop that long to watch anyway. So they decided to split and sell their stuff in two different places.

The only problem was that as much as Draco had learned about magic of the will, the instinct magic still eluded him on many aspects. Meaning that he couldn’t spot danger unless threatened face front at short range.

Well, Mort had years of practice on him! So Draco just had to learn to keep an eye open for coppers and always have an exit nearby. And Mort had given him his special blanket in which all the crafts where fastened with safety pins, so you could just grab it and run and not worry about losing all your merchandise. They practiced for three days, until Draco could go from his shop stand to level two hiding in just a minute and ten seconds.

Covent Garden was crowded, so that was an additional line of defence for Draco. He could get lost much more easily.

So far, he had only had to run once.

It was the days just before Christmas, so everyone was looking and many were buying. Draco was happy to see that his pieces were well liked and sold well. They had made quite an investment in time and resources to get a big stock for the holidays and he had been a bit worried because cash was always difficult to come by. Or not difficult, but it went very quickly if you wanted to eat daily.

Fortunately, they were having a few not too cloudy days and people were throwing themselves to the streets to get all that pale sunlight. A crowd always meant money. Mort said they had made back the money of the materials and he expected to keep going at this same rate of earnings, which would be fantastic as it would mean having savings.

So Draco could be excused for being more preoccupied by the clients and the possibility of the police arriving than for the frankly negligible chance of a wizard coming to a place full of muggles.

Circe’s curls, that was Professor Lupin coming straight at him.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!

Professor Lupin stopped in front of his table. Here was the man Draco had mocked for his shabby old clothes. And here was Draco dressed almost exclusively out of charity shops.

“Draco” he said right away, so at least they would be spared the game of I don’t know you, you must have me confused with someone else. “You are looking well. And what a lovely arrangement you have here”.

It took him a few seconds to react, but he was a Malfoy, he would not show awkwardness in public.

“Thanks”.

“People are quite worried about you, you know”

“Are they?”

“Well, some of them”. Professor Lupin looked down to the table and touched a few things. He had big hands, funny he never noticed that when he was his teacher. His touch, however, was quite delicate. You could almost forget that he turned into a wild beast with the moon. “What are these?”

“What do you want?”

“To know what these are”.

He looked back up to Draco and smiled. His fingers pointing to the keyrings.

Draco had no idea what was happening and it was giving him anxiety. He wished Mort were here but at the same time no, he really, really wished he didn’t show his face. Maybe this was instinct magic kicking in but he felt like it would be better, safer, if no one knew about Mort. Better keep Professor Lupin distracted, then.

“Keyrings” he said, and then because he remembered how novel they had seemed at the time. “You put them with your keys so you won’t lose them”.

“Ah! What a lovely idea, yes”.

A woman came at that moment and asked about the pendants. Draco saw to her and ended up selling a lovely blue and white amulet that protected against bad words and gossip. Professor Lupin waited silently by the side, still looking at the keyrings and bending a bit to get a closer look.

Draco was about to tell him to buy something or leave, but the werewolf beat him to it. He pointed to a half moon shaped piece.

“I think I would like that one. Do you think it could be adjusted to be put on a wand?”

Draco stared.

Professor Lupin smiled again. But this time it seemed more tired and honest. It was a better smile, as if he were laughing at himself or the ridiculous situation they were in.

“Look, Draco, I know a thing or two about not fitting in a place and wanting to leave. I won’t tell anyone that I saw you”

“Swear on that?”

“I swear”. Draco was taken aback by the speed and the force of the response. Professor Lupin’s eyes were staring straight at him.

Draco would think later that he had never had an adult speak to him with such… honesty wasn’t the word exactly. Respect. As if his words and his decisions and his wants were something worth listening to.

“Just answer me this” Professor Lupin went on, gaze still firm, “Are you all right? Do you need anything?”

What world was this, where he received kindness from the werewolf teacher.

“I am doing fine”.

Professor Lupin nodded. “Good, good. You do look fine, Draco”. Then he seemed to hesitate, his mouth twisting. “Listen, if you ever need anything, I do mean anything… Do you know where the old Black house is?”

Draco knew there was a house in London, but that was about it. He shrugged.

“The house is under a Fidelio charm, so you won’t be able to see it. Go to Grimauld Place, between numbers eleven and thirteen. It’s nearby, in Islington. Someone will see you and we will let you in”.

“Ok”.

“Whatever you need, all right? Even if it is just a stop for conversation and a cuppa”.

“Ok”.

---

On his way back, Remus stopped at a shop and bought himself the bigger chocolate bar available with the few muggle coins he had left, just as he had done when he saw Harry. Maybe this was becoming a ritual.

It was too cold to stay outside unmoving but nevertheless he sat on a bench and let the cold air abate the flush in his skin and calm his nerves.

Draco had been… he had been understandably freaked out. But Remus thought he had done all right and that he had believed his assurances of his silence. He had refused the money Remus offered and when he tried to buy the moon keyring (what an idea! He really had to see about attaching it to his wand) he had taken it and instead he had given him a curious disc with a wave dividing it in the middle.

“For balance” Draco had said. And it certainly looked the part, the black and white dancing together to make a circle. Just like his own nature, he guessed.

He had also bought one in the shape of a padfoot that Remus thought would make a hilarious gift for Sirius. Draco said it was good for friendship and not feeling alone, and that was exactly what Sirius needed.

And Draco… Draco needed a show of trust, and he could give him that.

---

On Christmas Eve they stayed outside for as long as they could. And that was very long because some people took the concept of last minute shopping to the utmost limit. The air was cold and biting and they had spent hours and hours on their feet that day. They walked back home closely side by side, trying to share some warmth and protection from the chilly wind.

This would be Draco’s first Christmas away from home. Harry didn’t have much experience with the festivities, but he wanted to make it special nevertheless.

They stopped by a Shawarma shop, one of the few places that were still open during the holidays, and got their dinner and lunch for the next day. You could get quite a lot of food for just about twenty pounds and Harry thought the occasion deserved it. Plus, they had made good money the last few days.

They had a candle lighted dinner (because no electricity, so they used candles and flashlights) and listened to Christmas carols on the radio. Harry peered at Draco’s face frequently to see if he was feeling all right. If there was sadness or melancholy, he certainly hid it well.

They were beat tired, but still they made an effort to stay a bit late and play a game.

“This is nice” said Draco out of nowhere while Harry focused on the delicate task of playing Exploding Snap with a muggle card deck that had been experimentally modified to make it snap randomly. His fingers were still smarting from one of the last blasts.

But yes, complex card games or not, it was nice.

---

Harry was rudely awaken from his slumber by a weight sitting across his chest and someone shaking him by the shoulders.

“Gggaahmnoooo” said Harry, which was a very reasonable response.

“Come ooonnn! I have been awake forever. Breakfast is ready and I want my present. I was promised a present”

“Draco go awaaay”

“How can you keep sleeping is beyond me. The blinds are open, the radio is on, I have made noise”.

Harry would have kept sleeping with Draco sitting right on top of him. Is not like he didn’t have life long experience sleeping in uncomfortable places full of noise. When he was little, Aunt Petunia always started vacuuming near the stairs, and hit the cupboard’s door multiple times.

But the announced breakfast was true. It smelled like coffee and eggs and beans and toast and Harry’s mouth was watering.

It occurred to him that they should have celebrated with something more than a “hooray!” and “well done, Draco” when he managed to heat the stove for the first time. He could still do nothing with the water, but he was attuned to metals. And that meant hot breakfast.

Draco was giddy and smiling and in such a good mood that it made Harry wonder about his past life. Harry being happy with all of this was only natural, but Draco was used to a life of comfort and luxury. He had no reason to be excited.

However, today was not a day for such thoughts. Harry shook himself and rose from the table, breakfast having been praised and consumed. “Well, let’s see about presents then. Please don’t think too much of it, it is just a small… Draco! Step back! Go sit on the couch”.

Harry stepped out to the balcony where he had hidden Draco’s present from his questing hands. He passed it to him with an utterly and absolutely fake indifferent air, heart beating wildly in his chest. The shop didn’t have gift wrapping and Harry didn’t want to use newspaper, so he had been accumulating exhibitions brochures to make a colourful paper wrap with them. They didn’t have tape in the house, so the whole things was quite literally held together by force of will.

Draco opened it and stared for quite a while, unmoving and silent.

Oh god, he hated it. He hated it and he was thinking about what to say not to hurt Harry’s feeling and he was probably composing his face so he wouldn’t see his dislike.

The corner between the living room and the bedroom was particularly sharp and pointy. Maybe Harry could run towards it headfirst and put an end to his misery. Although he would probably fail and then he would be bleeding on the floor and even more embarrassed and Draco would see what a total disaster Harry was and he would pack his things and go live upstairs, because he would rather listen to stupid art opinions than be near Harry.

“Look, it’s just a… I mean, you seemed to enjoy sketching, so I thought, but you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to”.

“Mort”

Draco’s eyes were shining when he finally raised his gaze. “I love it” he said with such intensity that Harry instantly believed him. It was like a wave of assuredness washing over him and leaving only relief. “I, I have… I have never gotten something that I just like. I mean, I got plenty of things I liked, but I was supposed to like them in the first place”.

He lifted the box of paintings and the sketchbook from the remains of the paper. “This is great, thank you”.

Harry was so happy that if in that moment he had stepped out of the balcony, he would probably have flied all the way to the top of the Old Bailey.

And then it was his turn. Once he had learned of the possibility of presents, of course Draco had found something for him, too. This one was wrapped in a thin maroon paper. Heavy and squared shaped.

“You didn’t have to”

“Of course I did. Shut up and open it”.

---

Here is a mostly complete list of the gifts that Harry had received through his life.

  1. Uncle Vernon’s used socks. Possibly unwashed. Nine of them.
  2. A green bag with a map, an apple and a bottle of water.
  3. Four used coats from the Cricklewood folk.
  4. Three used jumpers. Same source.
  5. A pair of glasses. Bartered for under false pretences.
  6. Seventeen promotional t-shirts.
  7. A well used, well loved, old edition of The princess bride. A dog eared and coffee stained compilation of The Arthurian Legends and other folk stories. A paperback version of The Iliad with the cover held together with tape. All in the same package.

Harry had sudden difficulty swallowing. He knew what Draco had meant, oh how he knew. 

---

Winter seemed to remember it had been lenient so far and January turned into a nightmare of sleet and hail. They only had the one coat, which they shared, and Draco’s Most Improved and Effective Cold Avoidance Potion, which he was preparing in big quantities.

He saw Professor Lupin once more, on a day when Mort was using the coat. He looked quite horrified at Draco’s lack of proper winter wear and insisted on giving him some money, which Draco refused because he saw now the necessity for everything to be a trade.

Plus, he didn’t quite fancy the idea of explaining to Mort how he got a hundred quid.

Fortunately he had his sketchbook with him, and so Professor Lupin looked through it and bought a rather lovely piece of the interior of a coffee shop where muggles and wizards interspersed, as if they couldn’t see each other, or as if it didn’t matter. Only the bartender seemed to see all of them.

It was a nice piece. One that Draco hadn’t expected to ever sell.

Well, none of his work actually. Mort was the only other person who ever bought one of his drawings. Perhaps when the rain passed he could put more of them for sale.

Later that day he and Mort went out and got a staggeringly ugly green coat from an Oxfam shop, and still had enough for gloves and hats for the two of them. Draco did wonder a bit at the professor’s sudden show of riches, but it wasn’t at the top of his mind. And so far he seemed to have kept his word, which was way more important and welcome.

---

He didn’t even like Mars bars all that much, but the sticky caramel in his mouth was a helpful deterrent for the scream building in Remus’ mouth.

Draco was good, he had talent, but he still had much to learn. Those head studies and poses could be anyone.

So Remus only bought the small bar, instead of the big one, and celebrated that at least one child was going through life untouched by darkness, happy enough to draw.

---

“What in Merlin’s name did we just watch?”

“I don’t know Draco. I heard it was a classic”.

“This was one of the most bizarre experiences in my whole life.”

“Yeah… I… Yeah, I don’t know either”

“I was approached by a younger student once, who tried to convince me I was part house elf part veela. And that made more sense”.

“You do look a bit elvish”

“No, I don’t. You don’t know what you are talking about. And anyway, the important thing here is the mad dream extravaganza we just witnessed”.

“I read it’s a musical. You like musicals, Draco”

“Oh, no. I liked it. But I don’t know what I saw”

An old woman who had also been at the cinema, noisily eating and apple, interrupted then.

“Oh, dear, that was everyone’s reaction back in the seventies. But it was still popular. We loved a good scandal back then just as much as we do now”. She laughed and winked.

“And what did you get out of it?” asked Mort who was, for once, as lost as Draco.

“A crush on Tim Curry, mostly.”

“Ah, yes” Mort nodded with understanding. “I know what you mean”. And they both laughed again and the woman wished them a good night.

Interesting.

Draco was learning something too.

---

“Just to be sure. Tim Curry was the fellow in lingerie, not the old one who narrated the story, right?”

“Right, Draco”

---

February was still cold and miserable and they didn’t sell as much as they were hoping to. Also, Draco accidentally found a couple of pages of the Daily Prophet carried by the wind. He read half a story about the murder of one Mrs. Abbot who most likely was the mother of Hannah Abbot, and another one that linked the collapse of the Millenium bridge to Death-eater activity.

The paper turned to ash in his hands and scattered in the wind. Draco felt as if the ashes had taken residence in his mouth.

---

“Draco, what…?” asked Mort later, when they were making dinner at home and Draco was still surrounded by gloom. Actual gloom. As in, he had filled a glass of water and it had turned black and dried while he held it in his hands, leaving a faint layer of grey dust.

“Will you talk to me?”

He was forever grateful that Mort did, without asking more or demanding explanations. He prattled about money and expenses and how they had savings now, despite the bad month, and perhaps they could even take a few days off, catch a movie. Then he talked about Patroclus and Hector, who was the real hero and not that prat Achilles, and little by little the room seemed to fill with light again. 

---

Mort had shown him the Assyrian sculptures and Draco understood his love for them. They were so big and solid and ancient, and they had survived so much, witnessed so much. Of course one could look at them and get a sense of peace, a will to survive just as them.

Every time they came to the museum, they came to see the winged lions before leaving. As if paying their respects.

But those were Mort’s, not Draco’s. He had been content to wander around the museum and discover one or two or seven new pieces on each visit without anyone holding definitely his heart. Then they brought the Sloan Astrolabe back from a special exhibition somewhere abroad and Draco knew he was taken.

“Is the decorations, isn’t it?” whispered Mort, after Draco had spent fifteen minutes staring dazedly.

And how could he know? They were, they were!. It was the careful shape of the plates, the engraving of animals and foliage interwoven together. All beautiful and completely unnecessary in an object that had a very specific purpose. It was the fact that the crafter had chosen to make it so. It was beauty for the sake of it and Draco loved it.

He would never have discovered it, if he hadn’t let Hogwarts, if he hadn’t met Mort.

---

They were coming out of an exhibition on post-war pop art that Draco hated. It was still a bit chilly out there, spring coming late this year, and there was a faint drizzle in the air.

“Anyway, you can’t just rely on message to make an impact if your technique is so poor. Unless you have a really strong message, which they don’t, because their message was that nothing makes sense. So at least show some skills. If the medieval can do it, you can too! And the use of colour was so simplistic and unimaginative that…”

One moment Harry was half listening to Draco’s usual vehement tirades and the next he had turned deaf and was struck by… by the thought of Draco’s existence. By that mad, opinionated boy who had to be so passionate and argumentative about everything. A boy who insisted on getting proper silver for the earrings hooks and snuck little good charms on every piece he crafted and who brewed him potions and was so belligerent because he actually looked at everything.

Harry was so suddenly and violently overcome by emotion that he just had to grab his face with both hands and kiss him.

“Gah” said Draco when Harry’s lips landed on his, and after the kiss “don’t interrupt me!”.

And then he seemed to think about it and kissed Harry instead.

 

Chapter Text

Life didn’t change much after the kiss. They still fought with ardour over food choices, they made jewellery together, they read and studied whatever topic they fancied. It was just that now Draco was allowed to reach out and kiss Mort whenever he wanted, and sometimes they shortened out the arguments so they could go make out on the mattress.

There were more things they could do, but Mort’s knowledge of them was too technical and focused on the business side and all Draco knew came from overheard conversations on the quidditch’s showers. So it took them a while to figure it out.

Meantime, they kissed. Some days that was enough and some days it awoke a hunger in them that was impossible to satisfy until on the fourth night Mort finally realized that they could put their hands down each other trousers and oh!

They only had the one mattress over an old box spring, but after that first, wonderful, excellent round, the mattress was suddenly inserted in a big wooden bedframe with solid and clean lines. Draco would have gone with an art deco style, so it had to be Mort and wasn’t it great, knowing that he had made Mort do that?

Anyway, there was less reading and drawing and less crafting after that, and they both experienced a hunger like never before.

---

“Oi, turn up the radio!”

The first notes of the song were coming. It was Harry’s turn to make dinner but he abandoned the rice and came to the living room to listen better, head and shoulders shaking to the rhythm of the tune and lips mouthing the lyrics.

“You look ridiculous” Draco informed. He probably wasn’t aware that he was nodding along too.

Harry was naturally confrontational, or perhaps Draco brought it out of him. In any case he answered by deliberate and challengingly shaking his hips and then, at Draco’s mildly indignant expression, going into full dance mode, which involved all of his body, expansive arm motions, and the whole room space. 

Draco danced too. Supposedly to show him how it was done.

As if!

Harry had known of the musical gift called Wannabe long before Draco was introduced to it.

---

Harry might be a bit biased, but Draco was an excellent dancer.

---

Draco caught a glimpse of Professor Lupin twice more. Both times in the market in Convent Garden. The professor waved but didn’t attempt any conversation, apparently satisfied with visual reassurance that Draco was still alive and not about to drop dead from consumption.

Although, the rate at which he and Mort were going, it was a possibility. Mort had hurriedly finished his copy of The Treasure Island last night and in the morning said he was going to the library to get some proper information, before setting up his stall. Draco shuddered at what he could have learned by the time they met again for lunch.

But it was a good kind of shudder.

---

The headboard sprouted an engraved geometric pattern. Intertwined lines that made like the shine of a crystal or the rays of the sun across a window. Harry let Draco think it had been him, because it did kind of looked more like his style, and he had been so smug about it.

The illusion lasted only until he got his brains back, which was much, much, later that day after they had gone out to get the evening discounted food from the supermarket. Draco stared at a tourist sign advertising tickets to watch the crowns jewels at the London Tower and seemed to recall how Harry, in a previously unknown lyrical mood, had waxed over his beautiful silver hair and the light in his eyes that shone like diamonds. Which was all terribly sappy and embarrassingly sugary, but Harry had been getting spectacularly shagged at the time, so he thought he could be excused if he got a bit carried away both with his magic and his metaphors.

Anyway, Draco threw him a look and dragged him home and pushed him to the bed, intent on making his mark there. And Harry had absolutely no complaints whatsoever.

Now the silk sheets were all Draco, because Harry was pretty sure he had never felt silk in his life. But if Draco wouldn’t notice the change, Harry was not going to point it out for him.

---

They learned that under certain circumstances Draco could levitate small objects. It was probably Draco, because Mort had been busy giving him a blowjob at the time, and he couldn’t multitask that well. Plus, Draco had wanted to get his sketchbook, to capture Mort’s image on paper. He didn’t get to do that, of course, because Mort did something with his tongue right then while he squeezed with his hand… The sketchbook fell to the floor with a thud and Draco came just as fast.

---

They met with the upstairs people a couple more times. Draco glared at them the whole trip. Spider giggled and smiled flirtatiously and Harry deliberately asked if anyone had seen that post-war pop art exhibition and what did they thought about it.

“I know what you did there” said Draco later. Since the north wall of the bedroom was now a beautiful bright pink instead of the ordinary off white of the whole apartment, Harry was pretty sure that was no complain.

“It’s my inner slytherin” he said anyway, because it was still cold, outside and inside the flat. “How was it that you said? Cunning and, um, ambition! For the very best things”.

And he spent the night very warm indeed.

The girl that almost certainly owned the place, Patricia, noticed them holding hands and congratulated them. It was sweet, but for the fact that she was completely plastered and held them there for a twenty minutes speech on love, betrayal, and how men in general were assholes, and women too, and she was just so damned happy that they were together! Because they deserved good things and everybody deserved to be loved even if you were a mess and a slut, and had thick thights, you still ought to be loved, no one is so horrible, she wasn’t, wasn’t she?

They ended up giving her an apple and a glass of water and helped her find the correct floor and the door to her apartment. Harry assured her that her thights were perfect the way they were and many men would gladly die in between them, and she hugged him and cried a bit more and informed Draco that his boyfriend was a true gentleman.

---

Sex was great, but there is so much you can have before your thights are burning and as much as you want to go again you really, really, can’t. But it was all right, it was good actually. It took the edge off and you could take your time exploring that other person’s body and kiss just for the sake of kissing. You could enjoy simply laying in bed.

Harry had just done his hair earlier that morning. Hair dyes were ridiculously expensive, so lately he was resorting to grabbing a strand with a hand a pointing at it with the awl with varied results. His locks were now a deep rich tone of purple, but he had been going for bright bubble-gum pink.

Draco liked it, though. He said it went well with his natural raven black, and look at who was waxing poetically now. They were both lying in bed, Draco leaning on his elbows as he went carefully through Harry’s hair.

“I think the underside here, when hit by the light. It may have pink reflections”

“Oh, bugger off” Harry answered, laughing. Draco smiled too, and he had the wickedest, most salacious smile.

“You never put green on your hair”.

“What, and look like a leprechaun?”

“Leprechauns have red hair, Mort, try to keep up”.

Harry hit him lightly on the shoulder. Draco smiled again and dropped a kiss on his forehead, pushing his hair aside.

“I just don’t care much about that colour”.

“It would go well with your eyes”.

“Yeah, I know, I know”. Everybody commented on that. Then he frowned, remembering something. “Hey, didn’t you tell me that green was your house colour or something like that’”

“Yes. Green and silver are Slytherins colours. You can see how that is obviously the more elegant choice. Hufflepuff is just disgusting”

“Trying to make me one of yours, eh? I actually used to be called Green, back when I was in the streets full time”.

He had talked about his past with Draco, the things he did, but it was the first time he addressed it so openly and gave him a name. It wasn’t a secret. It just… He didn’t see any point in thinking too much about the past. There was hardly anything worth revisiting.

“And before that?”

Harry hesitated. “Those were bad years. I’d rather not talk about that”.

Draco nodded. He had a weird expression, eyes searching. “Is that how you got this?”. His long fingers were tracing the scar on his forehead, careful and delicate as he was with everything. The scar was something that Harry kept always hidden, something of himself that he knew was too distinctive, just as the green eyes. Letting him see it now, it felt just as vulnerable as the first time they had been naked together.

“I don’t want to think about that time”

Draco’s eyes were on his. He nodded once, firm, and he kissed Harry then, and kept kissing and kissing until they saw that they could go for another round after all, and they didn’t speak another word about that.

---

“Merlin’s hat! Do you know who that is?”

Harry looked up at Draco, who seemed very excited at having recognized someone on the radio. Since he still consistently confused Queen with David Bowie, he had reason to look so happy.

“Bourbon Dry?” Harry offered, because that’s what they host had called it. Only now the notes were a bit more familiar, as was the drawn out line, the lazy fry of the voice that claimed not to want to get up today. “Noooh!” He exclaimed.

Draco was nodding, smug like a cat who had gotten all the canaries in the street. “Yep. That’s Patricia”.

Wow. So she was a drug addict with horrible friends and even worse life habits, but that girl could sing.

Next time he saw her in the elevator, he would congratulate her.

---

Although it was in his best interest to keep quiet, Harry felt he had to speak. There were already many things he didn’t talk about, and he would rather not be silent on the small things.

“Draco, I am not sure this is gonna work”.

“Just think about curtains while I blow you”. He was pushing him towards the couch.

“But…”

“If you can’t get velvet, that’s fine. But see if you can make them patterned” Draco hesitated. “Don’t go crazy with the colour, all right? Just think of one tone of green. The one I showed you”.

---

Draco did not get the new curtains he wanted.

“I told you I don’t actually do it on purpose! I can’t control it”

“You were not trying hard enough”

I wasn’t? Well excuse me if I was otherwise distracted”.

Draco thought about it.

“Perhaps it should be me. I have a very clear image of what I want”

So they reversed positions and still Draco didn’t get his curtains but he found he didn’t mind too much and that it was really hard to think about such menial things when all your universe and experience was reducing itself to the feeling of a warm mouth around you.

---

“Didn’t…?” Nix closes his eyes, focused for a few seconds, burped, and then went on. “… this room used to have a carpet?”

“Nix mate. You, are, pissed” laughed Gideon, who was starting to ride the low of the drugs rush and always got a little bit verbally aggressive. “You wanker”.

Patricia looked down. She felt like there had been a carpet. Something green or grey. She had dropped a bottle of purple nail polish on it, and Spider threw up and Kendra said they had to use vinegar to clean it but there was no vinegar so they used white wine and it did nothing.

But there were only floorboards now, so she must had been wrong. Although she couldn’t understand why would she imagine such an ugly carpet when the floorboards were so pretty.  She had been drinking a lot and it was hard to keep thoughts in order.

---

Draco left the book open upside on the couch. He wandered in to the kitchen, the bathroom, and the two other rooms they didn’t know what they were supposed to be.

Then he returned to his seat.

“You reached a good bit in the book, eh?” said Harry, from his place on the opposite corner of the couch.

“Scarlet is going to marry Frank Kennedy!”

“I am shocked!” said Harry, who had not read the book, and only half remembered listening to the movie when he was at the Dursley’s.

“Frank was supposed to marry her sister Suellen”.

“Oh dear, what a… minx”.

“No, no. It was brilliant! She just saved her family and the state. Oh, and she even dressed in green and has green eyes. It’s a pity this is a muggle book, because kids in Slytherin would love it”

“I see”.

Harry guessed that flying with brooms and talking to portraits had to be really entertaining, because otherwise he really didn’t know what wizards did with their time.

---

Sex was good. It was fun and pleasurable. Knowing you had someone’s trust, be it because they would share their bodies or the minds with you, that was better. Sometimes, Draco thought he could go the rest of his life celibate if he still got to hold hands and, in the night, speak softly to each other sharing secret thoughts under the sheets.

“Do you ever miss your parents?” he asked.

“Do you?” evaded Mort.

Draco regretted starting the conversation. This was not what he meant. And what he did mean… he didn’t want to say.

“Well, sometimes… I don’t really miss the life there. But I wish I could call them, see how they are doing. Tell them I am okay.”

“You could write them a letter”

Draco hummed noncommittally. A letter would do little good if he couldn’t get an answer. And he could not risk that. Perhaps later, when he turned of age and was able to do magic, and Mort had those bloody A levels he kept talking about. They would both be a bit more settled.

But that wasn’t what he was asking anyway.

“I meant… You grew up without parents, didn’t you?” Mort spoke very little of his pre-London life, but Draco knew he had been living with some relatives and that there was no love lost there. “Doesn’t it get lonely or sad?”

Mort took a while before answering. His voice was heavy.

“You don’t miss what you don’t know, that’s what everyone says.”

Draco kept silent. By now he knew when Mort was done talking and when he was just thinking about what to say next.

“It was lonely at times, but that is not necessarily bad. I can tell you, the times I wished I had met my parents and could talk to them weren’t the times I was sad”.

He shuffled a bit, getting more comfortable. Draco tightened his embrace, wishing he hadn’t said a word.

“When I am happy, though. I wish they could see me then, that I could share it”.

Draco kissed him then, and there were no more words for that night.

---

Vicent Crabbe’s attempt at murdering Dumbledore was so ridiculously clumsy and bound for failure, that they were pretty sure it had to be a diversion for a more cunning plan.

McGonagall and Snape, who had had him in class, thought it was all within usual parameters. Why, just in his first year he had managed to poison himself no less than four times because he kept liking the spoon employed in potions class. This despite the fact that they didn’t use anything toxic in the classroom other than what Longbottom managed to produce.    

“Weren’t slytherins supposed to be cunning?” asked Sturgis Podmore

“Ambition, I believe, was the key trait in this sorting” answered Snape who, in an uncharacteristic chatty mood, was still telling them about Crabbe’s multiple failings during the years.

This is something that teachers often do when the opportunity opens. Even Remus, who never had anything negative to say of his students, couldn’t think of anything positive either beyond “he came to class”.

Draco’s absence only served to highlight his friends’ shortcomings. His influence over both Crabbe and Goyle had turned out to had been quite beneficial while it lasted. Without Draco there to tell them when they ought to do their homework, they hadn’t so much started to fail their classes as plummeted. Zabini hadn’t been much interested in claiming Draco’s place and in fact he had cursed both Crabbe and Goyle early in October so they would stop following him around.

And hadn’t that been another delightful mess for Snape to deal with. Crabbe’s and Goyle’s new slimy forms were too slippery to catch and he had had to push them with a stick (a stick, Helga’s Hell, not his wand) until he got them both inside a cauldron and took them to Madame Pomprey. He also had to give Zabini detention, because you can’t have students seeing that sort of example.

Slytherins should never be caught cursing anyone.

So unless Zabini was playing the long-term game and expertly hiding his traces and manipulations (not impossible, considering his mother), Crabbe hiding by the headmaster office with a sac and a wooden club had to be taken at face value. 

It was just one more in a series of increasingly bizarre murder attempts ordered by Voldemort, who had put half his force to the task while the rest were spreading fear, gaining power in the Ministry and occasionally looking for the elusive Harry Potter.  

Snape had successfully negotiated to be in the second group, despite him having the perfect means and opportunity to finish off Dumbledore. After he had succinctly explained the events leading to that fortunate decision during an Order meeting, Remus had poured him a glass of the good wine and asked to hear the whole thing. It was very rare these days for anyone to be able to tell the complete version of their missions and Remus was so used to listening to people by now that he didn’t mind at all. Asking people to tell their story was second nature.

It had been a good idea. Genius, event. Sirius had howled with laugher and didn’t even mind Snape’s quick reference to both their canine natures. In fact, Sirius had insisted on opening a bottle of the better wine. Come morning they all had excruciating headaches and upsets stomachs, which was a negligible price to pay to let go of school time grudges.

---

“It is not I who needs to prove his loyalty to our lord” Snape had said, right before they entered the big ballroom in Malfoy Manor where Voldemort usually held court.

He had been the first to arrive to the actual room. The rest had taken from a minute to fifteen, all arguing loudly in the corridor outside over proved allegiances and favours and certain wizards hogging all the good opportunities to demonstrate one’s devotion.  The fight wouldn’t have gotten so bad if Lucius Malfoy hadn’t quickly jumped in to say that of course not everyone deserved the honour of performing the most delicate missions. They had ended up all rushing in to the big hall, like children running to father, to ask of Voldemort the privilege of killing Dumbledore. And because they were dark wizards, they had done so while throwing curses at each other.

Then Narcissa Malfoy had come, gliding over the polished floor like a beautiful dream. She had put a delicate long fingered hand over her sister’s arm, stopping Bellatrix from stabbing Nott in the eye, and said, barely raising her voice, that she would not have fighting in her house. And since she was sure that their Lord knew of their steadfast loyalty, she saw no inconvenient on bowing out and letting some other less fortunate name carry the honour and satisfaction of fulfilling their Lord’s will. The Malfoys certainly didn’t care, as they were happy enough following His orders, be they big or small.

She had finished with a small curtsy in Voldemort’s direction that wouldn’t had been out of place in Aquitaine’s court. Voldemort had been pleased and the Malfoy’s hadn’t lost any status anyway, what with Narcissa’s beautiful sight over the little indignities they all had to endure in order for their Cause to be advanced.

Snape’s instructions were to investigate more on whatever the Order found on Harry Potter and see if Trelawney dropped any other prophesies, and he would definitely not try to kill Dumbledore because that would mean losing their best positioned spy. Specially when anyone, even Rosier, could do that.

Later that night, as they were leaving with their orders, Bellatrix sneaked to a dark corner and stabbed Nott on the ribcage anyway.

---

So far this year Dumbledore had survived six attempts at poisoning, four cursed objects, two stabbings from imperiused students and now whatever it was Crabbed planned. A club to the head it seemed.

Ironically, the closest he had come to dead it had been by his own hand, when he managed to track down Marvolo Gaunt’s ring. The mark of the Hallows displayed in the stone taunted him. The possibility to see Ariana again, to say sorry… Perhaps Gellert too.

But with the thought of seeing Gellert, came another one. If he could see someone who wasn’t part of his family, maybe he would be able to see others too. Dumbledore was a very brave and very wise man, but most important he was old. There had been many deaths through his life and even griffindor courage can desert you when what you have to face is not danger but reproach.

He had succeeded in convincing everyone, including himself, that taking Harry to Privet Drive was for his own safety. That through his aunt he would be protected. But it had all been for nothing. Harry wasn’t there. He had left. Not taken. He had left.

Dumbledore could face many things, but the disappointment and anger of a mother wasn’t one of them.

He put the ring inside a handkerchief, careful not to touch it, and destroyed it that same night in a controlled fiendfyre.

Sooner or later, Harry would resurface. He and Voldemort were inescapably linked together. Until then, all he could do was try to make his task easier and weaken Voldemort in every way possible.

---

Harry woke with a jolt, unsure of what had pushed him away from sleep. He was not having a nightmare, did he? He barely got them any more, thanks to Draco’s soothing potions and other, ehem, techniques. At least not the weird nightmares that involved dark shadows and masks and a world seen from the floor level.

Draco was awake too and fumbling for a flashlight. Harry blinked and got his glasses on in the second try.

There was a series of blows that shook the ceiling and a sound that could be a cry for help or a scream of pain but that in either case sounded very much like Patricia.

Draco had the torch on by then and was looking at Harry, as if reassuring himself that it was definitely not him screaming.

It was not him. The screams came from upstairs.

In the corridor outside they could hear better. There was a voice yelling over the screams. It said things like who did she think she was, and that someone was just a stupid daft cow, and lessons would be taught, particularly to stupid daft cows who bragged about their miserable success when their only talent was to shake their fat asses on screen.

Patricia and her boyfriend fought all the time, but never with this intensity. Never like this.

She was not responding. That was it! The worrying difference tonight. Usually she screamed just as hard, but tonight she was only crying.

Draco’s knock on the door was ignored. There was a thud and a rattle, just like cutlery falling to the floor. Harry barely had to point to the lock with the awl before the door swung open.

Whatshisname with the septum ring in the nose and the lips was standing in the middle of the ransacked living room wearing only a pair of designer briefs. There was blood streaked across his chest and he was holding one of the kitchen knives in his right hand.

Patricia whimpered wetly when she noticed the door was open. The boyfriend didn’t seem to notice anything, and given how dilated his pupils were it was no surprise. He stumbled toward Patricia, shouting that fat bitches were going to learn some respect. Only instead of doing just that he flew across the room and hit the farthest wall, falling down to the floor where he lay struggling like and upside down beetle.

All this went in beautiful parallel to the motions made by Harry, who was now staring at his hand clutching the awl with a mix of fear and surprise.

Draco kneeled by Patricia, making soft shushing noises and trying to have a look at her battered face.

---

Draco made a cup of tea with as much if not more care with which he prepared the most complex and advanced potions under Snape’s surly eyes. It had taken him a while to find and adequate mug (all smashed) and a spoon (spread around the floor with the kitchen drawers), and then he discovered that they only had pretentious posh tea in the house. One careful sniff told him it was the kind that sounds good in the label but ends up tasting like charcoal. Draco thought that Patricia deserved a proper real cup and not charcoal tasting derivatives. Fortunately some rummaging had produced a Twinings box of Earl Grey and he was now dunking two bags in the hot water all the while wishing fervently that this would be enough to help her.

It was a simple story, really. The tea helped Patricia tell them, but there was little that they couldn’t have gathered from a simple look at the place. Patricia was doing really well with her last single. Gideon (aka septum ring arsehead) was not, and the discographic was talking about dropping him. They had gone out to a club, as they did most nights, and Gideon had taken pills by the handful. When they got back, Patricia had made some stupid comment about how hungover she was going to be tomorr- well, later today, and how she was supposed to make an appearance at the show of, what was his name again? Funny fellow with an Irish accent. She had to go there and she was in bits.

So really, it was her fault. She shouldn’t have said it. It was to be expected that Gideon would get angry. He had grabbed her by the hair and thrown her against the wall (there was a bloodstain) and then she had been so dizzy she couldn’t even tell him to stop.

Draco made more tea, this time stirring the sugar by force of rage alone.

Harry, Mort, insisted that Patricia had to go to the hospital, because head wounds were very dangerous. Now that Gideon had stopped yelling and finally passed out (and soiled himself) Patricia was more receptive to the idea of leaving the place. Mort went through her phone, calling contact names aloud for Patricia to say who they were.

Draco vetoed every single one of them until they got to a girl called Alana who was a lyric writer and Draco vaguely remembered having seen her once, leaving early from a party in the apartment.

She answered in the sixth ring and sounded incredible pissed at being woken at four thirty in the bloody morning, but she said she would be there in twenty minutes nevertheless.

---

It occurred to Harry that no matter what Patricia said in the hospital about how she got her head split open, the police were going to investigate. Gideon was still passed out on the floor with the knife in his hand and Patricia’s blood across his chest, so it should be pretty easy to puzzle it out.

The only problem was that they were supposed to be the only tenants in the buildings. Would Patricia mention them in their statement? And even if she didn´t, the cops would notice them, wouldn´t they? Cops were not actually that daft.

They packed up their things. It was incredible how much they had accumulated in the last few months. Harry wasn’t looking too closely at how they managed to fit everything in the old suitcases from the Oxfam shop, but they did it, with lots of sweat and curses though. Even the headboard, because Draco insisted.

The things is, he knew he ought to be pissed at having to leave his house, but he didn’t. He had all his things and Draco by his side and so this felt merely like a small inconvenience trying to help a neighbour.

The early and violent waking up had been more annoying.  

A soft pink light was starting to caress the top of the buildings when Draco and he stepped out to the street. He hadn’t updated his list of possible refuges in a while, things had been so good he had started to forget the permanent fear. But he was certain they could find somewhere adequate nevertheless.

---

London at sunrise is pink and grey. It smells of water.

Water is odourless, you say. But that’s not true. It has a smell, lots of different ones. London at sunrise smells like water. It smells like strong grease and oil, leftover from the night and from the kitchens that start to warm up. London at sunrise smells like the warmth of your sheets, clinging to your skin.

Things were hard for werewolves. They always were. The weak ones complained about the rejection while they stomped on their gift, pushed it down to supress their true nature and made themselves meek. The strong ones had the hunger to deal with, and the rightful fear everyone had of their anger. Their pathetic pushback and their dismissal. Always dismissed.  

With the Dark Lord things should had been better. He had promised what the Ministry and Dumbledore could not: their freedom to roam and run and bite and not to be called beasts.

Now there was a lot of running, but things weren’t exactly better. Wizards on both sides still looked down on them, and there were… rumours. Only rumours. But of a nature worrying enough to make the werewolves run and hide as if they were the prey.

Now, Greyback didn’t run. He had made himself very useful to the cause early enough. But even he wasn’t sure of his position. He still wasn’t allowed to carry the mark that even the most dense and inbred idiot could sport proudly in their arm. And in the last meeting, the Dark Lord had given him a look before leaning towards the adulterous mad witch and whispering something.

So Greyback knew that he ought to make himself discreet for a while until he could get some extra protection or bring back a prize that would put all those pure blooded wizards to shame.

He was in London. It was just after the sunrise. The city smelled of tea and burn toast and the steel that made the cans of baked beans.

Fenrir Greyback wasn’t a complete savage, as wizards liked to believe. He knew about irony. Thus he could appreciate fully the deliciousness that it was his werewolf nature what allowed him to catch what normal wizards couldn’t.

Namely, the smell of the Malfoy pup, a smell he had first learned in the manor, drifting in the early morning air of London.

Oh, and there is nothing like a sunrise chase.

---

The sense of danger came pretty early, despite their tiredness and their slow reflexes and the fact that they hadn’t had breakfast yet. It was simply a mild sense of alarm at first, something that made Harry insist on leaving their luggage in the first place they found (a hotel, as it turned out, saying they had already checked out and they would pick it up later because they had a night flight). They went on with just the essentials: awl, wand, pocket money, Draco’s bottle of water.

It turned out to be a good decision because soon after they found themselves running madly from three dark figures that spotted them all the way from the other end of the street. Farther than anyone ought to be able to see. Unlike the other times, when Harry sensed a solitary beacon emitting the alarm, this time it was a circle closing on them.

They started with the usual bait and switch. Go down some stairs, make as if you are going to take the train and then leave the station through a different exit. It worked, but five minutes later the alarms were blaring again in Harry’s head and they got sighs on one of the figures, a tall burly man in a leather long coat.

They ran. They went through three different places that they knew had two doors. They crossed a park and a square full of people waiting for the bus. They lost sight of their persecutors.

And when they were sitting in a bench, getting their breath back and wondering what the hell was going on, they heard them again.

Harry’s instincts weren’t helping this time. The voices were screaming that danger was coming from behind, and front, and that street, and that side street too. The only thing they could do was keep moving.

---

Werewolves have excellent sense of smell. A thousand times better than a human when they are in wolf form, and about half that while in their human suit.

Werewolves can tell if someone is hiding in a room just by smell alone. They can tell if someone was there in the last twenty four hours.

And if you run, if you are scared, they can tell that too. Fear has such a distinctive, lingering, smell. Oh, how you sweat.

---

“We should split up” Draco proposed between huffs for air while they crouched behind the sign of a news stand.

“Absolutely not”

“H- Mort, they are coming after me” Draco swallowed. “They are obviously not muggles”.

“Okay, but consider this: No”.

Harry grabbed his hand then, and took him running through traffic and down a tiny smelly alley that was the backdoor to a few restaurants. He could hear the heavy steps following them. And they were fast. Draco was right, this was no ordinary chase. He knew one of them was circling the block and would cut them at the end of the alley.

So they went through one of the kitchens. They couldn’t even relish the fact that they were running through a kitchen, just like in the movies. Too tired and focused on putting some distance between them.

 ---

Do you know how wolves hunt?

They do it in packs. They move around the prey, cutting their exits one by one and pushing them away from open terrain. They chase for hours, letting them exhaust themselves. Until they are too tired to present a fight. Then the pack makes a circle and they bring the prey down.

---

They both knew they were done for. If they could get just five minutes of respite, he was sure they would manage to hide, or at least he could convince Mort to split up and then Draco would only have to worry about himself. He was a Malfoy. No one was mad enough to actually hurt a Malfoy. He would just be greatly inconvenienced for a while until he could find a way to disappear again. And if only he could get his breath back, he could make Mort see his point.

But they were not giving them any break. They were not giving them any time to stop and think, to stop the panic from controlling them. They knew that… but they couldn’t do much to think of a better plan when they were always right behind them.

Twice they had slipped through their fingers already. First with the kitchen detour, when Draco had looked over his shoulder and saw the circle of men close over the place they had just left; and right now when they were trying to blend in with the athletic crowd doing laps around the park. It was the one time when being sweaty and red faced didn’t make you look out of place.

And it seemed to work. Only then Draco saw them push a woman against a wall and send three men flying in a cloud of purple sparks. They were not afraid to use force or magic in public.

Draco was scared.

---

Greyback finally got the pup and his muggle pet cornered behind a church. Despite the sweat running down their red faces and their troubled breath, they still attempted to fight the six of them, which was more that they could say for many of the wizards they had chased. He sent the muggle boy tumbling to the floor with a slap, while the Malfoy pup had to be restrained by two of them, the way he was trashing.

He let him. All the better to tire him. Greyback wasn’t planning on sharing his insurance, and he still had to go alone to Malfoy Manor to present his prize.

---

Harry was damned if he was going to let his boyfriend be snatched away by a group of bikers with hirsutism. They were so much bigger and stronger than Harry. Men (and a woman) made out of piles of rocks. But this was the streets and Harry could be vicious. He grabbed the nearest knee and used it as leverage to get up, sending the man down and in the way of the second one. The third got the usual hit to the groin and as he was doubling down Harry got a hand in his hair and pulled back, acquainting the guy’s descending chin with Harry’s ascending knee.

His knee hurt, but that kind of knock could send you out of a fight right away. The man fell to the floor and didn’t even move to complain.

The big fellow with the whiskers dropped his hands on Draco. Harry got to him and grabbed the lapels of the leather coat. Draco was screaming something, but he couldn’t make out of the words even though he was right there. He was dizzy with hunger and lack of sleep and exertion, but if only he could get him to look… It had worked with Pit, it could work now! Convince the (huff) leader (huff) and they (pant) would be all right.

But there was no time. There was a loud pop and the three of them disappeared, leaving behind the rest of the snatchers alone in the street.

Chapter Text

When something bad happens in movies, the camera vibrates, the shots merge one after another in flashes, the main character seems static while their surroundings go out of focus.

And this is exactly what Draco felt. A succession of images that his brain struggled to connect one after another. There was the vision of the gates of his house, the gleam of the sun in a snake shaped amulet (a portkey he guessed) as the large man simply dropped it the grass, a snarl that swore the first one to move would be disembowelled right there and then, the crunch of the gravel as they were pushed down the path to the manor. They still tried to run away in the other direction, but the man (not a man, though, not really, wasn’t he?) dropped a paw on each of their necks and squeezed as he pushed them forward.

Mort’s awl was taken away and thrown to the side, after Mort stabbed him with it in the thight.

The building that Draco entered wasn’t his house. Not just because his home had been until that night a third floor flat with no power, but because the house itself felt alien. The air was different. The stones moaned in pain, as if trying to shake loose an unwanted presence.

If it had been his family alone, even with the Lestrange hanging out, Draco could have made up something. But the man that had caught them wasn’t having any of that. He pushed his way through the barrier of wizards in the hall and then the ones scattered around the ballroom until he found the Dark Lord himself.

He was…

Slightly taller perhaps, a bit more flesh in his bones. He still looked like the fragile puppet from three years ago. Draco thought he could even see the seams half ripped and open, or perhaps it was just sinew and bone under the skin.  But he could also see the raw magic pulsing under the pale skin. He had an aura of majesty and power that Draco hadn’t seen the first time.

He was stronger.

Greyback had been talking and there was a collective gasp. Draco couldn’t think of anything other than his fervent wish to please, please, wake up.  

---

“Ah, Greyback. You have tracked the lost son for us”.

Greyback couldn’t say if the Dark Lord was pleased or not from his tone. His voice was like the susurrus of the wind rustling old leaves.

The mother, though, the mother was pleased. Her voice had broken when she called her son’s name and she had jumped to embrace him, press him against her chest.

“You have him too.” She had said and Greyback had to cover his surprise because he was pretty sure the other kid was a no one. A bloody nuisance and nothing else. “The one who kidnapped my son”.

Greyback didn’t think that the runt boy had kidnapped anyone in his life. In fact, the Malfoy pup had made it quite clear that he didn’t want to return, what with he trying to bite Greyback in the arm and hitting Brune with half a brick and just kicking everyone. But the tone of the woman didn’t admit any replies, so Greyback simply bowed to her and stepped back while the boy was pushed to the centre of the room. Wizards do what wizards do.

---

It was so strange. Never in his life had Draco been ignored so, never while he lived under this roof or at Hogwarts. However, now it felt as if he had been cursed with a muting hex. He said no, they were wrong, Mort did nothing. But they didn’t listen, no one listened. As soon as his mother said Mort was responsible, there had been a commotion in the room. His mother’s voice and his aunt’s were the loudest ones demanding that Mort payed for his crimes against the pure blood.

Draco shrugged off his mother’s arms and took out his wand. He would make them listen. He felt a tingle in his ribs and could just barely look down to see the point of his father’s wand retreating before he felt his muscles cramp and lock. He hadn’t even heard him say anything, yet he was petrified. His mother took the wand from his hand quickly, while his father put a warm hand over his shoulder and raised his wand again, this time more visibly.

It was the worst sound Draco had heard in his life. Not the satisfaction coming from the deatheaters, the sights of pleasure of aunt Bella, not even the screams of pain as Mort writhed on the floor and cried like Draco had never heard before.

It was the voice of his father, uncaring and unflinching, as he perfectly enunciated the word Crucio.

---

It was like someone setting fire to your bones and hooking claws on your flesh and pulling. It was the single most painful experience in Harry’s life. It was a pain so overwhelming, so encompassing, that you forgot everything, even yourself, as all your experience was reduced to the feeling of agony.

The worst, though, the really worst part, was when the wizard lifted his wand. When he stopped. Then you slowly came back to yourself, heard your hitched wet breath, became aware of the sobs. You wouldn’t even mind the dark figures surrounding you, the laughs, the relish of your pain, because all you could think of, the one single thought in your mind, was that you would do anything, anything, to forget, to not experience that ever again.

At that moment, Harry wasn’t scared of death. He would welcome death. Anything to stop the pain.

Please.

..

.

Please! Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it--

….

..

…..

…………..

..

.

No more. Please, no more.

Nomore nomore nomorenomorenomoreplease.

---

“He is a wizard!”

The scream broke the petrifying spell that held Draco in place and also the subtle silent spell that had everyone in the room enraptured in the torture show.

Draco’s chest was heaving with effort. But he had done it. They were looking at him. His father, and Aunt Bella and Nott and the Carrows, they had all lifted their wands from Mort’s limp form.

This was good. He had their attention. Now to weave a story that would allow them to leave the room alive. He could do that.

“Like hell he is” said Crabbe the senior, looking down at Mort with his muggle clothes and hair.

“I believe your son has turned weak” wheezed Icharus Nott. He seemed to have something wrong with his lungs. “Friend of undesirables like the cousin”

Now, the Malfoys couldn’t have someone call Draco a liar or a blood traitor, no matter the awful precedents set by the Black side. Aunt Bella narrowed her eyes and sent a new cruciatus curse… to Nott. He sidestepped it easily and the curse hit the wall, making a crack and leaving a burn mark.

“Mind your words, Nott”, his father was saying.

“It’s true, though. You have all gone soft!”

It’s not that Draco didn’t care about his family reputation, he did, he understood that reputation and standing meant almost everything; but right now he was more concerned with getting to Mort, who was still lying on the floor. His eyes weren’t open, but at least his chest kept moving. He hadn’t even taken a full step before his father’s hand over his shoulder squeezed meaningfully.

We are His Most Loyal Followers” Aunt’s Bella’s shrill voice carried around the room. She had a knife in her left hand and she kept waving and pointing with it.

“It is really unfortunate that some would resort to this kind of accusations, yes”, agreed his father.

“And what do you-?

enough”.

That such a soft voice could carry such commandment.

Everybody instantly quieted and stepped back to their positions. Lord Voldemort didn’t move from the chair where he was sitting like a decadent tyrant holding court. He didn’t have to. A single gesture from his bony fingers was enough to send a wizard running towards Mort and make him stand.

---

Harry was tired, hungry and in pain, not to speak of dizzy and nauseous. And in pain. Excuse the repetition, but, SO much pain. Less than before, but pain had a tendency to cling and not let go.

There was blood coming down from his nose and his teeth ached. There was a ring in his ears from the panicked voice in his head that hadn’t shut up since the morning and that kept telling him to fight his way out of here. Feeling all those things, however, was quite an improvement over feeling just one, like the excruciating burning agony he had just gone through.

He hadn’t really listened to what Draco had said or what the others had said in response. There was just the relief. But he was getting the main idea.  

“Mortimer Oakenshield” he said, firmly enough to sound truthful. His eyes scanned the room. Now that he wasn’t being tortured and he wasn’t running he could finally take a second to look at his surroundings and think.

Although what he saw and what he thought wasn’t very encouraging.

The wizards seemed to accept the name as properly magical, and if the situation weren’t so dire, Harry would laugh at Draco’s expression. Heck, he would laugh at his own cheek, too.

“Yeah? Gonna say you are a slytherin too?” asked the… man who had not believed Draco. Harry hadn’t really caught any names.

“Well” he tried to turn towards the voice and gave up soon. He could barely stand as it was. One big fellow with very unfortunate skin had been tasked with holding him upright. Most likely because he hadn’t said anything during the brief power fight. “No. I do not attend that school. I never said I was British”.

This was simple. This was just a Karol variation.

“Where is your wand?”

“Hopefully where my big smelly friend dropped it before taking us here”.

Their kidnapper growled that he hadn’t seen any wands. But that was no problem. They didn’t have to be convinced. Doubtful would do. Besides, it was obvious that Big Whiskers here wasn’t one of the nobs. So they just had to keep talking.

---

Draco allowed himself a second to close his eyes with relief. They had done it. All wands had been lowered and they believed the story. He had gone with kidnapping, because that was what Mother said. Kidnapped by the Abominable Wizard Howl and escaping with a fellow prisoner who was most certainly a wizard of the purest pedigree even if he had the misfortune of being foreign.

It was all good. Father had lifted the pressure on his shoulder and Aunt Bella had given up on murdering anyone today, sliding back to Lord Voldemort’s side. All the others, Crabbe and Nott and Westcot, they seemed to buy the story enough that they didn’t dare pressing. For now. In a minute Draco would make his excuses, grab Mort and leave the room. And then they could agree on a good cover story for Mort and then they could leave. Or at the very least he could send him far away from here.

It was all good.

And then he did something.

Perhaps it was just a bit of light catching on those damned strikingly green eyes. Perhaps the dimmed lights of the room took all the colour of Mort’s hair and left only blackness. Perhaps it was something in his stance, his feet well planted despite the pain and the fear, while his bespectacled eyes explored the room. Perhaps something as subtle as the bravado and humour in his voice, biting through pain to deliver some burn to Crabbe, who of course hadn’t heard of Starfleet Academy, where Mort studied. Headmaster Tiberius Kirk was very selective.

Whatever it was, it caught Voldemort’s attention when he had remained silent and disinterested up until then. He straightened.

“You” he murmured with the softness of the blow that kills the candle. He was rising from his seat. “Bring him to the light. Show me his face”.

Rosier had his arms over Mort-Harry-Mort! but wasn’t really doing much to immobilise him. He pushed his fringe up, revealing the pale line of the scar. Draco had caressed that scar. Had chosen to believe it was the result of an accident that could happen in a muggle household.

“Harry Potter” Voldemort breathed the words letting them roll out of his mouth like smoke.

There was a shiver making its way through the deatheaters. Draco saw the shine in his aunt’s eyes and felt like he would be sick. The worst was looking at Mort, well Harry now, seeing the surprise in his face and how his eyes moved, searching for him. “What is this?” the eyes asked, “What is it that I don’t know?”.

“Oh, Draco! Very well done, son”

“No, I…”

His father’s fingers dug in to his shoulder, pressing, promising.

Draco shook the hand away. This was a big decision to make in such a short notice, but he knew that he wouldn’t take Harry’s death as the payment for him surviving unscathed and unpunished. “No! No, you let him go”, he screamed. He actually got to take two steps before he felt something like a whip hit him across his calves and send him to the floor.

Harry’s eyes were still on him, completely disregarding the inhuman monster that was quickly coming towards him. The eyes seemed to be the only point of colour in a room that was suddenly turning to be made out of black and grey.  He looked with an electric intensity, searching, and Draco prayed that he found whatever he was looking for. He tried to make his face as open as possible to answer whatever that penetrating gaze was asking. If he could give nothing else, he would give his honesty…

Then Harry glanced at the big iron chandelier hanging from the ceiling, and Draco thought yes, yes! anything. He would try anything. He was good with metals!

“We meet at last” hissed Voldemort, barely a few inches away from Harry.

---

Wizards think in wizard terms. When they fight they adopt sword fighting stances, with their dominant hand extended and their bodies turned so as to not present a big target. If the other person doesn’t have a wand, then they are powerless, and the armed wizard doesn’t have to worry.

Of course, no one else thinks like that.

Only wizards think in wizard terms.

Voldemort was a wizard. Harry, despite his magical ability, was not. He was a professional survivor who had done his growing up in hostile environments. So Harry did what you do in this kind of situations. If you extrapolated tracksuits to robes, they were are bullies and thugs anyway.

Harry closed his hand in a fist and punched the place were Voldemort’s nose ought to be.

---

The scream they could all have expected. The fact that Voldemort’s face turned black and cracked, like a log on fire, they did not. Harry either didn’t notice or didn’t care, as he landed two more punches before his knees buckled and he fell down.

Rosier should have lifted him up, restrained him. But he merely stood there like a simpleton, arms raised and hands open while Voldemort flailed and screamed over his burning face.

Then the big chandelier Draco had been focusing on exploded. The iron shards fell down, creating a curtain under which Draco found enough cover to run towards Harry and help him up.

For the record, Draco totally meant to push Voldemort down with his elbow. It was not an accident brought from his panicky flailing.

Harry raised a hand over Draco’s shoulder as he was lifting him up and pointed to the circle of wizards. Fire erupted from the floor and went up, creating a wall between them.

Harry had a wand. When had he gotten a wand? He had just said he didn’t have any wands.

They were cut out from the door and the windows were too high to climb, especially with a Harry that could barely stand. The red sparks of a curse hit the floor by Draco’s feet and he knew they had to move, get away from their line of sight.

It was a short way to the fireplace and yet Draco was sure he had never taken a longer path. He could feel the heat of the fire just behind them and still it felt like too thin a protection. Voldemort was still wailing, emitting a sound that surely couldn’t possibly come from human lungs. There were more screams. He could distinguish aunt Bella’s shrill voice casting curses and he wasn’t sure at whom she was directing them.

Three black hexes went past his left side and hit the wall, leaving something like bullet marks. The fire roared then very much like a lion and went up to the ceiling before descending little by little.

The fireplace was almost there.

A blue diamond shaped curse came spiralling through the flames and almost sliced Harry in half. The curse reached the mantelpiece and slashed through it, breaking the marble and whatever decorations had been in there. The room was starting to fill with smoke.

He could make out some words between the chaos and the screams. Someone had casted Glaciem on the fire with no result, but they were going to cast it on a person next, as soon as Westcot stopped still for all of Salazar’s snakes! Stop struggling, it’s just fire!

They were coming through. In just a few seconds they would be able to see them well enough to aim…

For a mad instant they were in the middle of a circle of fire. The one that Harry was producing meeting with the flames of the fireplace that were jumping out of the hearth like hands reaching out. It was a circle, a perfect ring of the brightest, reddest, flame. Then Draco stepped in the fireplace and the circle broke. The flames collided and surged up, engulfing them and hiding them from view. They were surrounded by fire. They were in the fire.

Someone was screaming Avada Kedavra.

---

And then there was no more fire or smoke.

The ballroom floorboards were polished and smooth, the walls and ceiling unblemished. The only marks were the scratch of boots and the cracks from the impact of curses.

On the fireplace only the smallest flame remained. A tiny red light to mark the emptiness, the absence of what, who, had been there a second ago.

Chapter Text

Imagine, if you will.

Imagine being… Not just the greatest wizard of your generation. That is nothing. Imagine being the greatest wizard in known history. Greater than that pathetic Grindelwald and definitely greater than Dumbledore who shied away from confrontation.

Imagine the days when all you experience is power. When every heart beat pumps through your veins pure magic mixed with blood. When all you know is victory. Over other wizards, over the laws of magic, over life and death.

And then, the prophecy. The announcement of the one who would grow to hold as much power as you. The search to nip it in the bud and be, forever as confirmed by the prophecy, a wizard to whom no one could stand up. Unparalleled. Unstoppable. Unique.

Then.

The night when you are violently pushed out of your body. When you feel every single cell of your body dying one by one.  When you are reduced to nothing more than a thought, a piece of will, an intent. Less than a ghost. When you are almost, but no quite, sent out of existence.

But you are, you remain. You still exist enough to find a safe place and wait.

Imagine the anger, the humiliation, the pain. Death is painful. Clinging to existence is painful.

Imagine having to content yourself with possessing snakes, having to crawl when you want to have any physical experience.

And then, after years and years waiting, when you have almost forgotten the pain of death, you notice a young mind, bright with curiosity and a vibrant desire to see, to know, to explore. A curiosity that melted in to ambition. A physical want to know, to be the first to see, to understand, so powerful as to trump anything else. A thirst for knowledge and recognition.

And it is so, so, easy to call to that mind, to let that curiosity do all the hard work and come to you.

You promise power and answers. You promise people’s respect and admiration.

The mind lets you in.

It is the beginning of your return.

It is a slow and irritating process and you have to practice patience because you are still weak, so weak. Not even a body of your own, not yet.

But soon.

You feel your power coming back, like a creek that goes on to become a torrent. The unicorn blood helps, and as soon as you get Flamel’s stone…

But it is not to be. The children suspect something and make enough of a ruckus to alert the teachers and before you can crack open that bloody mirror there comes half the bloody faculty body and even a few first year students who had no business being there. They keep you, with your stupid weak body, occupied long enough for Dumbledore to return and vanish you.

And back to blasted Albania.

And while your conscience remains there, still smarting from Dumbledore’s shock, something else, a little part of you that had remained dormant, awakes.

Most of the time you don’t even know where all of you are. You know your conscience, that main piece of will that is you and knows that it’s you, but the scattered parts of your soul are hard to be aware of. They are there, keeping you alive, but you don’t sense much.

Until a piece of you gets the wonderful plum gift of a seventh daughter, young and virginal and so full of life. But that part of you that has found her is also young and ambitious and impatient. It drinks too much, it rushes… and so, people find out. You are hurt.

This is becoming tedious.

And Hogwarts still doesn’t know how to keep children in bed.

But things get much better soon after. In under two years you get back the two truly loyal followers. The one that oozes fear and the one surrounded by madness. The first brings you your wand. The second helps make you a body.

There is no feeling like the skin of your fingers touching that wood again, the light weight of it in your palm. The rush of power coming back to you, seeping in your blood. You feel a pleasure unlike any other. No food, no cool drink in the heat, no release inside a warm body. There is nothing quite like it.

The body, your body, the one you had before, it’s weak and thin and almost bursting at the seams from the raw magic it contains. But you never cared much about physical aspects. Bodies are just a vessel to contain you conscience and your magic.

Your followers rush back to your call. Good.

You burst Azkaban open like an oyster and get the most devoted of your people. You relish the fear that your name still invokes thorough all of Britain. They do well to be afraid.

After the show of magic in Azkaban you are out of breath and your heart is beating madly. Merely rising your wand hand is exhausting. You realize that perhaps bodies are a tad more important than you previously thought.

Perhaps you feel… concern.

You are powerful, but you are not strong.

You consider the necessity to kill that pest that is Albus Dumbledore, and realize that is a task that someone else can fulfil while you focus on regaining all of your strength. Your magic was with you the moment you rose from the cauldron, but getting your body to respond takes more time.

You will fix this.

You drink again the blood of the unicorn, fresh and moon tasting. But it is hard to come by. It seems more and more of them are hiding in Hogwarts. Even the few that still roamed through the fields of the Malfoy mansion had fled.

There are other things to make you stronger and you search for all of them just as you searched for the knowledge of the horcruxes and the location of the elder wand. It is a private matter, secret to even the most devoted followers. It wouldn’t do for them to discover the reality of your slightly less than adequate body just as it didn’t do for them to know about you splitting your soul. It could give them ideas.

You search. You look for seventh sons and daughters and even for the seventh son of a seventh son. You look for, and find, and devour, a werewolf heart and it puts muscle around your bones. You slain a giant and bath in his blood and your body becomes warmer. You make a mermaid giver her soul in a scream. You almost (almost!) catch a phoenix. You drink a potion made out of the eyes of a vampire and the regret of a mother.

You can feel yourself becoming stronger. You see now how it is better to get a perfect balance, body and magic. Both high and powerful and of unseen might. When you reach it you will be unstoppable.

Imagine, feeling the warm torrent of blood and magic running under your skin.

You had almost forgotten about the child, said to be dead by everyone. Lost. Not a threat anymore. You suspect he may have died that night, with you, and that Dumbledore made up a cover story.

But now he has been brought to you, young and full of fire, and it is such a gift! After you kill him you will bleed him and get his youthful energy. You will eat his heart. You will burn his body until there is only bones and you will crush them and grind them and get their vital essence.

Imagine…

A pain more intense than anything you have ever felt. A pain stronger than death. Imagine a burn, insidious and penetrating, invading all of your body, that body you had worked so hard to build. A body that was becoming so strong, its senses so sharp.

Imagine feeling nothing but the heat. Imagine smelling your own burned flesh. Imagine listening to the searing skin splitting open. Imagine tasting you blood mixed with the ashes and the smoke. Imagine seeing nothing but red, the red of the fire and red of your blood.

Imagine listening to yourself scream.

Imagine the knowledge, the unforgiving awareness of your followers seeing. Their fearful witnessing a palpable presence like the fire in the room.

You let your rage go. You only feel the recoil of a wave of energy, white and thin like a whip, extending around the room.

There is silence. Only the little hisses and pops of the burning wood.

And flesh.

 

Chapter Text

Early after the foundation of the house that would become Malfoy Manor, someone had made it so that the fire would never hurt a Malfoy or those they chose to protect. Just your basic protection against pushy visitors and relatives and scorned suitors who would see your fiancé burn.  Then, at some point at the beginning of the 17th century when the floo network was starting to develop, some lady of the house had decided that climbing stairs and going down the corridors was not an efficient way of moving, especially when one had so many things to do and hearts to break.

Thus, every fireplace of the manor was connected, to be used exclusively by her owners.

Draco stepped in the library, a wing and a floor away from the ballroom, with Harry still firmly held in his arms. He deposited him in the nearby chaise longue while he tried to douse the fire, lock the door and think of a getaway, all at the same time. He found some time in between to press into Harry’s hands what he thought was a glass of water, but turned out to be gin.

His heart was beating madly and his hands were sweaty, but the terror had abated and he could swallow now without feeling like he would choke on his own heart. They had been so close to disaster… but now they were out, in another room, still in danger, but away, away, away, breath Draco, breath.

Hope, is what he was feeling. Hope, when all he had felt since they were caught was terror and pain. Things had gotten slightly better and soon they would be fixed, he would look in to it.

He could hear the screams echoing around the house. There was a big flash of white light reflected in the trees outside.

“What the fuck” Harry exclaimed. Strange. He was not given to swearing unless he was reproducing some dialogue from his years at the yard.

Draco turned around. Harry was staring, glasses askew and big eyes open wide, clutching the glass and the wand with both hands. Of course. Of course Harry wouldn’t swear when they were kidnapped, or when he was brought to this nightmarish place, or when he was bloody tortured, or when he freaking punched the dark bloody lord on the face and everything was on fire.

But a house elf apparates in front of him, and now he is surprised.

“Dobby!”

“Master Draco”

“Oh my god, it speaks. Hello tiny person!”

Dobby actually stopped to send a big blinding smile in Harry’s direction before running towards Draco and presenting him with…

“This is my wand”.

“Yes, Master Draco. You must hurry”

The screams were coming closer. He heard running steps on the ceiling above. They were searching for them.

Draco swallowed. He hadn’t learned how to apparate. What was he saying? You couldn’t apparate in or out of the Manor, anyway, he would have to get them to the border and…

Harry was leaning forward, shaking hands with Dobby. His smile would be better if he hadn’t a trickle of dry blood under his nose. His eyes has lost the focus of before, the electricity. Now his gaze was dazed and while politely engaging a house elf in conversation was perfectly in character for Harry, Draco thought he was in shock and possibly delirious.

But Draco wasn’t. He would take care of things, just as Harry had taken care at first.

---

Dobby brought him the fastest broom in the house as requested. Draco stripped it quickly of its decorations and possibly anti theft charms. He noticed sadly that it was not a broom belonging to the Malfoys and if it was Crabbe’s or Goyle’s, he was going to have to have Harry set it on fire once they were done with it.  

“It was very nice to meet you” said Harry as Dobby disappeared again to go and sabotage as many brooms as he could.

They wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for all the training they had got from their London life. Draco had put on the door every protection charm he could think of, and he was counteracting the curses and hexes thrown at it as fast as he could. He had even pushed the furniture, with Dobby’s help, against the door. But it wasn’t enough. The door was standing, but the beech console pressed against it had started to splinter and melt, and the chairs had exploded one by one in quick succession filling the room with sawdust. Of course a sixteen (almost seventeen) year old with only OWLs level education couldn’t stop four, possibly five, adult death-eaters. Not for long.

But while he was doing that, Harry was dragging himself around the room and fetching an inkwell and some ashes from the hearth.  He mixed it together with their blood (Draco hadn’t even noticed he was bleeding from a cut on his forehead) and then took a silver letter opener to draw a circle in the door. The circle turned bright white for a second before going back to dirty brown.

Somehow, they both knew that for the next minute nothing would be able to cross the threshold.

A minute was enough for Draco to get on the broom and arrange Harry behind, putting an arm over his shoulder and the other across his chest, his hands meeting over Draco’s heart. He touched the hands lightly with his wand, not a word muttered but sending a will for them to keep attached, fixed to each other and to Draco. There was a spell that could do that. He had learned it in the common room of Slytherin. He couldn´t remember it now. But, he didn´t have to. The will was enough.

A minute was enough for them to jump out of the library and fly over the house. The wind was cold at that height and it had been a long while since Draco last flew, plus it was a different balance with a passenger and the broom was strange.

He focused on flying. He didn’t look down or back to the voices and the curses coming from the library, to the blown up windows from the ballroom and the glass scattered around the grass, to the wizards and witches looking up from the grounds and from every room of the house, pointing, cursing.  

To the faint figure of his mother, hiding in the shadow of the rosebushes, her hand going to her pocket and something small, very much like a house elf, standing by her side.

---

Books lie. Books will tell you that after the drama the main character faints and stays unconscious for hours or even days until they wake up safe in bed.

This does not happen in reality.

You will be conscious through the pain, all of it. You will be conscious through all the ugly parts when you have to fix whatever damage has been done and get yourself to safety. If you faint, you will wake up in seconds.

Draco wished Harry would faint already. He wished he didn’t have to feel the cold wind and the jostles of the broom as he veered to avoid their pursuers.

But he didn’t, he was awake for all of it. At some point he may have dozed off, exhausted, or finally his brain and body were catching up and decided to shut off. But he soon woke up startled, his arms pressing reflexively against Draco.

---

They had been followed, but not for long. The brooms malfunctioned quickly and not many deatheaters had managed to jump in them in the first place. Soon they were alone in the sky. They flew at full speed for hours, until they spotted a bunch of abandoned warehouses somewhere past Reading and Draco descended in careful concentric circles.

They should be safe for now.

They entered through a broken window in the second floor of the warehouse. Draco guided him to the floor with care, his hands resting on Harry’s cheek for a few seconds before stepping back.

Two hours said a voice in Harry’s mind.

It was a very welcome rest but for the fact that it opened the opportunity to talk and Harry wasn’t sure of what could he possibly say. Nice to meet your family, let’s not do it again? Draco hovered around him, moving his hands all over Harry’s body, wishing health over every inch of his skin and not daring to meet Harry’s eyes.

So he had known. He had known something.

That was the big question, wasn’t it?. The people at the house, the… Voldemort. They had known his name. And they seemed to think that there was something quite important about it. And Draco knew too, perhaps had always known and said nothing.

Yes. Draco had known and kept silent.

But…

He had also chosen to save Harry in the most public and definite way possible, hadn’t he?. He had chosen him, stood for him.

Kaleem from the Falafel King was very fond of sharing idioms from his native language. Like the one about having two loaves of bread and selling one to buy a hyacinth to feed the soul. Harry didn’t really get it until he finally got to smell one for the first time. But above all, he always said that big decisions had to be taken with a pillow and a spoon, personal piece of wisdom guaranteed to work.

Harry felt hollow, like he had been carved out in that house. What little brain he still had, it was of no use right now. He knew that, he could see that. Better leave the making of decisions until later, when he wasn’t tired and scared. Right now he was so tired he didn’t even feel anger, her just felt…

“Draco…” Harry said, interrupting his soft muttered incantation to send the pain away and close the open wounds. “I am really hungry”.

That was the right thing to say, because Draco looked so, so, grateful for the opportunity to go and do something. And Harry needed the time alone to let himself be scared and cry, breath hitched and tears in the corners of his eyes. There hadn’t been much time to be scared then, to acknowledge what was happening. He had focused on getting out, on getting Draco and running, and he had pushed to the back of his mind the lingering pain, the fear that they would do something to Draco, the terror invited by the mad smile of the witch with the knife and the hair… He had consciously rejected to think about that face, the grotesque face with red eyes; the hands like spiders coming to his face…

The sobs crowded in his chest. He had never felt so vulnerable and weak, so scared.

Except with the Dursleys.

But it was all right. He could be scared now. It was over. He could take his time to cry if he wanted to. Well done, you. You survived the morning.

Harry had calmed down significantly by the time Draco returned. It was like Krystal said to the new girls. You cry and you let it out and then you wash your face and go back because the world isn’t stopping, petal.

Draco had gone and spent his one and only twenty pounds note. The one Harry had insisted he kept, back when Draco decided he was done with the wizarding world. He had retrieved it now from the secret pocket on the band of his wristwatch, and with it he had acquired a hearty meal, a feast sure to put your soul back in your body and send all dark thoughts away.

Honestly, Harry had never had a Quarter Pounder with Cheese as good as this one. Draco had brought him extra ketchup and A Triple Chocolate Cookie and An Apple Pie, because Harry loved both and he could never decide, on the few occasions they went to MacDonald’s to celebrate.

He had been right. And Kaleem, he had been right too. Things are just better when you have just finished a big order of fries.

“So… They seemed to know something about Harry Potter”.

Draco, who had equally fallen ravenously to his hamburger and had polished his big meal off like a true champ, gave him the courtesy of meeting his eyes and answering right away.

“The Boy Who Lived. The only person in existence to survive a killing curse and incidentally vanish Voldemort fifteen years ago”.

There was a bit of ketchup on the corner of Draco’s mouth. In Harry’s life people had ketchup stains when they revealed big dramatic secrets about his past.

“What the actual… heck, Draco”.

“I wasn’t sure or I would have told you!” and Draco seemed sincere, sounded sincere. He probably didn’t even know that the dust in the window next to him was moving and forming an intricate pattern over the glass. “I didn’t know at first it was you. And then… I just… You only told me you used to be Green. Didn’t give me the name of before that.” The dust had made something like a park in which two figures holding hands were gazing at the stars. His voice was anguished, “You said you didn’t want to talk about that time and I…”

“Okay”

“I didn’t want to bring up bad… Really?”

Harry bit down on the apple pie. Oh, it was so good! He was still upset, and he wished Draco had told him. But he wasn’t upset with Draco. Those were two separate things. He would not make him responsible for what had happened. And he had insisted on being called Mort, hadn’t he? Even though the name was stupid and he had said it only as a joke. You couldn’t build a wall around your past and then get angry when people respected it, even if that wall contained more than what you thought.

More importantly, Draco had chosen him. He wasn’t about to let that horrible people and that horrible house pull them apart.

He had read Jane Eyre two years ago and he had not been impressed with the poor communication of the couple. They could do better, would do better.

“I am extremely upset about everything today, starting with Patricia last night.” Said Harry. The apple pie was gone but he wanted to wait a little before going for the cookie.

“Ok. I will make it right, I promise”

“Yes you will” Harry’s drink was finished, so he stole a bit from Draco’s. “You should start by giving me a kiss”.

---

The two hours had almost passed, but there was still enough time for two bodies to meet and nuzzle and sigh and move together, right there over the dusty carpet. There was enough time to be slow at it, to kiss and kiss and caress every red mark, every bruise.

---

They climbed down the warehouse. Draco gathering up the remains of their meal while Harry wiped away the park and the stars and the botanical drawings of flowers from the window. He absently noted that they would make a beautiful wallpaper.

They only flew until they saw the grey line where the warehouses and factories tell of a city starting. They descended then and Draco sent the broom spiralling north and they started to walk to the city proper. Harry ate his cookie while Draco condensed ten years of wizarding history in the space of a walk to the city. It would be a long walk.

Harry was surprised at how well he was taking it. He thought it was probably all that reading and film watching that had warned him against dramatic misunderstandings that send you down on a hundredth pages long tantrums. Look, Draco said he was sorry, surely he would never again keep a secret as big as this one (how could he? Nothing would ever be this big). And this was not the time to be fighting when they had just barely escaped from a murderous covenants of nutjobs. That, right there, was what ought to be his priority.

Besides, it wasn’t like Draco had all the answers. He couldn’t tell him why Voldemort would want a one year old dead. (Lion King comparisons didn’t count because there was no wizarding monarchy). Or why Harry was sent to live with some of the most dreadful people on Earth. (They were still in the top ten, but Harry had learned soon enough that there were plenty of people to occupy the higher positions). He didn´t even know how Harry had managed to survive the curse and defeat Voldemort when he was but a toddler, but he could hazard the guess that Harry didn´t feel like dying that day. That seemed to be the way his magic worked.

So maybe Harry was a wizard proper and he could had gone to Hogwarts if he had endured the abuse a couple more months. All right. Flying brooms and chocolate frogs were cool, but they didn’t trump museums and libraries with proper books, so he didn’t feel particularly cheated. Besides, if he was thinking of maybes, he could just as well have died from concussion after Dudley got his birthday boxing gloves. So. No regrets there.   

And the cinema, for god’s sake! How was that culture living without movies? No wonder they turned to civil war and really unfortunate robes and masks. They were like passionate Star Wars fans, but with no movies to keep them entertained.

His cookie finished, Harry took Draco’s hand on his.

London was welcoming them back, spreading her arms of brick buildings and fog. They would be all right.  He had decided so.

---

“I don’t know what to call you now”

“Well Mort was always a stupid joke, anyway”

“But you don’t like Harry, do you?”

Harry shrugged. He didn’t have good memories attached to the name, that was true, but going on with Mort felt wrong now.

“You could call me Westley”

“What? No, nononono”

“Why not? I could say as you wish and occasionally be the Dread Pirate Roberts”

“It sounds too much like Weasley. I couldn’t possibly call you that”.

So Harry it was. They could make better memories for the name.

Although, if he was being completely honest, he was accepting Harry because he feared what Draco would do if he let him chose a nickname. It would be Betelgeuse or Altair or something like that that sounded like a medicine or a sketchy low cost flight company.

---

It was like that children’s game, grandmother’s footsteps, when the children are close to the curator but no one dares tagging them. In this case, the dark wizards didn’t know whether they were supposed to flee the scene or rush back to their lord. If he was done for, you wouldn’t want to dally there. But if he wasn’t, you certainly didn’t want to look like you had deserted him.

Only the Malfoy household made their decisions quickly and unequivocally. Narcissa and Lucius vanished while Bellatrix rushed to the prostrate form of her lord.

The rest stood there, gaping stupidly and looking at their own wounds.

---

London is very big. There is a lot of walking to do before you get to any recognizable part of the city. They were not there yet, but it was fine. Harry was confident that absolutely no one was going to look for them in the suburbs, which was good because he still didn´t know how they had been caught that morning, other than the lack of breakfast and the inability to put some decent distance.

Draco claimed to know, though.  

“Werewolves?”

“I realized it at the manor, when I could get a better look of the man. They were probably sniffing us”. Draco sounded very tired. “I suppose blood purity doesn’t matter so much when they are willing to kill for you”.

“The only other werewolf you have mentioned didn’t sound like that”.

“Professor Lupin, yes. Oh, he is nothing like that!”

Harry wondered about his usual hiding strategy. He had made himself invisible, unseen, but he hadn’t really thought about other senses.

Clove and garlic, he thought. He would ask Draco later, but it felt like clove and garlic and maybe some cinnamon. That should hide their smell.

Hopefully they wouldn’t come across any more werewolves today. If they did… He would think about something then. For now, better to focus on where to spend the night.

“I know of a place” said Draco. He had been looking at the sky constantly, and if they weren´t holding hands, he would have walked in to a lightpost twice already. There was an unusually high amount of owls crossing the sky, considering it was still a couple of hours before dark. “It may be safe, or, well, safe from them”.

“Tell me about it”. Harry smiled. He liked listening to Draco talk. “If we don’t like it, we can always take the last train to Greenwich”.

---

The left half of Snape’s face and hand was covered in small cuts. Lord Voldemort’s outburst had broken all the windows in the room and thrown the floorboards up, like a forest of thorns or the bottom of a spiked ditch, and the iron shards from the chandelier were now embedded in the stonewall.

Snape had arrived late to the meeting, when everything was already on fire. Bless that Lovegood girl who had thought that she could substitute billywig sting with pocket lint. The resulting mess had made Snape just late enough that he would be associated with the aftermath of the disaster and not with the beginning.

Better to make a show of how useful he was now, rather than having to pretend to be incompetent before to help the escape of the two boys.

It took him some times before he could leave without looking like a betrayer or a coward. He busied himself brewing a quick burn relief potion and attending various injuries (Nott had the most curious burn in his hand, from where he touched the library’s door) and all kind of ails. Not those of the Dark Lord, though, who had refused even Bellatrix to look at him.

He was the Head of Slytherin, though. Something that most people seemed to forget. So he still managed to send a patronus back to Dumbledore with a short message, cast confundus on Avery as he jumped on his broom to give chase, make his exit with no damage to his deatheater reputation and go to Hogwarts to teach his afternoon lessons. All without anyone noticing anything out of the ordinary, although some students wondered at how they had managed to avoid detention.

Teatime saw an emergency meeting in the headmaster’s office while dinner held everyone at Grimauld Place. The aurors had a dozen different and contradicting reports of what had happened at Malfoy Manor and no one had managed to make contact with the Malfoys to explain. Everybody at the Ministry was freaking out and no one dared saying why publicly, although it probably had to do with Avery being found circling a barn in Sussex, Dolohov leaving the region at full speed or Yaxley crashing spectacularly south of Swindon and attacking the muggles that came to help. Even Bill Weasley reported having a crazy busy evening at Gringotts, lots of movement and sudden withdrawal of funds.

---

Remus was standing in a corner of the room, having offered his seat early on during the meeting. All the couches and chairs were taken, and some of the younger members, like the older Weasley kids, were sitting on the floor. So it was easy to leave the room discretely five minutes after having heard of Draco’s Malfoy involvement. They had made so much out of everything else, his name hadn’t come up sooner.

He made himself not to look through any of the windows on his way to the kitchen. It could look like this was an easy task, but it was not. It was very hard and required a self control Remus didn’t know he possessed. But he understood well the difficulty of what he was about to do and he couldn’t afford to let impatience and excitement ruin it.

The kitchen seemed to store a never ending amount of silverware, yet today its capacity was being thoroughly tested. Remus got three mugs from the back of one of the cupboards and filled them with tea.

No, that was wrong.

He threw the tea away.

“Moony”

Remus was ducking and looking at the cabinets under the kitchen, so he didn’t turn at Sirius call. “Do we have a thermos?” he said instead, chest deep in the cabinet.

“Moony, is this…”

“A thermos, Padfoot”.

His eyes met Sirius’. He was still very handsome, despite Azkaban, and in the last few months he had gotten better. He shaved regularly, his long hair had gotten back its shine, and he had lost a bit of the gauntness. He had also recovered the charming smile and the cocky posture that the years of imprisonment and rancour had covered with a layer of anger and madness and hurt. Tonight, however, Sirius looked like someone Remus barely remembered ever seeing. Young and vulnerable and childlike. It was… it was the doubt in Sirius’s eyes. Because he had seen him laughing and he had seen him mad, but he had seldom seen Sirius unsure or uncertain of himself.

Sirius nodded silently and bent down to open yet another cabinet. Behind a stack of bowls and something that could be used to make yoghurt, there was a thermos with a pattern of grinning pumpkins at the bottom.

Sirius stayed by his side, taking deep careful breaths while Remus filled the thermos with tea. At Remus’ indication he took down three, actually make it four, new mugs. The price for coming was knowing you had to. Sirius had just earned it.

“Sirius, I need you to be very calm and very respectful”, warned Remus. Who knew how much Sirius had guessed? Maybe he was just expecting an informer.

“Respectful”. He repeated dutifully in the same tone in which he would recite the four rules of transfiguration to McGonagall.  

“Don’t push.”

“Don’t… push?”

How to explain.

Remus looked at the thermos, but the grinning pumpkins had no help to offer.

Sirius had many virtues. Nuance wasn’t one of them. He made everything big.

“Do you remember Athena Bluestalk?” Remus said finally. His hands were getting warm from holding the thermos. “Brown hair, blue eyes…”

“Yes? …yes! Asked her out at fourteen. Wouldn’t even look at me. She pushed me in to a puddle”

“And why was that?”

Sirius at fourteen couldn’t have answered that question. Sirius now…

“How about I let you speak and I just nod from behind?”

“That, and don’t make sudden movements. And bring the sugar too”.

---

Just as he had expected, there were two figures on the other side of the street. A bit to the side, too, so that they could run to the river park if they so desired.

He had stressed that Sirius had to remain calm and silent, but it was hard for him, too, to keep his eyes and his smile on Draco first, and not to jump at the sight of Harry.

But he had his chance, once, and he ruined it. It would not happen again.

“Ah, Draco, I see you brought a friend. Tea?”

The tea was a good idea. They all got a strong cup of tea with lots of sugar, which is something that everyone welcomes. And it showed they were willing to talk in the street rather than pushing for them to enter the house. For a minute it gave everyone something to do with their hands.

Or Sirius. It gave Sirius something to do, filling mugs and asking how many sugars and not freaking out at all, although he did whimper once. The boys didn’t move, and then it was only Draco who reached a hand and accepted the mugs. He drank first from both of their mugs before passing one to Harry, and only after Remus and Sirius had taken a sip and swallowed.

Remus approved.

“Draco, this is Sirius Black” said Remus “He is your second cousin, I believe”.

Sirius was now holding his mug and the sugar, so he couldn’t do anything like offering his hand. They wouldn’t have taken the hand anyway, at it would had made things even more awkward. Sirius simply smiled and nodded, like a good boy.

“How do you do, sir?” Draco asked in a polite monotone. Although perhaps there was more exhaustion than coldness in his voice.

“Good, good, thank you”. Sirius waved a little bit with the hand holding the mug. “It is good to see you”.

“Sirius is the se- owner of the house”. Remus congratulated himself on not saying the Secret Keeper of the house. Sirius was doing admirably, but it was better not to mention certain things right then. “And I believe he would like to invite you in”.

He nodded to Sirius who looked back at him with a… Actually it was an overwhelming look, full of emotion, of sorrow, but also of gratefulness and joy. Sirius smiled, nodded, ant turned to address the two young boys.

“Anytime you desire, you are welcome at the number twelve of Grimauld Place”.

---

Harry could see the exact moment when the man, Remus Lupin, realized belatedly that Draco’s obsequiousness and protectiveness of Harry was a ruse. Draco was deliberately bringing the attention to himself, marking himself as the one whose trust you had to win, so you wouldn’t pay attention to Harry.

Ambition and cunning. Draco was right, people always forgot the last part.

So while he was standing there assuring Draco that they would be safe inside the house and making himself as non-threatening as possible, Harry had been quietly observing and assessing.

“I know you, don’t I? I have seen you before”

Ah, that gave the man pause.

“Yes… I, uh, we met once at a crosswalk near Whitehall. We, that’s it, me and this other wizard, Arthur, called for you, but I am afraid we were too adamant. We had been looking for you for years, you know. Everybody was very worried”

Harry had to bit his tongue. And before? was the question he didn’t ask. What about then? Were they worried about him or was it enough to know where he was?

He would ask those questions. But not now and not to him. The man had been honest in his answers, he had been kind and welcoming. He didn’t deserve a lashing out. Most importantly, Harry felt he meant well.

---

Fenrir Greyback was slayed that night for having brought disaster to the Dark Lord.

The werewolf lay on the floor of the sitting room. His shirt cut out and the torso exposed for his heart to be taken out of his chest. Voldemort wouldn’t have anyone else do it, sent everyone out of the room and alone he kneeled to tear the chest open and gorge on that robust heart that would heal him back.

But his hands were trembling too much, they were too weak. His arms had no strength.

He realized then… The room had been trashed by his fury and everyone had obeyed the command of his voice, Bella had been the one to kill the creature… Now that his hand went to the pocket of his tunic, now, he realized, that he had no wand.

He saw a pair of hands, soft and short and full of flesh. They were clutching a knife and they stabbed the werewolf's chest, forced it open.

He had told her to leave. But she was there, defying his orders to be by his side. She was guiding his head to her lap, feeding him bites of the heart cut out with her knife, softly shushing and caressing the back of his head the only place where the skin hadn’t burned.

---

“Moony, people are starting to wonder why you are not there being confrontational to everyone” whispered Sirius from the stairs.

Draco didn’t think that confrontational was an adjective often applied to Professor Lupin. In fact, he was quite polite and… meek. Although he did have this tendency to step out of the script.

That had been one of the decisive factors to convince them to enter the house. When he gave them a sudden self deprecating smile that seemed to laugh at himself for playing a role he didn’t believe in. When he said he wanted them to come in, really, he did, but didn’t feel in any position to tell them what to do to keep safe. He could also offer them money and sandwiches, if they preferred.

That by itself wouldn’t had been enough. They were too anxious, scared out of their minds, and tired. Staying outside seemed like less effort. If they went in, they would have to look at the house and the people there and asses them one by one and see who was safe and who wasn’t. Whereas Greenwich was the main point in a very big circle, they could just go there.  

But then Sirius had chipped in, the most he had talked so far.

“You don’t have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to. Sometimes… I don’t want to see anyone, either”

And, guess what? That was it. They were too tired to talk to anyone else, to see if they meant well or not. They were too tired to talk even with the people that honestly meant well. They just wanted a safe place to spend the night, and that’s what they were offering.

They had crossed the threshold with trepidation, holding hands. Now, hidden away in the kitchen they were starting to relax. Both men had kept their word and sneaked them past the cramped dining hall to the kitchen downstairs. They had sworn they could leave at any time, too, and no one had to know they had been there if they didn’t want to. And, did they want more tea?

Professor Lupin rose from the table. When he got to the stairs he grabbed Sirius by the elbow and forced him back up to the living room. The man would had happily kept standing there on the seventh step staring at them, grinning, and anxiously offering them more tea again and again.

Draco was starting to think that there was something wrong with the Black family. At least with the ones with dark hair, because his mother had never done that sort of nonsense and the aunt they never mentioned seemed quite normal all things considered.

They were left alone in the kitchen. Alone.

“They seem all right” said Harry. He had drunk three glasses of water so far, and the tea, once they were certain it was just plain tea. “I don’t feel any… alarm”.

“But you are not sure of them”.

“No. Yes… I dunno. It’s the house!”

“Merlin’s beard, right? Is like being permanently on a corridor. Waiting for someone to come and tell you to leave”

Harry laughed, long and loose. It was so good, listening to him laugh. Even if it was the nervous giggles you get when you are really past your bedtime. Like when they thought they should spend awake all of the night of New Year’s Eve, and the sunrise found them howling with laughter over the sound one of the squeaky cupboards made. They were both laughing now. It was contagious and freeing and the fact that they had to keep their voices down made it all funnier.

“I lost the awl in the house”, gasped Harry, drying the tears away from his eyes. “It was a good awl. You could go stabby stabby”.

“Yes, but the question is, how did you get that wand? No, no that one” (There is always time for some dirty joke). “That one right there under your jumper. Don’t you dare put it in your trousers”.

There was more laughter. Harry couldn’t form words for a while.

“I… was on the floor and I guess my hand just closed over it. I did not nick it, if that’s what you are suggesting, no sir”.

Draco’s face attempted three expressions at once. He settled on serious and practical until his eyes met Harry’s and they were both off again, laughing and laughing and slapping the table and hushing each other.

They eventually calmed down and Draco rose to make dinner. Professor Lupin had merely pointed at the fridge and pantry, understanding quite well they were not ready yet to have anyone else touch their food. Sirius had sent a house elf by the name of Kreacher upstairs, too, before they entered the room to give them extra privacy. Harry’s face had moved quickly from delight to disappointed resignation at missing the elf.  

Draco was bone tired, but he still managed to produce some decent sandwiches and a small bowl of soup. He felt like soup was just the right thing after the day they had had. Soup was always the answer and shut up Harry what do you know of organic materials, you have no instinct for those things whatsoever.

The food was good. They ate in silence now, focused on chewing and swallowing. The drone of the voices upstairs was like the radio on background.

“My birthday is this weekend.” Said Draco out of nowhere. The thought had just come to his mind. “Wizards come of age at seventeen. So I will be able to practice magic without setting up any alarms. And as long as we are in a wizarding building, we can do magic safely”.

“Oh?” said Harry and he took the wand, which had rested by the fruit bowl during their dinner. He looked at it, long and white. You hardly ever saw any wands that light. Bone white, you could describe it. Although here, in Harry’s hands and under the kitchen light, it looked the same tone as any wooden kitchen utensil.

Harry tapped it twice against the side of the table. From the point erupted three tiny white flowers with green leaves that danced and circled as they fell to the floor.

“Of course, magic requires a very specific set of movements and words learned through years of dedicated study” deadpanned Draco with affected seriousness. “Simply waving a wand isn’t enough”.

Harry snorted. He was using the wand to vacuum the crumbles of their meal.

---

When Remus ducked away from the meeting again, he found that Sirius hadn’t gone down to the kitchen yet and was instead quietly jumping up and down in the hallway and chewing on different soft objects

This was Sirius, so it could be considered an admirable display of restraint.

He grabbed Remus by the arms and squeezed tight, his eyes open wide. Remus realized this was the first time had had seen Sirius happy. Not since Azkaban. Ever. Whatever joy and mirth he had seen before, it had always been tainted by the difficult relationship with his mother and with the world, and then by the rise of Voldemort, and the fear, the stress, the rage, the certainty that no part of the world, as small and innocent as it were, would be left untouched by Voldemort’s spreading darkness and hate.

Now, however, Sirius was happy. Happy with the abandon and full embrace of young children that don’t know yet that most things in the world come with caveats and conditions.

And Remus, Remus was happy too. Happy that neither Voldemort nor themselves had managed to ruin those two boys.

Moody and Doge were arguing about what Snape had exactly meant by his description of “burning face”. Snape had only told his version once before retiring back to Hogwarts. It would be a while until anyone else got to say a word in between.

Sirius and Remus went down to the kitchen to pick up the boys and then up the four flight of stairs. The house was full of people and many of them would end up spending the night, but it was unlikely that anyone would ask to share their rooms, given that they were the usual residents and that they were in the highest floor. So they were free to give up one of their rooms for Harry’s and Draco’s use and bunker together in the other.

Also, Remus didn’t fool himself. Sirius came as either very attractive or too intense or both, so it took massive guts to ask him to share his bedroom. And no one, no matter how nice they were, wanted to share living quarters with the werewolf.

Except for Sirius tonight.

Sirius insisted on giving up his room. Remus thought his was better, because although Sirius didn’t live in squalor he also didn’t pick up his socks. Draco gave one look to the Gryffindor decoration of the room and pushed Harry in the opposite direction right away, saying his thanks and good nights and closing the door behind them. 

---

They had forgotten to ask for a toothbrush. But it was too late, Harry divested himself slowly, eyes barely open, and was asleep ten minutes later. Chest raising up and down, taking breaths even and deep.

It was good that Harry had fallen asleep so soon. He needed it, and Draco had been afraid that he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep at all. He was too riled up to go to sleep yet.

Instead, he made sure that their clothes were folded and put both of their wands in the bedside table, easy to reach. He went around the room and drew a circle with his left hand, just like Harry had shown him, on the door and in each window pane and in every corner.

He also pushed a chest of drawers in front of the door. That was something that Harry had taught him too. Magic was all good, but the mundane doesn’t hurt.

They weren’t supposed to be in any danger in the house. But Draco felt better doing it and the ritual helped him relax enough that he could go to sleep, his arms around Harry and his body between him and the door.

---

Draco woke sometime when it was still night, his arms tightening instinctively around Harry who thankfully was still deep asleep. He got out of bed in silence, wand ready in his hand, before he knew what had awaken him. There were screams somewhere outside and a smell like smoke.

The window didn’t look over the street, but if he pressed himself against the wall he could see a little bit. He almost knocked over a picture hanging there and with the moon light he realized that it was his drawing, mounted over a passe-partout and inserted in a thin frame. Someone had written the date and location in a corner of the cardboard.

There was someone on the street yelling and throwing spells in the direction of the house. More than a someone by the number of lights ricocheting over the Fidelius charm. He could almost make out the words of a female voice screaming “I know you are in there”. That was enough to wake him all the way, but then he though he heard her call for Lucius, which made no sense because A) his father would never take refuge in a house with such a dreadful wallpaper, B) full of Dumbledore’s sycophants, and C) the Malfoys had other residences, anyway. The one for grandfather, where the older relatives went to live after a new generation took claim of the manor; and the one in France so the younger generations could get a taste of the continent, and he would be surprised if his mother didn’t have a third location somewhere discreet.

The doors of the house opened. Surely all the Aurors and Dumbledore’s people and the king’s horses and men could manage no to be murdered by Aunt Bella and, yes, that was Uncle Rodolphus with his characteristic gait.

They apparated away soon after and Draco went back to bed. Harry hadn’t moved at all, but he smiled and scooted closer when Draco returned.

---

When Lucius proposed to her, she almost said no.

That would have gone against every custom and convention, but Narcissa had her reasons. A witch of her status, rich, pure-blooded, pretty, had to marry a wizard of equal or greater standing. Lucius was all that. It was a perfect arrangement.

Love and affection didn’t particularly feature in such an agreement. And that was the problem. Because Narcissa liked Lucius. She liked his face and his quiet humour and his exquisite taste and delicacy that he rarely showed to anyone. She liked him enough that it could cloud her razor sharp judgment. That was not good. Look at Andromeda.

She married him, because saying no would have raised all sort of difficult questions. She was delighted and scared of how much suffering her love would bring her.

Because of love, she did not oppose more adamantly her husband’s friends and activities. Because of love, she let him go and play and follow a dream that was bound for failure. She did not speak when she could. She let him play in the same mud where her sister Bella was wallowing. She allowed for him to be tainted.

Narcissa was the poster image of a perfect witch. She had been featured in Witch Weekly multiple times. Her favourite perfume was a mixture of narcissus of course, with wild orchid and a hint of carrot seeds for freshness to be substituted with vanilla in the coldest months. She liked cashmere. She used Green 55 Meadow Dream for her nails. Her invitations and thank you notes were exquisite and people collected them in little albums. Her personal tip for perfect porcelain hands was to always wash them with a milk and mother-of-pearl soap. She had excellent manners. She had a beautiful voice.

Here is something that very few people knew about Narcissa.

When she was behind locked doors and a layer of spells for secrecy, she went to her bed and did something… bad.

No, not that. That was all Bella and she hardly even bothered with silencing charms. Thank Morgana the Lestrange were not known for their attention to detail, because Rodolphus could have raised lots of complaints before their wedding, during the wedding night and certainly after.

No. Narcissa got under the bed, removed the books hidden under the box spring and she read. Lots and lots of books that were certainly inappropriate for a young, pretty, pure-blooded witch such as herself. Hell, some of them were inappropriate for old ugly wizards. Some of them were written by muggles

But where else was she going to learn about History and Mathematics? Where else would she learn enough of numbers and genetics to see that the Pure-Blood directory was wrong, that there couldn’t be twenty eight sacred families of perfectly pure wizards. That you had to accept half-bloods to survive (which the Malfoys had done and they thrived). More importantly, she learned about long term planning and resources distribution and about how Gellert Grindewald had a very decent chance of getting away with his plan, had Dumbledore not defeated him in singular combat. Grindewald understood about chain of supply. He had campaign planning. People talked of how he built a prison for his opponents, but he also had a railroad and granaries.

Narcissa Black, soon to be Malfoy, was reading Adam Smith under her bed. The new lord didn’t seem to have a plan for long term wealth distribution and she wondered about material production. She wondered about the worth of a victory when the land had been burned and salted, when you have killed all the people fit to serve.    

Narcissa Malfoy privately opened a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates that first of November when the news of the Dark Lord’s banishment were confirmed. She hoped that from now on Lucius would find some other source of entertainment. Perhaps house remodelling. He did have a good eye for interior décor.

Now she stood on a ferry bound to the continent, her husband by her side. The sea wind was messing her hair and all her jewels and cosmetics and clothes were back at the manor. She had left the house with only three things: Her wand, her husband’s hand on hers, and the vision of Draco leaving unharmed and quickly becoming smaller in the sky.

She wished she could be with him. But she knew now that he would be all right. That was more than what she had before.

“He set him on fire” said Lucius. They hadn’t spoken much. There had been too much to do. Running, hiding their trail, sending a warning note to Andromeda, leaving false clues for the deatheaters, for Bella, gathering some supplies, disguising themselves and ensuring no one saw them get on the boat. They barely spoke, but when they did, that was a recurring thought. Lord Voldemort on their ballroom floor, screaming as his face burned.

“Your son has excellent sense when following powerful wizards”. Unlike you, is what she didn’t say.

“Let’s hope he will be safe”

Hope? Hope? She would make darn sure.

 

Chapter Text

Harry woke up slowly and reluctantly. Sleep was good. Sleep meant warmth and softness and lying there doing nothing. But Draco, who was a despicable morning person, was attempting to wake him up.

Surely, if one could set things on fire and make them explode and fly, there was also some magic charm that allowed you to impress thoughts on people’s minds without moving or speaking, right? Some way in which Harry could say “Go away, Draco, let me sleep. Why are you like this?” without actually having to resort to such extreme measures like moving.

“You are going to dehydrate if you keep sleeping” Draco said with a tone that admitted no excuses.

Harry gave up, accepted his fate and went on waking up, let the awareness rush in.  

Everything hurt.

See? He had good reasons not to want to be conscious. His muscles were stiff and they screamed at any minor movement. Like the day after doing lots of exercise, which he supposed was the case only the exercise had been mostly involuntary.

He made a sound, a groan. Why? The sound meant.

Draco was right, though, he drank the glass of water quickly and felt a bit better after.

Last night he had barely payed any attention to the room, other than to see where the bed was and check that the window was big enough for them to escape through. (That it was a fourth floor was no problem, they would climb down or fly if they had to). Now he took his time to look around the room yawning and stretching (aah! It burns!). There was some Slytherin imaginary here and there and the curtains and carpets were done in green and grey. The shelves were full of books and all kind of funny gadgets.

He sat on bed, reading each of the titles of the books. Most of them were about creatures and plants and spells and Draco confirmed they were related to the subject of Defense Against the Dark Arts despite not having any of those words in the titles. There was also a copy of a book of short stories by Neil Gaiman, the cover creased and falling apart and very much like the three books Harry owned. They also found a copy of De Bello Gallico and Harry decided the man was all right, probably better than most.

Funnily, books III to VI mere missing from De Bello. In their place someone had inserted blank pages full of annotations made with a clear and tight handwriting. List of names and places under a code that would probably only make sense to the author. Or to someone who was very, very, well acquainted with the less picturesque parts of London. Harry spotted many familiar names and even Draco figured out some of them.

What was interesting was that the notes were hidden in a muggle book.

The one with short stories only contained the afore mentioned short stories. Some paragraphs had been marked and underlined, but with second hand books it is hard to know who marked what.  

---

They had been so tired when they went to bed that they thought it must had been well past midnight when in fact it was barely eleven fifteen. Now it was past nine, not eleven as they had thought, and the house was full of movement. Everybody awake and rushing around and apparently moving furniture and banging pans and pots from all the noise they were making. Perhaps it would die down in a couple of hours before the lunch rush, but right now it was turmoil.

They stood by the stairs, not even looking down the railing, just listening to the cacophony of voices. It was very different from the tumult that usually came from Patricia’s apartment. Everybody here seemed to have a clear purpose to follow. In many cases, the murder and dismemberment of someone called Fred. But given his cackle, this was not taken seriously.

“I can go down to get some breakfast” Draco offered, although he made it sound as if he would have to dive in a piranha infested pit to fetch them tea and sugar.

“You don’t have to”

“Of course I do, we are both hungry”

“I mean, I could go with you…”

“No one should have to brave those people on an empty stomach”

“They were actually pretty nice, last night”

“Yes, them. And who suggested we may not want to talk to the rest?”

“I mean, if they come at us in small numbers…”

If you are thinking about interacting with people with the same terms you would use to go through a videogame level, you should fall back and wait for a better time. So Draco went downstairs alone. He didn’t want to. He had spent two years avoiding everyone magic related. But someone had to and he was certainly better prepared for the situation.

He did not hide during his descent. He had been invited by the owner of the house!. He would not act as if he were scared or ashamed, as if he didn’t have a right to be there. But he didn’t announce his presence, either, because the house was infested with Weasleys and their like.

It took all of his parents training not to flinch when people saw him, did a double take and realized who he was, when they exclaimed something, stared, fell in to silence. Training told him to ignore everyone and put on an expression that proclaimed his disgust at them. But that wouldn’t do now, so he merely nodded whenever he crossed paths with someone on the stairs, wished them a good morning, and went on with a calm and normalcy that he didn’t feel.

At least he wasn’t the one following people to the kitchen and staring while they filled a tray with breakfast.

“Ah, Draco, good morning. Did you sleep well?”

Draco was quickly reviewing his previous impression on Professor Lupin. That man was snarky, no wonder Snape had been following him around so much when he was at Hogwarts. He was probably wondering how come he wasn’t in slytherin. How did he manage to talk to him and yet direct the reproach in his voice to the people staring in the background?

“Yes, thank you. And you? I believe there was some ruckus during the night”

“Oh, did you hear? I am sorry for the disturbance”

“No, that’s quite all right”.

At least while they spoke he didn’t have to listen to the muttered blasphemies and the I say!, What the sulphurous hell?, Does this mean…?.

Going down and taking the things for breakfast was simple enough. Going back with a tray dangerously full of things was something else, because he couldn’t carry himself with his usual composure and people weren’t quick enough to step aside. In fact, some of them seemed like they didn’t intend to move at all.

“Is that the Malfoy kid? Ran here like a weasel to hide, eh? afraid of what your beloved lord will do to you”.

“Could we behave like civilized people and leave the insults until after breakfast, Mr…? Oh, why do I bother, I don’t care who you are”.

By then Professor Lupin had risen from his chair and, Draco supposed, was quite literally having his back. The sound of quick heavy steps announced the arrival of Sirius, who stopped short, leaned nonchalantly against the railing, and started to chatter away as if everything were normal and there was nothing unusual in the kitchen.

They provided enough of a barrier that he could go up the five flights of stairs unbothered, focused on keeping his balance and wondering what had happened to all the house elves of the house. Surely they still had one or two. Why wasn’t the elf here to help… carry… the… Milk! He almost dropped the milk, but he got it, it was good.

Draco loved Harry. He did. But he had to open the door with his elbow and it took him three tries, because Harry couldn’t stay up and open the door for him, no. So if he had gone back to bed Draco was going to upend that bloody milk on Harry’s head and see if his hair turned white!

---

Harry was not back in bed. He was sitting cross legged on the floor talking animatedly with the house elf. 

Draco was sure the elf, Kreacher, hadn’t talked to anyone in his life. People spoke to their house elves, told them what to do and such, but they certainly didn’t have conversations with them.

The elf excused himself after Draco set the things for breakfast and despite Harry’s insistence that he stayed to talk some more he disappeared with a pop.  

There was orange juice and tea and toast with orange marmalade. The house was so full of people that they had arrived late to the first serving of fry-ups and Draco was not going to dally around the kitchen waiting for the baked beans to heat. But Harry said it was perfect and he ate everything Draco piled in his plate and he was so alive, sitting in the floor, half dressed and with his hair in a state, telling Draco about all he had learned from Kreacher, delightful fellow, not completely here you know, but with very interesting things to say.

A day ago they had been running for their lives. Now, Draco could feel the warmth of Harry’s skin sitting by his side.

---

After the day they had had yesterday, Harry wasn’t above sitting by the stairs landing sipping his second cup of tea. It is not eavesdropping if you are just hanging out by the stairs listening to the voices below that don’t know you are there. He just wanted to get a feel of the house and her inhabitants. 

Just as Remus and Sirius had promised, nobody knew of his presence on the house. Harry guessed that was very rude on his part, keeping it secret, but you know what else was rude? Saying, even in jest, that they should just kick Draco out and let his people deal with him. Because no matter what Draco’s parents did (and Harry certainly was not a fan of Lucius) Draco was no part of it. He had left. It wasn’t up to them to decide who was good and who wasn’t based on names and family allegiances. That was just more of the same.

Although, to be fair, not everybody was saying that. There was a female voice that shut down the comment quickly and even used the expression “Shame on you” which Harry had only ever seen in literature.

---

Not that he was expecting or even desiring it, but Remus was never going to be considered for the position of a Fidelius secret-keeper ever again. Not after this morning. Which was ironical because he had demonstrated he could keep a secret really well. But mostly, people had gotten the idea that he sympathised with slytherins.

Remus spent half the morning attending to all kind of matters (theirs hadn’t been the only house attacked last night) and seeing about a dozen different people who wanted to have a word in private with him. They were all about Draco. He had evaded by pointing that Draco was Sirius’ cousin, not his. People were always less quick to question Sirius’ actions.

They let it drop.

This had finally freed him to climb up the stairs and go talk for a little bit to Harry and Draco, saying there were many people Harry might want to meet and assuring Draco that they were doing all they could to learn what had happened to his parents. The boys had certainly not been expecting the second part and they looked honestly surprised. Remus wondered if they could really complain for the terrible opinion they had formed of all of them.

They came down, showered and dressed with yesterday clothes, some time before noon and all Remus could say was that he was immensely glad that he was there to witness the spectacle. He even got a bag of chocolate covered raisins.

It started with the awkward tense silence. Even people in other rooms of the house quieted down, as if attuned to the general mood in the living room.

“So! Had you been hiding in that manor of yours all these years?”

“Oh dear. I still don’t know or care who you are”, answered Draco, walking past the line of curious onlookers to a promising looking armchair.

“And who are you?” asked Alastor Moody, his magical eye directed to Harry.

The realization wasn’t exactly dawning horror, as the phrase says. It was more of a combination of horror and laugh and a sense of a good show about to transpire. Remus realized now that no one knew Draco had been living as a muggle (well, he had promised not to tell) and since Severus’ initial message had been so brief, they had all assumed that Harry had been captured alone and that Draco just happened to be there. They didn’t know they escaped together, that they were together.

And Harry had changed. Not to him, but he saw now that if they only had the drawing from three years ago, you wouldn’t necessarily connect it to the young man by Draco’s side. He had grown, and he had lost what little remained of his childish looks. His jaw was clearly delineated, his shoulders and chest had filled. The hair wasn’t unlike much of the hair you saw in the trendiest part of London, but the colour certainly distracted from the green of the eyes.

They didn’t know. They frowned at them.

“Oh I’m just Draco’s boyfriend.” Harry answered cheerfully while stepping from behind Draco and offering his right hand to shake. His grin, wide and polite and full of a mischief that was hard to spot the first time, was entirely James’. “Name is Harry. Harry Potter”.

Remus offered his chocolates to Sirius. Moody’s magic eye almost fell out of its socket in surprise.

---

Sirius was confused.

The charming young man who endured questions all morning with a smile and who pleasantly showed his scar again and again was not the distrustful young boy from last night. The boy from last night had iron in him.

He tried to catch Moony’s eyes multiple times, until it became evident that he was avoiding him. That was weird because he thought their relationship was getting better. They didn’t fight any more and lately they agreed on things more often than not.

(Choosing the jam’s flavour totally counted, because Sirius remembered when not too long ago they couldn’t even agree on that without lots of tense silences and I am sure you will know better s.)

Now that he thought about it, Moony’s avoidance was just like in school, when he or James had done something outrageous and funny and he was trying not to laugh.  

So he saw it too, and apparently he was not alarmed.

“Why, Mr. Diggle, that’s amazing” Harry was saying. Maybe he had been hit by a curse and didn’t feel the effects until the morning. No one had ever used that word to describe anything Dedalus Diggle did. Not even in phrases such as “amazingly stupid”. The man was just so terribly grey and dull.

Aha! Moony was avoiding him, but Sirius caught him sharing a look with Draco right then, like they were both in on the joke.

Sirius may be missing a good chunk of recent events, but he was reasonably sure that young people these days didn’t say “Jolly good” and “what a pickle!” so much.

---

Everybody, and he meant, everybody kept saying that he looked just like his father, minus the eyes, that were his mother’s, and the hair that, oh dear, well, they supposed everyone made that kind of decisions in their teens.

His father’s name was James Potter. He hadn’t known that.

This was good, and puzzling. He had been giving quite a lot of thought as to why would a Big Bad Dark Lord such as Voldemort want to kill a toddler and all he was getting was some variation of the Saturn scenario. It seemed that it was not to be the case and Harry was extremely grateful for that. He was back to wondering Vodemort’s motivation, but he was fine with that. So fine!  

At last, some time near lunch came a man who was probably the first wizard Harry met to actually look the part. He had a long white beard and funny embroidered robes and even a hat, although it was not pointy.

His first words were that please, they should all just eat, it was past noon, and he had brought a bottle of green sauce. Hahaha.

So this was the renowned Albus Dumbledore. A powerful wizard that nevertheless disregarded protocol and ceremony.

What a nice fellow.

And if Remus suddenly seemed a bit tense, Harry certainly didn’t notice.

---

Harry found himself reverting back to his yard ways naturally. He was nice and polite and spoke with his Christopher voice almost without meaning to. When people told him how worried they had been, how everybody had been looking for him, Harry nodded and listened and did not say something astoundingly rude like “You all seemed to be fine when I was growing up in an abusive household. Funny you were not worried then”. No. Instead he just smiled and said how sorry he was to have cause them concern and moved the conversation so they would be the ones telling about themselves and answering questions. Which they were delighted to.

He was saved from having to give a detailed account of yesterday by the nice funny fellow, Dumbledore, who said he was probably tired and didn’t want to talk about it, and anyway Snape had already given them a description of what happened after.

The thing is, Harry knew just enough to know he was missing huge chunks of vital information about all these people. Draco, when he talked about magic, stayed in the big and the abstract. He explained the principles of transfiguration or how the floo net was developed. He didn’t talk about specific people and Harry respected that because he understood that Draco was related to a bunch of people he would rather not have to describe. Harry got it. He would rather not have to explain Dudley to anyone.

But now he wished he knew a bit more about Dumbledore other than Hogwarts’ Headmaster, batshit insane but very powerful, disproportionally biased toward Gryffindors. Which was basically all Draco said about him.

It wasn’t until after the meal that Dumbledore suggested they retired to the library to talk in private. Harry would rather have Draco by his side, but he noticed not everybody liked the idea (afraid of a slytherin learning something, he guessed, as if Harry wouldn’t instantly share all of it). Draco assured him it was all right. His other aunt had just arrived, hair still smoking and face stained with soot, and he would talk to her.

Hadn’t Remus said there had been more attacks during the night? Funny that the Tonks family didn’t come until after lunch.

Look, reverting to the yard years also meant suspecting everything. When had they ever been wrong doing that?

(Never. The answer was never. Even the nice folk from the church that came visit the kids in the yard turned out to be dirty. They probably didn’t even belong to a real church).

They went to the library, Dumbledore and him. Harry made sure to get himself a cup of tea to keep between his hands. The warmth seeping through the china helped him relax and even his breath. One, two, one, two, in… and out…

He was calm.

The calm of the yard. The calm that says: I won’t be hurt today.

“I am sure you have many questions, Harry” said Dumbledore. He had gold half moon glasses and his eyes twinkled. They were light blue. Friendly.

“Many” agreed Harry, although he only had three that he could think of.

---

Why does Voldemort want to kill me? That wasn’t actually that important, but it did jump to mind, what with yesterday’s mad curse festival. But, no, no. It wasn’t important. Even if Voldemort were perfectly fine with Harry’s existence, he, being him, would still ask the second question.

Is there any way to stop him? Because Harry was extremely practical. Nothing personal (so far). He just couldn’t tolerate fascist delirium.

and

Hidden in the back of his mind under the cover of all the questions about the wizarding world, but present, always present:

Who was responsible for the Dursleys? Because… well, because that still hurt. He could still feel the echoes of the pain and the angst from those times. Even if Harry now wouldn’t even flinch at that treatment, didn’t care about not getting a birthday present, the child Harry had.  

---

He went with the first question because it was probably expected of him. Dumbledore said that it was a long answer, but he gave it none the less. Harry was belatedly thankful for the privacy because this was not a story he would have liked to listen with people watching.

His parents’ death. His parents who loved him and who were brave and powerful and who on three occasions defied Voldemort. His parents that died protecting him.

There was a prophesy. Dumbledore didn’t want to talk much about it but one look at Harry’s perfectly still face, at his serene eyes, convinced him to talk. He was almost an adult anyway, he could stand the details.  

Voldemort had tried to kill him for a hearsay. Voldemort took his family for less than fifty words.

It was a lot to take in, but there was more. The hiding, the Fidelius charm, the switch nobody knew about and the betrayal… If only Sirius hadn’t changed things, if they had gone along with Dumbledore’s plan…

“Would you like some more tea?” asked Dumbledore. “I think I could use a cup too, perhaps some biscuits. I will go fetch some from the kitchen”.

It was a kindness, giving him a few minutes alone. Harry nodded silently, head turned so his tears wouldn’t be so obvious.

When Dumbledore returned, Harry filled his mouth with three chocolate biscuits at once. He really didn’t feel like speaking anymore.

He looked at the window while he chewed. His mind was turning…

Dumbledore said there was a way to defeat Voldemort. But perhaps Harry was tired, it was too much information to take at once, perhaps he would prefer to ask some questions about his family, about the parents he barely met. They could talk about that, leave the hard matters for some other time.

They could…

When he was in the yard, Harry occasionally worked for Clubs, and Clubs worked for Mr. Nice. It was very rare to see him, Mr. Nice, since he had Clubs just so he wouldn’t be directly associated with that kind of people. But still, if you were working as a messenger, you may be sent near him to deliver something and you would get a glimpse of the dream, the good life every street criminal aspired to. Perhaps Mr. Nice would see you too, staring open mouthed at the wealth and the power, perhaps he would ask you with whom were you working (there were other Clubs, there always were) and he would tell you a story of how he started business, younger than you, hungrier than you. Perhaps he would tell you how he fought tooth and nail for everything and how you could too. Perhaps he would give you some advice and a tenner and hope.

He was called Mr. Nice, after all.

He was still the man who made a fortune with kid’s sweat and women’s tears and white powder and blood. Nice is not good.

Since he stepped on London, Harry had gotten so many offers that asked for nothing in exchange. Free! No obligations! They would offer a place to sleep, some quick cash, food, just a bit of a chat, the word of Our Lord, just some honest help from a good fellow.

A cup of tea and a pair of glasses…

First taste of drugs is always free.

They never tell you how it rots your teeth.

He swallowed and answered quickly, not even minding the crumbs falling from his mouth.

“No, no… That’s all right. If there is a way to defeat… him. I would like to know. I think it would help me sleep”, he finished with a weak grin.

The good news was that Voldemort could be killed. The bad news were that they had to find a series of objects first, Dragon Ball style, and they didn’t know how many or what they looked like. Until those objects were destroyed, Voldemort would go on living, charred face or not. He would be, he was, unstoppable.

Harry got up and went to look through the window, his back to Dumbledore.

Outside it was a typical London day, white-grey with the sun occasionally braving the clouds. It felt too conventional for the events inside the house. It was not the weather for listening to the story of the murder of your parents. It was not the weather for learning that the monster would go on living, hating, wishing you dead unless you managed an impossible feat.

It was nice. He had first kissed Draco under a cold drizzle and the rest of the month had continued to be cold and miserable despite their joy. Harry would start worrying when the weather matched the crazy events in his life.

“Don’t worry, Harry” Dumbledore said. He seemed so warm and loving. So protecting, with his long beard and his half moon glasses and his twinkly eyes. “There are many people who want to help you. You won’t have to be alone”.

He looked to the closed door of the library. There was the murmur of voices of the twenty people or so outside. All wizards and witches who wanted to defeat Voldemort and who had showed him their exuberant appreciation.

“You could stay here. Although the house is still in a bit of disarray. I am afraid Sirius never quite cared for it”. Dumbledore accompanied the words with a smile. It was good seeing that he and Draco weren’t the only ones unnerved by the spirit of the house. “You can also come to Hogwarts”.

“Hogwarts?” asked Harry as he walked back to his seat.

“Yes, the school of witchcraft and wizardry. Surely Draco had mentioned it before”.

“Oh, of course, of course. It’s just that… it’s a school.” Harry laughed, it was all so ridiculous! “I’m not even enrolled in it, I don’t even know where should I enrol. And what about summers and, and… and holidays?”

“We would take care of all of that. I am the Headmaster after all.” Dumbledore chuckled. “And you, Harry, deserve the exception”.

Harry sipped his tea. It had grown cold some time before. He chewed on his lip before looking back up to Dumbledore.

“Mr. Dumbledore…”

“Yes, Harry?”

“Look, can I be honest with you?”

“Of course, my dear child, of course. Honesty, I find, it’s a wonderful virtue”.

Harry smiled nervously. “Truth is… I am afraid”.

“Well, that is only natural. But I think you are very brave. Your parents were very brave, Harry. And true courage lays in facing our fears”.

“I am afraid I wouldn’t fit in the school, I, um, I almost seventeen after all and I don’t know any magic”. Harry looked back down, at his cup of cold tea and kept his gaze there.

“That’s a reasonable worry. But we will work around it” answered Dumbledore, who was quickly becoming top five finalist for the Most Reasonable and Understanding Person on Earth yearly Award. “Is that all that worries you, my dear Harry?”.

Dumbledore was leaning forward slightly while Harry still looked at his tea.

“No”, said Harry in a very small voice.

“What is it really?”

There was long pause in which Harry took a very deep breath before finally lifting his eyes, those striking green eyes so full and intense, and looked at Dumbledore.

“Will it be safe?” he asked, full of youth and still, somehow, innocence. He asked like a child asks of his mother when they are afraid of the dark. “For the others, I mean. If I go there, will it be safe?”.

“Oh, Harry”, Dumbledore’s voice wavered. “You are truly your father’s son! Always thinking about others, making sure they are well. Since he was at Hogwarts, he always looked out for others! I am sure Sirius and Remus will love to tell you more. They were his friends at school, and he looked after them too”.

Yes, people, had mentioned. How nice of his father to be friends with the werewolf! And poor Sirius, too, who wouldn’t had made any friends his first year with his slytherin family.

“But will it be safe?” repeated Harry. That was important.

“Harry, I can assure you Hogwarts is one of the safest buildings in Britain. It has some of the oldest and most powerful charms protecting it.”

“And what good will they do when Vol… when that man…”

“You may as well call him by his name.” Dumbledore said agreeably. “There is nothing to be afraid of the word”.

Harry stopped, breathed twice and sniffled. “What will happen when Voldemort comes at the school looking for me?”

“I dare say he won’t attempt it. As I said, Harry, Hogwarts is one of the most secure buildings in the country, if not the most, and there are many powerful wizards and witches in there, including myself if I may say so, who won’t hesitate to protect you”.

There are certain actions, small and habitual, that are very satisfying. Putting a hot pan in cold water. Stepping on ice. Crunching leaves! In this case, Harry liked the mute hard sound of the teacup as he put it in the wooden side table.

He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees and hands clasped. He looked at Dumbledore now, straight and true.

“So tell me, Mr. Dumbledore. Why was Privet Drive a better place for me?”.

---

Draco kept himself busy while Harry talked. First he spoked to his aunt Andromeda, who quite cheerfully explained how their house had been attacked by deatheaters last night. Andromeda held a remarkable resemblance to aunt Bella and nothing of the quiet grace of his mother. This was a woman vibrant and energetic and also a little bit insane. Draco guessed you had to be to defy their family tradition.

It also confirmed what he suspected about Black brunets.

The cousin, Nymphadora, he barely got to meet. She was an Auror and understandably busy. It seemed that the debacle at the manor had sent a lot of deatheaters in a cursing and hexing rampage, while a few others had tried to leave the country. They spoke of a Greyback and a Dolohov whose bodies had been found somewhere north.

Andromeda (it was so strange to call her “aunt” even in his thoughts. This woman, who was a stranger but also family) told him that even though the house had taken quite a lot of structural damage, they had all managed to escape unhurt. She had sent her husband Ted to safety early on with the family cat and a few essentials while she waited for her dear sister to come. Bella hadn’t been alone but by then Nymphadora had arrived with reinforcements and things had been even in the fight. Lestrange had taken a flesh injury to the arm and she thought she had injured Bella, although she wasn’t certain.

Draco had never liked Bella, and he was certain neither did his parents. But still, there was something upsetting about the matter of fact way in which Andromeda spoke of fighting her elder sister.

And then, she added, in the same nonchalant tone. “When I got Cissy’s message I thought it must had been a trap. But it was her voice all right. I didn’t know she could conjure a patronus”.

Draco knew that doubtlessly his parents would have had to leave the house. Even murdering him with their own hands wouldn’t be enough to appease Voldemort. He hadn’t thought much beyond that, because when he did he invariably recalled his father’s voice and Harry…

He certainly hadn’t expected them to send a warning note to Andromeda. That was another nice surprise like the mystery of how Dobby had gotten his wand.

Andromeda was a bit too much of a presence. He made his excuses soon after and went down to the kitchen. Harry had mentioned during breakfast his idea to cover their trace from werewolves and other creatures and Draco wanted to be prepared.

Honestly, he doubted they would be spending a second night on the house. He knew Harry.

Garlic and clove were right, but also black pepper and, Draco thought, something white.  

He was so used to working by hand he didn’t even think to get his wand out to prepare the mixture. Salt and pepper first, then little pieces of garlic and clove all heated and mixed together. And something else, something to hold it all.

Inspiration struck and he went to look for Professor Lupin. Tea leaves drank by a werewolf. That was the ingredient that would cover the others. And then he would wrap them with some cloth (maybe leather or maybe silk, he wasn’t sure yet) and make a bracelet. It wasn’t optimal but it would do for now.

Professor Lupin didn’t drink tea. Of course he didn’t because he bloody well couldn’t do anything that the majority did. It was coffee or tisanes for him.

He asked what Draco wanted with his used crockery anyway and Draco only half explained but Professor Lupin went back with him to the kitchen and drank two cups of tea; all the while asking about a thousand questions about their instinct magic. He kept suggesting ingredients (his hair, his hair when transformed, silver, Sirius’ hair, cocoa beans, paper) only to ask why not when Draco rejected them. He took notes.

The talk changed little by little from what had happened and what they used to do before to what would happen now. It was all chaos and no one, nor the deatheaters nor the Order of the Phoenix (Draco was honestly surprised that they hadn’t called themselves Gryffindor’s Heart) knew what was coming next. Professor Lupin confirmed what Draco already knew, that there were many dark wizards looking for his parents which meant that they had made their escape. Funnily, nobody doubted that they wouldn’t be found within hours like Dolohov had. Malfoys had a habit of always turning up uninjured and in a good position after a disaster. They would be all right.

---

The library was a whole floor above them and still they could hear Harry’s raised voice. The words unintelligible but the tone very clear.

Remus raised from his chair, sent the mugs to the sink with his wand and started to gather the ingredients to prepare a sandwich, multiple sandwiches.

---

“DRACO!” bellowed Harry, followed by the slam of a door against the wall. “We are leaving!”.

Of course no one wanted them to go, not even Professor Lupin, who said as much while he passed Draco a bag with six freshly made sandwiches, four apples, two thermos full of tea and a truly prodigious amount of chocolates. There was also one hundredth and twenty muggle pounds he just happened to be carrying with him at the time.

Draco stared at the contents of the bag and looked back at Professor Lupin with a raised brow.

He shrugged. “My generation failed in many ways. We can’t claim to know better” he pointed at the bag. “But we can provide”.

“DRACO!” Harry called again over the commotion upstairs.

“Thank you, professor” Draco offered his hand before he could think better of it. “We will be in touch”.

“If the boy wants to leave I don’t think you can stop him, Doge” Sirius was saying upstairs. Or barking, really, to be heard over the tumult.

“Good luck, Draco”.

---

Forty two minutes. Forty two bloody minutes before they managed to leave that horrible house and all the people who now were concerned, now, about what could happen to him. Not when he was six years old but when he was sixteen. Harry was seething.

“Okay, stop now” said Draco when they got to the end of the street. He put down the big Waterstones bag he was carrying and turned toward him, taking his hand.

“I… yes. I am sorry Draco”. He was, he was. He should have asked Draco his opinion before grabbing his arm and stomping out. 

“Oh, no, no. Don’t be” answered Draco merrily. “That was some colourful language you used, I loved it. I am sure Snape would be finding a way to tell the slytherin students all about it, if he hadn’t gotten a dose too”.

“Which one was Snape”.

“Sinister creepo whose head you would turn in to a pile of wet rags if he so much as said another word”.

“Ah”.

“Anyway, I made these” Draco was just tying off the bracelet around Harry’s left wrist. “Should keep us hidden from werewolves and similar”.

“Oh, good”.

Harry didn’t move right away. He felt as if he had come here floating in the cloud of his ire and he was only just starting to deflate and his feet to touch the floor. He intertwined his fingers with Draco, who smiled at him.

“Harry! Draco!”

Harry could see himself becoming a dark wizard. Really.

“I swear I am not even going to hex them” Harry started. “I am just going to punch them in to next week”.

But it was not someone from the house, although the girl calling for them came running from that direction.

“Oh, no” said Draco. He sounded tired and irritated but funnily enough, not worried, and certainly not the kind of irritation you get when an adult says you can’t possibly survive out there all alone when, excuse you, but you have done just that, for years. It was more the “oh dear” tone when you realize you are not getting shagged tonight because someone has only a hundredth pages left of the Agatha Christie novel and they want to finish it.

The girl has almost reached them. Harry thought she had truly excellent hair.

---

Sirius stared at the clear spot in the wall where the portrait of his mother used to be. The same enchanted portrait that no matter what they did no one managed to remove. That one.

Only Harry had been trying to leave, and people had been trying to convince him to stay and actually only managing the opposite because he was growing angrier and angrier and then of course Walburga had woken up and started to scream bloody murder against filthy blood in her house polluting the air. Harry’s eyes had shone with a special kind of green as he turned to her.

He didn’t even say anything, Sirius was sure. Although some were already swearing that he had chanted an unknown spell in a mysterious language while he waved his hands and that there had been a blinding flash. Sirius thought Harry had simply glared and the portrait had fallen to the floor and Walburga had fled to a picture in the bathroom which was the last place she would like to be seen.

The lower corner of the frame had cracked in the fall. Sirius picked it up and put it face down in a chest.

The hall was silent, but there was noise in the rest of the house. Mutters and whispered conversations in every room. Sirius found Remus in the library, calmly perusing the book’s titles. 

“Was that Granger I saw come running out of the fireplace?” asked Sirius.

“Granger?”

“Yes, you know. Granger. Muggle born witch. Almost slashed my throat when she thought I wanted to kill the Weasley kid”

“She hexed you too”.

“Yes”.

Oh, if Sirius were a bit younger and unspoiled by Azkaban… And if only she were ten years older or so… What a woman she was going to be! Alas…

“So…” he prompted.

“Mmh?”

“So this had nothing to do with the fact that while everybody was pushing for Harry to stay you were head deep in the library fireplace talking to someone”.

“I am sure that if you think about it, Padfoot, you will recall I was right there by your side the whole time”.

“I was casting an Itchy Bum hex on Elphias Doge”.

Remus was startled by that. “Well, I am sure I was telling you not to do it at the time”, he ventured.

Sirius nodded, satisfied. Hermione Granger! He had a burn scar on his left elbow from the ricochet of a curse of hers. And she had only been, what, thirteen? There hadn’t been witches like her when he was a teenager. If only there had been!

---

Harry looked at the girl with the frankly magnificent mane of hair. She was panting and trying to speak and Harry thought that she was made of iron. Iron feet and iron bones and iron blood and iron core. Solid and unwavering. Strong.

“Please, listen to me. It won’t take long I swear” she was saying “I just want to help”.

“You said you are Granger?”

“Yes. Hermione Granger. Sixth year.”

“Oouh!”

Oh, indeed. Harry knew who she was.

“Draco told me about you. He said you were charming”.

“I said she was good at charms” mumbled Draco. The girl’s eye shone with pleasure.

She said she just wanted to help. That was it. They were going to kill Voldemort or find a way to stop him, weren’t they? Well she wanted to do just that and it made sense if they worked together. She had so much information to share!

Which sounded very good, but…

“I am not going back to the house” said Harry. He was not.

Hermione looked over her shoulder as if she had just noticed she had come through a house. She made a funny pout while she shrugged. She didn’t care about the house, she only cared about Harry and sharing her intel, and she said as much. Could they just find a place to talk?

Harry wanted to go get their luggage, hopefully still at the hotel lobby, and find a hideaway or two before discussing anything further. He wouldn’t be able to pay any attention until he knew they had a place to fall back to. She wanted to talk more and also call someone and also maybe pack properly because while she had come with her wand and bag full of school books, she was in her slippers.

They agreed to arrange a meeting for later. Fortunately she was muggle born and had no problems navigating London and didn’t need to have explained what a Starbucks was. Harry of course vettoed the first three suggestion, because it was still him, until they agreed on the Nando’s  at Euston which had the advantage of providing many escape routes and not being well known by wizards.

“I can’t believe you would remember her and not Snape” said Draco as they parted ways. “I am sure I have spoken way more often of the Head of my House”.

“Maybe. But it didn’t sound like you had a crush on him”.

Draco sputtered indignantly and denied any sort of admiration towards the girl whatsoever.

Yeah, right.

---

They arrived at the Nando’s with barely enough time to circle the place twice (one clock wise one counter clock wise) and leave some salt in each corner of the building, having already reclaimed their baggage and left it at a nondescript two floors brick house in Finsbury. The area was full of students and they would blend in well. The building had a severe plumbing problem that became obvious as soon as you crossed the door, which explained why it wasn’t rented nor would it be any time soon. Most people prefer it if their furniture doesn´t float around after someone had used the sink. Plus the mould growing in the basement seemed like it would devour you if you walked too close to the wall.

Draco had complained a bit about Granger, as he insisted in calling her, but he had no real criticism to offer other than her mere existence and the fact that she was an insufferable know-it-all. Given that Draco had once spent fifteen minutes talking about the different names, shades and textures of the colour grey, and how there was warm grey and cool grey and something called gainsboro and no, they were not the same, Harry was sure he could cope.

(Harry, Draco could say, would speak of Roman and Greek culture for hours and would always, invariably, correct you if you mixed roman and greek mythological names. So he was one to talk).

Hermione arrived soon after carrying a bursting backpack and followed by a lanky redhead. Draco made another sound of disgust.

“There seems to be quite a lot of redhead wizards. I wonder if there is some genetic predisposition”.

“They are all siblings”.

“What, all of them?”

Harry wanted to ask if every family was conveniently colour coded. The Blacks were brunets, the Malfoys blondes, Weasleys redheads apparently. Was there someone out there with pink hair? He had to know.

But the question would have to wait, because the girl and her companion were coming to their table. As soon as they sat down she reached for the chicken wings tray and pushed it in the redhead direction.

Someone had been instructed not to talk too much.

Draco and Ronald Wesley, Ron, glared at each other while Hermione explained in quick burst of words that they wanted to help and she had some ideas on how to defeat Voldemort, she had been doing research, you see, and she had been talking to Dumbledore…

Harry leaned back instantly.

“Did he set you up for this?”

“What? Oh, no, no. I mean… He did give me access to the restricted section in the library for my research, said I have lots of talent and potential, and that curiosity should always be encouraged. But he doesn’t know anything about…” She waved her hand indicating the table and its occupants “this. He, mmh, he was not in Hogwarts today”.

Harry was still unconvinced but he didn’t get a chance to voice his concerns before the girl went on. So, yes, she had been investigating the topic because she understood that Voldemort, yes Voldemort Ron, she was not going to be afraid of a name, anyway, Voldemort had to be stopped. And today she had been called to McGonagall’s office and she had told her she may have the opportunity to have her research applied and there was some people who would benefit from it and she had jumped at the occasion, literally, going through the floo chimney and out to a strange house where her old DADA teacher (incidentally the only one who seemed to know what he was talking about) had pointed her in their direction.

She hadn’t been planning on leaving the school, but if that’s what it took for them to trust her… This was way more important. And efficient. They could work directly rather than have to use a house to communicate.

Harry had lots of things to say. About her research but mostly about the absolute craziness of her intending to leave everything behind and all the dangers they would be facing, no doubt, and that she obviously didn’t understand yet because you couldn’t until you have been on the street for a month. And she was muggle born, for God’s sake, they would go after her!

“I tried to tell her, mate” Ron had said. He had caved in and was munching on a chicken wing. “But she doesn’t listen. So I suppose I have to come too, make sure she is all right”.

“They will come after me either way. I am still muggle born when I am at Hogwarts” said Hermione, brusquely brushing her hair back from her face. It is not everyday that you see someone speak so serenely about the fact that they are targeted for murder. “And I don’t see you very worried about your safety, Harry Potter”. 

Oh, but he liked her!

And Draco did, too. He could tell from how he had relaxed at her last words.

Again, he was going to ask about all that research she said she had (probably in the bursting backpack she was clutching with both arms). But then the door opened and in entered two teenagers and Draco groaned and said “no, not her” and after the girl with the pretty blonde hair (another cousin, perhaps? Draco seemed to have plenty of them) came a tall brawny boy and Draco said “oh, come on!” and he slid down his chair until his nose was level with the table.

They all scooted in the booth to make room for them. Apparently they had both overheard what was happening (her in the corridor after Hermione left McGonagall’s office, and him in the Gryffindor bedroom when Ron hastily packed his bag) and they decided they would come too.

Harry wondered what it was with Hogwarts that so many students would happily drop everything and go away.

“I can’t believe McGonagall let you come” said Ron. In front of him, Draco’s nose nodded in agreement.

“She didn’t want to”. Explained the boy, Neville. “But Luna had heard Hermione give the address, so we just grabbed a handful of floo powder and jumped in”.

They had better luck on the other side, where a very attractive (according to Luna) and surprised man (both) had just laughed when they came out of his fireplace and led them out of the house, promising he would stop Minerva from following them. He pointed in the direction Hermione and Ron had left and gave them rough instructions on how to find them. He had been grinning like a maniac, they said, so it had probably been Sirius.  

He had also given them a foot long knife and a pocket knife before parting, saying that it was always a good idea to try and turn magic duels in to something a bit more physical. Luna was carrying the foot long knife, with specific instructions to gut any deatheater that tried to attack her.

Once again, Harry attempted to impress upon them the terrible danger they would be facing. Once again, he was ignored.

“Look, we are coming” said Neville, as if he were explaining an indubitable fact of life. “Exams start next week and Hermione is here. So either this won’t take up much time or it is really important.”

To Harry’s surprise, even Draco nodded in acceptance of that logic.

---

When only the top of Draco’s head was visible over the table, Harry decided it was time to leave, and accepted that they were all coming. Or rather, they were all going to follow him around regardless of what he said, so he would better make sure they didn’t step in front of a bus.

“And show them the Chinese food”. Draco added, because he was on a life quest to try every single thing in a Chinese menu.

It was odd, having suddenly so many people around him. But good people. No alarms rung in his head, not even when Luna poked his arm, chest and stomach, to ensure he was not an animated doll stuffed with cotton and goat hair.

Why would she even think that?

They were all gathering in the street outside the Nando’s when there was a pop and an incredibly handsome wizard, like model level handsome, Harry didn’t know people like that existed outside magazines, appeared accompanied by a young witch with a long red braid.

“WHAT? Oh, no! FOR MERLIN’S SAKE!”

For once, it was not Draco who complained so.

“Shut up, Ron” said the girl. She released the handsome wizard’s arm to grab her trunk with both hands. She had come with a trunk. A. Trunk.

“What the hell Blaise?” Ron was saying, deeply affronted.

“Yes, what the hell Blaise?” agreed Draco.

“Ah, hello, Draco! It’s nice to see you are not dead or a vampire living in Munich”.

“Blaise, WHAT the actual-” Ron was still yelling and mentioning multiple body parts of Merlin.

“You try telling her no”.

And that was that.  

---

The house barely had any furniture and was supposed to be just a momentary safe place. Good enough to hold two people without too much discomfort. It was certainly not prepared to house eight.

But no one wanted to go back to Hogwarts and it was growing too late to go search for something else. They made do for the night in the time it took for them to eat Remus’ sandwiches. Harry, Draco, Ron and Hermione had eaten enough Nando’s chicken not to be hungry, so they contented themselves with the apples.

Of them, only Ron, Hemione, Blaise and Draco were old enough to do magic, and their attempts to create something that could work as a bed had been… varied.

Harry still couldn’t believe Draco and Hermione’s argument of form over function. They argued so long that the recently transfigured bed had shrunk back in to the kitchen drawer it had originally been.

He had shared a beautiful moment of complete and absolute understanding with Ron, as they both looked at them fighting and then at each other and discovered mirrored expressions of “Yep, that is my passionate idiot genius right there”.

There were only three bedrooms in the house. Draco had no qualms in claiming one for him and Harry and letting the others decide if they were going to divide by gender or houses or zodiac sign for all he cared. It would probably take some time before they made up their minds. And it should be a recipe for utter disaster. Only Ron and Blaise didn’t hate each other as much as it was expected of them.  

“It’s not like they are friends” Draco explained that night, as they were preparing for bed.

During their second year, when both Draco and Hermione had laid in the infirmary petrified, Ron had used to go and visit Hermione. Blaise did the same with Draco, because he couldn´t just leave a fellow slytherin there when there was lots of gryffindors coming and going who could try anything. (Someone had drawn a moustache on Draco’s face, he knew as much). But because he started going Ron increased the frequency of his visits as well, equally worried of what could happen to Hermione.

As a result they ended up spending most evenings together, sitting back to back looking over their respective friends. Because keeping guard over a petrified person gets boring pretty quickly, they had brought their homework and, well, they were not friends, but they had reached a mutual understanding over History of Magic reports.  

And Ron’s sister knew that. And she wasn’t about to be left behind in Hogwarts. So after packing her things and leaving a letter to her mum (“How could you, Ron Weasley? She is going to kill you”, “Me? What about you?”, “I am just following your terrible influence. I said as much on my letter”) she had found Blaise Zabini in Hogsmeade and since he was a year older she had made him apparate her in London.

Harry wasn’t sure who he liked better. That kind of brazen and resolute attitude was a favourite of his, of course, but it turned out that the girl, Ginny, only knew about them because she had discovered Hermione sitting in a windowsill with half her body out. Ginny had helped her, sitting on Hermione’s feet and grabbing her knees, and Hermione had gotten the angle right to point at the Headmaster’s window and call for (steal) the books she currently had in her backpack.

She had Dumbledore’s books on her backpack. She had restricted books on forbidden magic in a schoolbag.

“You can’t leave me alone with these people” Draco had whispered to Blaise. Blaise, who by then had been deadly threatened by everyone (except for Harry and Draco) on what would happen if he betrayed them, nodded silently.

To be fair, he wasn’t sure if Lovegood had really threatened him. She just stood there and mimicked stabbing someone with a foot long knife, but perhaps she was just getting used to the weight.

---

Once again, they were too tired to do anything other than going to sleep. The house was secure, salted and circled, and they all had their wands nearby. There was nothing to fear.

Yesterday had been absolutely exhausting, but today had been draining. Harry even admitted that there was something about Luna’s theory of stuffed dolls, because he felt like a puppet with cut strings. Incapable of moving.

So while they would both have liked to make love (and not just because someone wanted their old bed back, rather than the transfigured mattress with their  headboard propped up against the wall) they were happy to just lay there in each other arms.

Draco buried his nose on Harry’s hair and breathed.

 

 

But sleep didn’t come.

“I can hear you thinking” Draco said. He extricated a hand to point at Harry’s temple. “Right there. I can hear voices”.

Harry chuckled. “Yeah… I… I have too much information dancing in my mind”.

“Shall I tell you about the colour grey again?”

“Please”.

So Draco did. Everything he knew and thought about that colour and how it turned up in surrealist art more than people thought and also in Tolkien’s descriptions of elves, which was surprising because everyone defaulted to green, but he had said grey too. Which took him again to his theory that nowhere in the book it said Legolas didn’t have auburn hair, and that’s how he imagined him.

Harry fell asleep, deep and warm and relaxed and loved.

---

In the morning Weasley had a laughing fit when he discovered they had been making and selling small crafts to survive. Well, mostly he found hilarity on the thought that Draco Malfoy was designing and selling jewellery. The laugh was cut short when Blaise, who had been perusing Draco’s sketchbook and some of their wares, pointed to an art deco design and asked if he could do a handle for his wand. With gold inlay. 

Which was a cool idea, decorative wand handles, like the snake head in his father’s wand. However, Draco wasn’t paying much attention because he was currently busy with the excruciating, nerve-wracking, agonizingly unbearable task of setting a cup of hot tea in front of Longbottom and hoping that he wouldn’t throw it to his face.

Harry smiled at him, all warm and proud and pleased, and not for the first time Draco wondered if he could also read minds and wasn’t telling.

“Draco’s tea is really good” he said to Neville. “He always puts all this stuff. Lemon, and cinnamon and things like that”.

Honey and ginger and lemon, actually, but not milk because they were out. They had only put the non-perishables in their luggage.

Longbottom took the tea and drank very carefully and said yes, it was good.

.

..

And had Draco thought of orange leaves? They would go well with milk and chocolate.

Which, incidentally, is how forgiveness tastes like.

---

After breakfast, Neville went to have a look at the mould in the basement and said that not only he could not remove it, the only possible use for it was to weaponized it and if someone passed him a glass jar he would like to take some samples, he had never seen anything quite like it.

No matter what Draco said, Harry was not so socially isolated that he couldn’t see that his usual approach to hot showers wouldn’t work here (It wasn’t just having to be there in the room, he could do nothing else while the other seven bathed). Plus the water had a funny smell and, anyway, the house that yesterday was too big for them had now become crowded.

They had to find a better place.

Only Harry had to be the one to do it because although Draco had become familiar enough with London and even volunteered himself and Blaise to go house hunting, Harry knew they would return with a list full of Belgravia addresses or similarly beautiful neighbourhoods where the eight of them would really draw attention.

So he was going, to make sure they didn’t end up squatting on Clarence House, and so was Draco, because he was the second best prepared to decide (and because he wanted to walk around holding Harry’s hand) and Blaise wanted to make his opinion known which meant Ron was going too, to even things a bit. Fortunately Harry managed to stop the others from coming by pointing that Hermione probably needed help with her research, which she did. Plus Neville had just come to terms with the fact that he was gone from Hogwarts and he had A Grandmother who would most likely murder him, especially if he didn’t drop her at least one letter.

Afternoon saw them moving to a derelict house on Notting Hill because Draco refused to even consider the Southbank and Harry wanted to be within a few tube stops of the British Museum.

Of course, London has a population problem and it takes for some very powerful obstacles for a Londoner to reject housing in a prime spot. In this case, the roof was about to give in. But Ron assured them he knew just the spell to stop it from falling down and he could teach it to Hermione if it made everyone feel better (it did). Other than that, the house had a beautiful front and stairs and both Draco and Blaise approved.

It was still going to be crowded, and they didn’t have furniture, the water had no pressure and again there was no heating. But there was something about the white façade that made everyone happy and there was even a little bit of a garden in front where Neville could grow poisons and flowers.

So they moved in and there was a race between Draco, Blaise and Ron to find and claim the best bedroom (Blaise won, by cheating, and immediately surrendered it to Ginny).

Most of the things they needed could be acquired in charity shops or transformed from other things and even if right now they were a bit clunky, Harry was sure they would become better. There was a bathroom in each floor. He liked the stairs (they could hang pictures in the wall there). The kitchen had a big counter. And there was a living room with floorboards instead of the usual ugly carpets, wide and airy and full of light. And when Harry smiled at the windows they turned out to have long white lace curtains that perhaps weren’t there a second ago.

Luna and Ginny were helping with the unpacking, since they couldn’t do magic. Not yet. Not for the next thirty six hours, until they had claimed they house. They settled the smaller pieces, all the cups and plastic cutlery Harry and Draco had been hoarding and Neville helped with the higher shelves while the others transformed and moved the bigger furniture. The house was slowly filled with beds and chairs and tables and countless cushions.

(Blaise and Draco got in to a colour argument that sounded surprisingly similar to Flora and Merryweather’s gown debate. When Harry said so Hermione laughed so hard she started to cry and the chair she was making turned pink and blue and was immediately destroyed by Draco for being an aesthetic sin).

The girls brought up the radio, Harry’s radio, which he put on top of a console between the kitchen and the living room. He turned it on and the house was filled with sweet muggle music, the last notes of a Sting song followed by the melancholic promises of U2.

As if called by the music Draco appeared soon after. His arms encircled his waist and he kissed Harry quickly and lightly on the neck, the cheek, the ear; told him they had an adequate bed now with their old headboard in a room with views to the trees outside.

There had been a kid once, hungry and in pain and permanently stressed, that was suddenly overcome by a feeling of strangeness when looking at his family and at their house. As if he had inadvertently given a step back and he couldn’t find his place in the world any more.

Now, Harry was stepping in and everything was nicely slotting around him. There was still Voldemort, of course, and Dumbledore, and all the pain from his past. But there was also music and art and history museums and people on the background debating whether they should make Hermione her own study and what colour was best for the towels in the bathroom and someone was explaining to Ron that no, it didn’t say “veela eyes” it said “Bette Davies eyes”, and Draco was kissing him, sweet and hot.

"This man looks a lot like my uncle Mousaiphilius” said Luna, entering the room with a second hand t-shirt Draco liked to wear. The one with a portrait of David Bowie.

Outside the sky remained the steadfast British white. No sunray braved the clouds to symbol the hope and good things to come in Harry’s new life.

And you know what? He didn’t need it.

If he had learned something from his unconventional upbringing, it was how to go and make a good life.

Chapter Text

 These are the things, the things that maybe happen during the Second Wizarding War

 

There is a house east of France, in a town that is not particularly pretty or interesting but that has a train station. In less than two hours, probably closer to one, you could find yourself in Swizerland, or Germany, or Italy or even Austria, and in a morning you could get to Luxembourg, Belgium or Netherland.

And once you were there, you could do so many things. Acquire supplies. Let yourself be seen by a wizard. Spread misinformation.

You could cover your traces, change your disguise twice and come back to the house in the unremarkable town in time to enjoy the dinner your husband has prepared. He hasn’t taken well to living in hiding, he is not used to a house with no house elves and having to do chores even by magic.

But he has discovered cooking, and dear Circe’s Curls, is he good at it.

There is a house east of France, in a town that is not particularly pretty or interesting. In the house there is a middle age couple, kissing over a table with roasted peppers, cheese and wine.

---

Perhaps Voldemort had felt too close to death and he had grown scared. Perhaps he simply needed something to keep his followers in check. Fear gives you power, gives you a sort of desperate energy. Or perhaps all the rage at the Malfoy’s betrayal and Harry’s escape had given him a second wind. Whatever the reason, things get nasty.

Dedalus Diggle’s house burns down and it is pure dumb luck that he wasn’t there at the time. Octavius Pepper disappears and so does Jacob Erland and Jennifer Winston.

There is no question about what happened to Charity Burbage. Her corpse is left to be found in Godric’s Hollow, in the intersection of two streets were multiple half-blood families live.

Dean Thomas is almost murdered as he leaves the Hogwarts’ Express by three deatheaters who wanted to make an example of him. Dean survives with only some injuries and the deatheaters flee, one of them missing one of his hands and a few fingers of the other after encountering Seamus Finnigan’s particular branch of magic. Despite the gruesome spectacle and the blood, they had to count it as a win. They don’t like it.

---

 

The Ministry falls. Lestrange and Crouch and Rosier are at the head of the attack and they are vicious. Nobody expected such viciousness. Nobody expected Avada Kedavra to be the very first curse they cast.

Alastor “Mad-eye” Moody dies. It took three deatheaters to bring him down.

The Ministry is reclaimed nine hours later and everybody agrees Rufus Scrimgeour should be the new Minister of Magic since he had been at the head of the defence.

But two days later there is a new attack, which they repel, and the same happens with the next one. Only after each one they are a little weaker. After each attack there is changes in policy and power and influence and nobody knows anymore who holds the Ministry at any given time. Scrimgeour is demoted. A week later he becomes Minister again for a few hours after his masterly defense of the Chillington families. But soon after he resigns and lets Phius Thicknesse become the new Minister just so Walden MacNair doesn’t become Head of the Auror Department.

There is talk of making a list of half-blood wizards and witches. For their protection, they say. But words like “registration” carry a certain ring.

There is talk of wide spread use of dementors outside Azkaban.

Nobody really understand how, but Amycus Carrow becomes the new DADA teacher at Hogwarts. Every other candidate is either dead or missing or suddenly refuses to take the post when the previous day was willing to do it.

They seize power wherever they can and they hold to it. Both sides do.

---

Some students in Hogwarts don’t dare walking around the corridors alone and it breaks Minerva’s heart.

---

They are after blood, the deatheaters. They are coming after them. They comb the wizarding places, they use all kind of locating charms.

Arthur Weasley has three deatheaters following him at all times, in case he slips any clue. Percy Weasley has only two, but he is more talkative.

They stalk “places of interest” and wait.

---

Everybody is very familiar now with the half forgotten name, Harry Potter. There are rewards for any information regarding The Boy Who Lived, but people don’t know who, exactly, is the concerned party asking after him.

---

Fleur Delacour keeps a lot of correspondence. At first glance, it seems like she is just sharing English and French recipes with her friends.

Fleur Delacour is so pretty. Everybody comments that she is part veela. Nobody remembers she was the Beauxbatons Champion. If anything, they remark on her keeping her maiden name.

---

They need to interview the old witch who may have a clue to the location of the horcuxes. So they go visit her. Discretely. Late at night.

They had been waiting.

Bellatrix Lestrange comes very close to murdering Hermione. Her scream, as she sees them escape, rings in all of their ears for the whole duration of their trip around the Circle line. Seven times they go by, and it is only after the fifth that their shoulders begin to unclench.   

Harry discovers he is afraid. Not of Voldemort or the deatheaters, but of the intensity of the woman’s passion. The potency of her hate.

He resolves not to let her win in any way. And so they spend the next day in the museum with strict orders to find a top five favourite. Not the absolute favourite, but something close. They eat muggle food and they splurge on a movie, and they return home that night feeling warmer.

---

Bathilda Bagshot is found dead.

---

Ollivander’s shop burns. It takes four days to extinguish the fire, fed by all the wand materials in the shop.

Nobody knows if Ollivander was there.

---

They can’t keep calling it Neville’s Mould, so they hold a little contest and everyone writes their suggestions in a paper stuck to the fridge’s door and they vote. Kevin is a popular choice but in the end (they can vote as much as they like) Snape’s Class wins.

It is entirely possible that the next time they are attacked by deatheaters (in the middle of Diagon Alley in plain day! They were expecting trouble but nothing like this) someone throws a small glass vial of Snape’s Class at them. And Rabastan Lestrange, who had just casted a cruciatus curse on Ginny, is hit by it.

His agony last for two days. His last words begged for someone to kill him, but no one wanted to get near him for fear of contagion. He dies alone.  

---

Florean Fortescue closes the ice-cream shop one day and he is never seen again.

---

Ted Tonks was supposed to die, but he lives another day.

---

Kingsley Shacklebot is a hardened man. But when he hears what Bartemius Crouch Jr. has planned for “the mudblood” as she is always unfailingly called, he has to be sick in a waste bin.

---

Two slytherin boys visit Gringotts and break in a vault and cast fiendyfire and burn all of the contents, including an invaluable silver cup that had belonged to Helga Hupplepuff. They almost get caught because they are laughing and exhilarated and they can´t breath. They had destroyed something more than a horcrux today and it had felt so good.

Bill Weasley recognizes them and gives them a hand and they escape with a message for Ron that his mother wasn’t angry, not anymore, and she hoped he was well and taking care of Ginevra.

And

There is an ambush. But it seems they knew or perhaps they are just that good in a fight, those kids. The snake sees and opening and jumps after them, jaws open wide. She is caught by a boy that used to be clumsy and fat and has grown to become so strong. The snake trashes violently but the boy is not loosening his grip and in fact he rises with her, exposing her belly, and a gentle girl with dreamy eyes, a girl that has known suffering, drives her poisoned knife in to the snake’s heart.

And

The locket is strangling the boy, pushing him down, taking his air, becoming stronger as it takes its life.

The witch is not having her stupid, insensitive, funny, and loyal friend killed today. She grabs the locket, pulls it away from his friend’s neck. Her hand and fingers are cut by the chain and she will be scarred for life, but she breaks it. She throws it in the air and doesn’t even say a word, she just points at it with her wand and it burns until it is nothing more than a bit of charred fused metal.

The boy asks for a “get better” kiss and she cries but she also kisses him, and laughs and cries and kisses him again when he says that she better not be expecting jewellery, he was not going to be that kind of boyfriend.

---

The Quibbler becomes one of the most popular wizarding papers. It starts printing special issues every two weeks with information on what is really going on in the Ministry and it is a nice comparison to the “everything is fine, this is fine, nothing is on fire” message from The Prophet.

The first page, just after the cover, is always a letter addressed to the Missing Seven, as they had become known. Mostly it just starts as a letter from Xenophilius to Luna, telling her that he loves her very much and please be careful of stinging snapplaters, they are very common near wizards with black hearts. But soon it includes other people’s messages, to the kids and to the public in general.

---

Dress warmly, please, both of you.- Mom

And people said we were the wild ones.- F&G

Your mother loves you.-

We love you.-

Hermione don’t worry we are making copies of our class notes.- P.P.

Was that you in Godric’s Hollow?.-

You saved my life and I couldn’t even thank you.-

Neville, I am very proud of you. – Grandma

Well done, you!.- S.F.& D.T.

This year DADA teacher is the worse ever, you are missing nothing.- Gryffindor House, 6th & 7th year

You are giving people hope.- R.L.& S.B.

I hope you are eating well.- Mom

Be careful.- K.S.

I miss you.-

Can I go with you?.-

---

It takes them multiple sleepless nights to figure out that they are missing Ravenclaw’s Diadem. (Inspiration strikes one evening, courtesy of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Rusell). Worse still is learning where it is.

Nobody believes Colin Creevey when he swears he has seen the Missing Seven wandering late at night around Hogwarts and during a Saturday when most people had gone to Hogsmeade (They go together now, in big groups). He saw them. All of them. Even Draco Malfoy was there! And there was someone else too, a boy with hair of black and blue and green.

(Harry’s hair has become their own Aurora’s gown).

They live in Hogwarts’ kitchens for almost an entire week. Everybody is a bit taken aback by Harry’s enthusiasm at meeting and befriending the house elves and the ghosts. He listens to all of them, learns all the names and lets them tell him any big or small story they want to share. How a house elf got his or her name. The best way to prepare rice pudding. The hour long retelling of how a certain ghost was murdered.

No human, not even the faculty staff, learn of their presence there. The elves and the ghosts and even Peeves keep their secret.

On the sixth day they finally track down the blasted diadem and destroy it and leave. They carry lots of food with them, courtesy of the elves.

And two weeks later Peeves can’t contain himself any more and blurts that yes, Harry Potter was here and took something important, what are you gonna do, Carrow? This after taking Pansy Parkinson’s plate and spoon and banging them repeatedly while in the middle of dinner in the Great Hall. He then proceeds to moon the professors’ table and Carrow in particular before disappearing with a cackle.

---

Nobody has seen a unicorn in months. The werewolves had all fled. The root of the thousand years old tree did nothing to heal and bring back strength.

The witch has lost count of the people she had attacked, tortured, killed. Some to get information, some to steal their possessions, some simply to let go of her rage.

The ice-cream maker says he had heard a rumour, from the merchant that brings him fresh lemons and oranges. That somewhere in Greece there used to be a woman… But she fled, she fled and no one had seen her in a while.

A witch. A seven daughter of a seven daughter. Left handed and a virgin still.

A drop of her blood in a potion will make it ten times stronger. Taking her life… It will give you the energy to live fourteen normal lives.

So the witch, the devoted mad witch, searches for the elusive girl. She hears from the assistant of the robe maker that a scared girl went through Italy. The toad woman in the Ministry (half-blood, half-blood! Unworthy of serving their Lord) re directs some resources and gets the Czech Republic.

Bellatrix goes there before Rosier or Crouch can arrive and take her treasure, despoil the gift for their Lord.

But what she finds is a third daughter of an only child, right handed and a mother.

What she finds is her own death and a sister who can’t even think of a word to say over her grave.

 

 

  

And the things that happened for sure

 

Greyback had been strong, and strength means charisma. With him dead, however, most of his followers found themselves wondering about the Dark Lord.

And then all five of his snatchers were found death in London. They had been tortured and their chests cut open, hearts missing.

So it was no wonder when all the werewolves collectively turned their backs on Voldemort. What nobody had expected was for sweet, meek Lupin, who was reading Anne of the Green Gables, to be declared the alpha dog and for many werewolves to come to him asking for help.

Sirius sat on the sides and watched the spectacle unfold, offering cheers and cups of tea and pastrami sandwiches.

Remus gave what advice he could, and most importantly had supporting smiles and listened, just listened to each and every one of their stories. Sometimes all the difference between life and death, between a good and a bad decision, lies in someone listening to you.

But of course, that wasn’t enough. They were still being hunted down, and they were still being ostracized.

“Like, this is good, Professor. Don’t get me wrong” said Marthia between chews of her sandwich. Remus hadn’t been her teacher but they had all started calling him professor, regardless. She was in her late twenties and had been a werewolf for more than ten years. The cold of the street still clung to her skin; her hair was still matted and bushy. She was not afraid to speak. “But we can’t all live out of the sandwiches Sirius prepares. What we need is a life, and they won’t let us get one!”.

This got lots of nods of agreement from the other werewolves. Some were old and hardened and tired, some young and scared and so sad. And none of them could keep a job for more than three months. Hell, for all Lupin spoke of serenity and balance and acceptance he was unemployed too.

And then Remus was in one of his favourites bookstores and he had been talking to a teenager who had just finished The Hobbit and wanted more, dammit, and they had talked a bit about Tolkien who Remus knew just because James read it one Christmas break after he learned that Lily liked it.

Remus honestly, really, didn’t know what happened next. But the manager had put a job application in front of him and he had filled it and he guessed he had a job now, he started on Monday.

Sirius snorted butterbeer down his nostrils, he was laughing so hard.

(Remus was allowed to bring home the unsellable books. The ones that had been in exposition too long and were roughly handled and creased and the cover eaten by the sun and some pages falling. Sirius read Good Omens and started calling Remus Aziraphale).

Remus waited with trepidation for the third full moon. When people noticed it was the third time you fell sick in as many months and drew conclusions. Only the full moon came and it went and no one at work said anything other than Theresa, who sat next to Remus and offered him a cup of hot tea in exchange for some of his chocolates and some of those painkillers he carried ‘cause her uterus was killing her and fuck biology, man.

Remus could get behind that feeling.

The second problem for werewolves, of course, was that the Wolfsbane was so damned expensive. Very few people could actually buy it, and forget about brewing it yourself because it was also terribly complex.

“No”. Said Snape.

“Come ooooonnnnnn, I will pay for the ingredients myself”. Sirius insisted.

“No”. 

“I will pay you”.

“I do not require money, Black”.

“What, do you want my body?”

It was worth it just for Snape’s distraught expression. Plus, he eventually agreed to brew the potion if Sirius stopped throwing himself at him, batting his eyelashes and pouting. Mostly, he just needed and excuse to say yes.

The Number 12 of Grimauld Place saw an increase in visitors and, really, the Fidelius charm didn’t make much sense anymore because Sirius kept inviting people in. Which made him loads of good because all he needed in life was people to talk to and flirt with, and the house benefited from the airing. All werewolves got a hot meal in them and when the moon came, the Wolfsbane potion, no questions asked. Some of them returned, some only came for the potion and refused to speak a single word. Some came once and they were never seen again and people worried. Some stayed with Remus for a chat and a quick course on muggle ways.

If you went to London these days, you would find that many Starbucks and Costa Coffee were staffed by young foreigners who wanted to improve their English and by some of the hairiest Britons in all the Isles. Seriously, you wouldn’t believe some of the whiskers there. 

If your sense of smell is five hundredth times that of a human, a coffee shop that also makes pastries and cookies is not a bad place to be. Not at all.

---

Harry took the tube to the north and walked the ninety minute walk to the bank of the river Lea. It hadn’t changed much. It sill wasn’t pretty nor picturesque.

The pungent smell of mud was a bit less intense.

A few steps back from the shore line, near where a police line once stood, there was patch of bare earth, no bigger than a hand, where nothing grew. It was deep, deep, black and hot to the touch. Not that any people touched it or even saw it, as it was hidden by a ring of wild lilies that somehow had taken root there.

Harry kneeled by the bare patch and put his hand over it, hovering. Perhaps he saw it or perhaps he imagined it, something unclenching from that place in his forehead behind the scar, something small and forgotten travelling down his throat as he swallowed. Something dark, an echo of something bigger that once lived by his heart. Something that eeled down his arm and to his hand.

Something that fell to the ground, to the black hot earth.

The earth pulsed then, as if it were part of a bigger, living creature. A creature made of tar.

There was a certain coldness about Harry brought by fear and the awareness of horror, the awareness that that had been once inside him. The coldness became detachment, as he stared at the black patch thinking of the small and the big evil. You didn’t need to be a dark wizard to make the world a dark place. Darkness could come from the dullest people living in a bungalow in the suburbs.

But.

He had once chosen to be grateful for some flowers. He had once chosen not to dwell on despair and anger and thoughts of revenge. He had once chosen light and colour.

“Abracadabra” whispered Harry. The black earth trembled, turned into itself, boiled. The earth seemed to give its spirit in a sight, releasing a dark vapour that soon fainted to nothing in the cool British air. 

Harry lifted his hand.

Nothing would ever grow again in that patch or bare earth, a patch now turned to a faint white (pearl, the name is grey pearl). A patch hidden by the green leaves of the wild lilies.

Harry walked the ninety minute walk back to the station where Draco was waiting for him. He smiled at him when he saw him, closing his sketchbook and walking toward him even though he would have to retract his steps right away.

“It’s done” said Harry, taking his hand and accepting a kiss.

Seven out of seven.

There were still many things to do, monsters to face, and Voldemort himself at the end of it.

But they didn’t talk about it in their trip back to London.

They had both finished Hamlet las night and there was much to discuss. (Draco thought Hamlet’s problem wasn’t his father’s murder but that his mum was having sex with someone else; Harry just wished there was more about Fortinbras). Neville had discovered that tempura was a thing and he wanted to try it. Blaise said they should wear matching clothes in the final confrontation, for style and also for easy of recognition. He agreed to the Weasley Sweaters, but only so long as their colours were gold and black. Ron had gotten a bursting package and a bunch of letters from his brothers. Hermione had taken Harry’s plan to sit his A levels personally and decided she should too, so she was designing a study plan so both of them could sit those exams and the NEWTS. Possibly related to that, Luna and Ginny had taken to reading muggle textbooks and Ginny had turned out to be naturally talented at math and it was a bit scary, honestly. They still hadn’t heard anything on Luna´s father, so they wanted to take her to the opera to cheer her up. They were planning a visit to Remus somewhere where Sirius could go too, and looking forward to it.

There were still many things to do, monsters to face, and Voldemort himself at the end of it.

But after that, they would still have a happy life.

They were going home.