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I Clutched my Life and Wished It Kept

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Every beat of his feet on the forest floor sent pain up his achilles, spiking up his knees and then to the creak in his back. The ground was uneven, branches snapping and leaves crunching with every footfall, drying his throat in fear. He’s been running for a while, and his breath was loudly puffing out despite his best efforts to keep quiet.

They were still behind him.

Despite the ringing in his ears or pounding of his footsteps he could still hear them. They’re weighty steps, their easy breath, their jeering laughter. They were snatchers, ones he’d been assigned to help as a rather mundane punishment for misbehaviour. They were lower than Draco in the social order, or were supposed to be anyways, and did a lot more physical labour than he’d ever had to do in his privileged lifetime. Despite being years his senior they kept up easily, nipping at his heels with insults or once, terrifyingly, almost grabbing at his shoulder. Draco had put some space between them in using his superior dexterity to vault over a fallen log, but he could hear them gaining ground quickly and easily. Draco didn’t even have his wand to help him.

There wasn’t any thought towards what would happen to Draco when they caught up, only a black hole of misery that he would give anything to avoid. There wasn’t a lot of thought altogether at the moment, his brain whited-out with prey instinct, forcing him to keeping running even through the ache in his body, to maneuver dense foliage with as much grace as a panicked foal, unpracticed limbs forced into feats of physical exertion because the blood singing in his veins demanded he flee from predators.

A thin film of magic brushed his arm, causing him to jerk in alarm, throwing off his running and sending him tumbling into a pile of leaves. He’d thought they’d thrown a warning spell, but an alarmed glance behind him showed they weren’t actually in sight yet, though he could still hear them. Draco glaced over to where he’d felt the magic and sees the air shimmer, disrupted, before it settles. His wizard-brain comes back on enough that Draco crawls over, feeling over the area and hoping he wasn’t wasting precious time.

His hands settled on thick fabric and warmth spills out, a flash of wooden floor revealing itself in the triangle of shifting fabric.

A tent.

“I hope I get to be there when he kills you,” the older one - Abram - coughs out from afar, the sincerity in his voice causing his partner to laugh.

All his vague trepidation about hermit wizards living in the woods vanish, forcing him into the tent and hastily closing the flap behind him. Hopefully the men have reduced magical prowess to balance out their fucking brutish stamina and won’t notice the disillusionment charm like Draco had.

The first thing he noticed about his haven was the warmth, such a stark relief to the cold that it was almost painful how quickly his skin warmed. The second thing he noticed is how bloody small the tent was. The foyer Draco was crouched on was just the size of a rug, a single step separating it from the rest of the room, and room was the operative word. Two steps in was a burning stove that sat adjacent to a short counter and then a cold box beyond, all pressed together in a kitchen space that was barely the length of Draco’s wingspan. The rustic wooden table that completed the “kitchen” was only big enough for two people even though it was tall, two wooden backed-barstools tucked under the lip. A broom closet, a twin bed, a regular closet, a door to what he assumed was an appropriately small bathroom, and dominating the whole tent was a writing desk absolutely littered with parchment in the very center of the room. In fact, the parchment seem to have migrated off the thing and to both the floors and walls, tacked up with spellwork. The whole thing was smaller than Draco’s bathroom.

Running water sounded from beyond the bathroom door, steam wafting out beneath the gap.

Draco sucked in air, trying to regulate his breathing as much as he could while he had the luxury of privacy. In just a few easy long strides he was by the bed, ducking and rolling underneath before collapsing in an exhausted heap, his breathing still ragged. Sweat he hadn’t noticed in the cold and urgency soaked his clothes, and his ankle throbbed like he’d twisted it, though he couldn’t remember when. Tears welled in his eyes, but before the true horror of his situation could make them break free dual footsteps filled the small space. Familiar footsteps.

Draco clamped a hand over his mouth, shuffling further back under the bed as silently as he could.

“Woah, well this is swell,” Abram said, whistling lowly at the abode.

“Beats freezing our bollocks off, that’s for sure.” Draco didn’t know the other man’s name, but he’d distinguished himself with his snarly voice.

A thud and a curse. The two footsteps separated, fanning out over the room.

“Come out, you little bitch.”

“Fuck, I hope he’s not still outside.”

He should have stayed outside.

Wood creaked, and the two men jolted.

“Er, can I help you gentlemen?”

The new voice was young and confused, but unalarmed at the snatchers occupying his space. Draco inched closer to the edge, unable to see the faces of the men in the room from the angle under the bed. While the two snatchers were dressed in black the man was naked save for a towel around his waist, hip cocked with one hand holding on to the fold keeping him covered. Draco grimaced. Vulnerable prey.

“Official auror business, I’m afraid,” Abram said. “We’re going to have to search your tent.”

“Of course,” the man replied, being so damn accommodating to snatchers that it set Draco’s teeth on edge.

There wasn’t anywhere else to run, not that he could if he wanted to. He was too exhausted; his ankle twisted, his muscles shuddery. In just a scant few moments Abram and company will find him cowering under a bed like a small child and drag him out by the ankles. All that remained beyond that was the short life of a traitor followed by the death of one. Oh, merlin fuck, he was going to die.

A panicked breath tried to take control but before the noise could alert the snatchers a hard, thumping sound filled the space, followed by a body dropping. Before he could mourn the innocent hermit wizard the same sequence of sounds happened again, and this time the oh-so lovely Abram was eye-level with him as he collapsed next to the bed, wide-eyed and gurgling.

The naked man tutted. “Why do you make my job so difficult?”

Naked thighs filled Draco’s vision as Abram was straddled, then the thud thud thud of something being brought down on his head, over and over and over again. The naked man grunted with exertion, uncaring for the pool of blood quickly spilling across his floorboards. When he was finished he collapsed beside Abram’s corpse, pulling in ragged breaths while he lazily dropped whatever blunt object he’d used to kill Draco’s comrades-turned-hunters.

Draco stayed quiet, unable to acknowledge how close he’d been to being found and turned over for execution, nor how brutally his pursuers had died. And he was certainly not able to acknowledge how said killer was just a scant few inches from his nose.

He’d had to have made a noise, for the naked man to whip his head so fast, but he himself hadn’t heard anything. Yet there he was, wild eyes meeting Draco’s in all blood-soaked glory.

He was dead.

Draco squeaked in alarm but it came out more of a sob, throwing his weight back and spinning his position so his feet faced the killer, ready to start kicking but ultimately just desperately trying to scramble as far away as he could. It was pointless. A hand wrapped around his injured ankle and pulled, wrenching another sob from Draco as he clawed at the ground.

I’m going to die I’m going to die I’m going to die-

A hand clasped his robe and yanked him to his feet. Draco wailed, crying in earnest and clawing at the wrist holding him up.

A bloody face peered down on him. “Calm down. I’m not going to hurt you.” The man accompanied the words with a soft shake to Draco’s person. It did not persuade Draco to calm.

The shaking stopped suddenly. Instead Draco was drawn towards the man and scrutinized. He flinched back.

A long silence, then, “…Malfoy?”

Up close (too close) he could see the red hair, locks still wet and curling and freckles that almost seamlessly blended with blood splatter. Draco sucked in a breath.

“Weasley?”

***

The rope bit into his wrists, it’s strength easily holding him despite being conjured. Typically conjured materials degrade, which was why transfiguration is such a big subject, but these were as tough as steel, keeping him tethered to the headboard. He wasn’t strewn about like some heroine from one of his mother’s horrific novels, rather sitting crosslegged at the head of the bed, turned away from the room to face the hands bound in his front. Weasley had dragged out the bodies, each of them making a sickening thud as they got dragged over the foyer step and out into the crisp fall air. Their blood was still on the floor, in fact streaked across it, but apparently Weasley had decided the blood stuck in his hair was more important because he was taking another shower.

He’d also taken Draco’s shoes, a move both practical towards the cleanliness of his sheets and strategic, as running through the woods barefoot was actually near impossible.

There must be something wrong with him, to care more about the shoe thing that the whole ‘being tied to a killer’s bed’ thing. The ropes could degrade at any moment but without his shoes he was truly trapped.

With a Weasley.

Much to Draco’s chagrin, he didn’t actually…know which one. Well, he knew it wasn’t Ronald or any generation beyond his, but the man who’d tied him up with both a curl of his lip and blankness in his eyes didn’t exactly inspire recognition. He was bigger than Ronald, his shoulder’s stretching broader and arms meatier. His face was clean-shaven, however, and he didn’t have any tattoos. He’d recognized him as well, and not in the ‘so this is the brat I saw once on platform nine and three-quarters’ way, but in a ‘I have personally wanted to break your face’ sort of way which, again, barely narrowed it down. Still, despite the overtly horrific murders Draco had bore witness to he had hope he could appeal to Weasley’s gryffindor sensibilities. Well, hope was a strong word. More like he had a plan to do everything he could to try and escape with his life and that included making himself pitiable.

Draco rubbed his face into his shoulder, clearing away the mess. He was so tired.

The bathroom door creaked open once again, Weasley emerging wearing clothes this time. He took a look at Draco, lips pursed, then directed his gaze to the bloodied floor.

Tergeo,” he said, whipping a wand from his trousers to cast on the stain. The streaked blood receded from it’s streaked departure, crawling back to the puddle to slowly disappear. Though the vast majority of the red vanished, a small puddle of rust discoloring was left in it’s wake.

“It’s the wood,” Draco muttered hoarsely, eyes fixed on the floor. “It’s absorbent, and already magicked through the tent. You’d need a specialist to get rid of the stain. Or you could just sand down the wood.”

Weasley’s face twisted, like it wanted to form an expression of mockery but couldn’t work up the energy for it. Instead he sat down at the foot of the bed. Draco tensed.

“What are you doing here, Malfoy?”

Draco clenched his jaw, frustration flicking through him. He’d been dragged along with the two snatchers as ‘training’ for hesitating during dueling lessons. A stupid mistake, but a tedious afternoon mindlessly following snatchers on their rounds seemed both inconsequential and the perfect opportunity to, well, casually slip away from supervision and end the fucking endless horror that was his life now. He hadn’t counted on the fact the snatchers were anticipating his treachery, had probably been warned to watch out by auntie Bella herself.

“I have no idea where here is,” Draco said, biting his lip against the anger straining in his voice. “They brought me here to watch me defect, apparently.”

Weasley hummed, glancing at the bloodstain on the floor. “They were looking for you, then.”

Draco scoffed. “Of course, what else would they be looking for?”

He hummed again. Draco’s eyes narrowed, before casting them about the room. The parchment he’d been unable to parse was still there, its volume suspicious. In fact, it wasn’t due to distance or poor eyesight that he’d been unable to read the writings, but the fact they were all charmed, a spell that scattered letters about to any observer who didn’t have permission to view the writings.

A common espionage spell.

Draco sucked in a breath. “Well,” he breathed, inching further away, “I can see you’re terribly busy, and as I am very obviously a traitor to your enemies it seems there’s no need for me to overstay my welcome.”

He wrenched on the rope around his wrists, hearing the headboard groan. Weasley sort of groaned as well, though it was subdued, pressing his face into his hands.

“I don’t think I can just let you leave, Malfoy.” He looked pained as he said it.

“I don’t see why not.”

“Yes, well.” Weasley shook his head, shaking out his exhaustion. “In all honesty, it would be better for you to stay here as well. If you truly did turn traitor then they’re looking for you, and you have nowhere to go.”

Draco lips pinched. “Trying to incentivize my kidnapping?”

“Trying to reason with you, though merlin knows that’s never worked before.”

This time Weasley properly spoke with derision. Draco sneered. “Which bloody Weasley are you? Can’t tell you lot apart.”

Weasley flinched, eyes flicking over his shoulder like he was looking for someone only for them to shoot back to Draco. “I’m George.”

“Ah,” Draco said noncommittal, but inwardly he was floored. George Weasley looked…rough. His hair was longer, falling in wet ringlets around the face he hadn’t been able to recognize, because truly it was like the world took a Weasley twin and tossed him in the middle of a hurricane. Eyes bruised, features tensed and twisted, and so pale and drawn that his freckles acted as the only point of colour to his face. Worse yet, there was a noticeable…lacking on the side of his head, a missing appendage Draco refused to contemplate. As if contrasting how horrible his face looks, his body had grown up and out from the last time Draco had laid eyes on a Weasley twin, a man’s body with practical musculature vastly greater than the adolescent frame he’d had as beater in quidditch. Still, it was hard to be intimidated by a man with such a tortured face. It was much easier to be intimidated by a man who’d just brutally killed two people not one foot from Draco’s eyes.

Right. Can’t forget that.

“Are you going to kill me?” he asked, because a straight answer to that question would be a nice change of pace.

George grimaced. “You’re a huge death eater prat, Malfoy, but I’ve never killed someone younger than me before. Please don’t give me reason to.”

In the myriad of answers he could have given, that one was by far the most frightening.

***

Draco Malfoy was in his tent.

This…wasn’t something he was prepared for.

George sighed, taking in how Malfoy cowered on the bed and feeling only exhaustion. He’d meant what he’d said earlier, he truly did not want to kill Malfoy, especially not when he was tied to a bed and curled in on himself like some heroine in one of those horrible witches romance books his mother pretends not to read. Malfoy looked quite horrific in a number of ways, somehow the least of which being the death eater robes clinging to his skinny frame. George didn’t have much room to talk when it came to how the war affected his health, but at least he didn’t have the precedent of being a right rich sod who was always pressed and clean to strike a contrast.

“Right,” George said, striking his knees as he rose to his feet. Malfoy flinched.

“Right…” Draco Malfoy was afraid of him, properly this time. George didn’t enjoy it as much as he thought he would. “We need to get going.”

Malfoy sneered. “…we?”

“Yup. Eventually a search party will come looking for the snatchers I killed and I’d rather not be here when that happens.”

Malfoy opened his mouth, then closed it. Instead he tugged on his restraints. “By all means..?”

George grimaced, something he felt he’d be doing a lot of for the foreseeable future. He pulled out his wand and stepped closer, noting how Malfoy cringed away as he approached. For a second he wanted to apologize when he saw the suspicion turn to panic as he settled his wand on Malfoy, and noticeably not his restraints.

“No, wait!”

Stupefy.

But apologizing to a Malfoy would be taking the joke too far.

He’d been south, tucked away close enough to London to be in the loop of information coming out of the ministry but far enough away that regular aurors would never be able to accidentally trip over him. Snatchers, on the other hand, were a separate breed and very welcome to fall into his lap.

George huffed as he slipped outside his tent, flicking his wand twice to have Malfoy’s limp body follow him. He had to move now, and that both annoyed and relieved him. It was a good spot, but he’d been camped here for far too long and had pushed his luck too far, so having a clear excuse to finally leave simply felt like a sign. Besides, he had other leads to follow, so it wasn’t like he needed the intel from London anymore.

But Malfoy…would be a complication.

He’d have to verify Malfoy’s claim of course, which meant he needed some veritaserum, which meant a trip to the wizarding world he truly didn’t want to make. Killing Malfoy would be the easier option, but contrary the opinions of anyone unlucky enough to learn how George spent his days he wasn’t someone who relished, or even enjoyed, death. He wasn’t a fucking Death Eater.

No, he killed people for a purpose. Killing Malfoy wouldn’t serve that purpose.

…so long as the shit was telling the truth.

And if he was, well, that left the whole new problem of what to do with him. Obviously if he was lying and truly was loyal to Voldemort then all George would have to do was dig another grave, but if he was telling the truth that meant that he would be both a wanted traitor and an excellent source of information. Not that George would be the one to extract that information. The order would want him, but contacting the order…

George growled under his breath, heaving his tent under his arms and grabbing Malfoy by the wrist, turning on his heel and disappearing with a crack.

Malfoy was a fucking complication.