“Oh fuck, oh please god, no.”
Draco was frantic. There was so much blood on the floor. Snakeskins were everywhere, and they were soaked in it. Soggy. They were soggy with blood. There were so many of them, and there was so much blood, that Draco’s boots made a squelching sound as he made his way across the flagstones, to the pit.
“Please don’t be dead. Please don’t be dead.” The pit was full of snakes. All of them were dead. He prodded their lifeless forms with his wand, first testing them, then checking the markings on their backs. They looked as if they’d been cut to ribbons. Sectumsempra , Draco thought. He cast aside the grass snakes; they weren’t venomous even if they were alive, but they weren’t the kind of snake he was looking for. It was the European adders he was after, but even after checking nearly three dozen of those, he couldn’t find the one with the lightning bolt marking on its back.
Scavenger must have summoned every snake in a ten mile radius. Potter had to be here, he just had to, but if he was here, then he was surely dead.
Draco had checked every adder in the pit, and he wasn’t there. He went to the edge of the room, checked inside the crevices of the stone walls. Under usual circumstances, he wouldn’t have gone poking around blind in dark holes with his bare hands, looking for a venomous adder, but these weren’t usual circumstances.
“Potter. Potter, if you’re here… please…”
There was a hiss to his right. It was him. Potter. The adder with the lightning bolt on his back. Draco nearly cried with relief.
“Potter, thank fuck, let me - oh,” Draco said, once he had crawled underneath the stone, into the crevice where Potter was hiding. It was soaked in blood, just like the rest of the room, and the blood was coming from slashes on Potter’s white, scaly belly. Draco picked the snake up and cradled it to his chest. It wrapped itself weakly around his arm and nestled up to the warmth of Draco’s body, barely moving.
“That’s right,” Draco said, trying his best to sound comforting, but all he felt was sheer panic. The snake’s heart beat against his palm, unbearably precious. Draco’s cheeks were wet. “I’m taking you back to Grimmauld Place.”
The snake in his arms hissed weakly. Draco wasn’t a Parselmouth, but he knew what he would be thinking, if he was a mortally wounded snake. “Not St. Mungo’s. Someone at the ministry is a turncoat. Scavenger knows. We aren’t safe.”
There was a noise in the wood, off to his right. Scavenger. Or one of his Vultures. He would have noticed Draco missing by now. Perhaps he saw him leave the meeting, shortly after he’d told the Vultures about this little snake holocaust he’d performed. Perhaps, Scavenger had been waiting for one of them to leave, to go looking in the pit, so he would know which one of them was a spy. They were fucked. They had to leave, now. Now.
The sound had been to their right. Draco ran left, vaulting through a mullioned window and leaving the ruin behind. The wards extended fifty meters past the campsite. If he could get to the stream, he was home free. Draco ran as fast as he could.
Behind him, he heard someone following him at a dead run. “Draco!” It was a woman’s voice. Millicent. She was slow. Draco could outrun her. “Draco, come back! We only need to talk to you!”
“Protego!” he shouted, throwing a shield up over his shoulder. The signet ring he wore, the ring his mother had given him, with the Black crest carved into it, tethered the shield to his body, and it followed behind him like a parachute as he barrelled through the woods. No sooner had he thrown up the charm than a curse bounced off it.
“Stop!” Millicent shouted after him. He was almost to the creek. He could see it, shimmering in the moonlight, dead ahead. “We won’t hurt you!”
Draco’s boots hit the water of the stream. He was through the wards. He turned around and faced her.
Millicent’s pale, shaved head shone bright in the glow of the moon. It had been some days since she’d shaved it, and a crop of black fuzz stood out against the paleness of her scalp.
The shield held firm between them. Draco held his wand threateningly. “Come closer, Bulstrode,” he said. “Then I’ll have just cause.”
“To do what?” Millicent asked. Her voice was sing-songy. She’d taken the potion tonight. Draco felt a chill down his spine. “To kill me?”
Draco clutched the snake closer to its chest. It was barely moving. There wasn’t anyone else in the woods around them - he’d run fast - but they were surely on their way, and Harry was running out of time. “Try me,” he said.
Millicent grinned at him. Her teeth were black.
She took a step closer.
“ Sectumsempra ,” Draco cried.
He turned on the spot and disapparated. As the world swirled into black, he caught a glimpse of Millicent’s body being torn open, her blood, black and viscous, spilling onto the forest floor.
Fifteen Years Ago
It had really started second year, if Draco was honest with himself. That duel, with Snape and Lockhart.
When Harry - Potter, he was Potter then, in Draco’s head - when Potter had talked to the snake.
The next eight years of his life, Draco had only seen him do that once. But he’d seen Voldemort do it… oh, a thousand times.
Every time he heard Voldemort talk to that bloody great big snake, he couldn’t help but imagine Potter doing it instead. It was a subversive way of soothing himself, protecting his mind from the horrors of what was happening around him, the murder, and the resultant decaying flesh. None of the Death Eaters were ever too keen on disposing of the bodies that piled up, and the smells were abominable.
Draco didn’t intend for it to happen. It’s not like he said to himself, “Look, you’re going to go through some serious trauma, and that fucking snake is going to terrify you. You’re going to wake up with it crawling in your bed four separate times, and you’re going to watch it murder people, and its master is going to stalk your house and torture your father, so you’re going to need an elaborate, reliable fantasy to escape into.”
It’s not as if he chose to be transported back to that duel every time he heard Voldemort speak parseltongue. He just was . It kept his mind from breaking in half.
Voldemort would hiss an order to his snake, and Draco would imagine Potter doing it instead. He was always sure Voldemort was plotting something evil, telling the snake to go eat one of the Manor’s peacocks or the prisoners in the dungeon, and Draco would close his eyes and picture Potter talking to the snake. Potter wouldn’t ever tell a snake to do something evil.
It was a perversion of his reality, this fantasy. Taking something horrible and replacing it in his mind with something - with someone - only good. It was like fantasizing that Potter was winning, that Potter was in control.
And then (not at the manor, never at the manor, where he was…) he would let his mind wander, to Potter. Being in control.
He imagined Potter giving orders, sometimes in human language, sometimes speaking like a snake. He imagined Potter telling him what to do, telling other people what to do. It couldn’t be that far from reality - Potter had been fighting a war, at that point. He must have been giving orders on the regular, and Draco would have given anything, at seventeen, to hear him doing it. Sometimes he wished he was with Potter, helping him, just to hear him tell him what to do, to hear Potter give him an order .
And then, Draco’s wildest fantasies came true, and Potter won.
And his father went to prison.
Nine Years Ago
“What is it?”
“Fun,” Pansy said. She pushed the tumbler towards him across the table. “It’s fun, Draco. Remember fun?”
“No,” Draco said. He drank the potion.
Eight Years Ago
“Haven’t you had enough?”
Draco looked at her. She was just as thin as he was, now. Her cheekbones jutted out from beneath dark hollows, her sallow jaw had a square, bulimic appearance that came from not eating for too long.
Draco stretched. His muscles were starting to get that uncomfortable ache in them when he didn’t take the potion for too long. He reached for the tumbler.
Seven Years Ago
It was becoming more difficult to go without the potion long enough to visit his father.
It had to be taken every four hours, or Draco would be sick. And between the hour it took to travel to Azkaban (port to the ferry, wait for the ferry to dock, take the ferry to the island, wait for the ferry to dock, disembark), and the hour it took to get past the guards, and the half hour it took for the guards to bring out his father, there was really only a half hour or so of good time before he started to hurt.
Another problem with the bloody potion was that it didn’t work anymore. It wasn’t fun.
It especially wasn’t fun once Pansy stopped. She went to a facility somewhere on the continent and dried out, and when she came back she had gained twenty pounds and looked halfway pleasant again, or at least as pleasant as Pansy could ever look, given her general disposition.
She got a job at the ministry as a file clerk. Draco never saw her.
So he had to find a new connection, and that meant going to the Vultures.
They all lived in a flat in Shoreditch. It had three rooms, total - a sitting room, a kitchenette, and a bedroom, but somehow there were at least fifteen people there every time Draco stopped by. All of them had shaved heads, and their teeth looked…. decayed, somehow.
It was almost like they were in some weird cult. Nobody he knew had ever been to their place - not even Pansy. She had to buy from them in the carriageway behind the flat. But they let Draco up no problem.
The younger ones looked at him strangely. Like they liked him. It was odd, because they certainly never looked at each other like that. They hardly spoke to each other.
The older ones didn’t have enough good feelings left to look like they liked anyone.
Draco bought from them once a week. He was grateful that he had an income and a mound of gold to fund his habit, so he didn’t have to steal things, sell his body, and stop by every day like the other addicts Draco sometimes encountered.
By degrees, his life went gray. His father was locked away, his mother headed in the same direction - to the Janus Thickey ward. He didn’t know if it was him or his father that had done it to her. Probably a combination of both. Pansy wouldn’t see him, not if he wasn’t clean. He never left the Manor anymore. He had no constructive social contacts, no business to attend to, no philanthropic obligations, unless you counted the money he contributed to the flat full of degenerates in Shoreditch. He walked through the East End once a week, surrounded by vibrant life, young people out in their most interesting clothes, laughing and having a good time, and all he wanted was to get his fix so he could go home and stare at the ceiling in peace and quiet for ten hours.
He envied the people he’d gone to school with. Saw them in the papers. Potter and his clan. Some were employees of the ministry. Neville had bought the Leaky Cauldron. Two of the Weasleys were running a joke shop. Granger was going to be the next Minister for Magic, and she was going to drag Potter up through the ranks with her. He was doing fine by himself anyway. Draco kept seeing articles in the papers about him tracking down neo-Death Eaters. Every few months there was a new arrest.
Ginny Weasley, of all people, had accomplished the one thing Draco had ever wanted for himself - to be a professional Quidditch player. Naturally, as a Malfoy, a career had always been out of the question, but a sporting life was acceptably aristocratic. He’d always thought he could make it, if he gained a bit of weight and trained up.
But Ginny Weasley did it instead. She looked fantastic in the papers, all muscle, with a trim waist and a million boyfriends. And Draco did nothing, had nothing, had no one. His greatest accomplishment thus far was regret.
And thank fuck he felt regret, otherwise the Wizengamot might never have given him probation, might have clapped him into Azkaban with his father and thrown away the key. His testimony, under Veritaserum, that he rejected pure blood principles, that he hated Voldemort, that he had, in the most limited capacity, sought to help Harry Potter by not identifying him at a crucial moment, was what saved him from prison.
But what good was that regret, when he had no prospects? What good was his resolve never to fall in with war criminals and fascists, when he spent his days anesthetizing himself? What good was he doing, would he ever do?
It ate at him, when he didn’t have any drugs. So he took more drugs.
“For fuck’s sake, Potter, wake up. Transform, damn you.”
Draco nudged the snake with his wand, but it didn’t respond. It was breathing, but only just. It continued to lose more blood, but slowly now, as if most of it had already leaked out.
Draco knew he couldn’t give a snake a blood-replenishing potion. He would have to wait for Harry to regain enough strength to transform. It could be days, or weeks, until he had enough strength to leave unconsciousness, until his snake body was able to digest a meal. If he even got to that point.
If he didn’t die.
Draco wasn’t a trained healer. He performed some rudimentary healing spells on Potter, and then bolted upstairs to Potter’s library, where he kept the vivarium.
A small viper lived there. Harry’s pet, Serpens. Draco saw it resting on a rock in the corner, and cast a containment spell to keep it away from the heat lamp. If it got cold, too bad. Potter needed the warmth more than the viper.
He placed Harry delicately on the rock underneath the lamp. Then, he practically tripped over himself running towards the medicine cabinet at the back of the room.
“Dittany, Potter, why don’t you fucking label anything. This is why you nearly bloody failed po - here. Here it is bloody hell fuckfuck fuck .” Draco pulled the stopper and dashed back to the vivarium, frantic. Potter’s snake body looked nearly lifeless. He wet a handkerchief in his pocket, placed a hand under the adder’s belly to lift him gently off the rock, and then slathered the dittany over his wounds.
The snake coiled in agony.
Draco well remembered the feeling of dittany on a sectumsempra wound. He couldn’t remember the spells Snape had said over them. He had been bleeding too hard, been in too much pain and shock and grief, to pay attention.
“It’s alright,” he said soothingly to the snake. The adder writhed, as if trying to escape its own belly, to crawl out of its skin and right out of the pain of it. Finally, it lay still, its tongue flicking out of its mouth listlessly, until it appeared to go to sleep. Draco could never tell; snakes didn’t have eyelids, so he was never sure whether Potter was sleeping in his transformed state.
However, he certainly gave a good impression of sleeping now. His snake body was relaxed, unmoving. “Please don’t die,” Draco whispered to it. “Please, Harry. You’re the last thing I love on the earth. Don’t die.”
Draco stroked the snake’s back. It gave a feeble twitch. The orange viper was watching them, as if curious, from its containment bubble. “Darling. Live. Please, Harry, live.”
Four Years Ago
Narcissa died on the Spring Solstice.
It was almost like she’d planned it, but of course she hadn’t. She couldn’t plan anything anymore - didn’t have the mental capacity. She couldn’t even get it together to plan an outfit these days. Draco had to dress her himself.
It was a mercy, he supposed, that she finally succumbed. It would be possible to say that Draco wouldn’t wish premature dementia on his worst enemy, except Draco’s worst enemy had been Voldemort, or quite possibly his Aunt Bella, and he didn’t have to wish madness on them , they found their way in that direction perfectly well on their own. Draco wondered if his Aunt Bella hadn’t suffered from the same problem as her sister. Madness ran in their family.
Draco was going mad, himself.
The traumas, the terrible choices, the partially rotten parenting, especially on the part of his father - all that was bad enough, but the drugs were making it impossible for Draco to function, or feel good, or do anything but hate himself through the fog of a dissociative fugue.
A month after her death, Draco decided to end it all. He was a horrible human being. Literally no one would miss him. He hadn’t accomplished a single good act his entire life. He’d been an arrogant shit stain, and now he was a miserable shit stain. He was such a low-life, potion-addicted coward that he couldn’t even visit his father in prison any longer. What destiny awaited him besides a slow, agonizing slide into madness?
He turned up at the flat in Shoreditch and bought three times his usual order, intending to go home and overdose.
“Having a party?” the girl who sold it to him asked. Draco didn’t know her. It was someone different, every time now. One of the kids living in the flat had mentioned last week that there had been some arrests recently, they were cycling new people through the “retail arm,” whatever that meant.
“No, I’m going to kill myself,” Draco said, matter-of-factly.
“Oh,” she said, as if he’d just told her he was going to stop for a croissant on the way home, but a young man lying on his belly before the dark fireplace raised his head, as if jolted out of a nightmare.
The expression on his face was manic. His mouth was stretched into a terrifying grimace, and the teeth grinning at Draco from the young man’s face were… black.
“You are? Really?” the young man asked.
“Y- yes,” Draco said, uncertainly.
“Great news,” he said, jumping to his feet. “Scavenger said to tell him, when you were. He’ll be in touch.”
Draco frowned. Excitement was a strange reaction to a stranger announcing their intention to commit suicide. He felt intensely unsettled. “Who’s Scavenger?”
The young man’s face twitched, like he had a tic. He reached up and scratched at his shaved head. There were sores covering his bald scalp. Several of them had scabs on them, but they weren’t brown, like scabs formed from dried blood. They were black.
“No matter,” the young man said. “You’ll meet him soon.”
It had been twelve hours, and Draco hadn’t moved from the stool he had set next to the vivarium.
About four hours ago, Serpens had hissed at him, and moved hopefully against the glass on his side of the vivarium. Draco couldn’t speak to snakes, but he knew enough about them to guess that Serpens might be cold. He had cast a warming charm, and the viper had settled down.
Harry was still sleeping. He’d stopped bleeding. But he hadn’t woken up.
“Please,” Draco murmured. He had stopped stroking his back hours ago, afraid he might be interfering with his healing by overstimulating him. Snake bodies weren’t like mammal bodies. They didn’t respond to touch in the same way.
So Draco kept himself strictly to whispers. They sounded enough like hisses. Hopefully Harry would find the sound comforting.
“Please don’t die, Harry. You’re too lovely. Please don’t die.”
Four Years Ago
Draco left the flat and walked down the carriageway to the alley, where he could apparate in privacy. He half expected Scavenger, whomever he was, to come popping out of a window or doorway, but he didn’t, and Draco got back to the Manor alone.
He didn’t bother to close the door. It didn’t matter. He was the last of his line. No one would live here, after he died. Thirty seven generations of Malfoys had inhabited these lands, and the last of them was about to take a potion that would make him choke on his own vomit until he asphyxiated.
What if I save myself with accidental magic? Draco wondered. He hoped he didn’t. He set his wand on a table in the front hall to protect himself from the urge to save his own life in his final moments, then made his way into the east wing of the Manor.
Draco decided that the bathtub was likely the most comfortable place to die. He always did like a bath, and he thought being surrounded by the warm water would make it easier, or at least, he would be less likely to panic.
He drew the bath, took off his clothes, and lowered himself in.
There was a loud crack outside his window.
The wards , he thought. No one can apparate through the wards .
But evidently, they could, and they did, because there was a tall man with a shaved head standing outside Draco’s bathroom window. He smiled, or rather, grimaced threateningly.
His teeth were black.
The man’s name was Scavenger, and he was the leader of the Vultures, who had been selling Draco his drugs.
“The Vultures aren’t just drug dealers,” he told Draco, once Draco had put on a dressing gown and walked with him into the library. Scavenger had led the way. Draco was unnerved that the man seemed to know his way around the Manor, having never been there before. At least not to Draco’s knowledge.
“We only use drugs to fund our operations,” he said, scanning the walls of the library, reading the spines of the books. He clicked his tongue in his mouth as he walked along the shelves, and shook his fingers around, as if moved by an internal engine. Draco was reminded strongly of his Aunt. She used to have similar affectations; she twirled her hair around her finger so often that a corner of her scalp had gone bald from her tugging on it. If Draco hadn’t already been forcefully unsettled by his blackened teeth and abrupt appearance outside his window, this physical reference to madness would have done the job. “We’re actually after something else.”
“What’s that?” Draco asked, trying to sound indifferent.
Scavenger gave him a piercing look. Draco thanked the gods that Snape had been his Occlumency tutor fourth year, otherwise the man would have cut clear through his mind like a knife through butter, just as he’d slipped through the Manor’s wards.
“You came here tonight intending to kill yourself.”
Draco didn’t see a reason to deny what he’d already announced to a drug den full of strangers. He nodded.
“You have nothing to lose, then.” Scavenger pulled a book off the shelf, pretending to read it. Draco knew he was pretending, acting nonchalant, to put Draco off his guard. “You have nothing to lose, and we have so much to offer. You should join us.”
“Join you in what?” Draco couldn’t keep the curl of disgust out of his voice. The man in front of him was dirty. His teeth were rotten and his skin was scabby with the same flea bitten sores he’d seen on the young man in Shoreditch.
Scavenger gave Draco a hard look. “We need someone like you. A symbol. I would train you personally.”
“That mark on your arm.” Scavenger gestured to it. “It’s a symbol to us, of the power we want. I would make you my right hand man, in time. You would be a leader.”
“A leader of what, exactly?” Draco’s tone was biting. Whatever this man was a leader of, Draco wanted nothing to do with it. He was repulsive.
“We’re Death Eaters,” the man said, and, registering the shock on Draco’s face, he pulled a vial out of his pocket. It was full of black liquid. “But not like before. The first Death Eaters were weak. We have something new to help us.”
Draco examined the vial. “What is it?”
“How do you think I apparated through your wards? This potion turns me, and my followers, into the most powerful wizards on the planet. There are dozens of us, each one of us capable of more power than Voldemort could ever dream.”
I have something to live for after all , Draco thought. But it’s not this. It’s not this man.
“I’ll join you,” said Draco. “Tell me when.”
“Next Friday,” Scavenger told him, smiling his awful black smile. “The new moon. We’ll find you.”
Draco knew what he had to do, and how he had to do it.
The Vultures were surely monitoring his floo, his owls, and his movements. He was confined to the Manor.
But his portraits could travel freely.
Draco waited until the next morning to go into the attic, just in case there were sentinels watching him, waiting for him to make a sudden move at night.
He didn’t have a portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black in the attic. But one of his portraits was at Hogwarts, since he was a Headmaster, and Draco had a portrait of VIndictus Viridian, a distant ancestor from the seventeenth century, who had himself been headmaster.
Draco found the portrait and took off the sheet. The subject was not in his frame.
“Vindictus?” he whispered. He didn’t think the Vultures were likely to be watching his attic, but his heart hammered just the same. Anyone who could apparate through the wards at the Manor could likely do all manner of unanticipated magic.
After a few moments, Vindictus reappeared in the portrait frame and regarded him carefully. “Yes, Mr… Malfoy, I presume?”
“Draco.” Vindictus nodded in greeting. “I need to speak to my relative. Phineas Nigellus Black. Could you pass a message to him?”
“Naturally,” Vindictus said.
“Could you tell him I need to speak with Harry Potter, at Number 12 Grimmauld Place?”
So Vindictus went back into his portrait at Hogwarts and spoke to Phineas, who presumably went to his other portrait, at 12 Grimmauld Place, and spoke to Harry Potter, then returned to Hogwarts, to speak to Vindictus, who returned to Draco’s attic.
“Harry Potter is at his home, and he is willing to speak with you. Shall he join you at the Manor?”
“NO,” said Draco, urgently. “No, we’ll have to do it this way. Tell him I’ve got information on the Neo-Death Eaters he’s been tracking.”
And so, laboriously, Draco passed the message along to Harry Potter. Evidently, Potter hadn’t been able to gather much information on the group at all. All the low-level members he’d arrested for drug dealing had been so terrified of retribution that they’d refused to turn on the higher-level members. Potter didn’t even know that they were calling themselves the Vultures. Vindictus communicated, third hand, his extreme excitement and gratitude that Draco was willing to spy on the group for the Ministry. There was one catch, though.
“I can’t join the Auror force,” Draco told Vindictus, exasperated. “Can’t I just be… you know, a confidential informant? Like a spy?”
Vindictus carried his request across the portraits. “No,” he said when he came back. “Mr. Potter wants you to be fully trained as you venture into the field. This is a delicate operation, he said. He expressed full confidence in your capabilities.”
Draco tried not to feel gratified. Potter , of all people, said he was capable. “I can’t,” he said, regretfully. “They’re already watching me. They’ll know if I leave the Manor. How will I get to the Ministry to train?
Vindictus left with his question, and three minutes later, he returned, with a one-word answer.
“Hermione,” Vindictus said.
Draco sighed. “Alright,” he told the portrait. “Yes, alright.”
Hermione spoke with Draco via portrait the next day, and told him she was leaving a portkey and a bottle of Polyjuice for him in a grocery shop close to Wiltshire. He was to take the portkey and the Polyjuice to his home, leave it in the master bedroom closet, and add his hair to the Polyjuice potion. At the appointed time, he was to enter his closet, as if he was preparing to change his clothes.
Three hours later, Hermione turned up in Draco’s closet with a vial of Veritaserum.
“Take this,” she said, not waiting a second for his consent, and practically forced his mouth open to accept the droplets of the clear potion.
“Do you intend to help us with a mission to destroy the Neo-Death Eaters?” she asked him, a wand pointed at his throat. Draco had forgotten how intense Hermione was. He hadn’t seen her in years, except in the papers, and there was a flintiness to her now that wasn’t there at seventeen, even after she’d been living in the woods for a year and masterminding a guerilla resistance.
“Y-Yes,” he said.
“Are you intending to betray me, Harry Potter, or the Ministry of Magic?”
“No,” Draco said.
“What is your motivation in spying on the Vultures?”
“I wanted to kill myself, but helping you seemed like a better option,” Draco said, turning red in horror at what the potion was making him say. He could feel the next sentence bubbling up to the surface. “Also…” Draco fought it as long as he could. “I’m infatuated with Harry Potter, and this might make him pay attention to me.”
“Ah,” said Hermione. She didn’t laugh at him, and Draco nearly loved her for it. She pulled out an invisibility cloak from her pocket. Potter’s cloak.
“Wear this, and walk off your property to the train station in Wiltshire. Harry will be waiting for you. I’ll stay here, Polyjuiced as you, until you return. We’ll do this every day, at the same time.”
“Please don’t tell him what I said,” Draco asked her. Begged, really.
Hermione scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. What kind of person do you think I am?”
“A good one,” Draco said, because of the potion. “Thank you.”
And that was how Draco became an undercover Auror.
The first of the Vulture’s meetings he attended, he’d only been in Auror training for about three days. An Auror named Proudfoot supervised his training. He had been at Hogwarts ten years before Draco had started, and Draco was grateful for it. Proudfoot didn’t judge Draco for what he’d been in school, and he was a good teacher. Draco devoted himself to their lessons.
His training was certainly unconventional. He wasn’t entering the academy on schedule, with a normal class of trainees, and he had to detox as part of the training. He couldn’t possibly function as a spy with as many drugs as he’d had onboard, in any case. He was sick, but Proudfoot gave him potions to help him cope with it, and he was distracted by the training. There was a clear and present reason, every day, to be sober - a condition that had not occurred to Draco once in the whole of his adulthood.
Most of the training was related to his mission - to infiltrate the Vultures - and as he was already trained in Occlumency and Potions by Snape, the acknowledged most recent Master of both subjects, they worked mostly on psychological training, to help him establish trust within the organization and glean as much information as he could.
He also trained with Potter.
Potter filled him in on the mission, the intelligence they’d gathered so far, which was abysmal. How could the Aurors be so bad at this, Draco wondered, but Potter didn’t seem to mind that they’d made no headway so far. “This is how it always is,” he told Draco. “You keep plugging away at things, then something happens all at once and you get a big break. That’s you, this time.”
On Friday of his first week with the Aurors, he went to the meeting. Scavenger turned up in his house, unannounced, and apparated with him to the woods.
“If you’re going to join us, you’ll have to be initiated,” Scavenger told him.
“What do I need to do?” Draco asked, making his face cautiously eager, burying the twinge of dread in his stomach.
It turned out that what he had to do was drink the black drugs Scavenger had shown him earlier, which was fine at first, as Draco was accustomed to taking drugs. He swallowed it down, expecting to feel the surge of power Scavenger had promised him, but nothing happened.
Then, they brought out the dead crow.
“Death Eater!” Scavenger cried, and his minions in the circle behind him howled ravenously.
Draco ate the crow. It was that, or be murdered.
It was the most disgusting thing he’d ever done. The crow had been dead for days. It was putrid, and there were maggots crawling on its flesh. But he found himself properly motivated by the prospect of… well, he wasn’t sure what they’d do if he didn’t. Probably kill him, and then subject his body to cannibalism.
He retched around the first mouthful, and the second, and the third. As he was making his way through the decaying flesh of the bird, it got easier. He felt a rising euphoria, prickles starting in his stomach, that flooded the rest of him, and this was it , the power Scavenger had promised him. It was intoxicating. Draco felt like he could rise up from the circle and fly away. He could slay them all with a single slash of his wand. No wonder there were so many of them. The feeling of power was addictive. People would pay for this, Draco realized. Wizards and witches would gladly hand over galleons to eat rotten, dead things, but here Scavenger was giving it to them for free. All he asked in return was that they follow him.
The Vultures shaved his head, and he returned to the Manor to wait for the next New Moon. Before he went to bed, he checked his teeth in the mirror.
They were stained grey.
Draco had gone out to the pet shop. He’d used Potter’s cloak to leave the house, then walked to the tube station and taken it far enough away from Islington that he could walk about freely in Muggle London without worrying about the Vultures spotting him, in case they were staking out Potter’s residence.
He wished he could go back to the Manor for a change of clothes. He was grungy from sleeping in the woods for weeks; though he’d tried to spell the blood off himself from the pit, the scent of it still clung to him. Harry had clothes he could borrow, but they’d never been close enough that Draco had started wearing Harry’s things. What if Harry woke up, transformed, and Draco was sitting around in a Weasley jumper? It would be overstepping things, and Draco was always careful not to overstep when it came to their relationship.
Draco purchased a bag of pinkies from the pet shop. Baby mice. Harry knew Serpens liked them, so he figured Harry wouldn’t mind them either, as a snack.
He returned to Grimmauld Place under the invisibility cloak. There were two men with bald heads, smoking cigarettes in the park, as he passed. Draco didn’t recognize them, but there were so many Vultures these days that it was impossible to tell. It was lucky Dumbledore had put Grimmauld Place under a Fidelius charm, all those years ago. For the thousandth time, he wished he could put Malfoy Manor under a Fidelius, but it was rather difficult, given that the whole wizarding world knew his family lived in Wiltshire for the past thirty seven generations.
Draco walked up the disintegrating staircase to the study. Potter worked too hard to give a toss about maintaining his home, and it was practically in disrepair. The study was one of the only places that felt lived in, these days.
The first thing he did was check that Potter was still breathing. He was - but he wasn’t awake just yet. He was still asleep, or resting, or fuck, possibly in a coma, for all Draco knew. Draco pulled a pinky out of the paper bag he carried and set it inside the vivarium.
Nothing happened. The adder lay still.
“Potter,” Draco said, poking at him. “Potter. Food. Remember food?”
“Come on, then,” he said coaxingly. “Eat. You’ll feel better. Just eat it.”
The snake slept.
Three years ago
Draco finished training with Proudfoot. They’d been meeting in the Department of Mysteries, and the vast majority of the Auror department still had no idea that Draco was an Auror. Mostly, Draco was grateful that he was being kept safe by the department, but a rather large part of him was upset that nobody knew what he was doing.
He’d only joined the Aurors to avoid killing himself from the shame of being a catastrophically useless waste of a human life. And while he didn’t feel useless anymore, he would like it very much if his newfound usefulness came with some public recognition.
It came with recognition from Potter, though, which in some ways was nearly good enough. Draco loved it when Potter looked his way while they were training, gave him a nod for a job well done. It kept Draco going for days - it was a high he’d never experienced on the drugs he’d been taking, probably because he had been taking downers.
Potter was impressed with him, and didn’t withhold his opinion. Draco came to training, week after week, with absolutely critical intelligence, and Potter never failed to praise his work. To be so confronted by approval was its own torture, its own addiction. Draco found himself taking more chances, attending more meetings than he strictly needed to, in order to track the Vultures.
Draco found nearly anything was worth getting Potter’s approval. He was under strict orders from the Auror department to avoid taking the potion (“eating death,” the Vultures were calling it) more than necessary. But he wasn’t above killing an animal and practicing necromancy before a ceremony to gain the trust of the inner circle. Every time he felt his stomach turn, sacrificing some poor rabbit, he pictured Potter’s green eyes lighting up when he told him the location of the camp he’d visited, the one they couldn’t pin down, or the new members Draco had met on a hunting expedition.
At the same time he gained Scavenger’s guarded trust, he got Potter’s respect. Potter came to him for advice before filing reports, deferred to him in the meetings Draco sometimes risked attending. He once told Draco outright that he was “just as clever as Hermione, only better at sneaking around.” Like a proper addict, Draco would commit all sorts of atrocities, chasing Potter’s esteem.
After Draco’s formal training was finished, it was obviously too dangerous for him to be recognized around the ministry, or to meet his partner at a cafe. They couldn’t be seen together. Draco was sure the Vultures were still watching him. Perhaps they weren’t watching him as intensely as they had been when he was first recruited, when Draco was sure they were waiting for him to turn them in, go to the Ministry. He’d passed that test, but he’d had enough experience by this point to know the Vultures never truly trusted anyone, except Scavenger.
After his clandestine promotion to full Auror on his last day of training, he returned home to the Manor wondering how he and Potter would collaborate, if in-person meetings were out of the question.
That night, he woke up with a snake in his four poster bed, wrapped around his ankle while he slept.
“FUCKING HELL,” he yelled, casting about for his wand. “Lumos,” he managed, his voice quaking with terror. He was strongly reminded of Nagini - was he sure she was really dead? Had she laid eggs in the Manor? - and was about to incinerate the horrible thing, when he noticed a lightning bolt on it’s scaly back.
“Potter?” he whispered. He drew the curtains of the bed tightly shut, and cast a Muffliato . “Potter, is that you?”
It was. The snake expanded, its scales smoothing into human skin, clothes appearing on rapidly growing limbs, dark hair sprouting from its increasingly human head. Potter was an animagus.
“It’s me,” he said. “I thought the Vultures wouldn’t notice me coming in through the pipes.”
“You scared the piss out of me,” Draco said, feeling underneath him on the sheets to make sure that wasn’t literally true. It wasn’t. “So, is this how we’re meeting?”
“It’s the best idea I have at the moment,” Harry said. “You could apparate to Grimmauld Place in an emergency. But the Vultures will be suspicious of you if you’re regularly apparating to a place they can’t track you. We need them to trust you, and letting them watch you is part of it.”
“Would it be possible for you to never wake me up as a snake again?” Draco asked him with as much dignity as he could muster for a man who had just checked his sheets to see if he’d pissed himself. “I have a few bad memories of snakes.”
Even after all the time they’d spent together on the case, Draco still expected Potter to laugh at him. But instead, he crouched closer on the bed, and put his hand on his arm. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was trying to be funny, but I should have remembered.”
“Thank you.” Draco shook himself. “Right, so. The Vultures.”
“You’ve given us good intelligence already about their membership,” Harry said. “We could arrest them now, theoretically. But we need to understand them better. We need to know Scavenger’s motivation. We need to know where he’s getting the potion from, otherwise we’ll have the same problem a year from now, and we can’t arrest them when they have access to the potion. They’re too powerful. Aurors would die. Oh, and we need to know who he’s turned in the Ministry.”
“You think he’s turned people in the Ministry?” Draco felt a pit of dread form in his stomach. If Scavenger had spies in the Ministry, he could be at risk, or worse , Harry could be -
It didn’t bear thinking about. “I already know Scavenger’s motivation,” Draco said.
“He’s a power-mad freak, and he likes running an illegal potions cult,” Draco said. “I’ve spent enough time with him and his followers to know what he’s after, and that’s it.”
“You’re the expert on power-mad freaks, I suppose.” Harry looked thoughtful. “You lived with one, after all.”
“Yes, and now I’m partnered with one,” Draco said, trying to lighten the mood. “You know, I never got to celebrate my graduation from the Auror academy.”
Draco was taking a risk here. They’d been… not flirting, exactly, but tugging at each other. They had too much mutual trauma to flirt. But every now and then, over the past year, the air between them seemed thick at times, like a branch about to snap in half, if only one of them would throw their weight onto the right point.
“How did you want to celebrate?” Harry asked him. “I’m afraid I didn’t bring anything to drink.”
“I was thinking we could do something else, actually,” Draco said. “If you’re not opposed.”
Harry looked steadily back at him. “I’m not opposed.”
Most New Moons, the thought of letting Potter hold him down and fuck him after their debriefing was quite enough to get Draco through whatever horrors he was subjected to at the meetings.
Draco thought nothing could be worse than his own initiation. He had never since been directly required to eat another dead thing, and there wasn’t a new member initiated every month, but he soon found that many of the Vultures had taken to the potion’s ritual simply for pleasure. It was hardly surprising, given the immense high one experienced, but Draco also noticed that Scavenger appeared to be training them.
Many of the Vultures, like Draco, lived separately from the group, in their own homes. But some of them were camping together, at a rotating set of locations, all the time. Millicent Bullstrode was one of them. She and Scavenger ate death every meeting, and, it appeared, many times between meetings.
They had taught themselves to fly. They were summoning huge piles of things, from miles around, into heaps in the forest, just to show themselves they could. Draco arrived one evening to find a veritable mountain of shoelaces, summoned en masse from a nearby Muggle village. Next to them was a pile of hair pins, and next to them, a pile of muggle coins.
“That solves the mystery of how they’re being funded,” said Harry, at one of their four-poster meetings. The Aurors had made steady progress arresting the retail drug operation. It wasn’t hard to target that arm of the cult with Draco’s intelligence, and it had cut into their supply of funds, so that Scavenger had been complaining, months ago, that he was having difficulty feeding all the cult members that were living with him in the forest.
“Yes, but what else are they using all the money for?”
“Ah,” said Harry. “Please don’t freak out.”
“What. What have you done.”
Harry didn’t answer, but instead stuck a hand out from the curtains. Draco nearly panicked. He was sure he had seen the shape of a vulture in the tree outside the window. Not a person - the actual bird. It was unnerving. He knew many of the Vultures were training to be animagi, and they could be watching his room now. If Potter left the bed, and revealed his presence in Draco’s Manor…
But Potter didn’t leave the bed. He just drew the curtains slightly to the side, interrupting the Muffliato charm, and, looking Draco squarely in the eye, hissed.
Draco nearly passed out when all the blood rushed south from his head to his cock. This was the stuff of his most legendary fantasies: Harry Potter, sitting in his bed, fighting Death Eaters alongside him, speaking in that voice …
And then all the blood promptly returned to his head as a dozen snakes crawled up into the bedclothes.
“Potter, what the fuck are you thinking, those are probably poisonous !”
“Venomous,” Potter said.
Draco rolled his eyes. “Whatever they are, get them out of my bed.”
“No,” Potter said firmly. “We need to talk to them.”
And so Draco listened, half hard (who was he kidding, fully hard), while Potter hissed and spat at the snakes for a good ten minutes. When he finished, he translated for Draco, who was sure he’d gone glassy-eyed with his strange lust.
“They followed Millicent Bulstrode to a potions laboratory,” Potter explained. “It’s like… in a cave, by the sea near Cardiff.”
“Funny place for a potions laboratory,” Draco said. “They’re running most of their camps from the Midlands, why is Millicent going out to Cardiff?”
“Maybe they’re importing the ingredients,” Harry said. “But they’re making the potion in that lab. Millicent and a few of the other Vultures.”
“How did you get these snakes to spy for you?”
“They’re my snakes,” Harry said.
“Yours? As in, they live with you?”
“Partly,” Harry said. He pointed to an orange viper. “Serpens does, full time. Found him at a pet shop in Knockturn. Most of the others, I met outside.”
“ Outside . Potter, how much time do you spend in your snake form?”
Potter smiled at him, amused. “Why, you’re not scared of snakes, are you? Is this like, your version of the spiders?”
“My - pardon?”
“Never mind. I spend a lot of time in my snake form. Enough time to find snakes that like me. Not all snakes like me. They’re rather like people. Some of them are disagreeable.”
“So these snakes are all agreeable, then?”
“Is that comforting?” Potter drew a small bag out of his pocket and unshrank it with his wand. He pulled out a live baby mouse and fed it to Serpens, the orange one, who snapped it delicately from Harry’s fingers, as if he was a scaly, horrible version of a crup.
“Not exactly. Why don’t you get them off the bed and comfort me for real.”
In answer to this, Potter hissed at them. They slithered hurriedly away through the curtains.
“What kind of comforting did you have in mind?”
“Would you please -” Draco wanted to choke on the words he was trying to say, but he forced them out anyway. “Talk to me in the voice,” he finally said.
He was afraid Potter would say no, would think he was more of a freak than he’d already made himself with the drugs and the awful tattoo, but Potter’s eyes lit up instead. “I thought you were afraid of snakes.”
“I am,” Draco said. “I - I think I like that you can control them.”
“Oh.” Harry had reached into Draco’s robes and was unfastening his trousers. He took the zipper down slowly, and then worked to expose Draco’s cock. When he saw it, he hissed at it, as if giving it a command, and perhaps it understood, because it jumped .
“Please,” Draco said. “Please touch it.”
Harry’s hand wrapped firmly around Draco, and hissed what was clearly an encouragement. Draco keened.
Two Years Ago
One New Moon, Draco arrived at the ceremony and discovered the Scavenger had murdered a muggle.
Draco had been spending more time with him and Millicent. Sometimes he didn’t see the Manor for weeks, didn’t see Harry for weeks. It was becoming more difficult to conceal his avoidance of the potion. Millicent drank it nearly every day. Scavenger at least once a week. Millicent had clearly become dependent on it. She was chasing down bigger animals now to feed on, after she’d taken it. Birds and fish weren’t enough. Two months prior, Draco had discovered her feasting on a rotting doe in the forest outside the campground.
Knowing how Voldemort had encouraged his followers to excess, he’d been anticipating that Scavenger would likely find something particularly large for her at the next ceremony, but he had thought it would be… a bear, or a wolf, anything but a human being .
Scavenger had made Draco take the potion before the meeting. Draco had faked it, three months before, vanishing it wordlessly before it reached his lips. Perhaps Scavenger knew he had done that, because he watched him drink it carefully this time.
The Vultures had all flown in from around the country. When Draco, Scavenger and Millicent left Scavenger’s big tent, they were roosting in the trees, in numbers greater than Draco had ever seen them, their sweet, rotten scent making him barely able to suppress a gag. He saw a dozen of them cruising overhead, blotting out the stars with their tattered wings. There were so many of them now. Draco wondered why they didn’t come out in the open, overthrow the ministry. The wizarding world had hardly a notion that they existed, still. Only a few Aurors really understood the extent of the threat, and yet Scavenger was still biding his time.
Harry didn’t understand Scavenger’s motivation, even though Draco had told him. He’s a power-hungry lunatic , Draco had said. He’s one of those people that wants a cult to worship him. He wants power, and control, but all on his own terms. He’s not a megalomaniac.
So not like Voldemort, then.
Not like you, either. Harry had clipped him behind the ear for that.
Draco would give anything for Potter’s affectionate violence, confronted as he was by Scavengers atrocity, by the dead body of a muggle. He half hoped they had dug the muggle up, but no such luck. They had imprisoned her, and tortured her, by the looks of her half-healed wounds, for quite some time.
“The blood of Muggles will make us stronger,” Scavenger announced, at the height of the ceremony. The Vultures flapped their cloaks around him. They had all begun to stink, even in their human forms, of putrefaction, and as they crowded around the body, Draco quite nearly withdrew backwards to avoid their smell.
But he held firm. He had to remain in the circle, he couldn’t betray his disgust. He would have to eat the Muggle; there was no escaping it.
He was practiced, now, at pushing down the small part of himself that raised any kind of moral objection, not that his conscience had ever been particularly robust. If he refused to partake in this twisted communion, he would likely never see another sunrise. Perhaps they would kill and eat him, if he balked. Steeling himself for the abominable taste, he accepted a finger passed his way. He put off the inevitable for as long as possible, moving the dead finger distractedly from one hand to the other, but then Scavenger glanced his way, and -
There was a massive explosion in the forest.
One of the Weasley’s pinwheels. Not one. Fifty of them. Draco would know them anywhere - the gold and maroon sparks were a dead giveaway. Potter, he thought, a wild bolt of hope that Potter was here, that he’d come to rescue him, subsumed instantly by the terror that Potter would be caught and torn limb from limb by blood thirsty vultures. They had taken the potion - several of them had already eaten the dead flesh; they were enormously powerful. Potter didn’t stand a chance.
The ceremony had broken into chaos. Vultures were running in the direction of the explosion. Scavenger and Millicent were shouting at them, their voices obscene shrieks. Draco took a step in the direction of the forest and nearly broke into a run, but then felt something around his ankle.
It was an adder. Draco stopped, stone still.
The adder twisted violently around itself, still grasping Draco’s leg.
“Fucking hell, Potter!” Draco pushed Potter up against the wall, once he transformed back into a human. He wanted to slap him, right across the mouth, but instead he balled up the fabric of Potter’s shirt in his fists and shook him. “What were you doing there? You could be killed.”
Potter looked back at him stoically. “And you couldn’t?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. What were you thinking? If I had watched Scavenger eat that body, or got him to confess that he had murdered the muggle outright, it would have been incontrovertible evidence that he should get a life sentence in Azkaban. It’s what we’ve been waiting this whole time for, the case would have been finished -”
“At what cost? Draco, I’m not going to let you be forced into cannibalism.”
“I’M ALREADY A DEATH EATER, POTTER,” Draco roared, his face inches from Harry’s. “Or did you forget the mark on my arm?”
“I haven’t forgotten,” Harry said, in a quiet voice. “But you aren’t that person anymore. You’re -”
“Good? Don’t be ridiculous.” Draco released him and turned his back. “I’m spying on these people for a sense of personal accomplishment. For ambition. So I don’t kill myself.” So I can impress you , he didn’t say, because I’m in - “I’m not doing this to be good.”
“You’re not doing it to be bad either.” Harry approached his back, but didn’t touch him. “I - Look, I don’t often tell you what I’m thinking. But if something happened to you… you’re important to me. Beyond the case.”
Draco found he couldn’t look at him. His eyes were watering, and he was shaking. “Important.”
Harry didn’t say anything for a long while. “Yes. And not just - we’re not friends, are we? This situation is… it’s different. We’re fighting a war together, Draco. I would die to protect you.”
Draco tried to untangle what it is that Harry had told him about their relationship, but found he couldn’t. They didn’t really have the capacity for a relationship, given that they nearly always met in context that involved combat and evading surveillance by necromancers. And yet, they had the deepest of connections. Draco didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything.
“You can have limits, you know. Things you won’t do. You don’t have to work this case anymore. It’s become too dangerous to your position.”
“We’re so close,” Draco said, pitifully. “We’re right there, we just need firm evidence that Scavenger’s committed murder, and then -”
“That’s not enough,” Harry said. “We need to find out how they’re making the potion, where they’re getting the supplies. He’s too powerful to arrest right now, taking the potion as often as he is, and with all the Vultures on it. We need intelligence on his supplier. Once we’ve cut off the potion supply, we can arrest him.”
“How are we going to get intelligence on his supplier? He and Millicent won’t let me near the laboratory. Not unless I prove my allegiance. Which I could have done, tonight, if you hadn’t set off a bloody great explosion in the woods.”
“I have an idea. But you’re not going to like it.”
After forty two hours of total wakefulness, Draco finally gave up and went to sleep.
He sent Hermione a message once he’d got Potter pulled back from the brink, and she had joined him in the study.
After twelve hours of a joint vigil, both of them watching Harry in the vivarium stubbornly refuse to eat, she practically forced him out the door with orders to find a bed and sleep in it.
Draco wandered down to the second floor. Harry’s bedroom was there. It was the only other place in the house that was remotely habitable. That’s definitely why Draco chose to sleep there.
It wasn’t because he wanted to sleep in sheets that smelled like Harry.
Not at all.
Before he finally fell asleep, he had an uncharacteristically optimistic thought.
If my cover is blown, I can sleep over here whenever I’d like.
Eighteen Months Ago
“Why can’t you send Serpens again? And the other snakes?”
“Because they don’t know what they’re smelling. It all smells like Death to them, they can’t make out the different ingredients, let alone try and follow a scent long enough to tail someone who’s been coming in and out of the laboratory. It’s overwhelming. If I’m there myself, staking it out, I could find the people responsible for smuggling in the supplies.”
“For the last time, Potter, I don’t consent to it, and I’ll go over your head to Kingsley if I have to. It’s too dangerous.”
“It’s far less dangerous than what you’re willing to do. You show your face to these people almost every day now. They’re watching your house, and your floo, and all your communications.”
“But you’re - “ valuable, Draco said, but didn’t say it. He didn’t want to admit to Potter that he didn’t think himself valuable, to reveal the depths of his own self-loathing. “You’re Harry Potter,” he finished, for lack of something more truthful.
“There’s only a handful of people at the ministry that know I’m a snake Animagi. They’ll never know it’s me.”
“They could suspect you’re a spy, and kill you on the spot,” Draco said. “You’re too vulnerable when you’re a snake.”
“This from a person who has a primal terror of snakes.”
“They’re unpredictable. I don’t like things that are unpredictable.”
Harry was standing on his knees on the bed, quite close to Draco, who was sitting with his legs crossed. “We’ve been working on this for years, Draco. We’ve been fucking for years, but we can only ever meet in this bed. Wouldn’t you like to...I don’t know, fuck somewhere different? Because we could do that, if we could solve this case. We could fuck any place you’d like.”
“We haven’t only had sex here. We had sex at Grimmauld Place once, that time you were a complete idiot.”
“Oh, you mean the time I rescued you from being forced to eat human flesh? Right.”
Draco turned away from him and looked out the slit in the curtains. What else could they do if the case was over, if Draco wasn’t constantly tailed by Vultures? Would Harry ever go out for drinks with him? The other Auror partners surely went out to drinks together to blow off steam. Perhaps they could take a holiday together. Somewhere warm and pleasant. A beach, or a villa in a wine country. Maybe Harry would like to go to the opera. It didn’t seem like something Harry would have done before, but Draco could tell him all about it first, and make sure Harry enjoyed it.
“Okay,” Draco said.
Harry must have registered the resigned terror on his face, because he put an arm around his shoulder.
“What are you doing?” Draco asked.
“Comforting you,” Harry said. Draco leaned further into Harry’s shoulder, and Harry put the other arm around him. “I’m sorry, Draco,” he said. “You’ve been in a prison for so long, between Voldemort, and the drugs, and now the Vultures, and everything you’re doing to bring them to justice. I’d do anything to make it easier for you. You deserve a much happier life.”
“So do you,” Draco said.
“Right.” It was still a full moon. Another two weeks at least before the next ceremony. The moonlight lit the four poster bed up, even through the curtains.
“There’s something you could do to make me feel better,” Draco said.
“The voice?” Draco could feel Harry’s smirk against the top of his head.
“Yes,” Draco said. “But also, would you mind tying me up while you did it, this time?”
“Is that a yes?”
Harry pushed him down onto the bed, holding his wrists together above his head. He kissed Draco, pushing his lips apart with his tongue, and then moved on to his neck, nipping at it with his teeth.
“ Incarcerous,” Harry whispered, and satin ropes flew around his arms and his torso, lashing him tight to the mattress. Draco gasped.
“Harry,” Draco said.
Harry kissed his eyelids. “Don’t worry about anything,” Harry said. “It’s all under control.”
“Harry,” Draco managed. Harry was moving down his chest now, prying apart his legs. The satin ties stretched obligingly as Draco spread his thighs open. “Say that. Say that exact thing.”
Harry obliged, repeating what he’d just said, but in Parseltongue.
“Oh,” Draco moaned, as Harry put his mouth to use rimming him. He felt a tongue licking around the edge of his hole, teasingly, never quite diving in. Forgetting for a moment that his arms were tied to the bed frame, he tried to get a hand down to touch himself.
At this, Harry hissed a warning at him, then went back to work. Draco nearly cried with frustration and arousal.
“That’s right,” Harry said in English. “You’ll come when I want you to, not before.”
Draco woke up to Hermione shaking him. “Draco.”
“Hmm?” He blinked, and then sat abruptly, seeing Hermione at the foot of his bed. “Is he awake? Potter? Did he eat?”
“No,” said Hermione. “Well, he ate. I think. At least, I can’t find the mouse anymore, and I don’t think it’s escaped. But if he did eat it, he went right back to sleep afterwards. He’s still so weak, Draco. He’s lost so much blood. It may be days before he’s aware enough, mentally, to transform.”
“Right,” Draco said. Finally awake, he took a good look at her. She had dark circles under her eyes. “What time is it?”
“Eleven o’clock. Tuesday,” she said.
He’d been asleep eleven hours. She had been awake for a full day. “Do you want to get some sleep?”
“I’d love some,” Hermione said. “But I’m starving. I went down to the kitchen - “
For the first time in days, Draco felt like laughing. “That was a waste of time. Potter doesn’t have the time to cook.”
“Or shop, or keep house at all, because all he does is work,” Hermione said, smiling affectionately. “Would you like me to go for take out?”
“I’ll do it,” said Draco. “You sleep a bit while I’m gone.”
“Deal,” said Hermione, lying down on the bed next to him and closing her eyes. “Hey,” she said, the exhaustion heavy in her voice, “thanks for looking after him. You’re a good friend.”
“Not so very good,” Draco said, morosely. “If I was good, I would have solved the case instead of blowing our cover. Scavenger knows about us both, and Harry can’t spy on the laboratory anymore. We’ll never stop him, now.”
“It’s not the end of the world,” Hermione said.
“It is, probably,” Draco said. “He’s magnificently powerful. We’ll never arrest him.”
“Harry will,” Hermione said. “He’ll find a way. He always does.”
“Not this time.”
“Yes,” she yawned. “Always.”
Draco shook his head and got up to get food.
She was asleep before he left the room.
Twelve Months Ago
There was a hand shaking his shoulder. “Draco.”
Daylight was streaming in through the curtains of his four-poster bed. Shit . They’d fallen asleep together, again. Draco snapped awake and sat up. He shoved a blanket over Harry and twitched the curtains aside.
There were four vultures roosting on the tree twenty meters from his bedroom window.
“Are there any out there?”
“Of course there are, there always are,” Draco said. His skin crawled. Ever since his first meeting with Scavenger, when the man had clearly known his way around the Manor, he’d kept a Sneakoscope in a compartment hidden in the headboard. He opened the compartment to check it, just to be sure.
It was quiet.
“Fuck,” Draco sighed, collapsing back against the pillow.
Harry rolled over and spooned into his side. Draco felt like crying from the tension of everything. Last night… last night had been awful.They had eaten the carcass of a bear. Draco had only just managed to avoid it, to vanish the meat he’d been past wordlessly, as it crossed his lips, with his wand tucked into his pocket. But he’d had to taste it.
Harry hadn’t been there, this time. Draco had insisted he not be - it was becoming too risky, with the detection spells Scavenger was capable of. He’d met him back at the Manor, instead, and Draco hadn’t had anything to say. He’d felt struck dumb by the horror of it, what he was subjected to on a nearly daily basis.
Harry kissed his shoulder. Draco felt a single tear escape down the side of his temple. He heard it plop down on the silk pillowcase.
“Right,” Harry said, crawling on top of him. “Right, that’s it. You’re done with this case, Draco.”
Draco shook his head.
“Yes. You’re burnt out. It happens. Combat fatigue. It’s not just front line soldiers. You’ve seen enough violence on this case to last you a lifetime.”
“And I hadn’t seen violence before?” Draco challenged him.
Harry gestured to the window, exasperated. “You have four carrion birds perched outside your window, watching your every move.”
“And I haven’t been watched in this house before? Even more closely?”
Harry grabbed his face, placing both his hands on either side of his jaw and looking him straight in the eyes. “You didn’t have me to protect you, before. I won’t allow you to be hurt.”
Draco placed his hands around Harry’s wrists. “I won’t allow you to be hurt. If we don’t find a way to put Scavenger and Millicent in prison, we’ll never be safe.”
Harry looked back out the window, hesitating. He gritted his jaw.
“You know I’m right.”
Harry was still looking out the crack in the curtains, towards the window. “I know. I don’t want to see you like this.”
Draco tightened his grip on Harry’s wrists, calling for his attention. “Then tell me what to do.”
Harry’s mood shifted. Draco could feel it, the way he relaxed his legs and became languid. “Is that what you want?”
“Give me an order.”
Harry leaned over and kissed the crown of his shaved head. “Will you obey any order I give you, without question?”
Draco sucked air in through his teeth, grinding his hips upward just as Harry shifted his weight down. “Ah - yes. Yes sir.”
“Good,” Harry said, pressing down again. “I know you will. You’re the best Auror in the department, did you know that?”
Draco whimpered, and found that he could only shake his head in response.
“And the cleverest,” Harry said, trailing careful kisses along the ridge of Draco’s nose. “And since you’re the best, and the cleverest, I know you can follow my one order.”
“Yes, anything,” Draco said, feeling rather like he was turning into jelly underneath Harry, who was now delicately nipping at the juncture between his neck and shoulder. Anything for you, sir.”
“Don’t get hurt,” Harry said.
Draco nodded, feeling another tear plop onto the pillowcase, this one on the other side of his head, so he had twin streaks of wet down both his temples. “Yes sir. I won’t allow myself to be hurt.”
Harry hissed his approval.
Six Months Ago
They hardly saw each other anymore. Harry was practically living in Cardiff. Draco was surprised he knew how to speak English these days, with all the time he was spending in his animagus form.
And Draco… Draco was mostly living in the tents.
It was tense, but they were close to shutting down the laboratory. Draco didn’t need to gather intelligence on the Vultures anymore - they knew the leadership, as well as most of the mid and low-level members, and had enough evidence to convict them for life, as soon as they were weak enough to arrest. Draco was only with them to keep tabs on their location.
But they were getting cagey. Scavenger especially. Millicent was so far gone these days, eating death morning, noon and night, all her meals replaced by dead things, that she hardly had the wherewithal to be paranoid. But Scavenger seemed to know something was coming for him, and Draco was afraid if he left the camp too often, it would make Scavenger distrust him.
Tonight was a rare night in his own bed, and Draco had hoped that Harry would find a way to Wiltshire. They hadn’t met in over two months, not even to debrief each other on their tandem investigation.
They could tend to that later. Draco didn’t care about the investigation. His mouth was wrapped tight around Harry’s cock, suckling it to the very root.
“That’s my good boy,” Harry said, and then he hissed the words to him. Draco’s hands were tied behind his back, making it impossible to touch himself. He frotted his cock into Harry’s calf, seeking any kind of friction.
“Now, now,” Harry said, condescendingly. “You don’t want to come before your Commander, do you?”
That was the new word they were trying out. Commander. Draco had suggested Master, but it hadn’t quite felt right, felt the way they wanted it to. Draco wasn’t a slave. He was Harry’s willing participant, his follower, his right hand.
The word was working. Draco felt his dick swell even more, feeling impossibly heavy. He wanted to drive it into whatever was in front of it, but he stilled his hips and focused instead on running his tongue along Harry’s firmness, on rolling his chin against Harry’s balls.
Harry hissed, whether in Parseltongue or just from the sheer pleasure of the stimulation, Draco couldn’t tell.
Three Days Ago
“We have been betrayed, by one of our own,” Scavenger announced, and every shaved hair follicle on Draco’s head prickled with intense fear.
There was a great low muttering that spread through the crowd of Vultures. Scavenger raised his hand, and they went instantly silent.
“Our Vulture in the Ministry has informed me there is a spy amongst us,” he said, and Draco very nearly turned on the spot, and disapparated, but then Scavenger continued. “We do not yet know who,” he said, and Draco forced himself not to let out a sigh of relief.
Millicent stood next to him, grinning, her teeth blackened nuggets and her eyes glowing with madness. “Tell them the next part,” she said. “Tell them what you did in the ruin.”
“Ah yes,” said Scavenger, as if he’d forgotten. “Yes. Our Vulture in the Ministry tells us that there is a second spy, in the form of a snake, who has been attending these meetings. I have it on good authority that they were here, in these very woods, this evening.”
Draco’s heart was going like a jackrabbit’s now. Potter. He’d been planning to be at this meeting. They’d discussed it. Draco had begged him not to. Potter never listened to him, when he begged, not in any circumstance.
They knew. He had to find him, had to get him out of here.
“An hour ago,” Scavenger continued, “I ate death, and I summoned a thousand snakes to the ruin. Every snake in these woods was there,” he said, his awful smile stretching his face, “and I killed them all, and cast them into a pit by the standing stones.”
“And we’ll feast on them all tonight!” Millicent crowed.
“On the filthy spy!” the cry went up in the crowd of Vultures. “The filthy spy! Feast on him!”
Draco cried out with them, his fist in the air, letting himself be caught up in the frenzy to disguise his guttering fear.
Harry , he thought. Harry. I’ve got to get to Harry.
His stomach was full.
He felt light-headed, as if he’d lost a great deal of blood. But he was warm. His belly was resting on a familiar-feeling rock. He must be…
Ah . Harry thought. I’m home.
Somehow, he must have gotten out of the ruin.
Catching sight of a flash of orange scales, he slithered off the rock.
Hello , friend, he said.
Friend, said Serpens, you were nearly dead.
I was, agreed Harry. How did I get back here?
Serpens gestured with his head to the door beyond the vivarium. The pale one brought you here. He fed you, and nursed you back to health, and exhorted you to fail in your attempt at dying.
Harry felt like laughing at that, but he was still in his snake form, and couldn’t. How long have I been here?
Several days, Serpens told him. The pale one spent nearly every hour at your side. He touched your scales and called you names.
Names? Harry asked. He was angry?
No. Serpens paused, and flicked his tongue. Snakes do not have these names. They are the names for a beloved one. The names a Snake would call a most precious egg, if we had names for an egg.
I see, Harry said, but he didn’t quite. Was Draco calling him… the names he would call a lover? He and Draco hadn’t quite gotten around to being affectionate with each other, unless you could call Harry bossing Draco around while shoving his cock down his throat affectionate. Oftentimes, Harry had wondered whether what they were doing had any more dimensions than a trauma bond. Harry had wanted it to be. But Draco hadn’t given him any indication that was the case. Not that he had much chance to, given the circumstances.
Harry looked around the room. Draco wasn’t there. He and Serpens were alone. Is he in the house? Harry asked Serpens. He tasted the air with his tongue, searching for his scent.
He caught it. It was faint - Draco must be downstairs somewhere. Harry slithered out of the vivarium, and was midway down the leg of the table it sat on, when thundering footsteps sounded outside the study, and the door burst open.
Draco caught sight of him straight away. “Potter!” he exclaimed, running towards Harry just as Harry was transforming. Harry stood up and turned toward him.
“You’re alive. Fuck, Potter.” Draco looked down. Somehow, he’d launched himself into Harry’s arms. Draco cleared his throat and took a step back.
“Don’t be stupid,” Harry said, gathering Draco back up. “It’s alright, you can hug me, you can do whatever you’d like. You saved my life.”
Draco put his hands around Harry’s neck and leaned forward to kiss his forehead. “I was so worried, Potter.”
“I’m sorry. You were right. It was dangerous.”
“Why were you there?” Draco shoved him away, remembering their argument from before the ceremony. “You don’t listen to me. I told you, there was no reason for you to be there.”
“There was. There was you , Draco. Scavenger is… he’s something out of a horror film. I can’t stand by and watch you go into those camps anymore without someone there to look over you.”
Draco walked towards the window. “It doesn’t matter anymore, Potter. The case is fucked. We blew your cover, and mine, before we found out who was smuggling in the potions supplies. Even if we bust the laboratory they have, they can set up a new one in a week.”
“Ah,” Harry said. “That’s actually… I think I may have a lead on that.”
“Is it like the lead you had at Christmas? Because that went nowhere.”
“What would you say,” Harry said, drawing a jar out of his pocket, “if I told you that I discovered a number of beetles in the potions laboratory?”
Draco walked back towards Harry and peered inside the glass. There was a large, fat beetle inside, black with yellow markings, rather like a wasp’s.
“A carrion beetle,” said a voice from near the door. It was Hermione.
“Right,” said Harry. “Vultures aren’t the only animal interested in eating death. These little buggers,” he flicked the jar with his middle finger, “are from America. So what are they doing in Cardiff?”
“The portkey station. They’re bringing in the supplies through the portkey station in Cardiff, disguised as beetles,” Draco said.
“We’ve been collaborating with MACUSA. I know it feels sometimes like we’re fighting a two-man war, Draco, but that’s because you don’t come with me to the Ministry. The Aurors in America have been tracking a Neo Death Eater cult in Arizona. But instead of the Vultures, they call themselves Necrophilia Americana.”
“That’s the scientific name for the carrion beetle,” Hermione said. Draco could practically hear the gears turning in her head. “Is this - Harry, is this one of them, in the jar?”
Harry smiled. “I’ve seen them in the laboratory for ages. It only just occurred to me that I’d never seen a beetle like this in Britain before. Er… I suppose I should tell you, since it will come out in our depositions… I may have snacked on one or two. Before I realized they were wizards.”
Hermione gasped in horror and threw her hands in front of her face, but Draco laughed. “‘Snacked.’ You murdered several of our suspects in cold blood, you mean.”
Harry was trying not to grin, Draco could tell. “I was staking out that lab for a long time. There wasn’t anything available for me to hunt. I was hungry. What was I supposed to do, nip out to Tesco?”
Draco suddenly felt serious. There had been a freedom in thinking the case was doomed, their cover blown: they could give up, spend one or two years before Scavenger tracked them down and killed them, or otherwise destroyed the world, in a pleasant cottage somewhere. Now, there was more work to do. “We’ll need to interrogate this one. Then we’ll have to launch a combined operation with MACUSA to destroy their supplies. It’s doable, but it will take a few months to get them properly surrounded.”
“Yeah, I reckoned we would be doing that too,” Harry said. “But I’ve lost a lot of blood recently, and I think I might sit this one out. For my health.”
Draco stared at him. “This from the world’s most incurable workaholic.”
“You’re one to talk. We’ve done enough. You’ve done enough. Let’s present the evidence we have and let someone else do the mopping up.”
“And what will we do, then?”
“Fuck wherever we’d like. Obviously.”
“Pardon?” asked Hermione. She was still in the room, her eyes as wide as a bush baby’s. “Did you just say -” she started, but then she trailed off at the look on both their faces, and abruptly turned to leave the room. Harry hadn’t told her a thing about them, then. No matter - he was telling her now. Draco closed his eyes. “That. Yes. Let’s do that.”
Two Weeks Later
“Potter. They haven’t sent up the white case.”
Harry turned towards Draco, who was standing, exasperated in front of the hotel suite’s large wardrobe. “Uh. So? Didn’t you pack enough clothes for like, a month?”
“Idiot. The white case has all the toys in it. We must have left it at the Portkey station.”
“Oh.” He had the decency to at least look disappointed. “So. I guess,” he stood up and walked over towards Draco, crowing him a bit into the corner, “we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way.”
Draco took a breath. Harry’s scent when he was this close was heavenly. Nothing like what Draco had been used to smelling, in the camp. Rotting flesh, and regurgitated death. Potter smelled like soap. Draco pressed his face into his chest and inhaled.
Harry patted the back of Draco’s head and hissed softly at him. Draco heard himself whimper, feebly.
“Do you want me to tell you what to do, or do you want to decide for yourself?” Harry asked him.
“Tell me what to do.”
“Get on the bed and put your arse in the air, then,” Harry said, and then hissed it, for good measure.
Draco complied. Harry got on the bed behind him and slid two magically lubed fingers into him, slow and devastating.
Draco came embarrassingly quickly. For all he and Potter tried to take it slow, to savor it, they had no attention span. They’d been getting off furtively, behind the curtains of Draco’s bed, like bloody teenagers, for ages, and now that they had all the time in the world, and no freaky carrion birds perched outside the windows trying to catch them at it, they couldn’t be arsed to take their time.
It didn’t matter, though. Draco rolled away from the wet spot he’d left on the bed and laid his head on Harry’s shoulder. It was sweaty, and it smelled sweaty now, instead of like soap, but that was okay. Sweat came from things that lived. Harry was alive.
Draco was alive too.
“So,” Draco said. “I’ve made a decision.”
“I’m not going to kill myself, or be a potions addict anymore.”
He could feel Harry chuckle into his hair. It had finally started to grow out a bit from the buzz cut the Vultures had imposed on him. “I thought you gave that up years ago.”
“I was undecided.”
“Be truthful. It was having unrestricted access to my magnificent cock that made you decide in favor of living.”
“You were a cocky arse in school, and you’re just as bad now,” Draco said. “It’s a pity Snape never succeeded in knocking you down a peg or two.”
“I don’t hear you denying it.”
“I’m not,” Draco said. They lay together for a moment, each of them feeling the beating of the other’s heart, lying chest to chest. Outside, Draco could hear a tropical bird trilling on the veranda of their suite, and the gentle waves of the ocean. It was so peaceful here, with Potter. They had made it peaceful. Was this what Potter did, his whole life? Was this going to be Draco’s life? Wading through the filthy muck of evil, for a few sublime, stolen hours of loveliness?
Harry opened his mouth and hissed at him.
“What was that?” Draco asked. Harry didn’t answer him. “What did you say?”
“I’ll tell you another time,” Harry said. “I’m not quite ready to say it yet.”
Draco felt his chest swell like a balloon. “That’s fine,” he said. “I can wait.”