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***

Draco Malfoy had a filthy mouth.

A summer in Azkaban could do that to anyone, he reasoned.

When he crossed the prison gates late August of his 18th year, Draco didn't feel scared to re-enter to wizarding world. He didn’t feel happy or sad or numb or relieved at the sweet taste of freedom. No. He was mad. Draco was just as pissed off as he had been the day he arrived, but with the added ire of having stewed and festered in his anger for two agonizing months.

In the predictable post-war panic, the Ministry of Magic favoured the “arrest first, question later” approach to handling everyone with a Dark Mark. The fact that Draco was found innocent after being locked up for several months just made him even more resentful.

He reminded himself that he should be grateful. After all, Potter’s testimony had helped him gain his freedom, but the emotional whirlwind that had been his psyche for the past year just seemed to stir within him, growing increasingly tumultuous and frightening in its intensity.

Still, Draco surprised himself and horrified Mother with the crass words that seemed to fall from his lips as easy as breathing. Having spent months either silent or whimpering in terror, the foul language—and the graphic, colourful descriptions that went along with it, seemed strikingly at odds with his cultured upbringing—and caught even Draco off-guard.

Initially, he’d apologized and tried to control his mouth just to appease Mother—she’d been through so much already—but it was tiresome. And besides. It felt good to swear. It felt really fucking good to tell the world, Mother, and whoever the fuck else bothered with him these days that he didn't give a fuck what they thought about him anymore.

Draco was pissed off and if anyone had a problem with him or his mouth then they could shove their wand up their arse and get fucked.

***

The epithet wasn't nearly as charming when printed on the front page of the Prophet the next morning after Draco’s release.

To be fair, he hadn’t expected Harry Potter to be among the gawking crowd on the shores of Azkaban and, admittedly, Draco could have handled it better when Potter attempted to return his Hawthorn wand.

Mother glared at him over her tea while Draco reacquainted himself with the nuances of fine dining. So far he was doing terribly and it was rather startling.

He’d only been in Azkaban for two months, he reasoned, as blueberries rolled off his fork and across the table for the fourth time that morning. Ignoring Mother's sharp intake of breath, Draco stared accusingly at his stupid hand, marvelling at his clumsiness.

He and Mother had made several attempts at conversation, but an awkward tension had settled between them and seemed to be growing. "Elbows off the table, darling.”

Draco straightened, tucking his arms awkwardly at his sides. Was that right? Had he always sat like this? It felt weird.

The fifth attempt with his fork proved as useless as the others. Embarrassed, frustrated and half-starved, Draco reached for the bowl of blueberries with his hand.

"Draco—” Mother warned.

“I can’t—” Draco bit back the words, clenching his hand into a fist. Shutting his eyes momentarily, he composed himself before returning to his fork. “Sorry, Mother.”

“Tell me,” she said after a tense silence. “Have you heard from any of your friends?”

“Pansy wrote me while I was away,” he said. The letter was sitting on the top of the heap by his window when he returned. Draco opened that one and one Howler before giving up and abandoning the pile to sort pointlessly through his school trunk.

“Oh?” Mother sounded barely interested, her eyes fixed on Draco’s fork. “How is she?”

Pansy’s decision had little to do with him, he knew, but it still felt like betrayal. Draco wasn’t even sure if he would return to Hogwarts for an “Eighth Year.” He wasn’t sure what scared him more—finding out that he hadn’t received a Hogwarts letter or finding out he had. It was just too much to deal with. “She got some position working with her brother at the Department of Magical Artifacts,” he said. “Apparently, you don’t need NEWTs to work at the bloody Ministry anymore.”

Mother gasped—his language, he presumed, though he had to think about it for a moment. Then Draco lost his blueberries once more.

“Draco!”

Tossing the fork to the table with a clatter, Draco snapped, "My sincerest apologies, Mother. Would you rather I fucking starve?"

Mother just stared at him. “I’d rather, Draco,” she finally replied, her livid voice carefully controlled, “share a meal with my son whom I have not seen in two months.” Mother set down her napkin and continued, her words casual and cruel. “This is rather like dining with Fenrir Greyback. Worse, perhaps. At least he had the decency to keep his filthy paws out of the serving bowls.”

Everyone knew what Greyback had tried to do to Mother last year. The Azkaban Dementors had taken pleasure in reminding Draco of his weakness, torturing him with that memory and the countless other times he’d failed to protect her.

But to compare Draco to Greyback, that vile filth. How could she say such a thing?

Draco clenched his jaw, more determined than ever to use his fucking fork. Once again, off went the blueberries, rolling from the table to the floor like spilled Gobstones. Mother curled her lip in disdain. She wouldn’t even look at him.

Disgusted, Draco bit back a sudden urge to cry. What was the matter with him? He was supposed to be free and happy and back to normal. He couldn’t even use a fork. Had his dining muscles atrophied from disuse? Should he go to St Mungo’s?

It shouldn't be this hard to eat like a civilized human being.

And lately, he’d wondered . . .

About a month ago, Draco began to experience strange episodes of dissociation in which he was hardly aware of anything but a burning rage that welled within him. He would enter an almost trance-like state for several minutes, only aware of it once it was over and Draco found himself unable to recall anything. He chalked it up to the stress of war and the terror of prison.

But he was safe now. He was finally back at the Manor with Mother and she was acting like she didn’t even want him here.

His composure finally cracked, as he knew it would—as it always did now—and hot, stinging tears burned at his eyes.

Draco scrubbed at them angrily and steeled himself for another verbal reprimand. Certainly, Mother would jump at the opportunity to point out how undignified and childish he was being, or remind him that emotional displays were unbecoming of a Malfoy. But, Mother simply turned her head away and stared blankly out the window.

And that’s when Draco realized, Mother wasn’t just disappointed in him—she was uncomfortable.

For the first time in months, Draco was able to pick up on just one emotion standing out stronger than the others, as the rising tide of madness swirled within him.

Draco was ashamed.

***

They tried again the next day. Mother had Mipsy prepare tea and scones. Draco was thankful for the finger foods, but still managed to make a fool of himself and slop tea onto his white shirt and all over the table linens.

Small talk was stilted, but Draco was trying, until he accidentally mentioned Father’s Gringotts account.

Mother started to ask him about Hogwarts again, but stopped when Draco balled both hands into fists, letting out a strange, low growl.

Then Mother asked about Crabbe and Goyle and the teacup in Draco’s hands shattered.

“Draco!”

“Crabbe is dead, Mother. Have you forgotten?” Draco’s voice shook as he attempted to Vanish the mess. “He’s dead. He was burnt to a fucking crisp several months ago. Remember that? I’m fairly sure you attended the funeral. Perhaps you thought it was a cocktail party.”

“Draco, I—”

“What the hell is this, anyway?” Draco gestured to the room, to the table. “Playing house—or whatever the fuck it is you’re trying to do—this isn’t going to fix anything. Father is gone, Mother! Crabbe is dead. This isn’t even proper breakfast!” Draco gestured again to the basket of scones. “It’s tea! We’re having bloody tea at 9 a.m. because you can’t bear to admit that I’ve changed, too! I will never be what you want me to be.” Mother’s face was blank at this point, showing absolutely no emotion while Draco was an uncomposed, shouting mess. “Just admit it. I’ve always been a disappointment.”

A House Elf appeared nervously in the corner of the room, obviously drawn in by the scene he was making.

“Haven’t I? How the fuck is this a shock to you?”

Mother pretended to scan the newspaper, but Draco knew she was faking.

Draco smacked his hands against the table, and the china clinked and trembled. He was being crude and irrational and he didn’t even care. “Answer me!”

Draco stumbled to his feet, blind with emotion, needing to move. Unsure of what he was doing, he snatched up both of their breakfast plates and started moving toward the Kitchens like a common House-Elf. It was a struggle, he could tell, for Mother to stay silent as she refused to look at him.

He kept shouting at her as he stomped around the table, knocking things over with his hands and snatching up plates. Draco didn’t even know what he was saying or doing anymore, just that it was completely inappropriate and Mother was still pretending to read the fucking newspaper.

“Look at me.”

Mother turned a page.

Draco dropped the stack of plates onto the table. “Look at me, for fuck’s sake!” Draco heard himself shouting as though he was someone else. And maybe he was. He had never dared curse in her presence before and couldn’t understand why he was doing it now.

Mother folded the newspaper and stood.

Draco’s body thrummed with the desire for a row—oh, how he wanted one—but Mother continued to ignore him. She set the newspaper down on the table and moved from the room without a single glance at Draco.

“I should have let Fenrir have you,” Draco choked out. His voice sounded distant and strange.

Mother’s steps faltered and Draco viciously rejoiced that he’d gotten her attention.

“Fitting for a bitch.” Draco was sure he hadn’t meant to say it—couldn’t recall even thinking it—but there it was. He’d called his own mother a bitch.

She did look at him then, her expression unrecognizable. Like Draco was a stranger.

Long seconds passed and Draco nearly apologized when Mother finally spoke. Her voice was deadly quiet. “I’m not sure who you are, but you’re not my son.”

“Perhaps he died in the War,” Draco bit back, wondering if it was true. “Or in Azkaban.”

“Perhaps so.” Mother gave him a cold look. “In any case, I no longer permit strangers to live in my home. Mipsy will help you pack.”

Draco’s composure faltered. “What?”

“If Hogwarts won’t take you, I’m sure the Goyles will.”

“Mother!” She was kicking him out?

“I will not be anyone’s victim, Draco, not ever again.”

“Are you joking? You can’t kick me out!” Draco shouted desperately, but Mother simply turned and walked out. “Mother, I didn’t mean it—please, you can’t!”

The french doors clicked shut leaving behind an overwhelmed Draco. What had he done? Where the hell was he supposed to go? Who would take him? Not Hogwarts, that was for fucking sure. Fresh from Azkaban with a Dark Mark on his arm—he’d have to leave Great Britain!

Letting out an uncontrolled, inhuman roar of rage, he hurled the stupid plates at the door and fell to his knees as everything around him went black.

Hours later he awoke alone and confused on the floor of the dining room. The sky was dark with twilight and Draco was curled up in a ball, shaking. It was obvious that something was very wrong. His body ached all over and his skin stung like he had the flu.

Even more disconcerting, Draco saw his clothing lying several feet away, the fabric littered with snags and scratches that eerily resembled claw-marks.

Draco staggered to his feet, quickly gathering the items, his entire body protesting the movement.

This had happened once before in Azkaban, he realized. At the time, he’d chalked it up to a Dementor-induced hallucination, but now, with the evidence scattered all around him, it was impossible to deny.

Azkaban had turned him into a fucking animal.

***

Draco left Mother little apology notes around the Manor and ordered the House-Elves to bring her an evening snack.

When the notes were returned unopened and the snack untouched, Draco was forced to accept, with a sinking feeling of regret, that she truly wanted nothing to do with him. Instead of figuring out where he was going to live, Draco barricaded himself in his bedroom with a stack of Martin Miggs Comics.

It was a long shot, but Draco hoped if he stayed quiet enough, Mother would think he left. Then, once enough time passed, she’d accept his apology and realize this had all been one big misunderstanding.

Mother would never really kick him out, would she?

***

Apparently, she would.

“You look like shit,” Goyle greeted, the amenable tone at odds with the threatening look he wore. “Get up.” Goyle mastered Apparition at some point, because he rudely popped into Draco’s bedroom the next morning. In one mammoth hand, Goyle clutched the tell-tale Hogwarts envelope, clearly addressed to Draco. In the other Goyle held his wand, keeping it level with Draco’s face.

Draco peeled a Martin Miggs comic book off the side of his face. He saw his belongings were packed back into his school trunk and he burrowed deeper into the covers. “Mother sent you, didn’t she? She wants me out.”

Goyle gave him a hard look and then grunted. “My mother did,” he said, which they both knew meant the same thing. Goyle’s beady eyes shifted from Draco’s pathetic, prone form to the pile of unopened letters spread haphazardly over the desk. Judging by his friend’s tight expression, Draco assumed a good amount of the letters were probably from Goyle.

Draco tried to think up a quick excuse. “They don’t deliver letters to Azkaban,” he lied.

Goyle merely glanced from the pile to Draco. “Grab up your shit, Draco. I’m taking you to Hogwarts.”

***

Surely, Hogwarts couldn't be any worse than last year? True, Draco was a social pariah now and there was a distinct shortage of students from his year, particularly Slytherins, on the platform . . . oh, wait, no, that looked like Morag—“the slag”— standing a distance away, flirting shamelessly with Macmillan in typical slag fashion. And Potter and the Weasel, of fucking course. Draco caught Weasel’s eye and sneered. Potter didn't even bother to look. Granger was laughing at something Potter said. She appeared . . . healthy. Better than healthy, Draco hated to admit, but he could only lie to himself about so many things. He still despised her, of course, but in some stupid way her presence cheered him. Maybe because he’d seen so many other Muggles killed and imagined Granger’s face on all of them. Or maybe it was because Bella mutilated her on the Drawing Room floor, but . . . well, she’d gone from looking like a beaver to something halfway decent, anyway. If anyone deserved it, Draco figured she probably did.

It wasn’t until Goyle failed to follow Draco onto the train that he realized he was going to Hogwarts without him.

“Told you I’m only goin’ for the one NEWT,” said Goyle and he tried to push Draco up the stairs.

“What?”

“I’m not staying at the castle. I told you this!”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Draco shouted, ignoring the disapproving glares thrown his way. “You can’t do that!”

“McGonagall says I can.”

Goyle gave him another push and Draco swatted his hands away. “No! You can’t! I say you can’t!” Draco was receiving strange looks. He attempted to lower his voice, but couldn’t stop the rising panic. No Pansy, no Crabbe and no Goyle? He’d be dead within a week. “Goyle!” Draco latched desperately onto his friend’s shoulders as the Hogwarts Express rumbled and jerked underfoot, letting out a belch of smoke.

“You’ll still see me.”

“Get on the train, Goyle.”

“All aboard!” A wizard yelled from the platform. “Into your cars please!”

“Goyle!”

Goyle wrestled out of Draco’s grasp and shoved him up the stairs just as the train lurched to a start. “See you on Tuesday, Draco!” Goyle called cheerfully from the platform.

Draco glared at Goyle as hard as he could until his friend was no more than a miniscule speck, waving amidst the backdrop of London.

***

Angrily, Draco dragged his trunk through the aisle and, beyond caring, squeezed into the first compartment he found. Sitting alone was a tiny, funny-looking Slytherin who squinted up at him through smudgy, thick-lensed glasses. Draco thought his name might be Wallace and the likelihood of him murdering Draco seemed low. Supposing he could do worse, Draco joined him, dragging his trunk to the window and collapsing down in the opposite seat.

On Wallace’s lap sat a three-dimensional game board that bore a striking resemblance to the hedge maze from the Triwizard Tournament. His hands fiddled with a scaled down version of a Sphinx that fired off riddles and answers at a rapid pace.

Draco just wanted to sleep. He swiftly propped his legs up on his trunk, threw his cloak over his head and passed out almost instantly.

***

"Firs' years this way!"

Jerking awake, Draco yawned deeply, took the cloak off his head and froze. Every eye in the now-full compartment was locked on him. With mounting horror, Draco’s sleep-addled brain took in the shocked faces of Potter, Weasel, Granger, Longbottom and Lovegood. And Wallace.

Dear Merlin. Had they seriously watched Draco sleep for hours on end looking like some kind of idiotic Dementor with his stupid cloak thrown over his stupid head? Surely, there was a special compartment for heroes only—why weren’t they there? Why the hell would they sit in here with Wallace and a cloaked stranger?

They had to have known it was Draco sitting there—he was the only one at school who could afford a cloak from Mercer’s, after all. Suspicious, Draco felt certain he’d been cursed at some point. Or messed with. Draco wasn’t sure if he was in a good position to demand answers, but he sure as hell wanted some.

"I demand answers,” he said.

Weasley’s face morphed from shock to anger and he opened his mouth.

Wallace cut him off. "They're printed on the back of the cards," he piped. Draco blinked at him and Wallace continued, “But they're all packed away now, Malfoy, and I’d rather not dig them out at the moment. I’ll show you later in the Common Room.”

Draco wondered if Wallace was daft or if Draco just wasn’t making any sense. Either way, he decided Wallace was the only around he could trust, so Draco nudged him with a shoe.

"Wallace,” he hissed, fully aware the others were listening. “Is there anything I ought to know about?”

The boy frowned and pushed his glasses up his nose with his forefinger. They slid back down and he tilted his head to see through them properly. "Well, Malfoy, I’d suggest memorizing your Egyptian Runes. Half the the four-point questions require a translation. Trouble is, there’s only one Egyptian Rune book at Hogwarts and it’s in the Restricted Section." Wallace scoffed, oblivious that everyone was staring at him like he was crazy. "Or so Madame Pince claims."

Granger narrowed her eyes. "Wallace is it?" she asked slowly.

Wallace nodded. “Cornpepper.”

Granger frowned for a moment and then seemed to decide something. "Well, Wallace,” she said in the kind of patronizing voice adults sometimes used with children. “Why don’t you meet me in the Library after supper? I have something you might find interesting."

Wallace gave her a disdainful look. "It wouldn’t be a book on Egyptian Runes, would it?"

Granger smirked. "You'll just have see for yourself."

Wallace scrutinized her. Then he pulled a day planner from his breast pocket, scratched out some words and scribbled something in the margin. He returned the book to his pocket and crossed his arms. "Okay then, Hermione Granger. Seven o’clock."

"Malfoy's gonna piss himself if somebody doesn't pay attention to him,” piped Weasel. Draco whipped his head around to see the ginger smirking.

Potter snorted. Longbottom, too, pressed his lips together and turned away.

Draco realized that he was fast-paced fidgeting, shifting his weight from one foot to the other in what had become a new habit for him. Embarrassed, he forced his body to stand still. "Fuck off, Weasel. I only wanted to know how many points to dock when I report you tossers to Professor Snape—" Draco stopped, strangled by a tidal wave of emotion and struggled out the next words. "McGonagall, for hexing an unsuspecting student."

Potter and Granger looked at him with open pity and it was all Draco could do not to smash their faces in.

Weasel spoke. "Nobody touched you Malfoy, though you’d well deserve it.” He gestured at Potter. “Harry, here, was convinced you were the new Defence professor—"

“Why?” Draco asked Potter with confusion.

"Well, I didn’t think you were,” Potter snapped. “With your cloak, you reminded me of Lupin—”

“Of Lupin?” Draco thought about Lupin a lot—of their silent, uneasy truce; late evenings at the Manor after Death Eater raids, drinking liquor-laced tea and arguing about Science and History and things that didn’t matter, because somehow the shabby man understood that Draco couldn’t speak about the things that did.

The werewolves weren’t there often, but when they were, Lupin’s presence was the only thing that kept Draco from fleeing in terror. Then that one awful night—though he’d never admit to it—Draco pleaded for Lupin’s help. He’d transformed in an instant and tore Greyback into a bloody, gory mess. Lupin saved Mother from a fate worse than death, after they’d both treated Lupin with nothing but contempt for years.

Draco never liked him. Despised him on principle. So when he saw Lupin’s lifeless body lain out beside his blood-traitor cousin, Draco couldn’t understand the tightness in his throat or the overwhelming sense of loss and regret.

“Don’t worry, Malfoy.” Potter glared, bringing Draco back to the present. “You’d never be half the man he was.”

“Potter, he only was half a man!” Draco hadn’t meant it as an insult—it was the truth—but Potter clearly took it that way because his wand suddenly jabbed into Draco’s throat. “Well, he was,” he added, petulantly.

Potter’s green eyes burned into him. Adrenalin coursed Draco’s veins and he returned Potter’s glare, feeling alive and more like himself than he had in months.

For a fleeting second, Draco imagined how good it would feel to just attack, to jump on Potter and beat him into the ground. Bite him.

“Come on, Harry. He’s not worth it.” Weasel gave him a cold look. Draco would have sneered back, but Weasel quickly clapped a hand on Potter’s shoulder and steered him toward the door where the Seventh Year Head Boy was motioning for them to follow.

Potter kept his eyes locked on Draco, but he lowered his wand. “Yeah,” he said after a moment. “Guess you’re right. He’s definitely not.” Potter stashed his wand in his pocket, shook his head and left.

The others filed out behind Potter as Draco angrily hefted his trunk by the handle, cringing at the scrape of metal on the floor and cursing himself and his mother’s shitty wand for the millionth time.

He was halfway out the door when a dreamy voice interrupted his departure.

“You cared for him.”

Lovegood was staring at him with her crazy eyes.

“For Potter? I fucking well do not.”

“For Lupin.”

The accusation caught him off-guard. “No.”

“But you were always the first to start talking,” Lovegood continued in her lilting voice. Draco’s breath caught and he stilled, his eyes glued to his shoes as her words continued to unnerve him. “After the raids, of course. You’d chat together in your kitchen. At least, I think it was the kitchen.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “It sounded like a kitchen, anyway, but it’s hard to tell from underneath. I suppose it could have been the dining room. Or the sitting room, really.” She paused. Draco slowly met her eyes. “Was it the kitchen?”

How this girl was able to speak of such things so simply—like they didn’t matter . . . Like she hadn’t been chained up in his cellar for months, tortured even by Draco’s own hands . . .

“Yeah,” he answered, weakly.

“Yes, I thought so,” said Lovegood. She smiled at him then—smiled—and gestured to his school trunk. “You’ll have to ask Harry for your wand back if you’re planning to pass your NEWTs. But, then, you didn’t come here for your NEWTs, did you?”

He swallowed. “Why else would I come?”

Lovegood shrugged and he found himself disappointed that she didn’t have the answer. She pointed to the corridor. “After you, Draco Malfoy.”

Draco stared at her a moment longer. When, still, nothing made sense, he gave a sharp, embarrassed nod and hurried from the compartment as quickly as he could.

***

After the Feast, it became clear that McGonagall had some manipulative scheme tucked up her bell sleeves because, instead of giving him the password to Slytherin, she’d dragged Draco, along with the other Eighth Year students to a separate part of the castle in the West Tower. They gathered in an ugly, sparsely decorated room as she yammered on about unity and bridge-building and the future of the Wizarding World.

Then she tacked a piece of parchment to the bulletin board that listed their dorm assignments—two to a room. Glancing at the list, it was clear she’d matched up every student with whomever they hated the most.

“Ew, Granger?” Morag MacDougal scoffed loudly. “Millicent, I can stay with you, right?”

“You can’t, actually,” Granger snapped. “If you’d listened—which I suppose is difficult with a brain full of Doxie droppings—you’d know the assignments are magically binding. You can’t cross the doorway of someone else’s room without getting Hexed.”

“Oh?” asked Morag. “Then perhaps you ought to stay with Millie. I’d love to see something spelled out in spots across your forehead. It’d only be fair after what you did to Marietta.”

Granger looked startled for a moment, then huffed, mumbling under her breath about slags and schoolwork as she stomped off to her room with Morag slowly following her.

Neville Longbottom checked the list next, dragging a finger down the page. He turned around and gave Theo an awkward smile. “Guess it’s you and me,” he said. Theo snatched their keys off the table and tossed him one before walking off. Longbottom trotted after him calling, “You don’t mind plants, right?”

Draco stared at the name written beside his own, not even a little bit surprised. He supposed he got lucky, actually, getting stuck with Potter instead of Weasley. At least his bedroom wouldn’t smell like a pig-pen.

It couldn’t be that bad, he reasoned. He’d surely lived with worse.

Proud of his current demonstration of maturity, Draco tried to morph his features into something borderline neutral. For one moment, Draco allowed himself to believe that everything might work out. It wasn’t ideal, but if they could stay out of each other’s hair, maybe they could make it through the school year without being expelled.

Then Potter aggressively shoved past Draco, the force of his departure knocking Draco into a nearby bookcase. Several titles toppled off the top shelf, hitting Draco on their way down.

“This is bullshit.” Potter snatched both room keys from the table and stormed off without bothering to apologize or even tell Draco their room number. He’d also left the pile of fragile books heaped about the floor, and since Draco technically knocked them over, he’d have to pick them up now, or risk looking like even more of an arsehole than he already did.

There was no way Draco would chase after him and beg for entry, he thought as he angrily kicked the books into a pile before levitating them back onto the shelf. Fuck that. He’d figure something out. He’d talk to McGonagall, maybe she’d let him commute to school like Goyle . . .

Then Weasley had the audacity to give Draco a nasty look as though this were somehow his fault. “Thanks a lot, Malfoy.”

“For fucking what, Weasley?” Draco hissed back, clenching his hand into a fist and feeling humiliated as everyone gawked at him, smirking and whispering. “Like I want to sleep with your stupid, fucking boyfriend.”

My what? He’s not my—”

“Oh, please.” Draco scoffed, trying to sound casual, but could hear his own voice shaking with rage. “Everyone’s heard the rumours of what you and Potter got up to in that tent. . . . It’s just lucky the snatchers found you when they did, else Granger’s bleeding heart would have surely broken in two.” Draco placed a hand over his heart and swooned before flicking one last book onto the shelf.

“You’re sick. I swear to Merlin I’ll kill you, Malfoy.”

“Don’t do me any favours.”

“I should have let you burn.”

“If I recall correctly, Weasley, you would have. Potter came back for me. Not you.”

“Oh, Malfoy.” Weasley shook his head pitifully. “He didn’t come back for you. Harry just didn’t want to be responsible for someone’s death. Not that he would have been. Trust me, Malfoy, he couldn’t give two shits if Crabbe turned you into a pile of ashes.”

For a moment, Draco’s vision darkened. Oh, Merlin, he wasn’t sure if he was about to tear Weasley to shreds, break down in tears or blow up the whole castle. All he knew was that his emotions were caving in on him, and that dangerous, now familiar rage was rapidly reaching its peak. Draco needed to get out of there before he did all three—or worse.

Still, he had to let some of that pressure out, or he would surely die.

So Draco settled on, “Stupid, motherfucking ginger-arsed wanker,” and then stormed out of the Common Room.

***

Some time later, Draco found himself pacing directionless in the dungeons, unable to get into Slytherin no matter how many passwords he tried. When Wallace showed up, Draco nearly pounced on him, begging to be let in. The younger Slytherin shook his head regretfully, cast a few privacy spells so Draco couldn’t follow him and vanished.

With a scowl and a rude gesture, Draco finally returned to the Eighth Year Common Room, which was mercifully empty now, save for a few dying embers in the fireplace. Spotting his belongings in the middle of the floor where he left them, Draco sighed, and dragged everything over to the far corner of the room. He dropped down into a scruffy little armchair with a huff, threw his cloak over his head and was out cold within minutes.

***

Someone was shaking him.

Greyback.

Wormtail.

Snape.

Snape was dead.

Draco's eyes flew open and he scrambled backward, knocking the cloak from his head and fumbling in his pocket for his wand.

Thank Merlin, he had his wand.

But it didn’t feel like his wand.

Oh fuck, it was his mother’s useless piece of rubbish. "Lumos," he croaked anyway and a dim light flickered lazily before him.

"Malfoy, what are you doing?"

Draco squinted into the darkness, struggling to identify his assailant. Based on the irritation he felt at the voice, Draco figured it was Potter. The git didn't appear to be wearing his glasses, though, and his face hovered uncomfortably close to Draco’s.

"Potter?" he asked carefully, trying to steady his racing heart.

"Yeah.” Potter moved closer. "It’s me. What are you doing?"

"I’m sleeping.”

"Er—aren't you ever coming up?"

Awake enough now to be fully irritated, Draco jabbed Potter with his wand, knocking him back a few steps. "Am I coming up? Potter, you locked me out of the room, you dimwit!”

“I didn’t lock you out—”

“You shoved me into a bookshelf and ran off with our keys and room assignment! What the fuck was I supposed to do? Shout at you from the halls and hope you’d take pity on me? Fuck you. I don’t need you or your stupid room. Leave me the fuck alone."

"I thought there were two keys," Potter said, sounding confused.

"Yes—and you took them both!"

“No, I didn’t!” Potter sounded unsure. Then he dug into his pocket and pulled out, unsurprisingly, two keys. “Oh. Oh, shite.” Potter cringed, but Draco wasn’t buying it. “I—I really didn’t mean to do that, Malfoy. I didn’t think—”

“No. You never do. Please, go the fuck away.”

Potter lingered for a moment and then crouched down beside the armchair, still uncomfortably close. He sighed. "Shut up, Malfoy. Just come on.”

“No.”

“Come on. I’m sorry. I know I was a jerk. Obviously, you didn’t want this, either.”

It was true. Draco didn’t. So he couldn’t understand why the comment stung.

“I just really hoped I’d be with Ron,” Potter continued, “and—look. I even left you the bed by the window. And the bigger dresser.”

Draco regarded him, closely. “You did?”

Potter shrugged, green eyes blinking fuzzily beneath dark lashes. “I figured the window’d be nice, after, um, Azkaban. . .” Potter faltered.

Draco tried really hard to control his anger and was pleased with his success. “Fuck you, Potter.”

Potter hesitated but didn’t leave. “Come on, Malfoy. You’re just going to sulk here ‘til morning?”

For the first time, Draco considered the possibility of having one of his episodes and waking up naked in the Common Room.

“So . . . are you coming then?” Potter hedged.

Draco held his glare for just a moment more, hoping Potter felt really terrible about himself. Doubtful. Finally, he relented and climbed to his feet, dragging his trunk toward the staircase.

“Forgetting something?” Potter caught up with him and dangled a key in his face. Draco snatched it with a huff, pleased with himself again for managing not to murder Potter for probably the fifth time that night.

***

Draco spent much of his first week in the Library, pouring over books that might provide some hint as to what was wrong with him.

He’d never seen so much Hermione Granger in his entire life.

Strangely enough, her presence didn’t bother him. They’d entered into some sort of an uneasy truce, supported by a shared interest in reading. Granger’s initial suspicions had been obvious—she’d cast narrow-eyed looks between Draco and the Restricted Section—and they were admittedly warranted. But when Draco stopped sneering back defensively, their interactions became neutral and almost friendly. She once offered him a conjured mug of coffee from her thermos. Draco, in a mixture of shock and exhaustion, simply accepted the mug with a grateful, “thanks,” and drank it, barely sparing a thought for what his father would say if he knew Draco was taking drinks from Mudbloods.

Draco hardly ever saw Potter, the git, which was perfectly fine by him. It was almost as if Potter knew when Draco was coming to the room and left moments before they ever crossed paths. Signs of Potter’s quick departure were evident in the way he’d leave things—like a hot sandwich with one bite taken out—abandoned in the room. Sometimes, even when Draco couldn’t see Potter, he swore he could feel Potter’s presence still in the room. Of course, he knew about Potter’s Invisibility Cloak and the thought that Potter might be creeping around the room was disturbing. Draco made it a habit to barricade himself inside the bed-hangings of his four-poster whenever possible, but sometimes he had to use his desk, and his dresser, and their shared bathroom, so he couldn’t stay locked up all the time. Plus, the window had a very nice view— Potter had been right to give Draco that spot—and it was so pleasant to wake in the morning and see sunlight glinting over the changing foliage instead of Grindylows fucking against the glass.

But at night, Draco always saw Potter. Potter would come in around ten, sit at his desk and scribble on parchment for about an hour. Draco assumed he was working on some sort of memoir, but Potter always locked it up before Draco had a chance to read it. Then Potter would change into ratty Muggle trackies and a T-shirt, brush his teeth while pacing the room and then, finally, go to bed.

While Draco enjoyed his solitude, it wasn’t right for Potter to simply ignore him. So, when he knew Potter was in the room, Draco would read with his bed-hangings pulled back. Draco knew it made Potter uncomfortable when he openly watched him go through his evening routine, but he took a strange sort of pleasure in having that power over Potter. The git wasn’t allowed to just forget Draco. Draco wouldn’t let him.

***

Because Draco was a child and couldn’t bear not having classes with Goyle, he signed up for Care of Magical Creatures, too. It was stupid, really, because Draco dropped the course two years ago and didn’t have a prayer of receiving a NEWT, but Hagrid was so desperate for students, he’d accept just about anyone.

The course was structured now to lure back the Seventh and Eighth Years who’d mostly quit after their OWLs. There was a rumour that a student helped to rewrite the curriculum over the summer, which now included a unit on creature oppression. Draco was convinced it was Granger. Greg said he didn’t think so.

That first morning of class, the great oaf beamed with joy as he crossed the lawn, having spotted the huddle of students on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. When his beady eyes fell upon Draco, Goyle and Theo, his smile faltered for a moment, but quickly reappeared when Lovegood, Potter and Weasley swarmed him with pats and hugs.

Draco rolled his eyes and Theo snickered. Draco nudged Goyle with his elbow, but Goyle shrugged him off and stepped in closer, giving Hagrid his full attention.

Draco frowned.

Goyle. The scholar, now, apparently.

How odd.

***

McGonagall welcomed the students of the Eighth Year NEWT Transfiguration class the same way she had when they were First Years: as a cat.

No one was impressed this time, but everyone clapped anyway, just to be polite.

Class proceeded in the typical fashion, with McGonagall prefacing the unit studies for the year and then talking about their individual field studies. She asked for a show of hands to determine who was planning the rigorous Animagi course of study. Draco and Theo were among several hopefuls, and McGonagall gave a slightly pained look and asked them to wait after class.

Granger noticed the interaction and whispered something to Weasley and Potter. All three of them looked back. When Draco caught them staring, Granger turned back around, Weasley stretched out in a ridiculous, obvious yawn and Potter pretended to search for something in his bag. His green eyes darted up once more, but Draco glowered and the boy quickly spun around and nudged at Weasel to do the same.

It was hard to ignore the sick feeling in Draco’s stomach as he made his way up to McGonagall’s desk at the end of class.

“I’m sorry, gentleman,” McGonagall said once the other students left, “but the law forbids anyone with a Dark Mark from becoming a registered Animagus. Even proven innocent, having the Mark at all is a violation of the strict stipulations set forth by the Ministry.” To her credit, the old woman actually sounded sorry, but nowhere near as sorry as Draco felt.

Theo, apparently, was a bit slow on the uptake. “What?” he cried out. “But that isn’t fair!”

“I wasn’t even convicted!” Draco added, pointlessly, figuring he might as well argue, too.

“I understand that,” said McGonagall, pursing her lips, “but I do not write the laws.”

Draco scowled at the corner of her desk. “Do they make any allowances?” He picked absentmindedly at a piece of Spellotape that had likely been stuck on her desk for years.

“I hope you’re not suggesting you buy your way into a license?” McGonagall gave a disapproving sniff.

“No!” Draco retorted, immediately offended by her tone. “Well, I don’t know. Maybe—is that possible?”

“It is not.”

“And—” Draco hedged. He knew the question was incriminating, but he had to know. With a deep breath, he plunged on, “And, hypothetically, what would happen if we were to transform anyway?”

Professor McGonagall gave him a look so hard that his toes curled. “That would be a very serious breach of law, Mr. Malfoy. I sincerely hope neither of you would be foolish enough to try.”

Theo sunk lower in his chair. The other Slytherin had been obsessed with becoming an Animagus for years. Draco recalled Theo reading NEWT level Transfiguration books as far back as Third Year. It wouldn’t surprise Draco if Theo actually had managed to transform before.

“Yes, but—” Draco glanced at the woman for a second and back again at the desk, “but what would happen?”

“Azkaban, Mr. Malfoy.” Draco felt his own shoulders sag. He was so utterly fucked. “And I don’t imagine you’re too eager to go back there.”

***

Several weeks later, Draco was assigned to lead a small group in a demonstration of Transfiguring a rock into a pillow. He’d been matched with Theo and the three Golden Gryffindorks, to his immense irritation.

Draco hadn’t slept well at all and was having a lousy week. It had become quickly apparent that whatever was preventing Draco from using silverware was also affecting his ability to use a quill. He’d been assigned three essays that week and had struggled late into the night trying to form letters that didn’t look like Primary School scribble-scrabble. The end result was absolute shite and Draco was exhausted, pissed off and possibly malnourished, since bread was the only food he could now eat in public without embarrassing himself.

Draco faced his group with irritated resignation, just wanting to get it over with. “Um. So, basically when you Transfigure a smaller item into a larger one, you have set up, er, space parameters for the desired size of the—”

Granger’s hand shot into the air. Draco faltered, then ignored her and pointed his wand at the rock to continue his demonstration.

Granger said something to him.

Shut up, he thought, trying to focus. Flustered, Draco’s wand shook in his hand.

She called out again and this time Draco slammed his wand on the desk in frustration. He didn’t know what she said and didn’t really care. “What the fuck, Granger!” he snapped. “Can you not shut your stupid mouth for one bloody second?”

“I—” Granger hesitated. “I was just—it’s called Scaling,” she looked away. “That’s all.”

“Don’t talk to her like that, Malfoy,” Weasley warned.

“What?” Nothing was making sense. They all needed to shut up.

“Th-the parameters,” Granger continued. “They’re—It’s-it’s called—erm—Scaling.” Granger looked down at her hands.

“I know that!” Draco snarled. ”Now, if you could shut your stupid Mudblood mouth for a second, I . . .”

There was an audible, collective gasp and Draco felt the blood drain from his face as he realized what he just said.

Before him, angry faces blurred together, and the classroom flickered black and white for a startling moment. Draco knew he needed to apologize, or something—but found that he couldn’t think straight. The rushing sound in Draco’s ears rivalled the one in his head. He was alarmed at his out of control behaviour.

Potter said something while Weasel jumped to his feet, his hands clenched into freckly, white fists.

Draco stumbled to his feet. Without thinking, he said, “Blow it out your freckled arse, Weasley.”

Everyone stared at him. Even Theo looked confused.

Oh. My. God.

The room flickered again and a terrible tremor shook through him. Something was seriously wrong.

“Mr. Malfoy—into the hallway, now.” McGonagall’s voice was furious. “Lower your wand, Weasley!”

Swallowing hard, Draco gave a sharp nod. As he moved past them, more words forced their way out. Draco clapped a hand tightly over his mouth in a vain attempt to stifle them, but was certain his classmates could hear the uncontrollable, indiscriminate obscenities.

The second he reached the hallway, Draco sunk to the floor and buried his head in his hands, trying to control the shaking and muffle the profanity still spewing from his mouth.

The classroom door opened and closed. Draco peered up with dread at Potter, staunchly covering his mouth until the humiliating tirade came to a stumbling halt.

Draco waited for Potter to say something first. After several moments, when he didn’t, Draco let out a long sigh. “What do you want, Potter?” he whispered, finally able to speak sensibly.

Potter’s face wore a strange frown. “Um.”

“What?” Draco snapped, running his hands through his hair.

“Seriously?” Potter’s frown turned nasty and he crossed his arms over his chest. “What’s your problem, Malfoy? Did you go mental in Azkaban or something?”

Potter’s assessment was way too close to Draco’s own and his voice shook with barely concealed rage. “Fuck. You.”

“Malfoy!” Potter sounded frustrated for some reason. “I don’t—why would you—?” He huffed. “Look. I’m-I’m not actually trying to row, okay?” Potter softened his voice. “Everyone else might think you’re the same racist arsehole you’ve always been, but I know you’re not. I know you’ve changed at least a little, Malfoy, so what the hell are you playing at, talking to her like that?”

Draco’s eyes prickled and he angrily squeezed them shut. God, his emotions were just beyond these days…surely other people didn’t feel like this? “Just leave me alone, Potter.”

“Malfoy—”

“I said leave me the fuck alone!”

“Mister Malfoy! How dare you—” McGonagall had now stepped into corridor, looking harried and confused. She noticed Potter and sighed. “Oh. Potter. Of course—back into the classroom.”

“But—”

“At once, Potter, or I’ll be forced to presume you are skiving.” She raised an eyebrow and Potter looked like he wanted to laugh at the terminology, but knew better.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Potter gave Draco one last careful look, then retreated back into the classroom.

McGonagall fixed Draco with a cold, disappointed look. “Well?” she finally asked, her nostrils flaring. “Explain.”

Instead, Draco began complaining about how unfair it was that he had to live with Potter. “Why can’t I commute, like Goyle?”

“Mr. Goyle doesn’t commute.” McGonagall looked at Draco like he was touched in the head. “He’s living with Professor Hagrid.”

What?

“Certainly he told you this,” McGonagall said. “Mr. Goyle is Hagrid’s apprentice.”

“He’s fucking what?”

McGonagall jumped back in alarm. “Are you quite alright, Mr. Malfoy? What is going on?”

Somehow, Draco convinced her he’d been been poisoned with a nasty version of a Babbling Beverage. Due to some miracle, McGonagall accepted this explanation. To avoid expulsion, Draco had to suffer through apologizing to Weasley and Granger individually to let them know he sincerely hadn’t meant what he’d said. Even if he partly had.

“It did seem thick,” Weasley admitted, “even for you. And I guess your face looked a bit insane.” He shrugged. “But if it ever happens again, don’t bet on McGonagall protecting you.”

“Noted. Well. Thanks for not killing me, Weasley.”

Weasley gave him a short nod and walked off.

When Draco went to the Library that evening to continue his Animagus research, he apologized to Granger and offered her a literary journal he’d nicked from Blaise. She gave him an uneasy smile, surely thinking it was a trick, but accepted the gesture with a “thanks.”

For once, that evening Potter’s eyes were glued to Draco in the dorm, scrutinizing his every move and making him feel immensely uncomfortable.

It was like Sixth Year all over again. Draco thought he missed Potter’s attention, but on second thought he might prefer being ignored, after all.

***

After manipulating Goyle into telling him the truth and then yelling at him and claiming to have known all along, Draco stormed back to his room.

Goyle was doing an apprenticeship with Hagrid?

Goyle had OWLs? Goyle got a bloody O in Care of Magical Creatures when Draco barely scraped an A and then Goyle had dropped the subject in an act of solidarity? What the fuck?

Draco threw his stupid bag on the floor of his room and kicked the corner of his bed.

Everyone was just so much more mature than him these days. They could all just move on, just like that, and pretend like the past never happened.

Seething, Draco cursed Potter’s name, kicked Potter’s bed and made a rude gesture to every one of Potter’s items. When he reached Potter’s desk, he stopped. Glinting on the corner of Potter’s desk was a black, opalescent stone, pyramid shaped with an almost ethereal aura glowing around it.

Draco swallowed, moving in closer.

He’d seen pictures in fairy tale books, but this was sitting right out in the open next to Potter’s dirty socks and an old box of Bertie Bott’s.

The Resurrection Stone.

The newspapers said Potter had thrown it away right before he’d given himself over to the Dark Lord. Every account stated he no longer had it. But somehow Draco knew this was it.

Drawn to the object, Draco reached for it, hesitating just a moment before giving in to temptation and gently lifting it off Potter’s desk. The stone rolled into the palm of his hand. Mesmerized, he studied the object, wondering how it worked. He cast a nervous glance around the room. He didn’t see any ghosts or anything.

Who would he see, anyway? Crabbe or Snape?

Bellatrix?

Voldemort?

Draco dropped the stone down in horror, terrified that the thought of Voldemort alone would be enough to bring him back. Squeezing his eyes shut, he stumbled back to his bed, flopping onto his stomach just as the door to the room opened, and Potter walked in, looking nervous.

An open book lay beside Draco and he casually shifted so that he looked immensely immersed in it.

Potter ignored him, back to usual, and Draco watched out of the corner of his eye. Potter beelined for his desk, spotting the stone. Clearly, he had just come back to the room for it. With a sigh of relief, Potter dropped it into his pocket. Then he fake-busied himself with other objects on his desk before snatching up some innocuous book on slugs. “Ah, there it is,” Potter said, pointedly. “My slug book,” before glancing over at Draco and rushing out.

***

Over the past month, Draco visited Madame Pomfrey eight times, looking for something to alleviate his symptoms. He’d complain of a number of ailments. The first few times he got a Calming Draught and Pepper-Up Potion for his trouble.

The Calming Draught helped some, but made it difficult to concentrate. The Pepper-Up had been a bad idea, spiking his emotions until an argument with Goyle had him shaking in a not-so-normal way.

Now, Pomfrey merely handed him a pamphlet on Mental Health Healing and suggested he attend the upcoming seminar.

Draco made a show of crumpling the pamphlet and tossing it in her bin.

Try as he might to come up with some sort of other medical explanation, Draco couldn’t ignore the certainty that he had become something else. The evidence was obvious, but he was desperate to reach any other conclusion. How had it happened to him? Was he bitten? Was he born like this? It didn’t make any sense.

***

The feeling of general illness worsened each day. Despite craving meat, Draco limited his diet almost exclusively to toast in public. As far as he knew, The Great Hall was the only place to get food at Hogwarts and Mother certainly hadn’t sent him any care packages.

Because his fingers itched and shook, it made it almost impossible to hold a quill. Luckily, he found an old Quick Quotes Quill buried away in his trunk so he was able to keep up with most of his classwork, but he couldn’t draw anymore, which was depressing.

Charmed-Hot food began to appear on his nightstand. Potter never said anything about it, but Draco had a feeling it wasn’t coming from the House-Elves. He wasn’t sure where Potter was getting the food, since it was against the rules to take food from the Great Hall, or why Potter was giving it to him, but he appreciated it, all the same.

After that, Draco began watching Potter closely. Draco decided Potter was exceptionally dodgy, and was most definitely hiding something.

Nearly every night he’d awaken to Potter’s cries of terror.

Draco had nightmares, too, but they were less frequent, and usually came after a bad day, especially when he forgot to Occlude. He couldn’t always remember them, but knew they usually had something to do with digging, and being underground; tunnelling out. Each one started differently—sometimes in the Malfoy Manor dungeons, sometimes in Azkaban, or the Room of Requirement—but they all had the same feelings attached to them: anger, fear, panic, entrapment and the overwhelming need to get out.

And, of course, they always ended the same way—with Draco’s pyjamas in clawed-up ruins and his emotions a fragile and erratic mess that lingered long into the next day.

As far as he knew—or hoped—Potter was not aware of these midnight transformations. There had been two incidences when Draco forgot to cast a Locking Charm on his bed and ended up starkers on the bathroom floor, but he’d been certain Potter slept through both of them. Almost certain.

It was starting to drive Draco a little bit mad not to know what was happening to him in the middle of the night and it was getting harder to stop it from happening during the day. The desire to confess to McGonagall was growing, but he feared the many ways that conversation could go wrong and, opting for self-preservation over mental stability, Draco quashed it.

After several nights in a row of Potter shouting in his sleep, Draco decided to take pity on him. He climbed out of bed and made his way over to Potter.

When he did, he stopped. Potter’s face was tear-streaked and screwed up in pain. His garish Gryffindor covers were wrapped in tangles, entrapping his flailing feet. But all of that paled when Draco realized Potter’s chest was bare and Draco found he was unable to drag his eyes away, as a curious warmth spread through him.

Draco hadn’t had a reaction like that in years, and the fact that it was happening now while Potter was in a state of turmoil made Draco feel like a pervert. He stepped back a moment and tried to get in control of himself. When he’d calmed, barely, Draco reached out a hand and shook Potter on the shoulder.

“Potter!” Draco tried. “Hey. Shut up, Potter, you’re having a nightmare!”

Potter’s eyes flew open and he scrambled back in bed, his wand trained on Draco in a second.

Draco held his hands up and took a step back.

“Malfoy,” Potter growled, still looking ready to attack.

“Yeah . . . calm down . . .”

Potter’s face suddenly changed and his eyes sparked with recognition. “Oh,” he sighed. “Malfoy.”

Potter lowered his wand and Draco watched him carefully. “You thought I was my father, didn’t you?”

Shrugging, Potter began fixing his sheets. Draco found an empty glass on Potter’s nightstand, cast an Aguamenti and held the glass of water out to him. “Here.”

Potter took it with a confused, “Thanks.”

“I’m not my father, you know,” Draco said quietly, helping himself to a seat on Potter’s bed.

“I know,” Potter replied. He made a strange face at Draco’s intrusion, but then scooted over, making room. “You look like him, though.”

“I know I do,” Draco admitted. “But, there are worse things, right?” Potter looked ready to object and Draco quickly tried to amend this. “I mean, I’m not bad looking, am I?” Immediately, he felt like a dolt. Even more so after Potter smirked at him. Draco also realized, quite startlingly, that Potter’s answer mattered. A lot.

“No,” Potter laughed. “You’re not.”

“Good answer,” Draco said. “You were about to receive a nasty hex. And I’ll admit, I prefer you without your face all swollen up . . .” Draco stopped. The silence between them was suddenly heavy. It was the last thing in the world he wanted to talk about, and he was certain that Potter wanted to talk about it even less. Why. why, why had he brought that up? “Sorry,” Draco muttered, the words feeling ridiculously inadequate. He wrapped his arms tightly around his middle and stood up. “Well, you’re up now, so, guess I’ll just go back to bed.”

“Wait.” Potter grabbed Draco’s elbow and tugged. “Sit back down.”

“No.”

“Please. I want to ask you something.”

Draco turned back slightly, unable to make eye contact. “What?”

“Why didn’t you do it?”

“Do what?” Draco knew full-well what.

“Turn me over to Voldemort.”

Draco shivered at the name, deeply regretting his stupid mouth. “Do we really have to talk about this now?”

“Yes.”

“No, we don’t.”

“Yes, we do.”

“Because,” Draco whispered, his voice tight. “I needed you to live.”

“Oh.”

“And the Dark Lord was a wanker.”

Potter snorted and Draco met his eyes, barely smirking. He quickly grew serious again. “Why’d you save me from the Fiendfyre?”

“Same reason,” Potter answered immediately.

“Oh.” Draco’s throat became exceptionally tight at the memory and he couldn’t stop the next words from coming out. “I really miss Crabbe.”

Potter looked torn between sympathy and immense discomfort. “Malfoy—”

“I know he was an idiot.” Draco rushed on, cutting Potter off because he had no right to speak about Crabbe. “But he was messed up. He was stupid, we were all stupid,” Draco’s voice cracked and his eyes started burning, but it was suddenly so important to speak on Crabbe’s behalf since Crabbe couldn’t do it himself. “And he wouldn’t have killed Granger, you know. He was just trying to sound tough. We hadn’t slept in days, and—and I don’t think it’s fair what everyone says about him, that he deserved what he got, because he didn’t. No one deserves that. He—he didn’t understand what that spell did, and—he didn’t deserve it.” Draco’s voice broke off in a whisper and he gave Potter a fierce look, daring him to deny any of it. When Potter didn’t, Draco deflated slightly. “Just thought you should know.”

“Okay,” Potter said awkwardly. “Er—thanks for telling me that.”

Draco gave a tight nod, blinking hard and stumbling back to bed.

“Er—you alright?” Potter asked.

He wasn’t. “Fine,” Draco answered, wiping at his eyes once he reached the safety of his bed. “You?” he asked, remembering this whole thing had started with Potter’s nightmare.

“Yeah. Thanks. Sorry I woke you.”

“It’s fine.” Draco pulled his covers up, feeling vulnerable and foolish and unable to erase the ridiculous thought of Potter’s body from his mind, knowing it was completely inappropriate now that he was thinking about Crabbe. “There’s Dreamless Sleep in the bathroom if you need any. In my cabinet, on the left.”

“Oh.” Potter sounded surprised. “Thanks.”

Several minutes later, the sound of Potter shuffling to the bathroom was the last thing Draco heard before falling into a restless sleep.

***

Draco awoke hours later, naked on the bathroom floor. Again.

When he returned to the room with a towel wrapped around his waist, he saw that Potter was gone.

Heaped in a pile on Draco’s desk was his clothing, ripped to shreds and clawed up. To his horror, a note was placed beside the pile. With trepidation, Draco picked it up, instantly recognizing Potter’s illegible scrawl.

Malfoy I think something got in here last night?? Your clothes were all over the room and they were already ripped when I found themI swear it wasn’t me. We might need to get traps from Filch or something. P

Draco’s cheeks burned. He crumpled the note in disgust and threw it in the bin.

Yes. Traps would be fucking perfect.

***

He’d always hated Care of Magical Creatures, but this year the class was a form of personal torture. The proximity to the Forbidden Forest was driving Draco mad. He’d always been terrified of the forest—it was forbidden, after all, but suddenly he had this urge to just run off in it whenever he got too near. It was all he could do to stay put with Goyle who, miracle of miracles, was practically tutoring Draco in the damn subject.

A few morning’s later, after another terrible night’s rest, Goyle and Draco were crouched together beside their small crate, observing the mating habits of their two gnomes.

Something moved in the nearby underbrush. When the movement caught Draco’s eye, everything in his body suddenly rushed to life. Unable to fight it back, he gave into his instincts and dove toward the underbrush. Seconds later, a small mouse scurried out of the leaves and Draco was completely enraptured. Nothing else in the world mattered. He had to catch the furry, juicy little thing.

Draco pounced again, landing on all fours in the leaves. The mouse had just been there. Draco sniffed the air, raking his fingers desperately through the debris. Where’d the little fucker go?

“Draco!” Goyle tugged on the back of his shirt.

Potter and Weasley stood nearby, gawking.

Potter’s judging face brought Draco back to his senses. Embarrassed, he pushed Goyle off and settled onto his knees, brushing the dirt from his robes. “Watch where you’re going, Potter.”

Potter’s eyes boggled. “Are you joking? I didn’t even touch you, Malfoy!”

Draco might have continued to engage. As it was, he just felt sick and exhausted. Plus, everyone was looking at him like he was nutters. “Whatever, Potter. Figures you’d never admit it.”

A burning rage filled Potter’s eyes that Draco hadn’t seen in years and, dammit, he loved it. Potter, hero of the Wizarding World, defeater of Voldemort, and Draco Malfoy could still rile him up with a few choice words.

“Do you want to start something, Malfoy?”

“Maybe I do,” Draco said, rising to his feet. He swayed a bit, dizzy. “I’ve been looking for a good row all year,” he said thickly.

“Huh?”

“I said, I’ve been looking . . .” Draco trailed off and squinted at Potter. Weren’t his eyes supposed to be green or something? And that hair . . . should be brown . . . not grey . . .

Draco blinked down.

The Forbidden Forest wasn’t very colourful, at all, was it? It was all gray. Well, no matter, he could find that mouse now without so many distractions. “Looking for a row.” Draco’s mouth felt sort of funny. He blinked again as his vision swam and reached out to brace himself on a tree. Draco found he couldn’t stop looking at the ground. “The fuck did it go?”

“What’s he talking about?” someone asked. Merlin, but Draco’s fingers were burning. Voices continued their innocuous chatter, but the background buzzing was of little importance.

“Hey. Draco. You with me? Draco, you look weird, mate . . . ”

The little fucker must have gone into the bushes. Yes, yes! Draco could almost smell him. No, he definitely could. Smell the little fucker . . . who thought he’d get away . . . if Draco could just squeeze himself into that dip under the tree root there, he could—

“Woah!”

“Malfoy!”

Inches from the ground, Draco was intercepted by strong arms wrapping around his middle. He cursed, struggling to break free.

“Potter, what’d you do to him?”

“Nothing!”

“He never touched his wand, Goyle.”

Draco’s heart was absolutely racing now, at odds with the rest of the world that moved at an agonizingly slow pace. “Gotta catch him.”

“Catch him? What’s he . . . are you talking to me?”

“Wha’s goin’ on here?” A huge shadow stepped rudely onto Draco’s tree root, blocking his path. Draco glared at the intruder, squinting his tight-feeling eyes at the bright onslaught of sensory input. Why was everyone standing so bloody close? And who the fuck was still holding him?

“Er, Draco’s not feeling good, Professor,” said Goyle.

“Hmph. Well, wha’ seems ter’ be the . . . er—”

A low rumbling came from Draco’s chest.

Hagrid’s great, shaggy face moved in closer, his beady eyes suspicious. “Wha’ seems ter be the problem, then, Malfoy?” There were bits of food tangled up in his beard.

“The problem,” Draco growled, his voice sounding strange,“is your fat, bloody arse blocking my way, you stupid festering oaf. Now move your gargantuan hooves off that root before I—” The hands that were holding Draco dug into him painfully, “—tear you to shreds,” he finished.

“Shut your stupid mouth, Draco!” Goyle hissed.

Draco closed his eyes, nauseous.

“Now, see here, Malfoy! You won’ be speakin’ ter me like tha’—I’m a Hogwars’ professor, see, and—”

A violent shudder ran through Draco’s body. Merlin. He really ought to lie down. Or vomit. Catch that mouse. Or leave, most likely, but rational thought seemed to be flickering on and off.

“I’m taking you back up,” Potter’s voice whispered in his ear.

Something was happening—Draco wasn’t exactly sure what, but, yes, he probably ought to leave now. “Yeah, okay. Okay,” he managed.

“Come on,” Potter said, gruffly tugging him in the direction of the castle.

“My teeth hurt,” Draco complained as he staggered alongside Potter up the Great Lawn. He could hardly see two feet in front of him.

The urge to flee grew suddenly unbearable and Draco found he could no longer fight it.

“Get off,” Draco gasped, shoving Potter as hard as he could. Potter didn’t budge and Draco groaned when another painful ripple went through his skin. “Get the fuck off. I mean it, Potter. Let me go.”

“Come on, Malfoy. We’re almost there.”

“Are you deaf, Potter? Let me fucking go now or you’ll regret it.”

When it became clear that Potter was not letting go, Draco turned his head toward Potter and bit him in the arm. Hard.

“Argh! Fuck!” Potter’s grip loosened and Draco broke free. As he bolted towards the woods, his body started to shift, and he ran faster, desperate to get out of Potter’s sight. “Malfoy—come back! Where are you going?”

The world grew alarmingly around him. Suddenly, he was tiny and tangled up in a heap of robes and undergarments on the Hogwarts lawn. Draco scrabbled his—claws?— madly, desperate to break free from the suffocating garments when he was suddenly hit with Incarcerous.

Seconds later, Potter hovered above him, rubbing his arm. “Ow, you fucking bit me!” His voice faded off and he gaped. “Oh, damn, Malfoy.”

Draco could do nothing but stare back at him, unable to make sense of what had happened.

Finally, Potter’s face morphed from shock to amusement. Then he started laughing. “This is great.”

Draco was too terrified and angry to think clearly.

“A ferret? Ron’s gonna die!” Potter doubled over with laughter, holding his sides.

No. Potter was lying. This had to be a cruel joke. In a tiny voice that startled even himself, Draco bit out, “Shut up, Potter! You funny-looking, four-eyed, cocksucking prick.”

The smile dropped from Potter’s face in an instant.

“Tit-headed wanker,” Draco added.

“Jesus. You’re talking.”

“No shite, moron.”

“Ferrets don’t talk,” he murmured.

“Arseholes don’t shut up.”

They stared at each other, locked for a moment in a strange tableau. “What the hell are you?”

Draco still didn’t know. His world had been reduced to immense irritation and the urge to insult Potter—an urge that had always been strong, but never like this.

“Oh, no. Ron’s coming. Hold on.”

Potter pointed his wand at Draco and the world went black.

***

Draco awoke naked in his own bed with the curtains thankfully drawn. A clean set of unclawed clothing sat neatly folded by his feet.

His whole body ached and his fingertips burned as if they’d been sliced open at the nail. The throbbing in his head was unbelievable, but Draco guessed that had something to do with the excessive-force Stunner that Potter, the idiot, had cast on Draco’s two-foot body. He supposed he was lucky he wasn’t dead.

Draco reached for the clothing and hissed when pain shot through his arms. “Fuck.”

“Malfoy?”

Draco froze. A thousand thoughts flooded his mind. Had Potter seen him naked? Merlin, had the whole school seen him naked? Or as a ferret? Or whatever the fuck he was? Draco wasn’t sure which was worse, but he suddenly wished Potter’s Stunner had killed him, after all.

Potter continued, hesitant. “Er—you up?”

Channelling his confusion into a reasonable accusation, Draco stated, “You fucking Stunned me.”

Potter’s voice was closer, now. He was right on the other side of Draco’s bed. “You fucking bit me, Malfoy! Really fucking hard, too. And anyway, Ron was coming. I figured you wouldn’t want him to see . . .”

“Well, I didn’t want you to see.” Draco winced, trying not to cry out pathetically as he struggled into the trousers that he assumed Potter left for him.

“So, that’s what happened to your clothing the other night . . . Hey! At least now we don’t have to get traps from Filch. Heh, heh.” Potter laughed awkwardly.

“I’m so glad you can find the humour in it, Potter.”

Potter’s laughter faded off and he sighed. “Malfoy, what are you, anyway?”

Draco didn’t answer.

“I mean, you looked like a ferret but bigger,” Potter said. “And you could talk,” he added.

Draco had read enough the past few weeks to figure it out. With Potter confirming it, the evidence seemed undeniable. “Then it should be obvious.”

“Er—a Jarvey?”

Draco’s continued silence was affirming.

“You’re not allowed to transform, though. You could go to Azkaban.”

“Really?” Draco drawled, sarcastically. “I had no idea.”

“Then why—”

“I don’t know!” Draco’s voice cracked and he swallowed hard. “I didn’t do it on purpose.”

“Oh. Well, I’m not going to tell anyone, if that’s what you’re afraid of.”

“Oh, you definitely won’t, Potter,” Draco replied simply, a sudden thought springing to mind. “Because if you do, I’ll tell Granger you’re still faffing about with the Resurrection Stone.”

There was dead silence. Then, What did you say?”

“You heard me.” Draco’s bed curtains were suddenly thrown wide. “Potter!” Draco scrambled back, folding his arms over his naked chest, strangely uneasy with Potter seeing him shirtless. His blood ran cold at Potter’s livid face.

“What the fuck do you know?”

Nothing, really, but Draco could guess. “Been talking to Mummy and Daddy and Sirius Black?” Potter responded by pounding a fist on the wall, making Draco flinch. Then he let out an anguished roar and dropped the curtains, stomping away.

Draco hadn’t intended to be cruel. He supposed it sort of came naturally to him. Still, considering Potter just went out of his way to help Draco, it probably wasn’t the best thing to say.

After several minutes passed of uneasy silence, Draco huffed, struggling into an upright position and carefully pulling back his bed-hangings. Potter was sulking atop his covers with his back to Draco, arms folded mulishly across his chest.

“Potter?” Draco asked, carefully.

Potter didn’t answer.

“Potter?” Draco tried again, climbing to his feet and moving closer. “Hey, Potter, I’m talking to you.”

“Yeah, I can hear you.”

“Look,” Draco said, dropping uninvited onto the edge of Potter’s bed when standing became too much. “I won’t tell if you won’t.”

Potter said nothing.

“I swear.”

“Oh, I really trust you,” Potter growled. He scooted to a sitting position and his eyes were red and puffy. “How’d you know I had it?”

Draco scoffed. “Honestly, you left it right out in the open, Potter! What did you expect?”

“I didn’t think you saw it.”

“Well, perhaps if you hadn’t been running off to avoid me, like you’ve been doing all year, you would have remembered to lock it up properly instead of leaving one of the Deathly Hallows out next to your dirty socks,” said Draco. “What is wrong with you? Of course I saw it!” Draco felt like he was going to fall over and placed a hand on his throbbing head. “I feel like shite.”

“Yeah, you look it, too.”

Draco narrowed his eyes. “Potter,” Draco finally said. “Really. What the hell are you doing with the Resurrection Stone?”

“It’s none of your business.”

Draco frowned. “It’s a bad idea, Potter. You need to get rid of it.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Potter’s eyes were vicious.

“I know nothing good can come of this,” Draco said, reasonably. He wasn’t sure why he cared, but Potter’s behaviour lately had become a source of concern. “You know it, too. That’s why you got rid of it in the first place.”

“You couldn’t understand.”

“Oh, please. You’re so deep.” He put a hand on his heart.

“It’s not that!”

“You think I don’t understand temptation, Potter?” Draco gestured to his left forearm. “You’re trying to be the next Dark Lord or something?”

“No, of course not—”

“Merlin—it doesn’t even matter. You’re not God, Potter! There are some things you don’t mess around with and resurrecting the dead is one of them.”

“I’m not resurrecting the dead, Malfoy. And, anyway, I really don’t care.”

“Great,” Draco said shortly. “Whatever. Neither do I.”

***

“Can I see it?”

“No, stop asking.”

“Please, Potter? I won’t use it.”

“No, shut up, Malfoy. And don’t bother looking. You won’t find it.”

“My senses are incredible now, Potter,” Draco said, ending the spell on his Quick Quotes Quill to take a bite of a biscuit he’d nicked from Theo’s breakfast tray. He enjoyed getting on Potter’s nerves. It was one of the purest and simplest forms of entertainment. “I’ll sniff it out. I’ll tear this room apart.”

“Shut up, Malfoy.” Draco suspected Potter enjoyed it, too, though he’d never admit it.

“You shut up, Potter, I’m trying to study.”

Draco cast a sidelong glance at Potter and noticed the tiniest hint of a smirk on Potter’s face as he stared resolutely down at a Quidditch magazine. Pleased, Draco allowed himself a small smile and continued his Potions essay.

***

“Hey, Malfoy, can I compare my Charms answers with yours?”

Draco rolled his eyes and held out the assignment he’d just completed. “Copy them, you mean?”

“No, I did them,” Potter said, unconvincingly. He snatched the parchment from Draco’s extended hand and carried it over to his desk. “Thanks, Malfoy.”

Draco didn’t know why he let Potter cheat off of him. He never let anyone copy his answers, not even Pansy, but for some reason Draco found it hard to say no. It was stupid. Potter wasn’t even endearing.

“Are you writing a song?” Potter asked.

“Huh?”

“Drazzle McQuibb . . . Chunks of Mercury? Malfoy, what the hell is this?”

“Chunks of what? What are you on about?”

“That’s what you wrote on your parchment.”

“No, I didn’t!”

Potter brought the parchment back over and held it out to Draco. Sure enough, the entire thing was three feet of nonsense. “Shite! My Quill!” The magic must have worn off. “Potter, do you have an enchanted quill?” Draco’s voice was panicked. “Please, this assignment’s due in an hour—fuck!”

“Sorry, I don’t.” Potter cringed apologetically.

“Shite. Shite!

“Take it easy, Malfoy,” Potter said. “No, I don’t have one, but I could just write it for you.”

“I can’t cheat. They’d know.”

“Just tell me your answers and I’ll write down whatever you say.”

“Oh sure,” Draco drawled, feeling anxious, “Nice ploy. And Flitwick won’t be at all suspicious when we turn in identical work.”

“Look, I don’t even care that much. I’ll just switch up the wording on mine and put in some wrong answers or something to make it look realistic.”

Draco gave Potter a hard glare. He’d have to wait until the weekend to get more Quick Quotes Quills at Flourish and Blotts. There had to be a better solution, but at the moment Draco couldn’t think of one and time was precious. This would have to do, for now. “Fine. But we have to hurry.”

“Ready whenever you are.”

***

As it turned out, Draco still needed a signed permission slip to go to Hogsmeade and, for some ridiculous reason, it didn’t matter that he was legally an adult. It probably had something to do with him being a Death Eater. He’d have to pick up quills over the holiday. In the meantime, Draco continued to leverage his blackmail and Potter agreed to keep helping him. Draco was terribly nervous to return home. He wasn’t sure if he was invited, but he didn’t have anywhere else to go and Mother needed to forgive him . . . forgive him or disown him. Either way, he needed to go home and apologize and find out.

As the year progressed, Draco watched Potter with increasing discomfort. He was rarely in their room anymore, often arriving back late in the night. Usually around lunchtime he would help Draco scribe his assignments, even though he never bothered to work on his own anymore. During class, Potter would stare out the window, making a quick exit the second they were dismissed.

When Draco first started calling Potter “The Dreary Inferi” and “Cadmus Peverell Junior,” he’d gotten a huge, pissy reaction out of the bloke. But now, Potter just ignored him in favour of staring blankly at a wall.

Granger and Weasel would exchange nervous glances. They’d tried speaking with Potter, but every time he’d grow angry and storm off. Granger gave Potter the Mental Health pamphlet from the Infirmary, which Draco later found in their rubbish bin.

They even approached Draco to ask if he’d done something to Potter. Draco didn’t even get upset because they were so desperate, almost as desperate as he was starting to feel, shouldering the sole responsibility of Potter’s secret. For a moment, he considered giving in and confessing—he had enough to deal with—but remembered Azkaban and settled on, “There’s definitely something wrong with him. But what else is new?”

“Are you two on drugs?” Weasel asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Ron!”

Draco couldn’t help laughing.

“Well, they both look terrible and always act like they’ve got some big secret.” Granger seemed to consider that for a moment and gave Draco a hard look. Weasley continued, “And I swear they’ve both lost a stone or more since we started school.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Draco scoffed.

“Maybe it’s the room,” Weasel continued to muse. “Maybe it’s some sort of a magical drain or something.”

“Yeah, probably.” Draco rolled his eyes and left.

***

“Malfoy.” Granger stood before him in the Library, demanding his attention. She sighed, but he thought it had more to do with the interruption of her studies than it did with Draco’s presence.

“What, Granger?”

“I’d like to talk to you.”

“And why should I listen to anything you have to say?”

“Because,” Granger said, helping herself to the seat across from him. She whispered. “I know your secret.”

Suddenly alert, he straightened, his gaze intense. “Potter told you!”

“Aha! So you do have a secret! Wait, Harry knows?” Granger asked, peeking over her right and then left shoulder. “We can’t talk in here.” She narrowed her eyes and gathered her books with a huff. “For the last time, Malfoy, I’m not sharing my notes!” she said loudly, earning a “Shh,” from Madame Pince and Draco’s nastiest glare. Then she leaned over, grabbed her sweater and hissed, “Charms Corridor,” before storming off.

***

“Well?” Granger’s arms were crossed, tightly, one eyebrow raised in question.

Draco indicated their public surroundings with a sneer. Granger sighed and cast a Muffliato while Draco focused on her ugly brown mules. “Well what?”

“What secret does Harry know?”

“What do you think you know?” Draco shot back. Perhaps she knew something stupid like his preference for Muggle music. No need to give everything away.

“Animagus Transformations ring a bell?” she asked, a smug look on her face.

“Very clever, Granger. What do you want?” Draco snarled, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Money?”

“No!” Granger looked disgusted at the suggestion. “I want to help.”

“Right.”

She wrinkled her forehead as if confused. “Then—you are an Animagus?”

Draco froze. “Er—”

She raised her eyebrows.

“I’m not . . . No . . . because that would be illegal,” he said, weakly.

“Malfoy, honestly.” She rolled her eyes. “I know you’re transforming, but if my theories are correct, you can’t be an Animagus.”

“I just told you I’m not.” She had theories?

Granger smirked. “I know. Because your creature form is either a Jobberknoll or a Jarvey, and neither one is an animal. So, which is it?”

He stared at her. “A—a Jarvey,” he stuttered.

“Yes!” Granger punched a fist in the air. “I knew it!”

Draco narrowed his eyes. “The transformations just started happening, right before school started. I can’t control them. And I’m sure you know what McGonagall told me and Theo . . .”

Granger’s face softened. “Malfoy,” she said gently, “have you considered that you might actually be part Magical Creature? It’s different than being an Animagus. It’s very unusual, but there are some recorded cases.”

Draco turned away. “That’s impossible,” he said. “I’m a Pureblood.”

Granger said, “I also know you’re fighting it and by doing so, you’re making things worse for yourself. You have to embrace it and allow the change to happen or you’ll make yourself sick.”

“I don’t have to do anything.”

She continued speaking as if rattling off a passage from a textbook. “Providing yourself a safe, daily space to transform will help you to control your symptoms. Can you even use your quill anymore?”

Draco only glared.

“There are potions that can help with that.”

“I’ve tried Calming Draughts, Granger, but I can’t be on those all the time.”

“No, Malfoy, not Calming Draughts. There are specific potions for Magical Creatures, to help make the—er—condition more manageable.”

Granger suddenly had his full attention. “What potions?”

“Similar to Wolfsbane or Transformation Draughts for Veela, they can stave off some of the nastier side effects. I mean, you’ll still be part Jarvey, you’ll still have to transform, but you can control it better, maybe regain some of your fine motor skills . . . You’re fairly good at Potions, I’m surprised you didn’t know.”

“I never thought I’d have to,” he said, bitterly. “So, then. What do you want?”

“What do you mean?”

“We aren’t friends, Granger. I’m sure all this comes at some sort of a price, I’m not stupid. So, what is it? Blackmail?”

“I don’t want anything.”

“Sure.”

“Well, look, I can help you brew the potion with the necessary modifications for Jarveys if you swear you’ll . . . I don’t know. Keep an eye on Harry.”

“And there it is. You want me to spy on your boyfriend,” Draco said. “Listen, Granger, you can’t tell anyone about this. Especially Potter. You absolutely cannot. I mean, I know he knows already, but I swore it was a secret and, just, for various reasons, you do not discuss this with Potter. Understood?”

“Fine.” Granger shook her head, distractedly. “Just look out for him. And—” She gave Draco a resolute look. “If his life is in danger, you have to tell me. Even if it breaks whatever little promise you’ve made to each other.”

“I’m not—”

“Yes, you will promise that.” Granger looked at him hard. “He saved your life once. More than once, if I remember correctly. It’s not too much to ask you to speak up if he’s in over his head.”

Draco nodded tightly. “Deal.”

***

He’d made a deal with a Mudblood. Muggleborn, whatever. What was the world coming to?

Throughout the week, Granger gave him all sorts of information for spying on Potter—even told him about the Marauder’s Map and Potter’s Invisibility Cloak, which he already knew about. When Draco jokingly asked, “Oh, and I suppose he’s got the Elder Wand, too?” Granger made a funny face and quickly changed the subject.

Draco learned from Granger that one of his own, clearly insane relatives, had once performed blood magic to transform into a Jarvey—probably as a means of obtaining additional power or protection. As a result, the magical genes literally mutated, permanently taking on the qualities of the Magical Creature.

During his stay in Azkaban, a defensive response was triggered, awakening the Jarvey gene that had likely been lying dormant in the Malfoy or Black family for generations. Until Draco learned how to control it, the transformation would continue to happen unexpectedly in moments of stress or danger.

A modified potion for symptoms could be ready in two weeks, Granger hoped, but there was no spell or potion that could change him back. Whatever this was, was now a part of Draco. More than that, he had to embrace it or the urges would continue to build up, resulting in more spontaneous, uncontrolled transformations.

Granger provided him with some hand-written, “helpful meditation tips” that she thought might spur him to transform at will and suggested Draco start practicing right away. So, when Potter left for his next midnight meander, Draco removed his clothing, created a calming atmosphere in the privacy of his magically locked four-poster and began to picture himself as a Jarvey.

***

One week later, Draco was a content little ball of white fur, curled up on the floor as rain beat a steady rhythm against his window. He’d managed to transform into a Jarvey the very first night he tried. Already today, he’d mastered the transformation three times and the pride and relief he felt was staggering.

Suddenly with a loud bang, the door to the room flew open and Potter stepped in, tossing down a soaked umbrella and shaking rain off his cloak. Draco hadn’t expected him back this early and his defensive hackles raised in response. Potter immediately spotted Draco on the floor and began to laugh. In fact, Potter was unnaturally delighted at Draco’s state. Alarmed, Draco scampered to the nearest safe place—Potter’s bed, as it were—and burrowed beneath the covers to hide.

The covers were rudely thrown off revealing Giant Potter with a crazed grin on his face. Recoiling at the exposure, Draco skittered back. “Aw! You’re adorable, Malfoy!” Potter cooed.

“Prick-licker, tosspot!” Draco shot back in his little voice. As a Jarvey, Draco wasn’t able to hold a rational argument or prove any sort of point—he just spewed words and made rude observations, intended to hurt. Of course, with Potter here, the insults were naturally directed at him, rather than Draco’s usual random mutterings. Verbal profanity was a Jarvey’s natural defence, much like a cat extending its claws.

Oh yes, Draco had claws, too, and he wasn’t afraid to use them. Raising slightly on his hind legs, Draco showed them off to Potter, intending to scare him. Potter chuckled and Draco wondered how easily his claws would tear Potter’s flesh. “You ratty-haired, arse-licker!”

“Pointy-chinned inbred,” Potter shot back.

“Scar-headed, potty-pisser,” said Draco.

“Poncy, white-haired, little ferret-boy.” Potter looked far too amused and it was clear to Draco that he thought this was a game. If Draco had been human, he would have exercised necessary self-control to ignore Potter—well, maybe—but in Jarvey form, it was impossible.

“Brainless, barmy, blood-traitor orphan!” Draco's tiny voice shouted.

Potter’s amusement faded. “Death Eater scum,” he bit back, nastily.

Draco knew he needed to transform back before he said something too scathing—not that Potter wouldn’t deserve it, baiting Draco like he was. Draco uncurled his lithe body and scampered from the bed, darting to the bathroom door which, he found, was frustratingly shut. Nose first, he attempted to burrow through the crack underneath. When he didn’t fit, Draco clawed wildly at the wood in vain. Finally, he turned helplessly around to plead with Potter. “Double-dustpan hands. Four-eyed prick can’t open a door.”

Potter understood the request and grudgingly opened it. Draco scampered in, thankful when Potter shut the door behind him, and quickly transformed.

When Draco stepped out wearing clean pyjamas, he fixed Potter with a cold glare. “Don’t ever do that again.”

Potter began to splutter indignantly, “Me? Are you joking? You’re the one who—”

“You were fucking with me,” Draco spoke slowly, as if Potter was a toddler, “and you got what you deserved.” Draco huffed. “It’s not like I can control it, Potter, it’s a reaction.”

“It doesn’t matter. You’re still you,” Potter argued back. “You still think those things.”

“No, Potter, I don’t.” Draco gathered his scattered books, quickly tucking away Granger’s hand-written instructions within the pages. “Do you make a habit of taunting animals and then crying when they bite you? It’s a defence—it’s intended to drive you away. A Jarvey isn’t just going to call you a ‘silly, old ninny,’ Potter, it’s going to try and hurt your feelings. I just happen to know all your weak points. So, if you think it’s a funny game to tease me when I’m like that, well.” Draco shrugged. “You’ll get what’s coming to you.”

Potter rolled his eyes, clearly still irritated and turned away to straighten his covers. Draco collapsed onto his own bed, physically and mentally drained.

“Guess you’re right,” Potter finally conceded, sitting at his desk. “I might have overreacted just a bit.”

“Do you think?” Draco snapped.

“But we always argue,” Potter pointed out. “It felt the same.”

“Yes, and I enjoy arguing with you, too, Potter, but . . . time and place.”

“Do you really?” Potter was looking at him, strangely.

“Do I what?”

“Enjoy it, too?”

Draco hadn’t meant to put it quite like that. It was a fucking weird thing to say. Weird, but . . . Potter said ‘too.’ “What, arguing?” Draco asked, hesitantly. “Why, do you?

Potter shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah. I guess I do.”

“You’re barmy, Potter.” Draco couldn’t help snickering. “You know, Pomfrey still has some empty seats for the Mental Health Kick-off Session. Shall I go sign us up?” He gestured toward the door.

Laughing, Potter shook his head. “Oh, no. Hermione would be far too pleased.”

After their laughter faded, Draco said, “She worries about you, you know.” When Potter ignored him, he continued. “You should talk to her.”

All traces of amusement gone, Potter frowned. “It doesn’t concern you.”

“Only it does, when she and Weasel accost me on a daily basis.”

Potter rolled his eyes. “She needs to stop.”

“You might consider yourself lucky, Potter. Some people go their whole lives never having a friend who cares that much. You’ve got two. I’d say that counts for something.”

Potter’s voice lost some of its attitude, but he still sounded snappish. “Since when are you Hermione’s defender, anyway?”

“Since when are you not?” Draco retorted. Potter sunk lower into his desk chair with a look of self-loathing. “You’re not the only person who’s been through something, you know. It’s possible your friends actually need you right now.”

“They’re better off without me.” Potter hung his head in his hands, his words muffled.

Draco climbed to his feet with an eye-roll and moved over toward Potter’s desk. On the way, he snatched his desk chair and dragged it around to face Potter’s. “Obviously, they’re not. Don’t lie to yourself, Potter. That’s what cowards do.”

At that, Potter removed his hands from his face. Then, curiously, he extended his right hand and set it out on the desk before him. Draco followed Potter’s gaze and was stunned and nauseated when he saw what Potter was looking at—how had Draco never noticed it before? Without thinking, Draco snatched Potter’s hand and tugged it toward himself for a closer look. Potter inhaled sharply at the contact, but didn’t try to stop him.

“What the fuck is this?” Draco murmured, tracing the scar with his finger, feeling the pink, slightly-raised letters with a mixture of horror and awe. He lowered Potter’s hand slightly and fixed him with a questioning look, waiting for an explanation. For a moment, Potter looked ready to answer. Then something in Potter’s expression shifted. Before Draco’s mind caught up with the meaning behind the change, Potter placed his hand on the back of Draco’s neck and pulled him in closer.

Terrified to breathe, Draco hung still as Potter hovered mere centimeters from his mouth. Finally, Potter closed the distance, touching his lips to Draco’s so lightly he was sure he’d imagined it.

When Potter kissed him again, this time deeper and more certain, Draco kissed him back.

It felt right—and amazing—and wrong. So very, very wrong.

But Draco had never been good at telling which was which, so he kissed him back again, his mind a whirlwind and his body singing.

Potter broke away, with a gasp. When he did, Draco’s foggy mind seemed to awaken. He pulled away and held out a hand for Potter to stop. “That’s probably—” Draco’s voice cracked and he cleared his throat. “We should probably stop there for now.”

Potter was quiet.

“Don’t you think?” Draco asked in a small voice.

Draco dared to look at him. With relief, he saw Potter’s cheeks were flaming red. Thank Merlin. If Potter turned out to be “Mister Suave” about this whole thing, Draco wasn’t sure he could handle it. As far as he was concerned, what just happened was a really big deal and it was important that Potter feel the same.

Thankfully, Potter looked mortified. “Probably a good idea,” he mumbled.

Unsure of what to do now, Draco fiddled with the items on Potter’s desk and tried to think of something clever to say. “So, the Hogwarts Express—”

“I’m going for a walk.”

“What?” Draco whipped his head up and saw Potter was already half out the door.

“Walk. I’m going for a walk.”

“Oh. Alright then. Bye.”

“Yup, later.”

***

Neither Potter nor Draco had the bollocks to talk about it, so they didn’t—at all. Instead, every potential silence was with filled with meaningless small-talk, effectively paying homage to what happened through every awkward moment of avoidance.

When the innocuous chatter became too much to bear, Draco would transform. A Jarvey’s emotions were simple. Negative, usually, but he was starting to appreciate the ability to shut off his overactive mind and channel all of his confusion into simple anger. As the cause of Draco’s current turmoil, Potter was an easy and obvious target.

Potter also hadn’t taken Draco’s advice about Jarvey-baiting to heart, and rather seemed to have developed a taste for the banter, instead. His eyes would light up maliciously when Draco emerged, newly transformed, looking eager to engage in another verbal spar.

Perhaps it was good for him, Draco reckoned. Certainly, it was the most alive Potter seemed these days, and verbal engagement with the living could only be healthier than the alternative. For Draco, it was definitely good. The ability to transform at will was having a miraculous effect on his daily self-control while providing a guilt-free space in which he could tell Potter exactly what he thought of him.

Draco scampered over to Potter’s bed and clucked, disdainfully, until Potter looked up. “Dreary Inferi, the dead Boy Who Lived,” Draco taunted.

“Get stuffed, rodent face.”

“Addle-brained Potter, the mad little rotter.”

“What are you, Peeves?” Potter took a sip of water, enjoying the entertainment.

“Toady-eyed arse-licker.”

“Yes, you certainly are.” Draco hated when Potter turned his insults around on him.

“Wanker. Wanker. Wanker.”

“Rat-faced, spoiled brat.”

“Mouldy can of spotted dick.”

Potter burst out laughing and water shot out his nose. Draco ran from the spray. “Snotty Potty, boogers for brains!”

“Stop it, Malfoy!” Potter gasped, struggling for air. “Please, I’m choking, I can’t breathe!”

They both eventually stopped when Potter remembered he had to be the first to end it. At some point, Draco hopped onto Potter’s bed, his instincts seeking out the natural warmth of Potter’s body. Draco paraded in a small circle, seeking out a suitable napping spot. Once he found it, he curled into a heap at Potter’s side, tucking his paws beneath his chin.

Later, Draco awoke to a strange pressure behind his ears. Irritated, he blinked up, narrowing his sleepy eyes. Potter smiled gently back down and kept scratching Draco’s ears, his face warm and strangely besotted.

An emotion—something other than irritation—seemed to wash over Draco in a wave. His Jarvey-brain struggled to understand the positive feeling, so Draco didn’t try. Instead, he snuggled closer and allowed Potter to pet him, enjoying the pleasurable, warm sensation it invoked.

Draco dozed in and out, eventually waking in his own bed, human once more. Unsure if Potter had seen him transform back, Draco carefully pulled back the bed-hangings and peeked out.

To his disappointment, Potter was gone.

Draco tried to ignore the feeling of abandonment, telling himself it was stupid—he was stupid—for allowing Potter to have this effect on him. It was unclear if the feeling was human or animal, only that it was confusing and painful in any form.

***

The following day, Draco resolved to keep Potter in the room with him. He invented the excuse of a lengthy, last-minute Arithmancy assignment and followed Potter out of the Great Hall to demand his immediate help.

“Hey, Potter,” Draco said, catching up to Potter in the corridor that lead up to the Main Entrance.

Potter spun around, irritated. “What?”

“I need your help with something,” Draco said. “With an Arithmancy essay,” he added. He hadn’t really thought this through, just knew that he needed to stop Potter from doing whatever it was he was doing and get him to stay with Draco. “Professor Vector just assigned us four feet on the number thirteen.”

“I’m busy. Leave me alone.”

“Please, Potter?” Draco reached out a hand to stop him, and was stunned when Potter smacked him away.

“Find someone else, I said I’m busy.”

Potter started walking off again and Draco followed. “Wait, Potter—”

“I said get lost, Malfoy!” Without warning, Potter drew his wand and fired Draco with a Knockback Jinx.

The sharp blow sent Draco stumbling painfully into the wall. “What the fuck!” Draco managed, once he could breathe. Glaring daggers at Potter, Draco reached for his own wand. For one startling moment, he could have sworn Potter’s eyes changed colour, but a second later they were green again and glowering at him nastily. “Fuck it.” Draco stashed his wand in the pocket of his robes and shook his head in disgust. “Merlin, you have problems, Potter.”

Potter looked suitably ashamed. Just when Draco was certain he’d apologize, Potter turned away, stalking off down the corridor.

“Arsehole,” Draco called after him.

Potter’s behaviour was ridiculous and he was out of control. Draco rubbed at his smarting shoulder and made up his mind. He’d have to tell Granger. It was for Potter’s own good.

***

The next morning, Draco made an unusual appearance at breakfast, silently praying that he wouldn’t embarrass himself. He was surprised when Goyle materialized at the Slytherin table and dropped into the seat across from him. Goyle had off on Thursdays, he thought, and usually left Hogwarts.

Goyle fixed him with a hard stare. “Draco, your mum asked my mum to ask me how you’re doing.”

Draco almost dropped the knife in the marmalade, but caught it with fumbling fingers. “She did?” Fine-motor progress was slow, but it was happening. Granger promised the potion would be ready in a few more days, and she swore it would help.

“Yeah. I couldn’t answer her.”

Draco tried to read the intensely neutral expression on Goyle’s face. “Why not?”

Goyle just looked at him for a long moment. Then he stood with force, tore the toast from Draco’s hand and tossed it across the table. Draco stared back in stunned silence as nearby students gawked at them, staring and laughing. “Toast, toast, always toast!” Goyle exclaimed.

“Goyle!” Draco wasn’t really sure what to do with this version of him. Goyle was always calm to a fault. Displays of emotion were rare and unnerving—mostly because one couldn’t tell if he was upset or joking.

“Stop it with the toast, already!”

Draco fidgeted awkwardly with his butter knife. “Are you . . . angry?” he guessed.

“Angry!” Goyle yanked the butter knife from Draco’s hands and tossed that down, too. It skittered across the table and hit a jug of juice with a clatter. “Why would I be angry?”

“I don’t know,” Draco said slowly, “but you seem angry.”

“Only I don’t know how you’re doing,” grunted Goyle, his face still a mask. “And I didn’t know what to tell my mum to tell your mum. ‘Cause I don’t know,” he added.

“Um.” Draco looked at him carefully as he retrieved his toast. “Would you like me to tell you?”

“Yes,” Goyle barked.

“Okay . . . well, I’m fine,” said Draco. “You can tell her that.”

Goyle’s eyes grew round as saucers. “You want me to lie to my mum?”

“No.” Draco took a cautious bite and swallowed. “You don’t think I’m fine?”

Goyle breathed in and out of his nose like a bull. Finally, he said, “No.”

At this point, they had garnered a lot of attention and Draco didn’t particularly want an audience for this sort of conversation. “Maybe we ought to talk about this somewhere private,” he said through gritted teeth.

Goyle nodded his head up and down a few times, never taking his eyes off Draco.

Draco rose from the bench.

“Take your toast,” Goyle said menacingly. Not wanting to provoke him further, Draco picked up his toast and carefully made his way to the door. To be honest, he was a little frightened of Goyle at the moment.

When they reached a patch of flowers by the third Greenhouse, Goyle stilled, crossing his arms and stared.

Draco was starting to grow annoyed by the theatrics. “Well?” he asked.

“I’ve been talking with Hagrid,” Goyle said. “Helping him get ready for the next unit. D’you want to know what we’re studying next unit, Draco?” He kicked one of the flowers, breaking the bulb from the stem and grinding it into the dirt with the toe of his boot. “Do you?” he asked again.

“What?”

“Jarveys.”

Draco honestly expected a lecture from Goyle on proper eating. He never thought his friend would have figured this out. Granger, perhaps, but Goyle? Draco swallowed, feeling sick. If Goyle knew, who else knew?

“What do you think about that?”

“That’s nice.”

“What do you really think about it, Draco?”

“Well, actually,” Draco hedged, “I’d like to know why you think it’s relevant?”

“Do you think I’m stupid?” Goyle asked. “D’you think Hogwarts’d let me do a field study if I was stupid?” Goyle took a step closer and lowered his voice, threateningly. “Or, I don’t know, maybe you do, Draco, considering the way you still talk to Professor Hagrid even though you know I’m his apprentice!”

Draco frowned. “To be honest, I didn’t think it bothered you.”

“I know you didn’t,” said Goyle. “Because you only think of yourself.”

“That isn’t fair.”

“And you’re still keeping things from me. Do I need to drag the truth out of you?” Goyle held his wand in front of Draco’s nose. “You know I still can.”

Draco did know, because he’d watched Goyle do it to a number of students last year. He’d been the Carrows' favourite puppet.

“Well?” Goyle barked.

Swallowing, Draco dropped his head and whispered, “Are you going to hate me if I tell you?”

“No!” Goyle all but shouted, his hands in two fists at his sides. “I’m gonna kill you if you don’t!”

“Fine,” said Draco. He took a deep breath and exhaled. “I’m a Jarvey.”

“I know!” yelled Goyle so loudly Draco flinched back from the force of it. “Merlin, Draco. Eat your fucking toast before you pass out.”

***

Goyle had suspected it from the day he’d dropped Draco off on Platform 9 ¾. He’d known for certain when Draco had his first episode in Care of Magical Creatures.

Draco hated to admit it, but he’d wildly underestimated Goyle’s intelligence. At the same time, he was grateful that Goyle knew. It was a relief to have someone other than a Gryffindor to talk to. Goyle also said he’d help Draco break the news to Mother. If Draco’s mouth hadn’t been stuffed full of toast at the time, he might have kissed him.

As it was, Draco just wanted to kiss Potter. Even after that horrible Jinx. So, when Potter met him after lunch, casual as can be, Draco decided not to mention yesterday’s incident, hoping they could just move on. Especially since he actually had a lengthy assignment that he needed Potter’s help with and didn’t want to bite the hand that scribed for him, so to speak.

Plus, he had a plan and it wouldn’t work if Potter didn’t trust him.

When they finished working, Potter grew strangely awkward and began yammering on about how much he hated to wash the dishes and how he never wanted to wash them again. Draco told him, “So, get a House-Elf” but Potter just kept on repeating that no one could make him wash dishes again. Immediately bored with the conversation, Draco transformed into a Jarvey to channel his frustration at Potter appropriately.

But instead of engaging in their usual banter, Potter just sat on the edge of his bed with a frown, fidgeting with something in his pocket. Draco scampered around the room and tried to get Potter to insult him. He jumped on Potter’s bed and messed up his pillow arrangement. He knocked all of the books off Potter’s lower shelf. Draco tried to tunnel under Potter’s bent knees and chattered angrily when Potter ruined the tunnel by drawing his legs up onto the bed. Then he climbed onto Potter’s lap and nosed in his pockets before trying to claw him to death, but Potter simply lifted Draco up and rudely dropped him to the floor to continue his brooding.

Potter’s behaviour bothered him and his mood seemed darker and more strange than usual.

“Cry-baby Potter.” Draco tunnelled out of Potter’s laundry pile, most of it now in shreds.

Potter finally looked over, his gaze distant.

“Brooding baby Potter, dim-witted kissing coward.”

Potter blinked, his vision suddenly clearing. “Huh?”

“Cries baby tears and kisses boys. Scaredy Saint Potter.”

Potter tensed and Draco rejoiced in the negative attention, carrying on without thinking about what he was saying. “Fairy-boy blighter. Kisses blokes he slashes. Cry-baby bloke-kisser.”

“Er—” Potter looked suddenly uncomfortable and stood to leave. “Right. Anyway, I’ll see you, Malfoy. Please don’t shred anything else.” He started crossing the room.

The immediate threat of losing Potter had Draco scurrying to the bathroom and transforming in an instant. Unable to find a change of pyjamas, Draco snatched the nearest towel and sprinted after Potter, just as he was shutting the door.

“Potter, wait!” Draco latched onto the door and flung it back open.

“What is it?” Potter spoke quietly.

“I need to talk to you.” Draco’s mind was still half-ferret, so he wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing. Only that he wanted Potter to stay. Potter had to stay. Draco wanted to curl up next to him and not be abandoned. He wanted to kiss Potter again and he was tired of pretending that it hadn’t happened.

“I’m busy,” said Potter with flat determination in his eyes. “We can talk later.”

“We can talk now,” Draco said. When Potter didn’t budge, Draco huffed in irritation, pulled Potter by the collar of his shirt and kissed him.

Potter stumbled back, looking embarrassed. “Erm. What—what’d you wanna talk about then?”

Draco gestured a hand between them. “This.”

“Oh,” Potter said with a smirk. “You mean this?” Without warning, Potter shoved Draco back into the room, kicking the door shut behind him with his foot. He grabbed Draco’s chin roughly with one hand, yanked him closer and kissed him hard enough to bruise.

Draco nearly fainted. “Yes, that,” he managed.

“What about it?”

Potter was giving Draco all of his attention now and it was hard to think straight. “Well, what the fuck is it?” Draco managed, as Potter dragged him, staggering, over to his bed.

“You know what it is,” Potter said, tugging Draco down to his Gryffindor covers. Draco pulled away after hitting the mattress, thinking they really ought to talk about this as things were all moving very fast and Potter’s radical mood shift was probably a sign of mental instability.

“Potter,” he breathed, holding tight to his towel. Potter’s expression was dark and unreadable. Unable to speak, Draco quickly gave up and moved back in for more.

Fingers ran along Draco’s arms, from shoulder to elbow, making him shiver with the lightness of their touch.

Suddenly, Potter’s hand latched tightly onto Draco’s forearm—his left one—and it was as if someone dumped a bucket of cold water over his head. Draco jerked back, yanking his arm away and cradling it protectively against his chest. The touch had felt intentional and violating, and that was so not on. “What the fuck, Potter?” Draco spat.

“I let you touch my scars, remember? It’s only fair.” Potter’s face was odd. He blinked up, his eyes emotionless.

Draco choked out a humourless laugh. “This is completely different.”

“How is it different?” asked Potter. “It is just a scar, isn’t it?” His voice lowered to a reverent murmur. “Or does it still work?”

Draco just stared.

“If you wanted to,” Potter leaned closer, his eyes locked on Draco’s arm, “could you Summon the others?”

Draco stood up, backing away from Potter. “It doesn’t work like that.”

“How do you know?” Potter said in a hushed voice. “Have you tried?”

“Is this a joke?” Draco stumbled in his haste to get away as Potter advanced on him, a predatory grin on his face.

“How can you know for sure unless you try?” Potter asked. “Come on, Malfoy. Don’t you trust me?”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Draco reached for his wand and trained it on Potter.

The flat look on Potter’s face morphed into a scowl. “What are you talking about?”

“What am I talking about? Potter, I don’t give a shite who you are. Don’t you ever fuck with my Dark Mark,” Draco was shaking with rage and confusion. “Ever.”

Potter’s expression changed completely, as if he were waking up. “You’re sick, Malfoy.”

Draco just shook his head. “You’re crazy, Potter.”

“Why would you even say something like that?”

“Have you hit your head?”

“I wish,” Potter snapped. He shot a disgusted look at Draco’s arm. “Keep that nasty thing covered up, why don’t you?”

Humiliated, Draco snatched a jumper off the back of his chair and began tugging it on. “Gladly.”

Minutes later, Draco sat on his bed with arms wrapped around his knees. He tried to control the shaking, certain he’d never been more embarrassed in his life.

A shadow crossed over his covers and he froze. Potter was just standing there. Draco tried to ignore him, but finally snapped, “Come to gawk at me some more?”

“Why’d we stop?” asked Potter.

Slowly, Draco lifted his head. “Are you serious?” Potter sure looked it. The honest confusion on Potter’s face was actually frightening. Suspicion began to dawn on Draco and he sincerely hoped he was wrong. “What do you remember?” Draco asked quietly.

“Kissing.” Potter looked embarrassed and glanced away. “And then you pushed me off you.” He frowned, sounding bitter. “And you started shouting about your Dark Mark and saying you didn’t care who I was.”

It was getting harder to ignore the dread pooling in Draco’s stomach. Potter’s behaviour was more than out of character. He hadn’t been himself. “Is that it?”

Potter nodded slowly.

Draco’s voice cracked as he struggled with the next words, the memory still fresh and horrifying. “So. You’re saying you don’t remember,” Draco swallowed, “grabbing onto my Dark Mark and trying to make me Summon Death Eaters for you. Is that right?”

Potter paled, stepping back. “That never happened, Malfoy.”

“Potter.” Draco’s voice was tight. “It happened.”

“But—”

“It’s that fucking Stone,” Draco spat. “You don’t even know what it’s doing to you!”

Potter shook his head.

“Are you intentionally obtuse?” Draco snapped.

“It’s not—!”

“Just shut up, Potter, it is! It’s the fucking Stone—either that or you’re fucking mental! Don’t tell me it isn’t, because you don’t even know. You don’t even remember.” A sudden thought occurred to him. “Do you remember Jinxing me in the corridor yesterday?”

Potter just looked at him.

Draco laughed, unamused. “Thought not. Merlin, Potter. You realized what’s happened?”

Potter’s features tightened.

“Remind you at all of your little girlfriend, second year?”

“That’s impossible. Voldemort’s dead.”

“Oh?” Draco feigned surprise. “And here I thought you had some funny, little way of talking to the dead. My mistake.” Recognition dawned in Potter’s eyes and he shook his head more. “Potter, you have to get rid of it.”

“I need to get out of here.” Potter started backing away. Draco jumped from the bed and ran to block the door. “Move.”

“You’re fucking kidding me.” Draco covered the door handle and leaned against it. “Potter, tell me you are not going off to play with it again!”

“I’m not.” Potter’s arms were crossed tight.

“Oh, you liar. You are so.”

Potter sighed. “Look. Let’s say I do believe you—”

“Do you?”

“I don’t know! Either way, it’s a lot to take in. I just need some air, need to think.”

“Right.”

“Really.” Potter shut his eyes. “Please, move. Don’t make me beg.”

Draco slowly let go of the door handle, still not trusting Potter, but hating how broken he looked. “Fine. Don’t do anything stupid.”

“I won’t.”

“Potter,” Draco called back after him, “just get rid of it.”

Potter shifted uncomfortably. “I’ll think about it.”

Two minutes after Potter left, Draco moved to the pile of shredded laundry. He kicked it aside and dropped to his knees, rifling through it with his fingers. There. Glinting amidst the remains of shredded trousers was the Resurrection Stone, just where Draco had hidden it.

Jarveys, like Hufflepuffs, were particularly good finders. Also, Potter was terrible at protecting his pockets.

***

“Malfoy, I told the you the potion wouldn’t be ready until tomorrow night.”

Certain that they were alone in the Eighth Year Common Room, Draco reached into his pocket without preamble, fished out the Resurrection Stone and presented it to Granger.

“Where on Earth—”

“Just take it,” Draco said. “Get rid of it, or something, but keep it away from Potter.”

Granger just gaped at the Stone and then at Draco. “Malfoy, is this what I think it is?”

Draco gave a sharp nod. “Potter’s had it all year.”

“You’re giving this to me?”

Draco glared at her. “Well, it’s not like I hadn’t considered keeping it. But I happen to believe the dead should stay dead.”

“You could have sold it,” Granger mused, her eyes shining oddly as she held the Stone up to the firelight. “Or traded it.”

“Yes, I realize that. But if it fell into the wrong hands . . . the last thing we need is another Dark Lord.” Draco closed his eyes. “Help me out here, Granger. I’m trying to do the right thing.” He could still Stun her, Obliviate her and run, if he changed his mind.

“What’s all this, then?”

Draco and Granger looked up quickly and saw Weasel approaching, his eyes boggling.

“Fuck,” Draco exhaled.

“Hermione, what is that?” Weasel tripped over himself to squeeze next to her on the oversized armchair. He reached for the Resurrection Stone and then pulled his hand back. “Did Malfoy give you that? It’s some dark talisman! Don’t take it! Are you mad?”

Granger looked at Draco. “I have to tell him,” she said simply.

“Of course you do.” Draco rolled his eyes and started to leave.

“We’ll get rid of it,” Granger promised.

“What is it?” asked Weasley. Then he let out a short laugh. “Looks a bit like the Resurrection Stone, doesn’t it?”

Draco gave Granger a hard look before heading back to their room.

***

Draco awoke to the sound of crashes and bangs. He pulled back his bed-curtains.

“Where is it?” Potter was hysterical, throwing open cabinets and upturning drawers, like a madman. Clothing and books were strewn about the room as Potter continued to tear through everything.

“Potter, get a grip!” Scrambling out of bed, Draco grabbed his wand, trying to set things back to rights but the level of Potter’s destruction was too great. He gave up, aimed his wand at Potter and blasted him back onto his bed.

Potter struggled up, momentarily subdued, while still frantically yelling. “Where is it? You stole it, you fucking thief! I know it was you, where is it?”

“Stop, Potter!” Draco Disarmed him, tossing Potter’s wand away and pinning him down on the bed. “Stop! Potter, this is our room! What are you doing?”

“Give it back, Malfoy!” Potter spat, his face livid.

“Get a hold of yourself!” Draco shouted, a little bit afraid. Potter was definitely Potter—not some dark creature again—but Draco knew better than most what an aggressive Potter was capable of. “I don’t have it and even if I did, you’re behaving like a fucking lunatic! Just stop it and calm down!”

Potter made a choking sound like a sob and covered his face.

Draco awkwardly loosened his grip and moved away. Pretending to busy himself, Draco tried to clean the room, never taking his eyes off Potter. After a few moments, Potter seemed calm and Draco took a hesitant step back toward him. “So . . . you lost it?”

“Malfoy, give it back.”

“Potter. I don’t have it.”

Please.”

“I. Don’t. Have it.”

“Do you swear?”

“Potter,” Draco spoke quietly, sitting down on Potter’s bed. “I swear. And anyway, it’s for the best. You’re obsessed. You were practically killing yourself.”

“Who cares?”

“Your little friends would, I’m sure. They’ve only spent seven years trying to keep your arse alive.”

“I’m dead already.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “No, you’re not dead, but if you keep going like this you will be.”

Potter squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed. “I don’t expect you to understand. But I don’t belong here. I belong with them—with my parents and Sirius. Not here, not anymore. It isn’t natural.”

“Nothing about you is natural. You defied death when you were one,” Draco pointed out.

“That doesn’t make me feel better.”

Draco wasn’t sure why, but he had the sudden need to prove to Potter that he was alive . . . and perhaps a need to prove to himself that the real Potter—not whatever he’d been with a few hours ago—found him desirable despite everything. Either way, adrenaline surged through his veins, making him reckless, and he kissed Potter squarely on the forehead.

Potter shifted back slightly and stared at Draco. Draco wasn’t sure what Potter would do next. He waited to be hexed or punched in the face, all the while strangely exhilarated under Potter’s full attention.

“Why would you do that?” Potter whispered, finally. “After what happened before?”

“Have you ever been kissed by a dead person?” Draco asked. “Myrtle tried before, it was disgusting.”

“Ew.”

Draco leaned down and kissed him again. This time on the mouth.

To Draco’s surprise, Potter hesitantly returned it.

Draco pulled back and turned away. “See?” he choked. “You can’t be dead. That wasn’t disgusting at all.”

Potter started laughing. When warmth spread through Draco like he hadn’t felt in years, he was reminded that he, too, was living. Curiously, he glanced over at Potter and saw a similar physical response. Draco raised his eyebrows. “No. Very much alive, I see.”

Potter paled and tugged the covers over him. “Malfoy . . .”

“Just how alive are you, I wonder?” Draco was astounded at his own forward behavior. “Shall we find out?” He paused. “Or is that Ginny Weasley’s department?”

“No, that’s—” Potter coughed in shock. “We’re not. We can… we can find out.”

“We can?” Draco blinked.

“Um. Er-yeah. Sure.” Potter swallowed. “Just tell me what to do.”

Draco thought hard about what he’d read once in Marcus Flint’s very inappropriate instruction manual. Fuck, he couldn’t remember . . . it was just an embarrassing jumble of positions and diagrams and legs all over the place . . . what if he messed up? He didn’t want to scare Potter off, or Merlin forbid, hurt him.

Through Draco’s heightened nerves came that familiar ripple of dangerous Jarvey emotion.

Shite—what if Draco transformed in the middle . . . Oh God. He still wasn’t in full control of himself. He couldn’t do this! What was he thinking?

“You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?” Potter finally said.

Draco turned away, panicking. “Shut up, Potter! I do so.”

“It’s fine.” Potter placed a hand on Draco’s shoulder. “I don’t really, either. We can just . . . make it up as we go along?”

“What if we’re doing it wrong?”

Potter wrinkled his forehead. “I don’t think you can,” he said slowly. “Just do what you feel like doing and . . . if it hurts or something we’ll stop.”

Draco really noticed Potter, then, just as vulnerable as himself and blinking owlishly without his glasses. The sudden full weight of Draco’s attraction to Potter was staggering. How had Draco never realized how badly he wanted him before? Suddenly touching Potter was everything. And if touching was all he could manage, well, he couldn’t lose this opportunity.

“Fine,” Draco agreed, panting slightly. He placed a hand on Potter’s chest, pressing against the warm cotton of his T-shirt. “Let’s see it then, Potter,” he ordered.

Potter just looked at him.

“Pull it out, I said.”

“Pull yours out,” Potter shot back.

“You first. On three?”

Potter just stared at him. Then he started to snicker.

Draco pulled back, unsure of what was so funny. “What?”

“Are you serious?”

“You said there’s no wrong way to do it,” Draco snapped. Potter was still laughing. “What?”

“Nothing,” Potter laughed, covering his eyes. “Just—on three?”

“You’re very immature. Forget it, then.”

Potter shook his head, his expression fond and exasperated. “Fine, whatever, Malfoy. On three, then.” Potter readied his hands around the waistband of his pajamas. “One, two—”

Draco let out an embarrassing snort and covered his face with his hands.

“What now?” Potter asked, eyes wide.

“I’m sorry, you’re right.”

“It was your idea!” Potter joined Draco in helpless laughter, his cheeks bright red.

“I think we’re overthinking this.” Draco felt another surge of unbalanced heat and clenched his fists for a moment, taking deep, controlled breaths to calm down. “Hold on.”

“You okay?” Potter asked, concern overshadowing his amusement.

Draco gave a tight nod and held up a hand for Potter to wait a moment longer while he fought off the urge to transform. Finally, Draco said, “I don’t know, actually. I’m not sure. I mean—” he rushed on when Potter looked upset, “I want to, I just . . . feel a little . . . I still don’t have these transformations under control yet, and I don’t want anything to . . . happen.”

“Oh. Well, that makes sense,” Potter said. “Do whatever’s comfortable.”

“Maybe we should start small . . . just with you?” Draco suggested.

Potter gave him a look. “Oh, believe me, Malfoy, there’s nothing small about it.” Potter raised a suggestive eyebrow.

Draco shoved him. “Potter, you slag!” And then Potter, laughing again, broke the tension by grabbing Draco and kissing him.

***

Potter wasn’t lying. There was nothing small about it.

And Draco couldn’t stop thinking about it. Harry Potter, completely undone, because of Draco.

Potter’s taste was still in his mouth hours later. Merlin, it had been so fucking hot. Potter was more than willing to return the favour, and fuck, Draco wanted him to, but couldn’t risk it.

It was depressing. Draco never considered his affliction might have sexual implications but, really, what the fuck was he to do with this? Merlin, he hoped Granger’s potion worked. Otherwise, he would die a virgin.

***

When Draco awoke the next morning, he was pleased to find that Potter had spent the whole night in their room. Perhaps Granger and Weasley really had managed to destroy the Resurrection Stone or hide it where Potter would never look.

Draco kept his eyes trained on Potter in the Great Hall during breakfast. Potter seemed distracted, but looked at Draco once or twice to give him a small, awkward grin.

An Owl arrived from Draco’s mum that morning, too. It was simple and not overly revealing, but clearly invited him to spend the winter holidays at home. Thrilled, he looked for Goyle and then for Potter to share the news, but both had left the Great Hall at that point.

When Potter never arrived to Transfigurations, though, a nervousness settled into Draco’s stomach. When he failed to show up in Care of Magical Creatures, too, Draco felt a bit nauseated. After class, Draco raced back to their room, but Potter wasn’t there, either, and there was no sign of his usual quick departure. In fact, everything looked to be in the same place as it had been that morning—ransacked, but otherwise, untouched.

Concerned, Draco began to rifle through Potter’s items, searching for any clue as to where he’d gone. When his eyes fell upon Potter’s Magical Map, he snatched it up without a thought and tried the words that Granger told him.

The Map was marvellous—amazing—but Potter’s name wasn’t anywhere on it and Draco didn’t have time to play around with it. Draco stuffed the Map in his pocket and went looking for Granger.

He found her speaking in urgent whispers with Weasley in the Charms Corridor. “I haven’t seen Potter all day,” Draco stated, causing them both to look up.

She and Weasley exchanged a nervous glance. “Neither have we,” Granger admitted, worried.

“Have you checked the room?” asked Weasley.

“He’s not there. If this Map thing actually works,” Draco yanked it out of his pocket and shook it around, “then Potter’s left the school. I’ve checked it over three times and he’s not on here anywhere.”

“Where’d you get that?” Weasel yelped, reaching for it. Granger smacked his arm away and rounded on him.

“Ron,” said Granger carefully, grabbing Weasley by the shoulders. “Where did you say you put the Resurrection Stone?”

Weasley shrugged. “I didn’t say. It’s hidden. Safe. He won’t find it.”

Granger’s eyes narrowed. “Ron . . . please tell me you didn’t hide it in the Room of Requirement.”

Weasley paled, then gave Draco a suspicious look. “I’m not telling him.” Then in lower tones, “And besides . . . what’s wrong with that?”

“Honestly, Ronald!” She smacked him again and Weasley flinched back. “It’s the first place he’s going to look. If you put it there, Harry clearly found it since he’s off the Map.”

Draco looked between them. “Why would that put him off the Map?” he asked, anxiously.

Granger looked extremely concerned. She sighed. “Because you were off the Map, Malfoy, all Sixth Year—”

“Don’t tell him that!” Weasel shouted. “You’re giving all our secrets away to a Slytherin.”

Granger huffed. “Nevermind. We have to go.” She made an irritated face at Weasley and snapped, “To the Room of Requirement, then?”

Weasel scowled, then deflated. “Yeah. Come on.”

They took off at a run and Draco just stared after them, baffled. Was this how Gryffindors did it, then? Just sprinted off into battle head first without a plan?

At the end of the corridor, Weasel called over his shoulder, “Well, are you coming, Malfoy, or aren’t you?”

Draco rolled his eyes, grabbed his wand and jogged after them.

***

Draco, Granger and Weasel stepped into the Room of Hidden Things with their wands aloft, breathless from running. It was astounding how the Room had built up since the Fiendfyre destroyed it. Either there were a lot of students with things to hide or the Room just created things to fill the space.

Potter was sitting in a five-legged pink armchair about thirty feet away, looking comfortable as can be. “I was wondering when you’d arrive.” Potter stood and stepped forward, his face polite and body shimmering oddly, as if not quite real. He tapped his wand loosely against his palm. It was that weird, creepy version of Potter again—the one that tried to touch Draco’s Dark Mark, except that this Potter was semi-solid, ghost-like.

“Harry?” Granger asked tentatively.

“I’ll admit,” Potter drawled, his tone strangely unctuous, sounding pleased, “I didn’t expect all three of you here. Well done, Draco.”

Weasley and Granger stared at him, accusingly. Draco shook his head, taken aback. “I didn’t—I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

“Hiding the Resurrection Stone in the Room of Requirement?” Potter laughed. “Brilliant. Nice move.” He gestured grandly. “Couldn’t have picked a more obvious spot if I tried.”

“That’s not Harry,” Weasley growled under his breath, clutching his wand tighter.

“Who is it?” Granger whispered back. Neither one of them took their eyes off him.

“I know who that is,” Weasley answered with a sneer. “I recognize him from the Locket. It’s a Shade. Where’s Harry?” he demanded, louder.

“What are you going to do, Blood-traitor?” The Shade smirked at Weasley’s wand which was aimed at him, barely trembling. “Kill me again?” He chuckled and looked around. “I’m already dead. Might as well give up.”

“Don’t trust him,” Weasley muttered. “No matter how real it seems, he’ll try and trick you. Don’t trust anything he says.”

“Draco,” the Shade turned to him and smiled—it was an ugly smile and Draco hated the way it made his skin crawl—but it was Harry’s face and he still felt unwittingly attracted. “You’ve been feeling lost, you believed I lost my power after the battle. It’s regrettable, but understandable. Still. Malfoys are always loyal to their family . . . and to their bloodline. Come closer, let me help you remember.”

“Don’t!” cried Granger.

“You called me Draco,” Draco heard himself say. The Shade was speaking in Potter’s voice, but his tone and annunciation were disturbingly, creepily familiar. It was a voice he’d never defied before—never dared.

“Always so much like your father,” the Shade continued, stepping toward Draco, “but slightly more of a coward, though that’s always been the Malfoy way. Yet, all can be forgiven if you come to me now. After all, you’ve given me your loyalty—sworn it for life, if I recall.”

Draco swallowed hard. “Who are you?”

“Oh, Draco, you know who I am.” The Shade smirked at him and then at Granger. “And my favourite little Mudblood-at-large, Hermione Granger. Found you at last.”

“You’re dead!” Weasley choked out. “We destroyed every last bit of you.”

“And so you did,” replied the Shade—Voldemort—and Draco was sure now that’s who this was. “But dear Harry Potter just couldn’t say goodbye to the part of himself he knew best—the part that gave him his power as a baby—that made him special. He was nothing without me,” he chuckled. “One truly cannot survive without the other, it seems. Such is the pity. Oh, well. Not so much of a win for him, after all, was it?”

Harry!” Granger shrieked, suddenly.

Draco looked over and saw why she was shouting. Potter—the real Potter—was lying in a heap behind a floating bookcase about twenty feet away, the Resurrection Stone clutched weakly in one hand. From where Draco was standing, he looked dead. Draco wobbled, thinking his knees might give out beneath him. “Merlin,” he breathed.

“What did you do to him?” Weasley spat.

“Oh, Potter did that to himself,” said the Shade with a shrug, crossing closer to Potter, his wand—Potter’s wand—held tightly now in his hand. “I only told him the truth. Let him know he didn’t need to keep pretending—that he could cross over, if he wanted, and reunite with his dear loved ones where he belongs, on other side of the Veil. By the end, Potter begged me for help. He gave me his power willingly.”

Granger ran toward Potter with an anguished cry and then, as if hitting a wall, was blasted back off her feet and crumpled to the ground.

“You’re all welcome to join him,” said the Shade. “I do prefer a Pure-blood’s life-force, but at the moment, I’m not being choosy.” He gave Potter’s body a disgusted look. “That thing over there is just a shell. Once the body is drained of its life-force, Potter and I will be fully reunited. Together we’ll be unstoppable. We’ll use our power for good, of course. Potter will be whole again. And you can join us.”

“Accio Resurrection Stone!” Weasley shouted. The Stone got as far as the invisible wall and ricocheted off thin air, bouncing back to the floor and skittering across the stone to the Shade’s feet. Clearly, Wards had been raised throughout the Room, separating them from the Shade and Potter.

They were all going to die, Draco realized. Stupid Potter and his stupid obsession with the dead. How could he have allowed this to happen? Draco looked back at Potter’s body on the floor and swallowed. Did Potter have any sort of chance left? What could they do for him now? Perhaps Draco could simply wish Voldemort dead—this was the Room of Requirement, after all. Of course, if that worked, Draco wouldn’t have wasted eight agonizing months trying to repair that damn Vanishing Cabinet.

Draco wished, anyway. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work. But the Shade seemed to have noticed and began laughing. “Come closer, Draco,” he commanded in Potter’s voice. Terrified, Draco did.

“Don’t trust him, Malfoy!” shouted Weasley.

“I wasn’t lying before,” the Shade said, ignoring Weasley. Draco felt its magic rub ghostly fingers down his forearm and, revolted, drew his arm protectively against his chest. “Together, we can Summon the others. Your Mark and my Magic . . . let’s reunite our Death Eaters.” His green eyes shone greedily.

“I don’t think so,” Draco managed to say.

The eyes pierced him. “Haven’t you sworn your loyalty?” The Shade sounded gentle and vicious in the same moment and suddenly, Draco felt that horribly familiar probing in the front of his mind. He fought desperately, trying to Occlude, but the Shade knew he was hiding something. Finally the pressure subsided, and Draco stumbled back, clutching his head. “You always were a challenge to read, Draco,” murmured the Shade, “but tonight your defences seem weaker than usual. I wonder why?”

Panicking, Draco tried harder to shield his mind, but it was true, his emotions were all over the place and his walls were a mess. Desperate to keep Voldemort out of his mind, Draco gave into instinct and did the only thing he could think of to turn off his emotions and protect himself.

The Room of Requirement grew as Draco shrunk, clawing to free himself from his robes.

The Shade jumped back, actually in shock.

“What the bloody hell?” Draco heard the Weasel gasp. “Ferret!”

“Bite me, Weasel.” Draco shot back. Granger was rousing on the floor, blinking at him and rubbing her head.

“But, what is this?” the Shade asked, looking unhappy. “Potter didn’t tell me this.”

There were so many things Draco wanted to shout back. So many wonderful insults and professions of hatred. But somehow, even as a Jarvey, he knew he needed to stay focused. The Wards shimmered clearly in Draco’s focused vision and he could easily see where the cracks and holes of the Shade’s weakened magic had missed. Draco scampered through them over to Potter, elated when the Wards didn’t stop him. He nudged Potter’s hand with his nose. When Potter didn’t move, Draco snatched the Resurrection Stone up in his sharp teeth, deftly dodging a curse from the Shade and running straight for Weasel. Weasel reached out for the Stone, and Draco spit it into his palm, quickly turning back to the Shade and growling.

Draco zipped back through the shimmering Wards and headed for Potter.

“Four-eyes!” Draco nipped at Potter’s ear, trying to wake him, diving away from another curse. “Scar-head!”

“It’s no use, Jarvey,” the Shade said. “Pathetic Malfoys. Always cowering at the robes of the most powerful figure.” He sighed and rolled his eyes. “Stop wasting your time, Draco, and join me. I’m sure I can still find use for a rodent somewhere in my ranks. Wormtail always managed. I’ve made allowances for plenty of other beasts.”

Draco reared on his hind legs and growled at him. “Noseless Half-Blood orphan!” He couldn’t help it.

“Come over here, you filthy, cowardly rat.” The Shade looked fully irritated now, all traces of placid amusement gone from his stolen face.

The Shade was weak, Draco suddenly realized. The Wards weren’t just to keep them from Potter—they were for the Shade’s own protection. Sure, he had Potter’s wand, but he didn’t have all of Potter’s power. Weasley was right, the Shade was lying. Potter still had time, Draco was sure of it, else the Shade wouldn’t be trying to keep them away.

Which meant, they needed to get Potter to safety and they needed to destroy the Stone. Well, Draco had no fucking clue how to do that, but he could work on the first thing, at least. As a human. He could dismantle the Wards as a human. Which meant he needed to transform . . . in front of everyone.

Weasley and Granger were Casting wildly now, attempting to break through the barrier, but only managing to make a mess of their random spell-fire. There was no time for modesty. Draco had to act fast. He could always Obliviate them, right?

Draco scampered back to where his clothing lay and focused his mind on the human transformation. Seconds later, he was both human and naked—sitting on his heaped robes in front of Weasley, Granger and the Dark Lord in the middle of their rapid wand-fire.

“Merlin’s balls! Is Malfoy starkers?” yelped Weasley.

“Oh, Malfoy!” Granger cried, covering the side of her face with one hand, but not after managing to get an eyeful first.

Draco awkwardly tried to scramble into his robes with one arm while attempting to dismantle the Wards with the other. It wasn’t working well.

“I’m blinded by all the white!” Weasley cried. “It hurts!”

“Shut up, Ron, you arse! Don’t worry about it, Malfoy, there’s no time!”

With an embarrassed huff, Draco stood, wrapped his robes around his waist like a towel and began Casting with full strength, taking down the Wards to the best of his ability. Once he was certain he had a clear path, Draco ran back over toward Potter, deflecting a stray curse from the Shade, and casting a Charm to make Potter lighter.

“Expelliarmus!” he heard Granger cry.

Without another thought, Draco hefted Potter into his arms—it was safer than trying to Levitate him, at this point—and ran awkwardly toward the door of the Room. As the Duel ensued behind him, he opened the door, staggering into the corridor with Potter, and dropping him with a huff under the painting of the dancing trolls.

What was Draco supposed to do now, he panicked. Should he go back? Take Potter to Pomfrey? Run for his fucking life? Put his clothes on, maybe?

Yeah. Yes. He’d put his clothes on. That was a start.

Draco’s hands shook as he fumbled to set his robes to rights—his trousers, shoes and undergarments were still in there, he thought with a cringe, but that wasn’t really important. Granger and Weasley probably needed his help. They still had to destroy that stupid Stone and get rid of the Shade.

Good enough, Draco thought, giving himself a once over.

“Malfoy?” Potter murmured, blinked groggily from the floor.

“Potter?” Draco said, because Potter was alive, thank Merlin!

“Did I just see your arse?”

Draco rolled his eyes, casting a Protection Spell around Potter. “May the memory of it keep you strong.”

Potter smirked, his eyes drifting back shut. Draco had to get back in there. With a renewed sense of fervour, he brandished his wand and jumped back into the room.

Granger and Weasel were still shooting spells at the Shade who fired back, sneering and mocking them. “Oh, there he is, the naked little Blood-traitor ferret.”

“Shut up, Half-blood filth. Won’t you just die already? No one believes your shite anymore. It’s over!”

The Shade was responding with some sort of nasty taunt, but Draco ignored him and turned to Granger and Weasley. “Potter’s alive,” he said, “but barely. We have to destroy the Resurrection Stone, fast.”

Granger frowned hard. “But how?”

“Like we did with the others,” said Weasley. “Basilisk venom?”

“There’s no time.” Granger looked at him, her eyes resolute. “Fiendfyre,” she murmured.

“Are you mad?” Draco cried.

“It’s the only way,” Granger said. “We have to do it now.”

Weasley looked grim, but nodded, as though the decision had been made. Then they turned to Draco.

“Do you know the incantation?” Granger asked.

Draco shook his head. “No way. No. Way.”

“Do you know it, Malfoy?” Weasley shouted, dodging a curse that flew past his ear and splintered a nearby table.

“Yeah, but . . .”

“Just do it,” said Weasley, his blue eyes firmly locked on Draco’s. “Just do it and we’ll run.”

Draco trembled at the very thought. “Granger, you must know it, too!”

She shook her head. “I don’t! I don’t know it! I’m sorry, Malfoy!”

“Come on, Malfoy.” Weasley clapped a hand on his shoulder and looked him dead in the eyes. “You can do it. We won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”

Draco looked at the two of them in a moment of surreal deliberation. They were rooting him on. They were going to protect him. To save Potter—Potter whom he owed his life, several times over.

“Fuck! Fine. Fine!” Draco held his hand out to Weasley for the Stone. “Give it here.”

“Get by the door! We’ll keep the Shade back. Toss that thing as far away from you as you can without losing aim. When I give the count, don’t hesitate, just Cast. Got it?”

Draco and Granger nodded.

“On three?” Weasley asked.

For one startling moment, Draco imagined himself sitting with Potter in their darkened dorm room and gave a snort of completely inappropriate laughter. Weasley and Granger just looked at him. “Sorry!” Draco fixed his features. “Yeah, three’s fine.”

“Okay . . . Ready?” They nodded again. “One . . . two . . . three!”

Draco tossed the Stone to his right and with every bit of concentration and darkness he could muster, cried, “Morte Ignus Monstrautum!”

As Granger and Weasley cast spells at his left, Draco’s wand sprayed forth an endless stream of fire, the force of which nearly knocked him off his feet. So horrifyingly similar was it to that which had swallowed up Crabbe that Draco cried out in fear, stumbling back toward the door. Already, the fire was out of control, and his wand just kept spraying out more, as the monstrous flames engulfed the room, quickly taking on a life of their own. Draco kept stumbling back, every instinct screaming at him to get the fuck out of there.

“Don’t block the exit!” Granger screamed.

“Wait, Malfoy!” Weasley roared, “Let us out first!”

“It’s still coming!” Draco panicked. “It won’t stop! It won’t stop!” He flinched back, trying not to move his feet, but the fire licked closer, the heat nearly singing his hair.

“Aguamenti!” Granger cried uselessly, aiming a stream of water at his wand, but all it did was aggravate the flames further.

“Fuck it!” Draco cried wildly. “Just go!”

In a horrifying, fiery montage, the faces of all of Draco’s dead took shape above him, shrieking as though they were being burned alive—Crabbe looking just as he had the last time. Snape, Burbage, endless Muggless . . . And from Weasley and Granger’s equally horrified cries—

“Fred!” Weasley yelled.

—Draco knew they, too, were seeing the same.

The heat rushed closer as the room became an inferno, licking up everything in its path.

“Just go! Just go!” Draco cried again. When they still didn’t, he gave up, tossing his wand right into the flames and shoving both of them towards the door as hard as he could. Weasley fumbled the with the door handle and in the next breath, all three of them tumbled into the corridor, slamming the burning hot door shut behind them.

Draco kept going, running as far away from that fucking hell-hole as he could get. He made it to the end of the corridor when, from behind him, he heard Granger and Weasley shouting and pleading for Potter to wake up.

“Is he okay?” Draco called out weakly as his vision began to flicker and darken. He swayed, bracing himself on the stone wall.

“I don’t know,” Granger called back. “Harry? Harry!”

“Okay,” Draco said as a wave of dizziness hit him, knocking him to his knees.

“What in Merlin’s name is going on up here?”

The last thing Draco saw before he blacked out were the shocked faces of Professor McGonagall, Goyle and his fucking mother.

***

The Room of Requirement had Wards now. Who knew?

Fiendfyre apparently triggered them, which made pretty good sense.

When Draco awoke in the uncomfortable bleakness of the Infirmary, he wondered if he was dead. He dreamed of Fiendfyre all night, after all, over and over and over again and the memory alone was surely enough to kill him.

But it hadn’t been. He rolled to the side and blinked groggily.

Mother.

Well, that might be enough to kill him right there. Merlin, he remembered, she’d seen him transform. So had McGonagall. Fuck, it was all over.

“Draco,” Mother greeted in a tight voice. “Where is your wand?”

Draco cleared his throat—he must have inhaled more smoke than he realized—and replied, “You mean your wand, Mother?”

“Yes.”

“Burned it up,” he said with a cough. “Casting Fiendfyre.”

Mother’s face was stark white and she stared at the wall ahead of her.

She still couldn’t bear to look at him. Why was she even here? Draco hurt enough as it was, he didn’t need her added shame, rubbing it in. “What do you want?” his voice cracked, but not because of the smoke. Draco buried his head in his upper arm, unable to staunch the tears as they welled up in his eyes and pooled over.

“Draco,” she said in a quiet voice, “why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you! When? How?” He sniffed. “You wouldn’t even talk to me!”

“I didn’t know.” Mother spoke more intensely. “I didn’t know!”

“I didn’t, either,” Draco snapped. “Whose side did it come from, anyways? Yours or Father’s?”

She lowered her head. “Mine,” she whispered.

Draco removed his face from his arm and sat up a bit. “Really?”

Mother nodded, looking slightly ashamed. “I did this to you.”

“You’re a Jarvey, too?”

“No!” Mother sounded offended, which was rather offensive, he thought, considering it was her fault. “It was your great-great-great grandfather, Phineas Nigellus Black.”

“The one who was Headmaster?” Draco croaked, rubbing his eyes.

Mother flipped a hand in the air. “Oh, it’s something to do with how he became Headmaster in the first place. Some big tale about a Rat King and being stuck in the Forbidden Forest, we all thought it was nonsense. . . there’s a book at home somewhere. I’d have paid more attention to it if I’d ever thought . . . well. I’ll show you at Christmas.”

Draco swallowed hard. “Are you sure you want me there?”

“There is nothing in the world that I want more than my family back together. I was wrong, Draco, to be so hard on you.” Mother reached out tentatively and took one of his hands. He let her, but only just. “I wasn’t there for you when you needed me most.”

Draco shrugged. “I was being rude . . .”

“Yes, and you should have been punished for it.” She shook her head. “And then when Goyle came over, talking in all sorts of riddles, all, ‘Draco’s not quite himself these days,’ and, ‘He’s gone through a lot of changes,’ well, it wasn’t hard for me to force the truth out of him.” She laughed for a moment and then her amusement faded. “He said you haven’t been eating anything but toast . . . of course, I remember the silverware and . . .” she sighed. “This is all my fault.”

“It isn’t.”

“It hasn’t been easy for me, either, you know. Parents make mistakes, too,” Mother whispered. “Forgive me, Draco.”

Honestly, Draco was shocked. He never saw the conversation going this way at all. But he was reasonable and he loved his mother, so he nodded his head and gave her hand a light squeeze.

“Whatever you want, Mother,” he said. “I just want to come home.”

***

Mother left when Pomfrey released Draco from the Infirmary. Unfortunately, she released him straight to Professor McGonagall who’d been lingering by the Infirmary door with a scowl on her face for the past half-hour.

Draco followed her in stony silence up to her office. He was either going to be expelled or go to Azkaban. Considering there wasn’t an army of Aurors there to arrest him, he was guessing expulsion, but it still wasn’t good news.

“Have a seat, Mr. Malfoy.”

Draco did.

“Biscuit?”

Draco shook his head.

“Eat a biscuit, Mr. Malfoy,” she said, her tone brooking no argument. Draco reached out and took one, hoping it wasn’t laced with Veritaserum or something. “Let’s see.” She adjusted her glasses on her nose and began reading from a piece of parchment. “Creature transformation, theft, possession of a dangerous artefact and Casting Fiendfyre in a school full of children.”

Draco lowered his head.

“And, of course, saving Mr. Potter’s life and the Wizarding World from the threat of Voldemort.” Draco blinked up and McGonagall’s eyes were twinkling slightly. Draco wondered if she’d been possessed by Dumbledore’s portrait which was suspiciously fast asleep in its frame behind her. Snape’s portrait to her left was wide awake, his black eyes piercing Draco with an odd look of pride.

“Am I going to prison?” Draco asked without preamble.

McGonagall shook her head. “No, Draco. Is that why you haven’t told anyone about your condition?”

Draco shrugged. “Granger knew. And Potter.” He swallowed the rest of his biscuit. “Goyle, too, apparently.”

“You, Potter, Granger and Weasley will all have detention with Hagrid for the rest of the semester,” McGonagall said with a cool look. She handed him a familiar-looking pamphlet and Draco almost scoffed. “You will attend, Mr. Malfoy. If you’d like to remain a student here, your ongoing attendance with the Mental Health Healers is mandatory. One of my duties as Headmistress is ensuring the safety and well-being of all of my students. I allowed you to slip through the cracks before and, if I understand from my conversation with Granger, you and Potter’s secrets nearly cost both of you—and others—your lives.”

Draco swallowed. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“As it is,” McGonagall continued, “you are now a hero, Mr. Malfoy.” She raised an eyebrow and pursed her lips.

Draco just looked at her. He thought being a hero was supposed to feel good. It didn’t. It felt rather the same as being in trouble.

***

Potter was back to dodging him again. Once he recovered and returned from the Infirmary, Potter kept his head down and hurried through his daily routine, never once bothering to look at Draco—not even to thank him. When he thought Draco didn’t notice, Potter stared remorsefully at Draco’s belongings with a bitter look on his face. Perhaps Potter wanted to join forces with the Dark Lord, after all, and was pissed at Draco for standing in his way.

What a stupid wanker.

Draco began knocking into Potter on purpose in the corridors and on his way in and out of the room, incensed when Potter continued to just ignore him.

Then Draco started worrying that Potter was just bitter because they’d all stopped him from dying. If that were the case, Potter could simply have another go at it, couldn’t he? But that thought frightened Draco and he began watching Potter very closely to make sure it wasn’t true. Angry as he was, he’d jump to Potter’s rescue in a heartbeat if it came to it.

On the plus side, Draco had been taking Granger’s potion for three days and was thrilled that it seemed to be working. He was still human, despite an increasing desire to claw Potter’s face to ribbons, after all. Draco was even writing with a regular quill again and didn’t require Potter’s stupid help with his homework. Not that Potter would even bother to help him if he asked, the prat. Potter clearly preferred to pretend that Draco didn’t exist.

A few evening later, Draco was filling out the required paperwork for his first mandated Head Healer appointment on Monday. As Draco sat scribbling in the small waiting room adjacent to the Infirmary, Potter stepped out of the Healer’s office, spotting Draco instantly. Potter froze, like a deer caught in wandlight.

Draco smirked. It wouldn’t be so easy to ignore Draco now, would it?

“Er—McGonagall’s making me,” Potter stuttered.

Draco just shrugged with a snort. “Like I care. Anyway, if she didn’t, someone else would have.” He pointed at Potter, accusingly. “You’re fucked up.”

“You’re fucked up, too,” Potter snapped back. “You’re here, aren’t you?”

Draco added a flourish to his signature with the borrowed quill and waved the quill high in the air to show off his newly acquired writing skills. “McGonagall’s making me, too, Potter. But at least I can admit it might be worth my while. Can you say the same?” Potter said nothing and Draco looked back to his paperwork. “Get out of my sight, Potter. If you’re still not going to apologize, I really don’t want to see you.”

Draco filled out the final consent form. When he noticed Potter still hadn’t moved, Draco sighed and glanced up. Potter lingered uncomfortably by the door, a hunted look on his face. “How can I apologize, Malfoy?” Potter finally whispered. Draco eyed him carefully, taking in his tightly wrapped arms and hunched posture. “I don’t even know where to start.”

Draco set his clipboard down and glanced at the clock. He’d told the Healer’s Assistant he’d hand her the paperwork when she returned in fifteen minutes but, fuck it, she’d find it, eventually. Draco stood, grasped Potter by the elbow and dragged him into the corridor, pulling him round the corner until they reached a nearby alcove. Draco thrust him into the alcove and cast several Privacy Charms around the space. Then he turned to Potter and shoved him in the shoulder. “Start by saying sorry, you pillock,” Draco snapped. “Start by admitting I was right and you were wrong. How fucking hard is that?”

“Fucking hard,” Potter shot back bitterly, his voice choked. “You don’t understand, Malfoy. I almost ruined everything. Everything I worked for, that my parents died for, my friends and Dumbledore and hundreds of others. How can I apologize for that?”

Draco just looked at him. “I don’t know,” he said. “But only five people even know about it. It’s not that big of a deal.”

“It IS that big of a deal! How can you not see that?”

“Fuck you, Potter!” Draco shoved him again. Potter grit his teeth as though barely resisting retaliation and clenched his fists. “You weren’t actually trying to bring him back, were you?”

“No.”

“Well, for two whole years, I was! How should I go about apologizing for that, do you think?”

“That’s different.”

“You’re damn right, it’s different!” Draco was shouting now and he sure hoped his Charms were holding up. “I was doing it on purpose! I helped him! I actually hurt people and I know I was in the wrong. But you don’t see me rolling over and dying about it, do you? Get over yourself, Potter! You fucked up. Admit it and move on!”

Potter just looked at him.

“Or, I don’t know, go on feeling sorry for yourself, then, and dwelling on dreams that will never be and see what sort of disaster you manage to drudge up next. Let it go! You’re fucking alive. Thank Merlin for it and move on! You feel so bad about all the people that died for you, well, it’s a fucking slap on each of their faces every second you mope about wishing for death. Grow up, Potter!”

Green eyes bore into his, burning and bright. Then Potter grabbed the front of Draco’s robes, hauled him in close and kissed him hard on the mouth. Draco kissed back, missing this and wanting this and so elated it was happening, all the while still wanting to bash Potter’s brains against the stone. Potter pulled back an inch and gasped, staring hard at Draco. When he spoke, his words were heavy with meaning. “Malfoy,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.” He gazed deeply into Draco’s eyes, looking fearless and brave and so very Potter, just the way he was meant to. And fuck, it was so hot. “How was that?”

Draco swallowed. He could feel his body coming to life, wanting nothing more than to press into Potter and keep touching him. Luckily, with Granger’s potion, Draco felt mostly in control and the response he felt was purely, mercifully human. “It’s a start, Potter.”

Potter gave him a sly grin. “Just a start?” he asked. “And how do you suggest I finish?” He trailed his hands along Draco’s chest and pressed him back against the stone to kiss him.

Draco pulled away and smirked. “I think I’d like for us both to finish this time, Potter, if you don’t mind.”

Potter made a scandalized noise. “Why, Malfoy, you animal.”

“Shut the fuck up, Potter,” Draco murmured, rolling his eyes. “You’re so far from funny, it’s sad.”

Potter laughed, tugging Draco back in close and kissing him again. “Should we go up to the room?”

“You better fucking believe it, Potter.” Without bothering to end the enchantments in the corridor, Draco grabbed Potter’s hand tightly, digging his claws—nails, whatever—into his palm territorially. Potter pretended to complain and Draco called him a baby and it all felt so right and so them and so shockingly, wonderfully normal.

When they reached the door to their dorm, Draco kissed him hard and shoved him down on his bed. “Finally,” Potter said, reaching to undo the clasp on Draco’s robes.

Draco slowed and looked at him closely. “Potter, do you remember seeing me? Erm—naked?”

Potter grinned slowly. “Which time, Malfoy?”

“Oh, you pervert, Potter!”

Potter smirked back. “You don’t mind, do you?”

Draco gave a long-suffering sigh. “No, Potter,” he replied. “I don’t. I really don’t.”