Title: A Prayer for the Spider

Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.

Pairing: Eventual Harry/Draco

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: Angst, brief violence, mentions of suicide

Wordcount: 6400

Summary: Harry has a month to undo the hardest curse he's ever worked with, a curse that has turned a man into the equivalent of a spider-except for his eyes.

Author's Notes: An Advent fic written to a prompt from lyonessheart: Harry is a Healer specialized in curses that alter the appearance, five years after the end of the war he watches his loved ones get married one by one and is lonely. On the first of December he gets called to a house in which he finds a man who has been cursed - his appearance is really horrible and He doesn´t go out anymore. His best friend has made a deal with him, if Harry can´t help him he will allow him to end his life by New Years. Harry begins to work with the patient and is drawn to the beautiful silver eyes of the stranger. I'm afraid I didn't manage to work in the "lonely because his loved ones are getting married" part, but everything else is there. Happy Advent!

A Prayer for the Spider

"You don't need to know who I am, Potter."

Harry grunted to himself as he walked up the snowy path behind the man. He reckoned that was true. If he had needed to know it, he would have refused the offer of work from the man who wore a hood and cloak that concealed his face at all times, no matter how he turned or even if he left the hood tilted back. A misty grey haze made Harry's eyes water if he looked at it too long.

But the Galleons he offered were solid, and the tale he told even more intriguing.

Harry raised his head and eyed the house in front of him. It was made of dark grey stone and crouched on the ground like a dragon, all one floor, with wings that ran out into innumerable gardens. Or Harry reckoned they had been gardens, anyway. What they looked like now was a thicket of rosebushes that wouldn't bloom, coated with snow, and hedges, and walls that tangled with each other and led nowhere.

"You must understand," the man walking in front of Harry said. His boots had magical properties, too, because he left no footprints in the snow. "I've promised him that if you can't cure him by the New Year's, then I'll let him kill himself the way he's wanted to do for a year now."

Harry breathed calmly through his anger, as much as he could. It was more manipulation, like the cloak that kept him from seeing who he was dealing with. "You shouldn't have done that. It's pressure on me that I don't need, and it's possible you could find another Healer elsewhere with more experience than I have. If-"

"We've tried every other Healer," the man cut him off, and turned around so suddenly that his cloak snapped and nearly hit Harry in the face. "He's done all that money and desperation can. He's even tried Dark magic to alter his appearance. It's no good. Nothing changes. You weren't our first choice, but we came to you because we heard that you worked that miracle with Thomas Canning."

Harry blinked. "Hardly a miracle. Canning's own magical core was driving-"

"But you figured it out, and that was something no one else could do." The man leaned intensely towards Harry, his breath puffing out the grey mist around his face. "Listen. I want you to know that you're our best chance. One way or another, though, this is going to be cured."

Harry folded his lips around the denial that death was a cure. He had seen cases where it was. "All right."

The man studied his face one more time, then grunted and turned around. "Come on. He's waiting to meet us."

The stone door, arched and curved at the top, opened as they approached it. Harry expected to see the man he was going to cure, but instead, a house-elf with entirely white skin met them, bowed, and silently led them through long, dark corridors to a single room with a fire.

The impression Harry received was one of dust, but also luxury. He saw a huge clock made of midnight-colored wood that was probably worth more than what he earned in a year. There were couches made of solid silver, golden candelabra, glass cases of jewels, and what looked like the frame to a mirror made of bronze and set with star sapphires. All the glass was missing from the mirror, though.

The room they stepped into had a single silver decoration on the wall that made Harry catch his breath. It was made in the shape of a spider's web, leading up to the biggest ruby Harry had ever seen at the center. It was a long moment before he could take his eyes from it and focus on his patient.

And then, he wondered if he should have. This man approached on feet as noisy as the feet of his friend had been silent, and stood staring down at Harry from an oppressive height.

His body was wreathed in chitin, decorated with extra limbs that dangled instead of reaching the floor. Harry doubted he could use them. His arms were grown long, and these reached the floor, so that he walked on his hands. His face was overgrown with bristles and mandibles, and they clicked and wagged in agitation without producing intelligible sound. His abdomen was huge, swollen, white, decorated with the red shape of an hourglass, and dragged along the floor. Harry knew that if he touched the skin there, it would be cool and disgusting.

Six red eyes glared above the mandibles, but above them was a pair of human eyes that made Harry stare the way he had at the web. They were as silver as the metal, but filled with suffering and pain in a way that no animal eyes ever could be. They glanced between Harry and the silent man at his side for an instant, but then settled on Harry again, desperate. For a moment, the spider made a motion with one hand as if he would disregard the hooked, hairy claws sprouting from it instead of fingers.

"Hello," said Harry. He was startled and disturbed by the extent of the changes in the man's appearance, but as long as he could concentrate on those human eyes, it was all right. "I'm Harry Potter, and I hope to heal you."

His patient's mandibles clicked, but he said nothing. He probably couldn't. Harry nodded a little. The man who had brought him here had warned him how it would be. The patient didn't want his name revealed, either. Harry could call him M, which was apparently a letter he had chosen by scratching a claw in the dirt.

"I hope that he will, too," said the man at his side, talking to M. M only turned his head away and clicked again. The man sighed. "I'll see you on New Year's Day, for the last time," he said, and turned away. "Or before that, if he manages to cure you."

M made no sign either way that he'd heard. His friend stalked out of the room. Harry listened to those footsteps echoing through the rooms-they seemed to make noise on the carpets, where they hadn't on the snow-for as long as he could hear them.

Then he sighed and looked at M. "Where do you want me to set up my lab?"

Harry lifted a careful cup of brimming silver potion-as silver as M's eyes, he thought, although he was a little embarrassed to be making comparisons like that-and put it on the table beside him. He had set up his lab in the room M had led him to, which was a huge one with mahogany tables and golden cauldrons and the general air of luxury that the rest of the house had. Harry had actually had to send for some of his own supplies, though. You couldn't brew every potion in a golden cauldron.

Clicking sounded in the doorway. Harry looked over and nodded at M, whose abdomen looked painfully swollen today. Well, Harry had something he hoped would help with that, eventually if not right away.

"I decided to specialize in curses on appearance because I know what it's like to be stared at for something you can't control," he explained to M, briefly tapping the scar on his forehead. M shambled closer, his abdomen dragging on the floor. Harry tried to ignore the trail of slime that left behind, which seemed to have broken fragments of silk in it, and lifted the potion. "The first step is always to figure out where the curse is anchored."

M cocked his head, and the swirl of hair around his six lower eyes bristled out. Harry chose to take it as a question. "A curse this powerful has to be tied to something. Sometimes it's intangible, like the curses that link to an offense and make the victim look the way they do until they apologize or make atonement, but most of the time it's physical. If only the skin or the blood or something else." He looked thoughtfully at M. "I walked around the house yesterday partially to see if I could sense someone else's magic here, but there was nothing."

M lowered his head. Harry wondered if perhaps his curse was tied to a crime in the past after all, one that neither he nor his friend had wanted to tell Harry about because it shamed them. Well, Harry would find out about it if that was the case, and M couldn't change back anyway if he refused to make up for the crime. Lying wouldn't ultimately matter.

Besides, Harry didn't think it was that. If M knew what had caused the curse, he would have tried to make up for it before the despair in his eyes had reached that depth.

"I need you to drink this," Harry said, and reached up towards M's face. It was probably part of the curse, but he stood taller than Harry did by almost a foot.

M tried to grasp the cup in his mandibles, couldn't, and brought them together with a clashing noise in frustration. Harry sighed and pulled the stool that he had used to reach some of the higher shelves when he was setting up the lab towards him. "Let me stand on this. You just hold your mouth open, and I'll pour the potion in."

M looked at him with wild eyes. Well, the silver ones. The red ones seemed to reflect no emotion except a generalized malevolence, and it was Harry's private theory that M couldn't really use them, any more than he could his extra legs.

"It'll be all right," Harry said soothingly. "This reveals the anchor. Nothing else."

M finally opened his mouth, although it looked more like a gaping black hole in his face. Harry balanced carefully on the stool and tipped the potion down M's throat, resting an elbow on a claw to do so.

It sent a shudder of disgust through him. That made him decide the disgust was part of the curse, and probably part of the reason no other Healer had been able to help M. Spend time around him, and the disgust would increase until the Healer ran away.

"This is a very clever and complicated curse," Harry muttered as he watched M's throat bounce with the swallowing of the potion.

There was a long silence. Harry waited. His potion had never failed before, and he knew he had brewed it right. He wondered if whoever had cast the curse had somehow foreseen the measures Harry would take-although he didn't see how they could have, unless they were also a Healer working in the same specialized field-and managed to conceal the anchor behind an illusion.

Then he realized there was a dim glow, the sign of the anchor, coming from all around them, but he had no idea when it had begun, or where it had first come from. Ignoring that as best as he could, he ran at once to the window, to test a theory.

But when he looked out, he had to swallow disappointment. He had thought the curse was tied to the house, but the thickets weren't glowing, or the stone walls. It also couldn't be true that only the inside of the house was enchanted to turn M this shape. Harry was sure he would have tried going outside, and his shape would have fallen from him in that case.

He turned back, and noticed that his own objects weren't glowing, either. But the cauldrons and the tables native to the house were, and when Harry looked out, everything was, even the carpet slightly dimpled by his footprints. He frowned. There went his theory that perhaps it was objects he hadn't affected.

He turned back to M as the glow faded. M champed his mandibles in resignation, probably because Harry hadn't immediately told him what was wrong.

"It's all right," Harry told him, and for the first time, placed a hand of his own accord on that swollen abdomen. It felt exactly as cool and disgusting as he had known it would, but he didn't flinch away. "I'll find it. I'll find it before the end of the year."

One of M's transfigured hands touched him gently on the back. Then he turned away and shuffled out the lab door, leaving Harry to frown at his potions.

Harry tried more potions. He tried direct countercurses. He tried an incantation, of fierce intensity but dubious legality, that was supposed to shatter the curse and give him a glimpse of the face that lay beneath.

M stood patiently still in front of him and let him try them all. When Harry couldn't do anything, he would pat Harry and walk away. He never said anything cutting-well, all right, with his mouth that shape, he couldn't, anyway-but he never acted as though this was Harry's fault. Again, a touch, and then that gentle shuffle would carry him away.

The curse never revealed itself. It was twined around M, but also around the house. Except that Harry seemed to make small disruptions in it; it hadn't caught him, and it hadn't caught his objects.

In desperation, he had M use his toothbrush and wash his bristly head with Harry's soap. They didn't hurt him-although M shook his head in disgust at the flecks of foam dotting his mandibles-but they didn't change him, either. The curse seemed to have parted like a pool around Harry and then closed a placid surface over his objects.

"It's infuriating," Harry told M one evening, pacing around the library where he and M often went after dinner. Harry ate dinner, anyway, from china plates with shining silver forks and spoons. M ate in privacy, and Harry suspected why and let him alone. But they would spend most of the afternoon and evening together. "Curses aren't supposed to be like this. They're supposed to weaken as they spread out. This one's so wide that it should have half a dozen weak points. But everything glows exactly like everything else!" He spun around and looked up at M desperately. "You would have told me if you knew the weak points, right?"

M touched the floor with one hand in the gesture that meant "yes." Harry had worked out quite a complex system of pattings and clicks and gestures with him. And he had at least lightened the despair in those silver eyes, although it was coming back now as December advanced in relentless greyness.

"Yeah, I know you would have. You have no reason to want to stay like this, even protecting your pride." Harry took a seat on the gleaming couch, patterned with glossy tigerskin, in front of the fire, and sighed into the flames. M took his place on all fours, what would have been all eights if his legs had been longer, in front of Harry, and watched him attentively. "I have to figure this out," Harry muttered, and raked his hands through his hair again.

M touched him on the knee. When Harry looked up, he gestured at himself and shook his head. Then he drew one mandible down and across his throat.

"Because I don't want you to, that's why," Harry snapped. "I want you to live."

M gave him the sort of calming, chiding look from those silver eyes that Harry was growing used to. M thought that it was useless for him to try and live, that Harry might do something more valuable with his time. All of that was as clear as though M spoke aloud, and Harry had wondered if there was a component to the curse that managed to translate his thoughts.

But he didn't think so. Whoever had cast this curse had wanted to cut M off from all possible means of easing his loneliness. They wouldn't have done something like that consciously, and if this was a spell that had unwanted side-effects-unwanted by the caster, that was-Harry had yet to figure them out.

"I'll find something," he told M, who looked at him in silent, gentle doubt. "I promise. I'll find something."

It was the tenth of December.

Harry woke when something tapped near his bed. Rolling over, he rubbed his eyes and looked up fuzzily into M's face. It had stopped being a face of nightmares to him a few days ago. In a way, the curse had altered M so deeply that he no longer seemed Dark to Harry, a possible criminal or even a beast. Just something different, so different that there were no reactions Harry knew to him and he had to come up with new ones.

"What is it?" Harry asked, stifling a yawn with one hand. "I wasn't planning on getting up."

That might have made M retreat a short while ago, the slightest hint of hesitation. Now, he stared at Harry, and his hands did a complicated tap-step on the ground, while his silver eyes glanced at Harry and then at the door.

"All right," Harry said, and reached for his robes. Then M pointed one spine at Harry's traveling cloak, hanging on the door, and Harry blinked. "We're going outside?"

Another tap-dance of fingers and knuckles off the floor. Harry smiled in spite of his uncertainty. "All right. I'm curious to see more of this wilderness your house is in the middle of, anyway."

In a few minutes, he was dressed, and ten minutes after that, a long journey through gleaming wooden corridors and past doors made of gold and silver and rattling curtains of pearls, they stepped out into the wild gardens. Harry took a deep breath of the chill, moonlit air. The snow beneath his feet murmured and whispered. It wasn't deep, but it covered the paths that must wind through the garden and made them slick. Harry slipped, and put out an automatic hand to catch his balance.

M was right there, turning one gleaming side so that Harry could brace himself against it. Harry looked up with another smile, and found the silver eyes focused on him as though they could see through to his soul.

"I bet you can," Harry said, although he knew M wasn't likely to understand him. "I bet this spell gave you insight into other people's souls whether you wanted it or not."

M stood still for a second, and then led Harry forwards. They wound between the briars and thickets, and although many of the paths they took seemed narrow enough for Harry, M was beside him all the way. Harry kept one hand on the chitin, unable to feel any human warmth through it, but attentive to the minute shiftings of the large spider body anyway.

Finally, M halted and made a swift motion with his head forwards. Harry obediently looked, and caught his breath.

The rosebushes wouldn't bloom, maybe even with the coming of spring. The neglect seemed to have killed them all off. But on the tangled thickets, the twining vines, lay soft buds of heaped ice that resembled silver roses. Harry turned his head slightly to the side, and the moonlight fluttered through them, creating gleams off to the side that resembled extended petals.

"This is so beautiful," Harry whispered. For a moment, he wondered if the ice itself might be the anchor of the curse. But no, it wasn't a time-based curse, or M would have transformed into a spider-like being only when the ice was on the rosebuses.

M leaned towards him and made a shrill chittering noise. Harry didn't jump, but it was a near thing. He suspected M had held that noise in reserve until Harry learned to trust him, and wouldn't be frightened off by it.

"I know," Harry whispered, once again sure that he knew what M meant despite the lack of parchment or words to communicate the information. "I should stop questioning things and fussing about them and simply enjoy the beauty that's in front of me."

M draped one of his useless side-legs gently over Harry's hair. Harry reached up and arranged it more comfortably over his shoulders, and together they watched the moon and the roses and their own pluming breath.

It was the eleventh of December.

Harry cursed tiredly and lowered the book he'd been reading to the table. He'd thought of another possible candidate for M's anchor this morning, but he didn't have the book with him that would have detailed the curse involved. So he'd owled St. Mungo's and asked a friend to send the book to him.

It turned out to be useless, of course, the way it seemed all of Harry's investigations into possible anchors would be. Yes, there were curses that transformed their victims into swarms of insects, but that was manifestly not M's problem. And all of those anchors were time-based, anyway, since they had started when Dark wizards studied lycanthropy in detail and wondered if it could be adapted to change wizards unwillingly into different creatures.

Harry had determined conclusively that M's curse was not time-based. No phases of the moon or sun, no times of day, no seasons, not even astronomical events like the conjunction of planets, made the slightest difference in his condition. M's friend had confirmed that he'd been like this for years, and that it had happened swiftly and with no particular warning. Almost since the war, he'd said.

Harry sat up abruptly.

The war. I'm a fool.

He'd been trying to remember, since M had started becoming dear to him, where he'd seen eyes like those before. Now he knew. And the initial M had chosen to call himself by, and the luxury that surrounded him, also made sense.

M was Malfoy. And Harry had a new direction to look in.

He was digging furiously through books when he heard the tapping at the door. Harry grunted without looking up. "Come on, Malfoy," he said. "You need to work with me and figure out whether this was some curse that Voldemort or one of his Death Eaters could have set up."

Profound silence filled the air behind him. Harry turned around, and saw M staring at him with sorrow as profound.

Harry shook his head. "I don't care who you were," he said. "No one deserves to suffer like this. I can understand why you want to end your life, but you might be able to help me here. I've seen some Death Eater curses in my time. Which one of them do you think it was? Is there a way I could access Malfoy Manor to check spell traces?"

M said nothing at all. Harry reminded himself a moment later that of course he wouldn't. The curse had made it so he couldn't speak, and Harry understood the twisted sense of that. It might have been fairly simple to overcome the curse if he could have told people who he was and what had been done to him.

But then M turned and shuffled away, his legs dangling and his head doing the same, so that he seemed to be staring at his malformed hands.

"Wait!" Harry was on his feet in seconds, and he ran down the corridor after M, jewels and precious metals flashing in the corners of his eye. M wouldn't stop walking, so Harry dodged in front of him, taking a chance that M wanted to spare Harry pain more than he wanted to escape. It turned out to be true, as M curled his head back on his nearly nonexistent neck, and halted. But he didn't look at Harry.

"Like I said," Harry said gently, "I don't care who you were. I still want to help you. You showed me the roses, and I can see your emotions in your eyes the way I never could when you were human. I know that you've changed, no matter what you did before this curse."

M looked at him with eyes that held swimming tears in them for the first time. Harry gently touched one of his chitin-covered false legs. "Please?" he asked. "I know you can't communicate easily, but we can figure this out between us."

M closed his eyes. Then he turned and shuffled away down the corridor, glancing over his shoulder. At least that showed he wanted Harry to follow him, and wasn't simply running away. Harry smiled brightly and jogged after him.

M led him to a room where Harry had never been, small and dusty compared to most of the others. The pale white house-elves didn't come here. M tapped a slim dark book that reminded Harry creepily for a moment of Tom Riddle's diary, but when Harry took it down and began to read, he recognized Malfoy's handwriting instead.

I don't know what's happening to me. So far the transformation is slow, but it's happening, and I can't stop it.

Harry caught his breath and looked up. "You wrote this as the curse was taking hold?" he whispered. M nodded, the spines beside the mandibles waving around like the tentacles of a sea-creature. "And you don't know who it was, either?"

M shook his head and used a hand to turn the pages. Harry went past more descriptions of change that he itched to read, but he would have time later, perhaps after the end of the month if he had to. M tapped a line of writing that curled around the bottom of one page and onto the top of another, and Harry obediently bent to read it, aware all the time of M looming behind him and reading over his shoulder.

The only clue I have is the letter I received today from a Muggleborn witch-she said she was a Muggleborn witch-bragging that I wouldn't enjoy the good things in life for much longer. I was going to be a monster, she said, the monster outwardly they always knew I was internally, when I rejoiced in my superiority to people I'm not really superior to and ate off gold while they scrabbled in the dirt for worms and insects.

She has no idea what living with the Dark Lord in your family home is really like.

But she hasn't left me a name, and I have no way to track her owl, and it's getting hard to write...

Harry lifted his head and touched a hand directly to M's mandibles this time. "This can hold a clue," he said softly. "Let me take the journal with me and study it?"

There was a long, restless moment when he thought M might not let him do it, but in the end, that immense head bobbed.

Harry smiled, tucked the journal under his arm, and left the room. M watched him go, and Harry gave him one more reassurance before he departed the library. "I'm going to break this curse if it's the last thing I do."

M burbled softly, but stayed in one place.

Harry sighed and pushed the book away from him. Well, the pile of books, M's journal and the tomes from St. Mungo's and his personal library he'd been looking through. He'd compared the phrasing that M had noted down from the witch's letter with every single curse he hadn't already eliminated, hoping that he would find some distinctive wording, or even a phrase that echoed one of hers.

Nothing. And nothing.

Harry was beginning to be afraid that he knew what sort of curse they were dealing with. It had been an act of will magic, he thought, not a recorded spell but a spontaneous burst of loathing that had enacted the curse the way the witch had desired it. And that meant nothing would reverse it but the honest repentance of the caster, or her death.

She might not die for years. It might have been anyone. Or she might already have died, and this might be one of the acts of will magic that would linger even past that moment, because she had died wanting Malfoy to suffer.

No Healer, no matter how specialized, had ever broken an act of will magic except by killing the caster of it, or persuading them to relent and lift the curse.

Harry sat with his head in his hands for a while, before finally standing and moving to find M. He had to tell him this. If he still wanted to go ahead with the plans to end his life, then, well...Harry would persuade him to wait until the end of the month. But that was only sixteen days away, and it was unlikely that Harry would find a way to overturn long-established theory and make magical history in that time.

He had thought M was in the library where his journal had been, but when Harry searched it, he couldn't find him. Or in the sitting room where they often stayed together while Harry read through brooks, or in Harry's Potions lab, or even outside in the garden when Harry went out for a quick run into the snow.

In fact, M seemed to be nowhere at all, and Harry wondered, with a pulse of dread, if he had already decided to bring his life to an end, despairing of Harry's finding anything that could help him.

But then Harry heard soft sounds coming from the dining room, where he had never been, and he knocked once and went in.

M turned from the corpse of what looked like a giant fly, his arms wrapped around it, his mandibles fastened in its abdomen. His useless legs were still tangled in a huge, gleaming silver web that hung on the wall. Not so useless after all, Harry thought, half in shock. Other huge flies hung twisting there. The room was heavy with magic. Whether it was part of the curse or something M could do or something one of his friends had done for him, it was obvious why he had never wanted Harry to see him eating.

For a moment, Harry stood frozen, paralyzed with the horror of the image as he hadn't been with the horror of anything concerning M in a long time.

Then his eye fell on a detail that he hadn't noticed before. Tucked beneath the body of the fly was the gleam of a golden plate.

Abruptly, Harry felt as though light had poured into his body. It destroyed the paralysis, and he drew his wand. M backed away from him, with a threatening clack of his mandibles, but Harry turned the other direction.

"That was the meaning of the curse," he whispered. "I should have seen it before. The way that everything seemed to glow as the anchor of the curse...that's because everything in here is luxurious."

And he snapped his wand out and shouted, "Adoleo aurum! Adoleo argentum! Adoleo abundantiam!"

The fire that erupted from his wand made M rear, screaming, but none of it touched him. Instead, it struck his golden plate, and the silver decorations on the door, and the rich wood of the table. All of them began to burn, fiercely. The gold melted, the silver evaporated in a flash of flame, and the table crumbled at once into ashes.

Harry flung the door of the dining room open and shouted the spells again. Gold and silver, jewels and rich woods, bronze decorations and the great clock that Harry had admired his first day in the house, all of them began to burn merrily, as sacrifices, as the name of the spell had called for. It was a Light fire spell that would burn nothing but what was willingly offered up for a specific, good purpose.

And Harry could never have burned it if not for M's desperation to bring an end to the curse.

No wonder the thickets outside and the stone walls didn't show any sign of being the anchor of the spell, Harry thought, as he spun back to M, whose web and flies hadn't burned. They're not wealth. No wonder the phrasing of the letter he got talked about good things and golden plates. It was the good things and the safety and wealth he had even when the war ended that the writer envied.

All of that has to go.

The flames illuminated the entire house now, curling into the walls and burning all the wood away until they met the stone shell, weaving back and forth as they munched even on the torch sconces set with pearls, consuming the books that had gilt binding on the leather and leaving behind the raw parchment. Throughout it, Harry stood with his eyes on M, breathing deeply, not wanting to miss the moment when it happened.

And it did. Harry had been right.

Of course I was right, he thought exultantly, and flung his arms out as M's body began to waver and writhe around him. I'm the best there is.

The chitin burst into flying pieces, ricocheting off the walls. The false legs went with it, and the twisted casings for his hands, and the great abdomen that had concealed, Harry saw now, the human legs. M fell to his knees and held up his head as if he was desperate to escape the magic that climbed his body in twining, silver streamers, like a final gift from the numerous silver furnishings of the house.

But it wasn't that. He was trying with all his might to cry, and as the fire curled delicately about his mouth and erased the mandibles, the spikes and spines, the six red eyes, he finally managed. The tears seemed ready to curve furrows in the new, human skin that appeared around his mouth, the lips and cheeks and chin uncovered for the first time in five years.

Draco Malfoy collapsed forwards on his hands and knees and wept. Harry went to him and held him as his house burned.

"I would never have thought of that," Draco murmured later, as Harry led him out into the garden that had sustained no damage. Nothing had that wasn't luxurious, that was only plain, barren wood and stone.

All of Draco's clothing, the clothing that had fit his old human form, had burned with the house. Harry had Transfigured a cloak for him out of ashes, and cast numerous Warming Charms. Draco didn't want to Apparate to St. Mungo's right away, though. He wanted to lean on Harry and walk to the part of the garden where they had once seen ice roses growing.

"I never thought about giving up my wealth," Draco was whispering, his words a relentless stream. Harry, his Healer's instincts up and engaged in a way they had never been with the seemingly invulnerable body of M, wanted to tell him to be quiet and not exhaust himself. But he also sensed that this confession was one Draco wanted to make him, so he let him. "It was all I had to comfort me after the curse twisted me, I thought. And Blaise-"

That must be Mr. Silent, Harry decided.

"Thought I should convert as many of my Galleons as I could to more wealth, so I would at least have pretty things to look at."

"Now you won't have them," Harry said. "But you will have your life back, and I promise to be there at your side. If you want me."

Draco stopped walking. Harry looked down at him, not understanding.

"Not want you?" Draco whispered. "Towards the end, I started dreading either the transformation or the day that I'd promised myself as the ultimate freedom, the day of my own death, because either way meant I would lose you."

Harry pulled Draco close. He was shivering again, and Harry knew more Warming Charms wouldn't help. This was something else.

"You're not going to lose me," Harry said.

"But M was the one you got to know," Draco muttered, staring at his feet. "Now that I can talk, I'm going to say something to screw it up. And M was an innocent victim, or you thought he might be, and now I'm not."

"The curse ensured that you've paid for your crimes." Harry rested his hand on Draco's head, and waited until he looked up. "And I liked M and admired him for his resilience, but I rather worried about the silence. Now you can say whatever you like. I promise to listen."

Draco stared at him, then leaned against Harry and flung his arms around him.

Harry held him like that until the chill of the falling snow became rather much even for him. And then he turned Draco around until he could see the ice roses clinging to the bushes.

"You'll see them again," he whispered, and Apparated them away to St. Mungo's, to warmer rooms and a place Draco could recover.

But he was pressed against Draco all the way, and he refused to move the warmth of his body even when mediwitches were dashing around them and taking all the measurements that needed to be taken of someone who hadn't had proper medical care in five years.

Some things, he thought, as he gazed into the silver eyes that no longer looked so polished-bright but now could look into the future, we've both earned.

The End.