Disclaimer: I don't own Parry Otter. Or Harry Potter. Just the plot bunny.

I really loved writing this. Thanks to everyone who left kind and thoughtful reviews behind, I decided to go back and fix some of the mistakes I made on the first time around – if you read through the reviews and wonder why everyone is talking about Jifflypuffs, just know that at one time I had trouble distinguishing between Pokemon and Harry Potter. Easy mistake to make, right?

This has now been edited with a few minor changes, which hopefully make the story a bit better. The basic story remains the same, just polished off a bit. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Intro: Six months post-war, Malfoy is in serious trouble. He's on the run from the Ministry, Death Eaters, and a deadly curse which is eating him alive. When he hits rock bottom, a change in fortune lands him in 12 Grimmauld Place under the Ministry's custody - and forces Hermione to remember the secrets they've both kept for years. Dramione, Sick!Draco, flashbacks to Hogwarts

Chapter One


Fourth Year

For a long time afterwards, he had no idea why he did it.

The Quidditch World Cup had been a tense affair, to say the least. His mother had spent the entire time trying to pretend that they were all on a normal, carefree family holiday while his father wallowed in sullen, grim-faced apathy. They were so at odds that every excursion, every meal and every interaction ended with harsh words and tight silences. He watched his mother's trembling hands as she poured wine for them on the night of the victory, attempting to communicate silently with his father with wide, meaningful eyes. His father sat slouched in the plush chair beside the table in their tent, swirling his wine in one hand, the other wrapped around his cane. The cold plane of his face offered nothing in return to Narcissa's feeble attempts to start a conversation.

Draco sat between them with his own wine cradled in his lap, listening to his mother's anxious chatter. He doubted she even cared about the match she was currently describing. She had been trying to fill the silence for a solid fifteen minutes now, and this was the third time she had relived the moment Krum had caught the snitch. He nodded along when she directed questions at him, answered briefly when politeness dictated, but his father's sour temperament dampened the mood. He'd seen him talking with a very anxious man he vaguely recognised on their way into the stands – Karkaroff, he might have heard. Ever since the atmosphere had been worse than usual. If the mood continued, Draco might end up having to seek out Theodore Nott for a bit of light entertainment – he knew him vaguely from Hogwarts and their fathers had excitedly introduced them to one another before the World Cup game. Ralph Nott was an elderly, balding, somewhat unimpressive man who was clearly desperately trying to improve his social status; Draco hadn't seen anyone suck up to his father that much since their old house elf disappeared. But Theodore seemed alright and, more to the point, he had firewhiskey stashed under his bed. Which made him a far more interesting candidate to spend the night with.

He waited at least until he had finished his wine before rising to his feet, setting down his glass on the low table. His mother looked up expectantly, raising an eyebrow in a wordless question.

"I'm going to find some friends," he explained, straightening his shirt and blazer. "I think other people might actually be celebrating."

He hadn't meant it to come out as insolent as it did. His father's eyes narrowed warningly as they lifted to fix on him, his gaze torn from his wine glass for the first time since they had sat down.

"You're not going out tonight."

Draco's eyebrows leapt upwards. He looked quickly at his mother, who had remained decisively silent.


His father gulped the last of his wine down and set the glass down, reached for the bottle to re-fill it. "We're staying in."

"You might be."


When he was younger, the tone alone would have shut him up. Now, at 15 and having gained a few inches in height that summer holiday, he wasn't quite as meek. He appealed to his mother, his brow furrowing in confusion and anger.

"I'm not just going to sit here all night. I'm not a child."

"Draco…" Narcissa's face was twisted with uncertainty. "We've heard… well, it's supposed to get a little rowdy tonight."


"You're not going out, so you might as well sit down," came his father's curt response.

Draco's temper flared. It had been a long summer, and this final escape from days spent whiling away hours in the cold marbled halls of Malfoy Manor could not now be snatched away. He turned and headed for the front of the tent, his head held high. A faint sizzle caught at his ears before a jet of light shot past him – the tent flaps solidified, locked shut, and Draco whirled around to find his father slotting his wand back into his cane.

"What are you doing?" he demanded, his voice rising. "What, you're going to lock me in?"

His father picked up his wine glass once more, his gaze directed coolly at the the tip of his cane.

"Don't shout."

"Why, are you going to silencio me?"

The fingertips atop the cane twitched, and Narcissa's hand flung out in a wordless appeal. She was sitting up very straight, her face tight, her hand clasped over the top of her husband's to prevent the wand from being drawn. She looked up, her lips thin.

"Draco," she said, her voice level, "we've heard there's going to be some trouble. We don't want you getting caught up in anything."

"Fine, I won't join any cults," he said coldly, the injustice of the situation preventing him from matching her tone. "But I'm not just sitting here all night like an idiot."

He saw something flash between them, saw hesitation on his mother's face. His father's eyes darkened considerably. Narcissa rose to her feet and made her way across the tent towards him. He could see that she was about to offer an olive branch, and had the sense to remain quiet until she reached him.

"I won't go far."

"Where are you going?"

"Nott's," he answered without missing a beat. "His tent is literally three down from ours."

"And what's he planning on doing?"

"I don't know, just a few drinks, a chat about the match."

"He's not going out anywhere?"

"No – I don't know – if he is I won't go. Ok?"

He held her gaze, imploring her, and he could see he had won. Perhaps because she knew as well as he did how dismal that summer had been. It had been quiet, to say the least. He knew she hated seeing him slouch around the house by himself, and after another moment's hesitation she nodded.

"Alright. So you'll go to Nott's, and you'll come back here by eleven."

He opened his mouth to argue, but he could almost feel his father seething in the background, and he knew better than to push his luck. His mother retrieved her wand from the folds of her dress and flicked it at the tent flaps, returning them to their previous state.

"Be careful," she said as he turned to go. "Stay out of… Well."

He just nodded. He left before his father's stony silence erupted.

Outside the air was fresh and smelled like firework smoke and food. He wove his way through the crowds, his boots sinking into the churned, muddy ground, pulling a box of cigarettes from his pocket as he went. Somewhere nearby someone was projecting a massive dancing leprechaun into the air, which was tossing handfuls of gold down. As soon as it hit the ground it disintegrated, but some people tried to catch the fluttering coins anyway. He tapped out a cigarette and lit it with a wave of his wand, holding it gently between his teeth.

Nott's tent really was only a short walk away, but he was relieved to see the other boy standing outside as he approached – he did not much fancy sitting down with Ralph Nott's red, earnest face. The other boy was about the same height as Draco but perhaps not as lithe-limbed, a little heavier set. His shoulders were constantly rounded, his head always looking downwards. He had slightly shaggy dark hair and a square face, a face which brightened considerably at the sight of Draco. He picked up a bag which sat at his feet and came to meet him.

"Thought you weren't coming. I was about to head off."

"Head off?"

"Yeah." Nott shrugged sheepishly. "My Dad turns in pretty early."

Draco shrugged, taking a long drag on his cigarette. Nott eyed it with interest, but Draco didn't bother offering one. He still wasn't entirely sure if he wanted to stay. But before he could contemplate where else he could slip off to, Nott had turned and begun to walk away, bag in tow. The promise of firewhisky had caught Draco's attention, and with an inward sigh he followed Nott's lead through the thick, laughing, singing, shouting crowds.

"It's crazy here, huh?" Nott threw back over his shoulder.

It seemed a fairly mundane statement, one which did not justify a response. Instead, Draco finished his cigarette and flicked it away into the mud, wrinkling his nose in distaste as a drunk witch shoved past him. He hoped that Nott was taking them somewhere with a little more space. They made their way through the thronging crush of the main campsite, and he realised that they were approaching the forest. As they drew nearer to the treeline he picked out a fallen tree which, by the look of a few crumpled cans nearby, doubled as a bench. Draco frowned as Nott made a beeline for it and sat down, placing the bag on his knee.

"Here?" he said, looking around. The tree looked wet.

"Yeah," Nott said. He seemed to note Draco's disdain. "I know it's not inside – just Dad's at mine and… well, unless we can go to yours?"

That, obviously, was not an option. And so, sighing, Draco brought out his wand and siphoned off some of the dampness on the trunk before sitting down warily. Nott looked distinctly relieved and took out two glasses and a bottle from the bag on his lap.

"What is it?"


"Yeah, I can see that," Draco smirked. "I mean what type?"

Nott's face was blank. Rolling his eyes, Draco reached for the bottle and studied the label. He could almost sense Nott's nervousness, and couldn't help but feel somewhat empowered. Despite the fact that he was not quite as knowledgeable about whiskeys as he was letting on, he recognised the brand as an expensive one, and inferred subsequently that it was probably from Ralph Nott's private collection rather than Theodore's own pocket. Which boded well, although that was where his insight ended.

"Is it ok?"

He let a pause hang in the air, unable to resist prolonging Nott's uncertainty, before finally nodding and passing it back. Nott poured it out for them – slopping far too much out, Draco noticed – and then handed him a glass.

"To the Irish, huh?"

"Krum's team let him down," Draco replied ruefully. He frowned at the brown liquid before pointing his wand at it and conjuring a couple of sleek ice cubes, swirling them about a couple of times, and finally taking a leisurely sip. The harsh taste hit the back of his throat at once, shrivelling his next words slightly as they left his tongue. "I would never play with a team that shit backing me up."

Nott agreed fervently, and they were able to relax into the easiness of talking about Quidditch. Quidditch was a great unifier, his father had always said. No matter what class, no matter what creed, everyone could bond over Quidditch. And, to his surprise, Draco found himself actually enjoying the conversation. Once he'd had a couple of firewhiskeys, Nott was far more interesting conversation. He was beginning to feel rather blurry when he noticed some commotion that was going on over at the main campsite – something that had been going on for some time, but which he only noticed when two girls he recognised from the year below in Hogwarts went sprinting past. The brief glimpse of the panic in their faces made him break off mid-sentence.

"What's going on?"

Nott, who had been listening to him ramble about Seekers, clearly also hadn't noticed the bustle. He blinked at him, and then looked past him at the campsite. His eyebrows lifted.

"Oh, right. Looks like it's kicking off."

"What's kicking off?"

Nott gave him an odd look. "You don't know? I thought you'd be straight in there."

"In there for what?"

Draco craned his neck to see. There was a crowd of black-clad people moving in a tight-knit group, and above them he could see three distant figures suspended limply in the air.

"Malfoy… they're Death Eaters."

Draco blanched, his glass freezing halfway up to his mouth. As soon as Nott said it, he could see it. He could make out the masks against the black hoods. Just as quickly he realised who the figures were and felt his stomach coil. Suddenly everything his parents had been saying made sense. Their furtive glances, their willingness to rot in the tent on the most exciting night of the Cup. He gripped the glass tightly, his mind racing. Because if he was spotted now, he would be expected to join in. He knew that instinctively.

"You getting in there?"

He looked quickly at Nott, who was eyeing him with his head cocked uncertainly on one side. It was as if the other boy was expecting Draco to take the lead and stride off into the fray. He refused to. And yet he was acutely aware of the strange situation he had managed to plant himself in – the sons of two supposed Death Eaters, watching a Death Eater march, wondering who was going to make the first move. He felt a vivid aversion as soon as he looked at the group, at the three levitating figures. And not because they were Muggles.

"What do you think?"

"I promised I wouldn't," he said, unable to think of anything else.


He shrugged, gulping down a little more of the firewhiskey, doing his best to seem nonchalant about it. But Nott suddenly had a strange expression on his face, and Draco narrowed his eyes in an attempt to ward off any unwanted scrutiny, but that wasn't what was going on. Nott's mouth was twisted, his nostrils flaring slightly.


"Nothing," he said quickly. He concentrated fiercely on his firewhiskey, his movements a little more clumsy. "Just… Your mum didn't want you to get involved, right?"

Draco could only stare. Nott cleared his throat and downed the last of his firewhiskey.

"Doesn't matter."

"What?" That old, childish fear of being made fun of reared its ugly head in Draco's chest, and he felt a wave of anger follow it. "You have some kind of problem?"

Nott hesitated. "No. Just… Mine died. Unfortunately. A couple of months ago."

It was the second shock in a short amount of time, and Draco was suddenly speechless. He swallowed awkwardly. Nott was still staring at his glass, as if it had become the most interesting thing in the world. He reached for the firewhiskey, pouring a little more out.

"I'm sorry," Draco managed at last, after a stiff pause.

Nott waved his words away. His face was scrunched up, as if he had just tasted something extremely sour. Even as Draco searched for words to mend the situation the other boy stood up.

"I'm going to see what they're up to."

"They're just marching around," Draco said, trying to keep his tone jovial. "What's the point?"

"I don't know." Nott's jaw was tight. "Haven't you ever wanted to belong to something?"

He paused a beat, as if waiting for Draco's reaction. When he received nothing, he simply shrugged, picked up the bottle of firewhiskey, and headed off towards the main campsite. Draco watched until his figure melted into the hundreds of silhouettes darting here and there in panic. He sat there until his glass was empty, and then took another cigarette from his pocket and put it between his teeth, eyeing the fray uncertainly. The screams were growing in numbers and people were beginning to send great, flaming fireballs at the tents. He felt a twinge of concern for his parents, but their tent was in a more prestigious area, and he very much doubted that the Death Eaters would be targeting them.

He felt horribly exposed sitting there on his own, as if he were waiting for a Death Eater to come striding over and demand to know why he was not getting involved. Eventually he rose to his feet and slipped away into the forest, taking slow drags of smoke, allowing a few minutes more to himself before returning to his parents' tent. His mother would be worried, of course, but he couldn't help but feel suffocated when he was with them. The two of them were constantly at odds, and he was forever stuck between them. He had been more disappointed than he had cared to admit to himself when Zabini had said he would be in France all summer. There was only so much time he could spend with just Crabbe and Goyle before their stupidity drove him away, and Parkinson, although slightly better conversation, always flirted so much. If they weren't his only real friends – and even that word was stretching the concept – he felt sure he would have shaken them off long ago. But Hogwarts was a big place, particularly when you were alone.

In the depths of the forest people were scurrying around, keeping together in close-knit groups, flinching at every shadow. Their fear was distant to him, as if he were watching the whole evening from the inside of a bubble. He felt so very indifferent to it all – he didn't want to get involved with the Death Eaters and their violent celebrations, but at the same time he did not relish the idea of rescuing half-bloods from the fires. Instead he wandered somewhat aimlessly through the trees, listening to the distant noise of the commotion, until a familiar voice and a heavy thud reached his ears.


"Ron! Where are you? Oh, this is ridiculous…"

The high-pitched, forever bossy, forever interrupting voice broke through the air as clear as a bell, and abruptly a wand lit up not so far away. The dark trees were bathed in silvery light, blinding compared to the dimness his eyes had adjusted to. The first thing he saw was Granger's face, lit strangely by her wand, her hair huge and frizzy, looking as usual as if she had recently fallen out of a tree. Her brow was furrowed in irritation as she waved her wand from side to side, until at last it fell on a ginger-haired boy struggling to disentangle himself from the shrubbery.

"Tripped over a tree root," the heap said.

Draco flicked the cigarette butt away and, unable to pass up the opportunity, moved forwards to lean against a tree, just in sight of them. He could see Potter now, standing close to Granger, squinting through his round glasses. The sight of them was oddly comforting in its familiarity, even if he did feel a sting of jealousy alongside it.

"Well, with feet that size, hard not to," he said loudly, grinning as the three of them flinched in surprise.

Weasley's face tightened in anger at once and his ears turned a vibrant red. He scrambled up to his feet, scowling into the dark trees.

"Go fuck yourself, Malfoy," he snapped.

Draco arched an eyebrow. "Language, Weasley," he smirked.

He turned his gaze on Granger, who was watching him with a tight-lipped, wary stare, her illuminated wand held in front of her as if in defence. The sight of her there confused him slightly – why on earth were the three bumbling idiots wandering around in the forest anyway? Particularly with Death Eaters on a rampage. Their stupidity never failed to amaze him. He decided to drop them a hint.

"Hadn't you better be hurrying along, now? You wouldn't like her spotted, would you?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Granger lifted her chin defiantly.

He stared at her. Surely she couldn't be so dull? As if she thought that the Death Eaters didn't know who she was – they knew about all of them. Granger's name was forbidden in his own house, a sour reminder that a Mudblood had beaten him in every class last year. He jerked his head at the campsite, the dull roar of the crowd still audible.

"Granger, they're after Muggles," he said slowly, as if speaking to a child. "D'you want to be showing off your knickers in mid-air? Because, if you do, hang around… they're moving this way, and it would give us all a laugh."

Her face flushed red, and Potter moved forwards a little to stand slightly in front of her.

"Hermione's a witch," he said sternly, as if that solved it all.

As if he thought that Granger being a witch would protect her. If anything, being a Mudblood made her more of a target. How they couldn't see that – even now, after everything they had already faced in their magical little adventures – was beyond him. He really was going to have to spell it out for them.

"Have it your own way, Potter," he said. "If you think they can't spot a Mudblood, stay where you are."

"Watch your mouth!" Weasley snapped furiously.

But Granger was looking at him, hesitating, and he felt that his point had finally hit home. He looked back coolly, and for a fraction of a second, he found himself simply taking her in. He didn't usually bother to look at her for any great deal of time. And yet, there she was - her wild hair framing her small face, the freckles on her nose illuminated by the glow of her wand. Her serious eyes seemed to search his face, dark brown, very clear. X-ray eyes, he thought to himself musingly. Her lips tightened slightly, and she suddenly reached for Weasley's arm as he made a lunge forwards – Draco's hand moved to his pocket to rest on his wand – and pulled him back.

"Never mind, Ron," she muttered.

There was a sudden bang from nearby and, this time, all four of them jumped. Screams erupted and the sound of running feet on the forest floor reached his ears. Draco snorted, trying to shake off the anxiety that was beginning to creep up his spine.

"Scare easily, don't they?" he said, hoping they hadn't noticed him flinch. "I suppose your daddy told you all to hide? What's he up to – trying to rescue the Muggles?"

"Where're your parents?" Potter retorted quickly. "Out there wearing masks, are they?"


Draco found himself hesitating. In all honesty, he didn't know. In his mind, he was sure that both of his parents were locked up in the tent with their wine, his mother still trying to make stalling conversation over the sounds of the carnage. And yet, some small part of him wandered if his father had donned a mask and gone out to join them. After all, he had to maintain his reputation. He felt a shiver of revulsion and, realising he had paused for some time, twisted his face into a smirk.

"If they were, I wouldn't be likely to tell you, would I, Potter?"

"Oh, come on," Granger said coldly. "Let's go and find the others."

"Keep that busy head down, Granger," he called after them.

She shot a glare over her shoulder but did not stop, one boy in each hand as she towed them away.

"Come on," she muttered.

And then they were gone, and he was left standing there alone again. He watched the trees that had swallowed them up, somewhat startled at his own behaviour. Why had he spoken to them at all? More to the point, why had he warned them? He wasn't supposed to care what they did or what happened to them. And he didn't, not really. But he couldn't help the fact that the idea of Death Eaters closing in around Granger's obnoxiously large head bothered him. He just wasn't sure why.

He turned and made his way back towards the edge of the trees, skirting around the front of the camp in an attempt to avoid the main pockets of Death Eaters. He had only just left the treeline when a burst of green light lit up the world and he felt his whole body jerk away in fright. He narrowed his eyes, squinting up into the brightness, and saw the light taking the form of a large, gaping skull. The shape of a snake appeared between its teeth and unwound, tongue flickering, and he felt a wave of intense discomfort roll over him. He tried to convince himself that it was the firewhiskey, but he knew that it wasn't. He quickened his pace, heading back to his tent, keeping to the edges of the site. He was afraid to run in case he aroused suspicion, afraid to walk slowly in case he was found. His mouth tasted dry and his palms clammy. He kept his eyes on the ground, kept one hand resting on the pocket that held his wand.

As he approached their tent – which, as he had expected, was completely untouched – he caught sight of a figure hovering uncertainly outside it, framed in orange-lit smoke. He allowed himself to break into a run as he neared her and she whirled around, her wand half-drawn.


Narcissa snatched at him, pulled him into the tent with her arm around his shoulders. Her grip was tight, as to confirm that he was real.

"Where have you been? It's late!" she said, words tumbling from her mouth in a stream of anxiety and relief.


She jerked her wand at the tent entrance, allowing it to solidify, barricading them in. The noise was instantly muted. He looked around, and for one moment he thought that they were alone. And then something moved and he glanced over to see his father uncurling from his high-backed chair, leaning over to see who had entered. His eyes narrowed. Then, without saying a word, he leaned back in his chair once more and returned to his wine.

His mother was looking him over closely and he let her, knowing it would be easier to get it over with rather than protesting. She sniffed and shot him a warning glance, and he swore inwardly for not remembering to cleanse himself of the smell of smoke before entering. But she said nothing, and he could only assume that the evening had already gone so badly that she was happy to avoid any hint of further confrontation. She glanced at the chair which held his father and then nodded at the curtain at the other side of the tent, through which was his room.

"Go to bed," she said shortly. "We're leaving very early tomorrow morning."

He went without arguing. He didn't bother changing – instead he just lay down on his back on the plush bed that had been set up for him and listened to the muted sounds of screaming outside. It was finally beginning to die down. Perhaps the Death Eaters had had their fun. Perhaps they had seen the Mark and been just as scared as he.

And still, lying there in the dark, he couldn't help but wonder whether that serious-eyed girl had escaped from the fray.


Six Months After the Battle of Hogwarts

He had been waiting in the rain for three hours now, and the cold had soaked through to his bones.

A water-repellent charm had managed to keep him mostly dry, even if it did falter after being cast for so long, but he was too tired to keep trying to warm himself. Instead, he crammed as much of his body into the dingy doorway as he could and watched either end of the alleyway in turn, waiting for a short, stubby, hunched figure to appear out of the twilight. Knockturn Alley had a particular kind of creeping, ugly smell about it, and by now it had eaten into his clothes.

He was distracted briefly by a sharp twinge in his chest and shut his eyes against it, the pain doing nothing to improve his mood. It was accompanied by the familiar sickening vertigo and he put his hand against the cold, damp brick of the alleyway, desperately praying that he wasn't about to throw up in public. He had managed to avoid it so far and didn't plan on starting now. The world tilted once more and then finally, as he forced himself to breathe as deeply as possible, began to right itself. As usual, the brief episode left behind a dull, throbbing headache, and the last of his patience disappeared promptly evaporated.

Dragging his wand from his jacket, he threw a Patronus – the third of that hour – into the air with a violent stab. It twisted up towards the sky and disappeared into the thick rainclouds. And no sooner had he lowered his wand than a small, stocky man appeared at the end of the alleyway with a loud crack. Mundungus Fletcher, to be precise, carrying a cane and a cloak over his arm which looked extremely new and of a quality foreign to Fletcher's usual moth-eaten style. He was grinning widely, as if he had just won an unexpected bet. An expression which quickly fell off his face when he caught sight of the tall, slender figure waiting in his doorway.

"M-Malfoy… I… Our appointment was today, was it?"

Draco unfolded himself slowly from the corner, seething. He kept his wand drawn, with half a mind to curse Fletcher into next week.

"Fuck off, Fletcher," he said icily. "Where the fuck have you been?"

"Just… A family friend, you see, very ill–"

"I suppose my Patronus mumbled, did it?"

Fletcher declined to answer. He inched forwards, fumbling in his pocket for his wand. Draco stood there for a moment longer in front of the door, daring the little man to ask him to move, before slowly stepping clear. Short fingers waved a short wand clumsily at the lock and the door clicked open.

"You understand, Malfoy, it's been a difficult time, I run this all on my own and it's a lot of work, of course…"

"Just move."

Fletcher scurried into the tiny apartment like a rat into a drainpipe. Draco picked up the suitcase waiting beside his feet and followed him in, wrinkling his nose in distaste at the state of the place. They had entered a tiny, cramped kitchen. Three separate ashtrays sat balanced precariously on different objects around the room, dishes were piled high in the sink, and the surfaces were covered with boxes of different shapes and sizes. Something in a large box on the floor was leaking a dark orange paste which smelled like rotting vegetables. Draco put his suitcase down gingerly, reluctant to let it touch the ground. His hands were dry and numb from the cold and he folded his arms tightly across his chest, wincing at the small stab of pain still lingering there.

"Fletcher!" he snapped.

The other man had disappeared into another room, and he heard a dull reply from somewhere deeper inside the flat. Draco sniffed, ran a hand through his damp hair in an attempt to keep it neatly pushed back. He felt stale and cracked, and his eyes were aching, and his head was now throbbing violently. The last thing he wanted was to be standing in this crappy kitchen. Although, a small, treacherous voice reminded him, it wasn't like he had anywhere else to go.

Fletcher finally reappeared from a dark doorway, a large wooden box in his hands. He balanced it on the side of the sink and began rooting through it hastily, not even daring to look up.

"If you screw me over like this one more time, I'm telling the fucking Aurors where your little hideout is."

"I must've mixed up the dates, Malfoy!" Fletcher said, shooting him a querulous grin. "No need to get nasty, no need…"

"Will you hurry the fuck up?"

"It's here, it's here."

Fletcher finally produced three small bottles from the depths of the box and held them out, all crammed into one shaking hand, his gaze stiffly averted. The bottles clinked together innocuously. Draco stared at them for a few long moments before lifting his icy gaze to Fletcher, who was practically sweating with anxiety. Doing his best to swallow down his rapidly boiling temper, he reached out and plucked the three bottles from Fletcher's grip.

"There had better be more in that box of yours."

"I had someone fall through for me, a contact… This was all I could–"

"You've got to be fucking joking," Draco spat. His hand had coiled around the bottles so tightly that he had to force himself to relax his grip, worried about breaking them. He slipped them into his inside jacket pocket, the familiar weight settling there. Fletcher's voice was shrill.

"There's nothing I could do, I tried, I really did!"

"Then give me back my money. Now."

Fletcher had backed up against the kitchen counter, the box held in front of himself as if in defence. His eyes skittered from left to right and a wobbly, strained smirk hovered over his lips in a futile attempt at lightening the mood. He gave a small, jerky shake of his head. Draco felt his temper growing white hot.

"Fletcher. My money. Now."

"Mr. Malfoy," Fletcher began helplessly. "The money went on your order and on… on facilities and expenses involved… I'm just waiting for the delivery, you see, and so…"

Draco had drawn his wand before he had even realised what his hands were doing. Fletcher clutched the box tighter as he raised it warningly.

"You had better produce some money from somewhere in this dingy little hovel or I'm going to blow your balls off."

"There isn't any! I don't have any, times have been tough on me recently."

"Find some."

"From where?"

"Pull it out of your fucking arse!"

A jolt of energy spat from the end of his wand and hit Fletcher's box – the other man dropped it in fright and a collection of items tumbled over the floor. A small tin box popped open and a stream of caterpillars began wriggling across the kitchen tiles; several bottles smashed and smoking liquid formed small puddles; a vial of bright violet petals splurged on the ground. Fletcher made a ducking movement, as if to try to save some of the stock. Draco's eyes hardened and he sent a more deliberate curse at the objects. A fiery jet hit them and something exploded in a small puff of blue smoke.

"Damn it, damn it!"

Fletcher darted back from the mess, swearing under his breath. He looked up, raising his hands, waiting for a blow.

"Look, look – there's nothing I can do. There's nothing – Malfoy – please, just be reasonable. I'll chase the order. It'll be here by next week. Latest."

Draco glared at the little, pale-faced man quivering in front of him. In the past six months he had made a conscious effort to avoid violence, and yet he was sure that hexing the pug-faced, stubby criminal into oblivion would bring him nothing but joy in that moment. But there was nothing to be done. He could kill Fletcher on the spot, and yet if he did so he would be striking down his only dealer. He needed Fletcher, for all he hated him. He lowered his wand, his jaw tight with fury, and stowed it away in his jacket.

"One week," he snarled. "And if I don't get it by then, I'll curse your head off your shoulders."

Fletcher nodded desperately, relief shining in his shiny face. Draco turned on his heel and stormed out with grateful nothings ringing in his ears, snatching up his suitcase on the way.

It had begun to rain even harder during their brief, heated discussion inside, and he was reminded of just how cold it was. He pulled his collar up against it, felt the familiar ache intensify in his chest. Quite suddenly, he felt bone weary. The night before had been difficult, to say the least. He closed his eyes for a few long seconds, letting himself give up for a while. Just for a little while… But his chest was hurting and his head was still pounding and he forced his hand into his inside pocket. He caught hold of one of the bottles, un-stoppered it and took a couple of thick gulps. At first the taste had made him wince – now he almost enjoyed it. Numbness settled slowly over him like a blanket and he dropped the bottle back into his pocket with a sigh.

Now, the only thing left to do was to find somewhere to go.

He hefted his suitcase and started walking, shoulders hunched against the rain, head bent to the floor. Water blurred and rippled eerily on the ground as he walked. The shimmering wasn't completely real, he knew. More a side effect of the potion. Pleasant in some ways, unnerving in others. He walked slowly. He wasn't sure where he was hoping to find himself when he stopped – he didn't have a room to go back to tonight. He had been hoping to ask Fletcher for help, find out if there was somewhere more discreet offering cheaper places to stay, but their conversation had started sour and ended so badly that he hadn't even thought to mention it.

So, for now, all he could do was walk.

The soft haze the potion had induced helped to take his mind off the hopeless situation he had ended up in. Even though the rain somewhat punctured this cloud, it was enough to keep him from having to consider his options too closely. He had been forced to sleep rough more than he liked to think about recently, and he knew somewhere deep in his gut that such an arrangement was the most likely outcome of the evening. He had a few places stowed away in the back of his mind which might just offer him some shelter. Until that day, he had been staying in a small Muggle house on the outskirts of London, the owners of which were on holiday. But that morning the front door had opened and he had awoken to the sound of voices which announced their return. He had managed to set a glamour charm on them to confuse them long enough to pack and Disapparate, hoping they would put the rumpled bedsheets and missing food down to a random squatter. He wouldn't be able to return that night, and he had long since run out of places to turn at times like this.


He stopped, snapping out of his own thoughts and coming back to earth with a bump. He was still somewhere in the vicinity of Knockturn Alley – his feet had carried him back towards the centre of the wizarding community. Sitting on a step which was sheltered from the rain by an overhanging door frame was a thin, reedy figure with straggling grey hair, wrapped in several layers of dirty clothing. He sat in a damp sleeping bag, the only possessions in sight a small, torn bag and a china teapot, which was currently levitating in the air, pouring steaming tea into a chipped cup. Beady blue eyes scuttled up and down, taking in Draco with expert precision. Draco relaxed, lowering the hand that had jerked towards his wand.

"Evening, Leroy," he said, crossing the alleyway to stand under the cover beside him. "How are you?"

"You know, you know," Leroy grumbled. He was rooting through his bag, and soon drew out a second dirty cup and a crumpled packet of broken biscuits. He waved them at Draco earnestly. "You wan one?"

Draco shook his head, suddenly becoming acutely aware of how empty his stomach felt. "Don't worry, I'm fine."

Leroy scoffed but didn't argue. He pulled a wand from his sleeping bag, broken in two places and held together with tape and sloppy charms, and stabbed it at the teapot, which dropped out of the air and settled on the ground like a descending owl.

"S'cold tonight," he announced, like a weather reporter. "Winter coming in. You want to be finding better places to be going. Don't want to be outside in this."

"What about you?" Draco retorted, folding his arms against the cold. "You're outside."

Leroy grinned a toothless smile, tapped his nose with one finger. "Ah, but I knows places to go."

Draco couldn't help but let out a short, hopeless laugh. He retrieved a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and tapped two free, offering one to Leroy. The old man seized it at once and winked at Draco cheerily.

"Ah, there, there now, he looks after me!" he said to no one in particular, waving the cigarette in the air. "Who looks after me, eh?"

Draco smiled, putting the cigarette between his teeth. He focused on the end of it, but it took him a couple of tries to make it light. His mood, which had briefly lifted, dampened once more. He had been able to do the trick since their last year at Hogwarts, and had been rather proud of the admiration it drew him. But now even the small flicker of fire made his head pound once more and he had to close his eyes for a few long moments before the unsteadiness receded. When he opened them, he found Leroy studying him closely, sucking on the end of the cigarette like a lolly.

"You, now," he said darkly. "You need sorting out."

"Yeah, well," Draco muttered, "You let me know when you find someone who can do it."

Leroy sniffed and hung his head, cigarette in one hand and teacup in the other. They stayed there in companionable silence, the hiss of the rain all around them. The sky was very dark and the buildings reared high above them, the tiled roofs disappearing into blackness. It was at times like this that London felt like an alien place, fortified against intruders, doors closed to strangers. Draco felt a sudden, odd nostalgia for Malfoy Manor. He hadn't seen it in over six months, and his last memories there were anything but pleasant. And yet still, in some ways he could just about remember it as the idyllic country house it had been in his youth. Green, open land had stretched for miles to see, like an unmarked map. For one wild moment he imagined Apparating there. But, of course, it was impossible.

He suddenly felt Leroy elbowing his leg insistently and looked down, blinking, torn from his memories. The old man's keen eyes were fixed on the end of the alleyway, his mouth firmly downturned.

"Them friends of yours?"

Draco followed his gaze. There, at the corner he had turned only a few minutes ago, were three figures emerging out of the gloom. He recognised a face just before it disappeared under a glossy black mask, saw cloak hoods being pulled up.

His stomach dropped away and he let the cigarette fall, every hair on end, every nerve suddenly jangling. With a sharp crack Leroy was gone, leaving behind the teapot, still steaming steadily from its spout. The sight of it there alone was somewhat forlorn – Leroy never went anywhere without that teapot – but there wasn't time for Draco to retrieve it. He was already backing up, his hand slipping into his jacket to clutch his wand. He might have hoped that no one had noticed him, but the three figures had stepped out into the open now and instantly came towards him. He looked from one to the next nervously, his chest growing tight.

"Nice night for a walk."

The voice was distorted beneath the mask but he knew it at once. He stopped, gripping his suitcase tightly, his other hand still in his pocket around his wand. It was as if his brain was still catching up with the turn of events – he was frozen, rooted to the spot.

"How's life then, Malfoy?" another distorted voice said lightly. "How's the other side treating you?"

"I heard they wouldn't take him," the first spoke up again. "I heard now he doesn't even have a side. He's just kind of floating around in the middle."

"That sounds about right," Draco said, doing his best to claw back his haughty sternness. He lifted his chin, his eyes narrowing. "I can tell you right now I have absolutely nothing worth taking. So–"

"Taking?" one of the masked figures said incredulously. "We're not here to mug you, for god's sake. What do you think this is, Malfoy?"

Draco tried to smirk. "A friendly reunion?"

One of them made a sudden move, and Draco dodged backwards at once. The curse flew past his face, but even as he evaded its path there was another rapid movement and something struck his arm. He let out a yelp as an unnerving coolness spread over his skin. He pulled his wand out, levelled it at the three of them, shaking his wet hair out of his face.

"Don't," he said, the warning punctured by his shaking voice. "Stay away from me."

"Please, Malfoy," the middle figure laughed. "Daddy's not here to talk you out of this one."

He didn't dare stay a moment longer. He took a step backwards, sent a stun in their general direction and turned on the spot. But instead of Disapparating his head only span violently – it was like he had jumped from something high and impacted the ground hard. The sudden vertigo, coupled with a stab of pain in his chest, had him tumbling onto the ground. He caught himself awkwardly with one hand, twisted around, terrified to lose sight of them.

The figures were laughing, and they were moving closer to him, wands drawn. He scrambled backwards, sending a jinx their way, which they blocked easily.

"Like it?" the tallest figure said. "The Aurors developed it – they've been using it to stop us from getting away. Only we figured it out. It's good, isn't it? Stops you from Disapparating – as I'm sure you've realised."

His heart thudded in panic. His blood was roaring in his ears. The sky had darkened rapidly as night closed in around them, and he was all too aware of how far away they were from busy, lively areas of the city. They were secluded here. There was nobody coming to help him, no one who would even notice he was missing. He gripped his wand tightly, flitting desperately between his dwindling options as one of the masked faces came closer and leered down at him. He could just about make out the small, narrowed eyes glaring at him through the dark slits.

"So," a low voice said softly, "Do you remember what we do to traitors?"

He saw the wand lifting, the tip glowing red, and jerked into motion without wasting another moment on hesitation. He flung out his wand and the bricks and mortar making up the walls of the alleyway exploded inwards in a burst of powder and smoke – the paving stones around his feet echoed them, spraying the Death Eater leaning over him in a film of dust. He heard several jinxes whizzing his way but he was already on his feet and running by the time they hit where he had been. He sprinted for the mouth of the alleyway and rounded the corner as a chorus of angry voices rang after him.

It was lucky, in a roundabout kind of way, that he knew the area so well after all those nights spent out in the cold. He wove his way behind a small shop and over the fence of a small, grimy courtyard behind a block of crooked flats – he felt rather than saw the fence explode just after he cleared it, felt the heat of flames on the back of his neck. Pure adrenaline screamed in his veins and he pushed himself faster, careering out into the narrow street beyond. He barely had time to judge where he was before hexes were streaming after him – to his dismay, his pursuers were not giving up as easily as he hoped. His only option was to get as close as he could to Diagon Alley and hope that they would back off once the threat of being discovered became more immediate. His breathing was tight in his lungs and his chest was beginning to throb with a persistent, steadily growing pain. His initial energy was already beginning to fade. He suspected he had only a couple of minutes left before the pain grew too much to keep running.

He tried to ignore the hexes hissing past his face, ducking and weaving around as many corners as he possibly could. As he bolted past a dingy, boarded up shop he suddenly found himself looking at the end of Knockturn Alley and, beyond it, the archway which led to Diagon – he could make it, they surely wouldn't follow him that far into the public eye. Panting, legs aching, chest searing with a steady burn, he launched himself towards it – and a heavy, smarting blow struck his shoulder and sent him crashing to the damp ground. He landed hard and agony speared into him as his body punished him for his reckless impact, winding what little breath he had left. His vision blotted out as if hid by puddles of ink, and he blinked furiously as he tried to clear it. A dull throb was growing stronger somewhere on his forehead, and when he lifted his hand to touch it he felt warm stickiness.


Desperation kicking in, he scrambled unsteadily to his knees just in time to meet the booted foot which slammed into his stomach. The world flipped on its head and when he was able to stop gasping for air he found himself curled on the floor, his own mind screaming at him in blind panic. Why didn't you run? Why didn't you fucking run faster! Why, why! He tried to stop retching and gasping, tried to swallow down a couple of deep breaths, cracked his eyes open.

They had formed a rough circle around him, all breathing heavily, all with wands drawn. He wasn't sure where his own had gone – he had dropped it when he fell – but there was little point trying to summon it now. He knew he wouldn't be able to even if he tried. His head was spinning sickeningly. He managed to push himself up onto his elbow, pressed the heel of one hand against the hot, wet, painful area above his left eye.

"Got you."

He raised his head. The masks were expressionless, but he knew they were smiling. He had a sudden, sad wish that he had been able to die in a less pathetic way – maybe mid-battle at Hogwarts, surely a more honourable death than lying in a gutter in Knockturn Alley… He fastened his teeth over his lip as the tip of a wand was shoved towards his face, the end glowing threateningly. A final resolve hit him – he wouldn't give them the satisfaction of hearing him scream…

And then, like a puppet abruptly cut from the performance, one of the cloaked figures was lifted off his feet and flung across the alleyway. The other two Death Eaters span about and Draco squinted helplessly through the blood streaming into his eye, wondering if he had gone mad. He was just about able to make out a tall figure standing at the end of the alleyway, wand drawn, dramatically framed by the streetlights on Diagon Alley. The figure strode forwards and, like rats before a cat, the Death Eaters scattered. Draco turned to watch them go, bewildered at the sudden turn of events, watched them twisting into nothingness, one snatching hold of their fallen comrade as they went. And, just like that, they were gone and he was lying in the wet gutter of the alleyway clutching his head like a drunk who had just woken from a nightmare. He felt the rainwater eating through his blazer sleeve, felt the throbbing in his head and chest, felt the tightness of his lungs, and wondered at how many times he could stare Death straight in the face before it finally swallowed him up.

"Are you alright?"

He flinched, blinked up at the person who had by now hurried over to him. It was a she, he could finally make out – a young woman with ink black hair pulled back in a stern ponytail, a few curly strands escaping at the sides, and a serious, unsmiling face. Her cloak shifted as she knelt down and he recognised the Aurors robes she wore beneath it.

"Are you alright?" she said again, more loudly this time.

He nodded dumbly, still struggling to pull a deep breath into his shuddering chest. She reached out and pulled his hand away from his face, making him wince.


A wand stabbed at him and he tensed for a moment, but then the pain in his head was suddenly receding to a half-hearted ache and he could feel the skin of his forehead knitting back together. The woman sat back on her heels, frowning at him, looking him up and down.

"Any other injuries?"

He shook his head. Her face twitched slightly in frustration – apparently she wasn't impressed by his lack of speech. She stood up, holding out a hand to pull him to his feet, but he declined her with a wave of his hand. He had not quite managed to pull himself together. His chest still hurt and he wanted nothing more than to remain sitting there in the gutter until the world just went away, but she clearly wasn't in any hurry to leave and he was beginning to realise how undignified his current position was. He looked around, held out a hand and silently Accio'd his wand, which appeared out of the darkness on the other side of the alleyway. It seemed to be in one piece, and he slipped it carefully into his jacket before reaching for the wall and heaving himself up to his feet. The ground bucked treacherously and he had to keep one hand braced against the bricks, hoping he wasn't about to have a sudden and painful reintroduction to the ground.

"What's your name?"

He squinted at the stern-faced woman, who was still standing in front of him. Her arms were folded and she still held her wand, as if prepared to use it, her head cocked questioningly to one side. He hesitated. Historically speaking, Aurors didn't tend to hold him in great admiration. But she didn't look like she was going to back off and he didn't have a lot of choice. Not answering her questions would get him in more trouble than just accommodating them for now. He sighed, brushed at his jacket and trousers.


"Draco Malfoy?" Her eyebrow quirked as he nodded. "I take it you don't get on with your old friends so well these days?"

He bit back a sharp retort, turning instead to look for his suitcase, which he caught sight of not far away. He summoned it and pulled his coat straight, but before he could duck past her she had held out her arm and blocked his way. He stopped, silently seething.

"I don't know who they were," he said flatly. "I haven't had any contact with them since the Battle."

"Indeed?" her tone indicated that she wasn't sold. "Not the slightest idea?"

He jerked one shoulder in a non-committal shrug. "I couldn't be sure."

He kept his eyes fixed on Diagon Alley, aware of her searching gaze drilling into him. She dropped her arm suddenly, and for a moment he thought she was going to let him leave. But she was only digging into her robes for a pocket book and pen, in which she made a few brief scribbles.

"You haven't registered to repeat your final year at Hogwarts, Malfoy?"

His stomach sank. "No," he muttered.

"May I ask what you are doing?"

"Nothing much."

Her silence pressed him for a better answer, and he gritted his teeth against it. Of course he had received their owls, one every week like clockwork, asking him to come to the Ministry at his earliest availability for questioning. He had responded to their first enquiries by owl, but apparently they would not be satisfied with written answers. His denials of his involvement in the current attacks meant nothing on parchment.

"I'm looking for work," he said at last, as she cleared her throat pointedly. And then, because even he could take a joke sometimes, he added wryly, "I need a new job."

She smiled in a way which left her eyes mirthless. "The Ministry has been trying to contact you, as I'm sure you know. Perhaps now you're back in town you'll have time to answer a few questions for us?"

He grimaced, fixed his eyes on his suitcase. The headache was making a relentless comeback. He still had not quite managed to let go of the wall. The prospect of finding somewhere to sleep that night was looking more and more daunting. He didn't know if he had the energy to go tramping around the usual haunts before finally giving up and heading for a 24-hour café. Half of them he wasn't even welcome in anyway.

"Can I take an address from you, Malfoy? Somewhere we can find you?"

Her tone left no room for arguments, and yet all he could do was scramble helplessly for an answer. He thought up several pathetic, obvious lies, and then decided he was just too tired. He was too fucking tired and dizzy and sick to try to lie about things anymore. So he gave up.

"I don't have one."

"Excuse me?"

"I don't have a place to stay. I'm… currently looking."

"May I ask where you were on your way to, then?"

He closed his eyes. The drizzling rain carried something coppery onto his lips and he remembered the blood coating his face. He raised his hand, which suddenly felt heavy as lead, and wiped at the mess.

"I don't know," he muttered. He retrieved his wand, pointed it gingerly at his head. "Scourgify."

A brief blast of cool air hit him. He wasn't sure that he had got it all, but continued on to his shirt instead. Eventually, when he felt he was more or less presentable, he replaced his wand, dragged a hand through his wet hair, and heaved his gaze up to meet the Auror's. She was looking at him with a strange frown on her face, pen poised above her pocket book.

"Am I to understand you have nowhere to go tonight?"

He couldn't bring himself to say it again. He nodded shortly instead. "Is that all?"

She flipped her pocket book closed and put it away before holding out her hand for him to shake. The bizarre, abrupt change in their conversation left him blinking at her dazedly before taking the offered greeting. She had a firm, business-like handshake which practically screamed Ministry of Magic.

"Hestia Jones," she said, indicating her robes. "Auror of the Ministry, as I'm sure you've guessed."

He wasn't sure what to do, so he just inclined his head slightly. She ran her calculating eye over him once more, and just as he was beginning to squirm under her stare she turned and reached out to put her hand on the small of his back, directing him gently but firmly with her. He had no choice but to follow, and the sudden loss of the wall had his legs shaking. She slowed her pace and frustration curled his lip at the thought of her having to treat him like a child. Why could she not simply let him be? He didn't know what possible use they had for him now, nor why they wanted to speak to him so badly.

"Where are we going?" he said, trying to sound more confident than he felt.

"I may have a place for you to stay. An idea, of sorts, of mutual benefit to us both."

He didn't like the sound of that at all. Hestia suddenly lifted her hand and Disapparated – he was jerked forwards and then deposited sharply back down, just as before. His body jolted as if hit with an electric shock and he swore loudly as his chest seared in protest. She re-appeared almost immediately, wand drawn as if for a fight.

"What happened?"

"They caught me with that charm," he said, catching his breath. "I can't Apparate. And that hurt."

She waved her wand and he felt again that cold, trickling sensation. This time, when she took his arm again and twisted into nothingness, he was pulled along with her.

They reappeared on a street corner opposite what looked like a rather nice park. The buildings were tall and ornate – one of the finer areas of London. He staggered on impact with the ground, furious at her steadying him yet again, and pulled free of her grip. He pushed his hair back, reaching half-heartedly for the pretence of dignity which had long since fallen away for that evening.

"We thought they had figured out how to use that. It's rather worrying they've got good enough at it to make it last a while now," Hestia was saying, apparently ignoring his sour mood. "It makes all of this a little harder."

She led him across the road, walking closely enough beside him to make a grab for him if he tried to Disapparate. Despite the friendly tone she had adopted he was all too clear of the fact that she still didn't trust of him. No one did, after all. He dragged himself after her, wrestling with the pain in his head and the incessant ache in his chest and the dampness of his clothes. He was so sick and tired of this life. A sudden spike in the ache caught his attention and he automatically lifted a hand to the area, felt the heat through his shirt. Despair sank into him and he scrabbled in his inside pocket for the bottle of amber liquid. He tried to turn away from Hestia, but he could feel her eyes on the back of his neck as he took a couple of swift gulps. He hid the bottle away again, trying to will the pain away, carefully avoiding her gaze.

Please, not now… Please just fuck off for now…

"Is there a problem, Malfoy?"

He shook his head, moved after her. They reached the pavement on the other side and she stepped up to the point where the walls of houses numbered 11 and 13 joined. She reached out to pull him with her as he hesitated, confused – and then all at once there was another house standing there, the previously missing Number 12. Hestia climbed the marble steps, Draco at her heels, and pulled the doorbell with a swift, definite tug.

"Where are we?" Draco asked again, glancing around edgily.

"12 Grimmauld Place," Hestia threw over her shoulder.

The address sounded familiar although he could not quite place it at that moment. He could hear approaching footsteps and shifted his weight uncertainly from one foot to the other. He contemplated Disapparating on the spot, but it was hopeless – she would be after him in a moment. He wouldn't be able to go far in his current state, and she would be able to trace him within minutes. He would just have to hope that whatever she had in store for him wasn't going to take long. He wasn't sure how long he had until it hit.

The door suddenly flew open, making him flinch, and before him stood a tall, thin young man with short, bright orange hair. For one horrible moment he thought it was Ron Weasley – but no, the features were only similar. Still, the look of surprise and disgust that instantly rushed across the freckled face was identical as their eyes met.

"Hestia, hi," the man said, his gaze flickering between his two visitors. "They've already started, I think… What's going on?"

"Yes, I know, I'm afraid I was delayed," Hestia said in an extremely formal manner, stepping into the house. "Are they in the kitchen?"

The man stood aside, nodding in response to her question, his eyes fixed on Draco. Draco pulled himself up to his full height – there wasn't much between them – and returned his stare coolly, his face settling into its familiar glare. He didn't offer a greeting and was not met with one. Instead he followed Hestia down the corridor, narrowly avoiding tripping on the garish trolls leg which was standing by the front door, trying to shake the disturbing feeling that there were more unexpected reunions to come that evening.

The building seemed to be very old. The wallpaper was ornate but flaking from the walls, the floor covered in heavily worn, thick rugs. It was a gloomy kind of place. He could hear the hum of conversation through one of the thick wooden doors they passed, could hear footsteps hurrying back and forth on the floor above. They passed a large sweeping set of black mahogany stairs, near which a great many pairs of shoes were haphazardly piled, and through a more understated doorway which opened onto a narrow set of stairs. Draco glanced over his shoulder before following Hestia down them. The ginger man who looked so much like Weasley had shut the door and was watching them, his arms folded defensively, his eyes narrowed.

The slim stairwell was somewhat difficult to navigate considering the pounding in his head and the pain in his chest. He passed his suitcase from one hand to the other, trying to decide which angle was best to take, grumbling under his breath at the effort of the whole thing. He still had half a mind to make a dash for it. He had a strong suspicion that any indication of unwillingness to cooperate now would end in some kind of arrest – although at least a night in a holding cell at the Ministry would mean a night spent indoors. The narrow staircase ended in another door, which Hestia rapped on sharply and opened without waiting for an answer. A bubble of voices became suddenly audible and then, just as quickly, fell silent at the sight of the newcomers.

"Evening," Hestia said brightly. She moved into the room, holding the door open, waiting for Draco to follow. "Sorry I'm late. I ran into someone on the way."

And even before he entered the room, he somehow knew. He felt his stomach curl into a tight ball of disbelief, straightened his shoulders, lifted his chin, and met the startled, bespectacled gaze of Harry Potter. He wanted to say something cutting and intelligent and provocative, but his lips wouldn't work and his brain offered nothing up. So he remained silent, hovering in the doorway behind Hestia like an uninvited ghost.

Potter, who had been sitting at the end of a long wooden table, half-rose out of his seat, and then seemed to think better of it and sat down again. His eyebrows had climbed high up his forehead and he looked quickly between Hestia and his unexpected guest, in a very good imitation of the ginger man upstairs, as if hoping to telepathically glean some information. He was not alone – to his left was yet another ginger-haired man and to his right, again to Draco's surprise, sat Professor McGonagall, her hands folded primly before her on the table. She looked not the least bit surprised to see him, but then his old Transfiguration teacher had never looked surprised in all the six years he had known her. Beside her was a man Draco did not recognise, but who had instantly drawn his wand and laid it warningly on the table, and so Draco felt justified in immediately disliking him.

"Good evening, Hestia," McGonagall spoke up, apparently the first to recover and break the awkward silence that had descended. "Would you like a cup of tea?"

"Thanks, Minerva."

McGonagall waved her wand and a teapot sitting in the middle of the table jumped up on several spindly porcelain legs, ran across the table, and tipped its contents into a waiting mug. Piercing, shrewd blue eyes turned on Draco.

"Mr. Malfoy?"

He almost winced at the way in which the others looked at him, the incredulity with which they regarded him in their vicinity. He wanted to explain that he had not even wanted to come, that he had been made to come, and they should all be staring daggers at Hestia bloody Jones instead. He shook his head silently.

"Nonsense," she said, and the teapot ran over to pour another mug of tea.

Hestia had gone to sit beside the ginger man, who with a sinking feeling Draco suddenly recognised as Arthur Weasley, and was already picking up her mug and taking a swig from it. She waved at the seat beside her.

"Sit down, Malfoy."

He shifted his grip on the suitcase, looked back at Potter. Those irritatingly earnest green eyes were still staring at him, and he again considered running. But he could not, and it was painfully obvious by now that he was here at Hestia's request, and therefore her prisoner. He ran his tongue across his dry lips and then, unable to stall any longer, crossed to the chair Hestia had indicated and dropped down into it.

The only upshot of the situation was that his current position was closest to the roaring fire in the huge fireplace at the end of the table, and the heat was blissfully welcome after the chill of the London night. He shivered automatically, suddenly aware of the fact that his coat was soaked, as was his hair, and that his hands were freezing. Against his better judgement he reached for the tea, offering McGonagall a short, curt nod. The warm china met his hands and he couldn't help but enjoy the heat.

"Sorry for the gatecrasher," Hestia said, reaching for a plate of cookies which had been placed in the centre of the table. "It was fairly unavoidable, I'm afraid. Have I missed much?"

Potter cleared his throat, apparently finally recovering. "We were just talking about how the rebuilding of Hogwarts is coming along," he said. "More and more of the school is becoming useable every day, and more people keep volunteering to help – we should be able to move the House Elves back in soon, rather than having them stay in the tents in the grounds."

"I was about to bring up our recent efforts with our ongoing efforts with the Ministry," Arthur Weasley spoke up, his voice distinctly cold. "But perhaps now is not quite the right time."

"Well," Hestia said, through a mouthful of cookie, "My guest is not entirely unrelated to that."

Draco glanced at her quickly as, once again, all eyes turned on him. The man he didn't know, but whom he could now see was wearing Auror robes, tapped his fingers against his wand.

"Maybe that's a good place to start for now," he suggested coolly.

"Yes," Hestia nodded. She looked pointedly at Draco, her eyebrows arched expectantly. "Care to explain how I ran into you tonight, Malfoy?"

He looked at her, unable to believe that she had just asked him to recount being harassed by his former allies in front of his former enemies. He wasn't sure he could stand the agony of it. She waited and then, when it became apparent he was not going to answer, spoke up instead.

"Well – I was on my way here. Had to swing by Ulrich's in Knockturn Alley; he said he might have some information that could help us. He didn't. But on my way out, I came across Malfoy here having a… should we say, disagreement with some old friends."

Draco would have loved nothing more than for the earth to open up and swallow him. He kept his eyes fixed on his tea, his jaw clenching tightly in an attempt to bite back the sharp retort on the end of his tongue. He had the horrible feeling that Hestia was immensely enjoying his discomfort. She continued her story, sipping briefly at her tea.

"They ran when they saw me, of course. All wearing their masks, so I didn't get a chance to identify any of them. I was rather hoping for some help with that, but…"

"I told you I didn't see them," he said before he could stop himself. He raised his gaze, scowling at her as she paused. "I said I haven't had contact with them since the war. I don't know why I'm here."

"You're telling me you don't recognise any of your old friends, masks or no masks?" she pressed, her tone remaining frank and practical.

"That's really the point of masks."

"Are you aware of what's currently happening in the wizarding community?" the other Auror spoke up. "There have been several attacks just this week on both magical and non-magical peoples. I suppose your lot wouldn't have anything to do with those?"

Draco huffed shortly, finally managing to summon up a sneer. "My lot? Oh, yeah. I'm very popular with them these days."

"And I suppose you also don't know anything about the Ministry's repeated attempts to contact you regarding these issues?"

He had no smart retort for that. Draco took a sip of his tea, his gaze fixed rigidly on the tabletop.

"And so we come to now," Hestia said brightly, piercing the sizzling tension that had been building. "I have – although by accident – managed to locate our rouge contact. Perhaps someone who knows the most about the Death Eaters, and the only member who has a reason to help us with our investigations. And it so happens he is in need of a place to stay."

And suddenly, it all became horribly crystal clear. Draco's head snapped up and he found his own horror reflected back at him in Potter's stricken gaze. Clearly he, too, had just twigged what was going on. Draco shoved his chair back from the table at once, his hands curling into fists.

"Look," he said, a little more fiercely than he meant to, "I don't need your fucking charity, alright? I'll find somewhere."

"Well, start looking now," the other Auror said quickly, his hand curling around his wand. "Because you're not leaving here without giving us a real contact address to find you. And if you give us a fake one, or if you refuse to give us anything, we'll have all the reason we need to arrest you."

Draco cast about desperately, already on his feet. He lit upon something, a half-hearted idea he'd had some weeks back.

"Theodore Nott. I'll contact him. Happy?"

The pointed glance shared between his jury indicated otherwise. He looked quickly at Hestia, gripping his suitcase.

"What?" he demanded. "What now?"

"Nothing," Hestia said lightly. "Only that Nott's registered address has been abandoned for some time now. When was the last time you had contact with him?"

He had no idea. He had glimpsed him briefly in the confusion of the Battle of Hogwarts, but they had not spoken. He hadn't spoken to anyone after that day, had not heard from anyone, associated with Voldemort or otherwise. Which had suited him fine – he had been only too happy to be cast out like a rotten fruit. He sighed, raking his hand through his hair. They were waiting. Everywhere he turned, they were waiting with a way to corner him.

"I don't… the Battle, probably. I know it's empty, I just… I'm sure he wouldn't mind."

"I see," Hestia said. "It's just that Nott is one of our prime suspects for these attacks."

He stared at her. "Nott? No, don't be ridiculous," he snorted, shaking his head. "He… He was never violent. He just did what he was told. He would never…"

He broke off, aware that his pledges of Nott's well-meaning spirit would fall on deaf ears. His chest burned suddenly, a reminder of the rapidly worsening pain lurking there, and he was forced to put his suitcase down. He let himself put a hand on the table, unable to help catching his breath, hoping it would pass quickly. Hestia was speaking again, still in that cool, practical tone.

"You have two options, Malfoy. Either you can remain here – Potter has kindly offered up his home to many refugees from this conflict, during which might I remind you, you made several poor choices. Or you can come with me now and we'll sign you into a holding cell at the Ministry, and you can wait there until we're ready to question you on your reluctance to cooperate with us."

"And if you still refuse to offer your services," the other Auror added, "We'll find a nice, cosy room for you in Azkaban. How does that sound?"

Draco looked up, seething at the smile quirking at the man's face. Fear jabbed into him, but he shook it off forcefully. They couldn't just send him to Azkaban for no reason – the place was barely even functional again since it had been half-destroyed during the war. He considered calling him on his bluff, saying that Azkaban would do just fine, but he didn't like the way the Auror was looking at him. Like he was a diseased thing that had climbed out of the gutters and should be quickly and efficiently swept back in.

"Mr. Malfoy."

McGonagall was looking at him soberly, although hers was perhaps the least unkind face at the table at that moment. She made a small gesture.

"I believe you have some blood on your face."

She seemed to be packing more into her words than was immediately obvious, and he made a point of not looking into her statement. He rubbed furiously at his cheek with the back of his hand, felt dried blood crumble against his skin. Swearing under his breath, hit with the shame of their staring eyes riveted on him, he turned his back on them and stared at the leaping flames in the fireplace. His mind was a roaring blank and his chest was now throbbing violently. Knowing that if he insisted on ignoring it he would be punished, he thrust his hand into his pocket and managed to drink a little of the contents of the bottle there. They must have noticed, but none of them commented as he returned the glass to his pocket. It still wasn't quite enough – the relief wasn't as immediate or as strong as before, and the pain remained.

"Whether you like it or not, Mr. Malfoy, you seem to have made yourself an enemy of rather a lot of people," McGonagall continued conversationally. "Some of them very dangerous. I cannot speak for Hestia or Marcus, but I can tell you that Grimmauld Place is a safe place for people such as yourself."

People such as yourself. Of course, what she meant was people who had nothing and no one.

"There's loads of others here," Potter's voice suddenly spoke up. "Some people from our year are staying while they're working on Hogwarts, the Order are here almost every day, there're Aurors in and out all the time. It's not…"

He broke off, and Draco chanced a brief glance over his shoulder, still wrestling with the urge to make a run for the door. Potter looked distinctly uncomfortable, but he shrugged as if to lighten the conversation. He was just as scruffy as Draco remembered him being at Hogwarts. Last time they had seen each other must have been somewhere in the fray at the Battle, both of them streaked with dust and blood and screaming spells. It was strange seeing him sitting in a warm kitchen with a cup of tea, wearing jeans and thick flannel shirt, his glasses reflecting the glow of the fire. Strange to be in such a homely environment with him.

"… It wouldn't be just you and me," Potter finished at last, making an effort to laugh. "Actually, a room just became free on the top floor. I was going to let Ron take it, but we can share for a little longer…"

He trailed off, glancing around the table for back-up. Mr. Weasley looked extremely disgruntled, but McGonagall and Hestia were both nodding, as if the arrangement were the most natural thing in the world. Draco couldn't bear it – the way Potter was being so fucking nice, making a noble effort… Jesus, he would have preferred to be hurling insults back and forth. He looked pointedly at the fire again, his lips frozen shut. He felt too drained of energy to fight with them, or with himself. The recent run-in with the Death Eaters seemed to have triggered his condition to abruptly worsen, and he knew that he only had a limited amount of time left before it hit.

"Well," Hestia said, breaking the on-going silence. "That's decided then, Malfoy?"

There was no way out. The humiliation of not only being exposed as homeless, but also of having to rely on Potter for help was perhaps the worst end to the night he could have imagined. He would almost have preferred to go with the Death Eaters. Almost.

"Harry, would you mind showing him where the room is?" Hestia asked, taking his silence as consent. "Only there's probably a few things we were meant to discuss in private. We'll wait until you get back."

"Aren't you going to interrogate me?" Draco asked as scathingly as he could.

"Well, seeing as we know where you'll be now, there's no rush is there?" the other Auror said coolly.

Potter had pushed his chair back and stood up, apparently happy to pretend that he was completely at ease with the arrangement. He moved around the table and opened the door to the stairs, waited for Draco to join him. Slowly, with the feeling of a man walking into his own prison cell, Draco picked up his suitcase again and followed him. Part of him felt a small hint of relief at the thought of being able to at least hide away in a room somewhere for a while. He could figure out exactly what he was going to do in the morning, when his head was less painful.

"And Malfoy?"

He turned, one hand on the door. The other Auror was watching him, returning his wand slowly to the folds of his robes, his eyes narrowed with a stern, clear warning.

"If you cause any trouble here, we won't tolerate it. Understand?"

Draco could almost laugh. First they forced him to stay, and then they threatened to throw him out. He let a cold sneer spread over his face before turning his back and following Potter up the stairs, letting the door slam shut behind him. He kept his eyes on Potter's trainers and one hand on the banister as they climbed the stairs. A wave of dizziness ran through him as they reached the top of the first flight, and he was reminded of how little time he had. Potter had said the top floor – he could only hope that there were not too many storeys to this house.

They started on the next set of stairs. On the wall were a series of wooden plaques, on which a some decorations had once been mounted – he could see the holes where nails had been driven in – but had now been removed. The stairs themselves were sweeping and wide, and he tried to keep close to the wall. Potter reached the top and waited for him to catch up before continuing up the next set – the landing they had come to had three doors leading off from it, two shut. One was ajar, offering a glimpse into a small, cramped bathroom. Potter waved a hand at one of the doors as they continued upwards. From behind it came the low hum of several voices, a loud, tinkling laugh.

"We managed to get a TV working, although you probably wouldn't be interested in that. Most people are sharing the rest of the rooms."

Draco grunted in response, not sure what Potter was getting at. Maybe he was just trying to fill in the awkward silence. As they reached the next landing and were met with yet another flight of stairs and a series of more doors, he wondered just how many people were staying here. A lot, if the number of rooms and the various voices were anything to go by. They climbed the next set of stairs to another landing, which was a little smaller than the last, and on which Potter pointed out a larger bathroom.

"We all just share it," he said with an effort at a smile. "So you'll want to be quick in the mornings."

They crossed the landing and started on more stairs. Draco's chest was beginning to throb violently again and he came to a halt halfway up as dark spots began to swarm before his eyes. He stayed completely still, willing them away, forcing himself to remember to breathe as this throat grew tight. He just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other – it couldn't possibly be much further. He put a hand on the wall, let his vision slowly flood back.


Potter's voice was hesitant, careful – and yet not unkind. Almost the opposite. Which made Draco's pride scream. He drew himself up, forced himself onwards. He reached the top of the stairs where Potter was waiting, his head spinning treacherously, still clinging to the wall in an effort to stay grounded.

"Are you hurt?"

"No," he spat immediately, doing his best to fix Potter with a glare. "Just can't quite believe I'm actually being held prisoner here in this shithole."

His voice was shaking, and he was all too aware of how unconvincing he was. Potter was looking at him strangely, and his skin crawled under the stupid, do-gooder stare.

"Well, are we going or not?" he demanded brusquely, pushing himself off the wall and straightening up.

Potter sighed and turned away, heading to another set of stairs. The floor they were currently on was much smaller than the previous ones, with only three doors leading off it, and the stairs leading on up were much narrower and steeper. And, as Draco reached for the banister, he heard voices from behind one of the doors – quiet, thoughtful, articulate… He heard a laugh, the thud of footsteps, and suddenly his heart lurched in his chest with a mixture of terror and hope. It drove him up the stairs faster than he thought possible, and as he made it to the top and into the shadows of the next floor he heard one of the doors below fly open. Bending his head, he could just make out a flash of long ginger hair – Ginny Weasley, of course. She darted downstairs and away, and behind her came a blonde girl with a much slower gait.

"… Tyrimoots are very much an endangered species," she was saying in a soft, sing-song voice. "It's a shame their magical properties make them so attractive to hunters."

"Luna," another voice said flatly, "In order to be endangered, they'd first have to exist."

And then she came into view, moving after the blonde girl. She had a book under her arm – god, of course she did – and her hair was loose and bushy and wild down her back. She was wearing jeans and a dark jumper, and as she went her hand came up and tried to tuck her hair back behind her ear, and he caught a momentary glimpse of the side of her face. He stood there, terrified she would look up and see him, terrified she wouldn't. He opened his mouth, and then closed it sharply. And then she was gone, hurrying down the stairs after the others, and Ginny's laughter died away.


Potter's voice almost made him jump out of his skin. For one moment he had actually forgotten the other boy was even there. Furious with himself for being so careless, he raked a hand through his hair and dragged himself up the last couple of stairs, his mind racing.

They had apparently reached the final floor, and this landing only had two doors. The roof was slanted sharply – they were in the attic. Potter kicked one open and let it fall closed again.

"We're using that one for washing and storage and things – it's kind of a junk room. You'll be in here."

He pushed open the second door and stood back to let Draco in.

The room was very small. It had a single bed, an upturned box acting as a bedside cabinet and a rickety chest of drawers crammed in. Opposite the door was a low window with a view over the rooftops around them, and he could see the flickering lights of various houses in the dark night. The wallpaper was flaking off in great white pieces and the floorboards were bare and cracked. But as Draco entered it, he felt as if the whole place was a sigh of relief. Despite the circumstances, this was a place that, for now, he could breathe in. He put his suitcase down, hoping to relieve some of the pain in his chest.

Potter was hovering awkwardly in the doorway, and Draco crossed to the window to avoid looking at him. He surveyed the surrounding rooftops, the streetlamps far below. He tried to keep his shoulders straight, shake off the air of sickness that his reluctant host had clearly noticed. Potter cleared his throat.

"Do you need anything? I mean, kitchen's off limits for a while – to everyone, not just you – but if you–"


Potter hesitated a moment longer. "Bathroom's on the third floor. And there's another on the first floor. I'm not sure who'll be around in the morning – people will be going out…"


The Golden Boy seemed to finally have run out of things to say. He lingered there for a couple more seconds, and then the creak of the door hinges announced his departure. Draco turned, forcing him self to speak up.

"Thanks anyway," he said stiffly, hardly able to get the words out. "For the prison cell."

He wasn't sure if he was trying to be funny or insulting. He had meant to sound at least civil. But Potter finally gave a forced smile and nodded before tugging the door closed.

As soon as he was gone, Draco threw a charm at the door to lock it and then silencio'd the entire room. He had learned the hard way after the first few times it had happened that it was not a quiet experience. And it was coming, he could tell. He could feel it rising in his chest, feel the agony pulsing in his temples. He sat down unsteadily on the window sill and buried his head in his hands, hoping desperately that it would be quick.

He barely even had time to take off his coat before the wall of pain hit him, before his whole body seized around him and then automatically curled in on itself. There on the floorboards, shaking and whimpering, he tried his best not to scream. But of course he did. He always did, eventually.

Thanks for reading! Reviews are always welcome.