A/N - Two chapters in one day? Well, Chapter 19 and this were supposed to be just the one chapter, but it over-ran...rather spectacularly...
The scene that whirled into place around Harry was very different to the one he, Tonks, Lupin and Draco had just left. The bright golden light and open sky of the cliff tops was replaced by dappled shade, the murmur of the sea replaced by rustling leaves - and the very Muggle, very Twentieth Century figure of the pilot statue was replaced by an honest-to-god castle.
Was this the new hideout? If it was, it was quite a change from their last two. The little castle could have been conjured directly from the pages of Ginny's storybook. Its fancy turrets rose above the treeline, bright flags flapping in the wind, and a tabard-clad house-elf appeared on the lowered drawbridge as they approached it. For a mad moment Harry thought it intended to defend the castle, and his mind threw up a picture of it wearing armour and wielding a sword.
"Mister Moody's party too?"
Tonks flinched and nodded, tight-lipped. Harry considered the distance to the drawbridge. He was almost certain Draco wasn't being a dead weight deliberately, but Harry was virtually carrying him now. He wondered where he'd ever got the idea that Draco was light.
Lupin took pity on him. He lifted Draco into his arms with no apparent sign of strain, and Harry should have been jealous, but his back hurt, his head was starting to pound again, and he was so tired…
"Gwffy will take you to Master Iolo." Gwffy gave a little bobbing bow. What Harry had at first taken to be a tabard was actually a pillowcase - but it was made of silk and embroidered with fleur-de-lys. He felt a growing sense of unreality as he followed the house-elf into the castle. It wasn't calmed by the fact that there seemed to be no one else around.
In the last fortnight, the Order of the Phoenix had swelled to just under forty members, not including children or the refugees who were just passing through on their way to somewhere safer. Where was everyone?
"Harry." Tonks showed him a piece of paper.
The Order of the Phoenix is hiding at Castell Rhosyn.
The moment his brain processed the last word, he heard them, the sound of voices, movement all around him… The world seemed to ripple like water around him as he looked up - and then the empty courtyard was no longer empty.
Harry should have been relieved - but as he looked around, counting heads, he felt nothing. Mundungus was sprawled out over a crate; he caught sight of Harry and looked poised to flee. Harry surprised both of them by doing nothing.
As he followed Lupin and Tonks across the courtyard, he noticed the little man's gaze, wary and calculating, flick over Lupin and linger on Draco. Tonks was coaxing Draco to look at the paper, and as he cracked open one eye to do so, he automatically hugged his left arm to his chest, hiding his Dark Mark. From the look of startled comprehension on Mundungus' face, it was much too late. The anger suddenly flickering to life inside Harry was almost welcome.
Even more welcome was the sight behind Mundungus. Ron and Hermione were half hidden in an alcove, but Ron was about as good at hiding as Draco was. Harry took a couple of steps towards them before his brain caught up to the fact that the hug they were locked in was lasting an awfully long time -
He froze, unable to tear his eyes away as Ron's fingers awkwardly traced the line of Hermione's cheek. She raised her head, their lips tentatively touched - and Harry turned quickly away, running to catch up with Lupin.
He could talk to them later.
The room Gwffy led them into was as strange and fairytale-esque as the castle itself. It looked like Livia had claimed it as an ad-hoc infirmary, but the conjured beds and bandaged-up patients looked as out of place there as an army platoon camped out in a church.
Every inch of free wall-space was covered in enchanted murals. So many people injured - even more dead - and the murals bombarded Harry's tired eyes with images of knights in shining armour and fair maidens and 'chivalry' and a world so far removed from burning buildings and werewolves and flashes of green light… The band of pain around his temples tightened. His stomach twisted, and he looked away, up at the high vaulted ceiling. It had all kinds of brightly coloured birds painted on it, fluttering happily through their two dimensional sky, oblivious to the stench of medicinal potions, blood, sweat and fouler things.
He rubbed his eyes and forced himself to look around, doing what he had in the courtyard, counting heads and picking out familiar faces.
Fred was poking at George's bandaged side, ignoring the glares Ginny was sending his way. He said something; George laughed and gave a passable imitation of a wolf's howl. Harry wasn't the only one who flinched.
He looked at Lupin, but his face showed nothing but tiredness as he hoisted Draco into a more comfortable position in his arms.
"Stop joking about it!" Ginny's shout rang out in the suddenly silent room. "It's not funny! You're going to be -" Her voice was cut off as her brother swept her into a hug. George ruffled her hair, his face serious for a moment - then he grinned.
"Oi, Prof! You're going to have a lot of company in the bunker…tomorrow…night…" Fred's voice trailed off as he caught sight of Draco.
Everyone in the room seemed to be staring at them. Harry had the sudden urge to step in front of Lupin, to shield Draco from all those horrified eyes.
Which was hypocritical, since Harry had probably looked at him in exactly the same way when he'd changed.
Livia was curled up in an armchair by the fireplace. A young wizard with a vaguely familiar face was perched on the chair arm, letting her use his rich robes as a pillow, and he started to his feet as they approached.
Livia rolled out of the chair with a grunt. "Merlin, and you always claimed to be a gentleman…" She snapped awake with a start as she saw Harry's group, scrambling to her feet. "Somewhere private, please, Iolo."
Iolo blinked, then reached out and tapped the panel beside him. "Through here." Harry stared at him, trying to figure out where he'd seen him before. He got a clue as Iolo drew himself up to his full height and peered down his nose at Draco. "Malfoy?" All those sneering, unimpressed faces at the Slytherin table as Harry had walked forward to be Sorted… The Seventh Years had all looked so old. Of course, he hadn't really been paying much attention to them. His dislike had been focused down the other end of the table, on one of the First Years.
Draco's eyelashes fluttered, and he cracked open one eye to glare up at him. "Bythell," he acknowledged weakly. "Congratulations - I don't think this little summerhouse of yours could possibly be any more vulgar."
Iolo snorted and looked at Draco with obvious loathing. "But showing up half-naked and covered in blood is pure class, of course."
"It is when I do it." Harry found an unexpected grin spreading across his face. Okay, so Draco didn't need as much shielding as he'd thought. "Did you ever get a teacher to carry you around?" Livia disappeared into the panelling. As Lupin followed her, Draco seemed to be struck by a sudden thought. His clear voice rang out in the still quiet room. "Bythell? Livia? Were you two shagging at Hogwarts? Are you lending us this place as some kind of attempt to get back in her pants? Because I really don't think she's worth it."
Draco watched the clouds scud across the ceiling from beneath partially-lowered eyelids. Livia had seemed rather disappointed that none of the blood was his, but at least he'd got a private room out of it.
The food Lupin had forced him to eat lay heavy in his stomach. He was exhausted, but sleep was impossible. He ran his fingers over his face for about the fifteenth time.
"Everything still there?" The painted monkeys on the frieze didn't want to get close to Lupin or Draco; they clustered on the wall behind Potter as if he could protect them. Potter looked like he was trying for a casual grin - what he managed was more like a grimace. His eyes were haunted, their usual flash and sparkle smothered by shadows and misery. For some reason, that bothered Draco immensely.
Come on, Potter - you're no use to me like this.
"Keep teasing me and I'll maul you too." Keeping a light tone was difficult, but worth it to see that grin widen and become real, even if it was only for a moment.
Potter had done a good job of cleaning his hands; Draco couldn't see a single spot of blood left on his fingers…but he knew it was there. He could still feel it - and taste it in his mouth.
The thought was more a cold statement of fact than condemnation. It was what his father would have considered him now. Worse than an animal - animals were simply a lower order of life, which Nature had intended to be used by their betters. Like Muggles, Werewolves had the bad taste to look physically indistinguishable from Wizards - at least most of the time - but, unlike Muggles, many of them could perform magic. They were an abomination.
Abomination. Draco tried to reconcile that word with the face he could feel beneath his fingers, with the way Potter was prepared to play with him, even after seeing him change. Monster. His heart felt like a heavy weight hanging in his chest - and that had to be a lie, the way it clenched with grief when he thought of his father, the way it lightened slightly, warmth pooling in his belly, when Harry grinned at him like that. It had to be a lie, or his imagination, because Dark Creatures couldn't feel like real people did. Some of them had near-human intelligence - that couldn't be denied - but real human feelings?
He didn't feel any different. Why didn't he feel different?
"You need rest. Try to get some, both of you."
Lupin swayed as he stood up. Potter reached out to steady him. "You too. And -" He got a disgusting look of noble resolve on his face. "- we'll cope. Last night was bad but it won't finish us."
Draco looked at them - Potter, with his pig-headed determination, and Lupin, a werewolf who seemed able to see himself as something other than a monster. At that moment he envied them both.
"Just how do you expect to win, exactly?" Draco said. "More than half your force is injured or giving Greyback and his cronies indigestion. That Muggle town's in ruins, and Bythell's an idiot if he thinks his gaudy little home isn't going to end up the same way. Potter here is no master duellist. Have you got any plans other than sticking two fingers up at the Dark Lord?"
Potter looked as if he was about to launch into a passionate defence of the Order - and god, needling him was worth it, just to see colour rush into his cheeks and life flash into his eyes. Lupin just sighed and smiled. "Isn't there value in just that?" he said softly. "Our very existence proves that Voldemort isn't all powerful, and it is possible to defy him."
Draco wanted to lash out, to tear down their delusions. Did Lupin actually believe that? He's just fucking humouring me. Why doesn't he just pat me on the head and be done with it?
Lupin looked thoughtful. "Do you know where we were? That was a memorial to a battle fought half a century ago, in which a small force took on a much larger, more powerful one, and won."
Draco frowned. What was he talking about? All Grindelwald's battles had been fought on the Continent.
Potter was staring at Lupin as if he'd somehow managed to surprise him. He shrugged. "Andromeda used to smuggle Muggle adventure novels to Sirius. It was like a game between them." A small, fond smile tugged at his lips. "He spent half of Second Year wanting to be a fighter pilot when he grew up."
Oh. A Muggle battle. Draco immediately lost interest. Then he thought of his own secret little stash of books; having even one thing in common with his insane, if thankfully dead, cousin was not something he was happy about. And it might even be more than one thing, if he was reading Lupin correctly. Yuck.
"Why not go and reminisce to Cousin Nymphadora?" That was the Half-blood's name, wasn't it? "Or has she heard enough about mad, bad Cousin Sirius to last her a lifetime?" Lupin didn't even twitch - but a pink flush spread up his neck. Score one. Draco grinned, and looked up at Lupin from beneath coquettishly-lowered eyelashes. "You seem to really like my family. Should I be worried?"
Lupin's eyes hardened, his flush deepening. Then he forced a smile. "I only like the nice Blacks."
"Touché. Not entirely convincing, but a nice comeback. I'd give it a three out of five."
Potter looked like he was on the verge of a heart attack - or a tantrum. "What's wrong with you?" he spluttered.
"Well, I spent last night as a fucking wolf," Draco said slowly, "and I ate a bat. A whole, raw bat. With wings. The Pack chased me half-way across the county, bit me and knocked me about, and a Muggle did his best to murder me with his vehicle. His very big, very fast, very heavy vehicle. I woke up in a pile of werewolves. Naked werewolves." He shot his meanest look at Lupin. "One of whom was practically humping my leg. And then I tried to eat Greyback. And then you hexed me - three fucking times. Oh, and did I mention that I'm a fucking werewolf? I'm wonderful, Potter. Absolutely fucking spiffing. Never been better."
"So, you're a werewolf. Big deal! So's Lupin! He's been nothing but nice to you, and you're…you're treating him like dirt!"
The door clicked shut as Lupin made his escape. Coward. "I didn't ask him to be nice. And I didn't ask him to feel sorry for me. He pities me. You pity me. Am I so fucking weak?"
Potter stared at him, lost for words. It didn't last for long.
"What do you think?" he spat. "Actually, I think you're one of the strongest people I've ever met, but you'd never guess it when you get that 'woe is me, I'm a monster' attitude!" That hit home. Draco clenched his fists. What the hell did Potter know about it, anyway? "Guess what? You're not the only person with problems! AND YOU'RE NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT!" Potter took a deep breath. "People died."
"And? It's war. That happens a lot in war. They're better off out of it."
Potter made a frustrated noise. Draco watched that exhilarating anger mutate into something else. "WHY DON'T YOU GET IT!" A wild wave of his arm caught a vase; he didn't even seem to notice as it smashed on the floor. "Is your father better off out of it?"
"Don't you dare!" Draco was on his feet before he realised what he was doing. The room span around him, but he remained focused on Potter. "Don't you fucking dare!"
"There must have been something I could have done." Potter was looking at him, but Draco got the impression that he wasn't really seeing him. "I should've been able to -" Supposedly Perfect Potter was shaking, and it was horrible to watch. Where was the moronic optimism? The couldn't-stop-him-with-a-direct-meteor-strike determination? He reached out blindly, catching hold of Draco's arms. "Why couldn't I -"
Draco stepped forward, and, feeling incredibly self-conscious and half-expecting to get thumped, rested his chin against Harry's shoulder. He closed his eyes, not wanting to look at him like this. Why can't he just be glad to be alive? Why is he tormenting himself over people he doesn't even know? "Idiot."
Potter's arms clamped around him like a vice. Draco squeezed his eyes tighter shut, emotions that were too new and raw welling up inside him.
He wanted to run away. He wanted to break something. Harry's hair tickled his face. It smelled of smoke and blood; images sprung up unbidden in Draco's head, images of fire and carnage, and he cursed his vivid imagination. He could feel every shudder pass through Harry's body, his tensed-to-breaking-point muscles, his furnace-like heat. He could hear the frantic beat of his heart. Something inside him responded eagerly to the images in his head, his entire body responded to Harry's…and he needed to get away
from him right now.
Harry's mouth found the sensitive point where his neck met his shoulder. His fingers dug into Draco's back.
He could break free easily enough. He could toss Harry down on the bed and rip off his clothes and tear him open with his cock and his teeth and his claws -
Harry's fingers tangled in his hair, dragging his head back. The fire that shot through his scalp was echoed in his bones, but the shudder that he tried to suppress had nothing to do with pain. Every inch of him was awake and alive, and it was so frustrating that Potter could do this to him every…single…time…
Harry tried to mash their mouths together. Draco snapped his head back so fast he heard the bones in his neck click, but at least he bit thin air rather than Harry's lip. His mouth was watering.
He was so hungry…
Harry bit at his jaw. He was still shaking, but his fingers were hard and sure as they pressed into the muscles of Draco's back, then moved lower, finding their access to skin blocked by the waistband of his pyjama bottoms. He made a strange noise, half curse, half sob, and roughly yanked them down.
Draco clenched his fists, feeling his own nails slice into his palms. Potter clung to him, grinding up against him as if he was trying to force their two bodies into one through sheer willpower alone. Draco felt his eyes roll as his back arched and his head fell back, tension crawling up his spine and tightening his limbs. The press and rub of denim against his cock should have been painful, but the discomfort just seemed to add to his excitement. He needed this. He needed it like he needed to breathe…
And he couldn't do anything. He couldn't kiss Harry because he wanted to bite. He couldn't touch him because he wanted to claw. Responding in any way would mean leaving Harry a bloody, broken mess on the floor - and god, he wanted that. He was appalled by how much he wanted that.
I don't want to be like this. I'm not like this.
He frantically twisted his body. Harry tried to hold on to him; one of his legs hooked around Draco's in the brief struggle, Draco's half-shed pyjama bottoms got twisted around his knees, and they both lost their balance. Draco found his face buried in crisp white sheets, Harry's arms still locked around him. He felt that crushing embrace loosen, Harry freeing a hand to fumble with his trousers, then the hot, wet tip of Harry's cock slid against the back of his thigh.
I'm not like them.
Harry could let out his pain and frustration, but Draco couldn't…he didn't dare…
Fuck, this is so unfair. He twisted his fingers into the sheets. His body was still telling him that this was a battle; his brain was pointing out that Potter didn't have many compunctions about hurting him even when he was in his right mind…and why the hell did that thought excite him so much? "Don't…let…go…" Keep me pinned, or you'll really regret it -
He barely managed to stifle a scream as Harry pushed into him. At least it was echoed by a pained curse from the other boy. Idiot. Fucking idiot. Harry pulled out abruptly - and that almost hurt more than it had going in. "Bastard." Don't you dare stop. Trembling fingers parted his cheeks, and he couldn't help the shiver that ran through him as he felt the tip of a wand touch his abused hole.
Just when and how had he come to trust Potter so much?
A shocking coolness spread inside him. And at least Harry used his fingers this time - even if it was only to help his aim -
Draco wasn't even sure how he'd made the noise that was forced from his throat. Yes, it hurt, but -
- damn it, whatever hex Harry had put on him, he had to learn it.
Wild, blistering heat crackled up his spine with every thrust. He pushed back against the invading thickness and felt as if he was being torn open, but he could take it. Would gladly take it, over and over again, until there was nothing left but Harry slamming into him, Harry's arms locked around his chest… He'd never felt so exposed and raw…
His eyes burned, and he squeezed them shut. With every movement his cock rubbed up against a wonderfully-placed crease in the sheets; sensation and emotion whirled together until he could no longer tell them apart, and he was going to crack open -
Harry made a sound like a sob. Draco broke. He came on the pristine sheets, fingers digging deep into the mattress, choked by his own emotions, blackness bleeding into his vision -
He came to with his face still pressed against the sheets, Harry still clinging to him - but he'd pulled out. Draco felt oddly bereft.
"Well," he said, slightly shocked at how hoarse his voice sounded, "at least you managed to hold out longer this time. And that's quite good, um, rhythm you've got there." Harry didn't say anything. He wasn't asleep, was he? Because he was still trembling.
Draco forced himself to move. Even peeling the sheets from his front and wriggling around in Harry's arms was almost too much effort. "I gave you a comp-li-ment, Potter. Shouldn't you be preening?"
Harry used his movement as an excuse to make the embrace even closer. "Thanks," he muttered. Draco swore.
Oh, for fuck's sake. I want the sanctimonious prick back.
"Are you still moping?" He attempted a shrug. "C'est le guerre. That's war, Potter." If Harry tightened his arms any further, something was going to get crushed. "People die. Bad things happen." He buried his nose in Harry's hair as he continued to shake. "Fine, 'compassion' - it's seriously overrated as a virtue, but I know you can't help having it." Harry made a noise that was almost a laugh; Draco wasn't sure if that was a good thing. "But you can't take on everybody's loss - it's not your responsibility, and it's not your right. And you'll only drive yourself mad if you try."
Harry didn't know how long he lay there, his body sated, his mind still whirling. He found his hands moving over Draco's body again, tracing the bumps of his ribs, the sharp points of his hipbones, his long, whipcord muscles.
I hurt him. The whole morning seemed to have become a blur in Harry's head, but that bit stood out with horrible clarity. But he seemed to like it?
He touched the pendant Draco wore, the dull silver warmed by his skin. St Christopher - patron saint of travellers. That was new, and surely a bit too Muggle for Draco? Perhaps Lupin gave him it. The sharp stab of jealousy Harry felt was stupid and unworthy, and he knew it.
He ran his fingers over the twisted mess of red, hardened skin on Draco's shoulder, then traced the thin pink ridge of the scar Harry himself had created. It started on his neck, and ended just below his hip bone, dipping into pale curls. On his belly it was crossed by angry red lines, as if Greyback had tried to claw it away.
He's been through so much.
Draco sighed in his sleep and lazily batted Harry's hand away.
Draco had as much - more - reason to break down as anyone, and he'd ended up comforting Harry.
It wasn't going to happen again. That decision did as much to chase away the hollow, desperate helplessness as any amount of kind words.
Only Draco hadn't managed any kind words, had he? Harry felt a grin stretch his face. He wound his fingers in Draco's impossibly soft, fine hair. The numbness had certainly gone away; Harry felt so much it hurt.
He felt a prickle of magic in the air around him. It caught hold of him, lifting him away from the sheets -
Gwffy blinked, almost going cross-eyed as he stared at the tip of Harry's wand. Draco stretched, sleepily rubbing what seemed like every inch of that lithe, leggy body up against Harry, and caught hold of the sheet.
Harry lowered his wand, still shaking with adrenalin.
"Sirs! Gwffy must keep things clean!"
Draco made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Shoo."
Gwffy looked almost outraged. He snapped his fingers. The messy sheets disappeared, replaced by crisp new ones. He let the two boys drop a little too abruptly; Draco bounced off the bed, kicking off his pyjama bottoms and grabbing up his wand in one smooth motion. Gwffy made a strategic retreat.
"You better not have been watching us, you little pervert!"
Harry retrieved his glasses from the floor. He let his gaze drift over Draco's body, and choose not to tell him that vibrating with injured dignity while stark bollock naked with dried come on his arse didn't really work… Well, maybe it did, because certain things were wobbling in a rather appealing way -
The laughter bubbled up and burst free before he could stop it. Draco spun around. "You find me amusing, Potter?" The words were harsh, but a strange expression crossed his face as Harry kept laughing. His mouth twitched into a grin.
Harry stood up - and teetered as his jeans wrapped around his ankles. Draco caught him. "Welcome back, idiot," he mumbled.
Harry wrapped his arms around him and kissed him, hard.
Harry stepped out of the panelling with lazy euphoria singing in his blood and a severe case of goodwill to all men. It faded as he walked past the makeshift beds. He'd never paused to wonder why Draco had got his own room - with a sudden shock, he realised.
Though in a month's time quite a few people here will be too.
The room was quiet except for the odd snore; Livia had been rather liberal with the sleeping potion. Harry wondered if he should ask for some himself; his body was exhausted, but he suspected sleep would be difficult.
His legs trembled, and he reached out a hand to steady himself. Beneath his fingers, two knights met each other in mortal combat. Harry flinched and closed his eyes. He needed to find Ron and Hermione. They were his friends, they'd both given up so much to support him, and they deserved to know what he'd decided. And perhaps they could help him figure out just what the hell he was supposed to do about it.
Draco should be told too - but even the thought of trying to explain to Draco that he wasn't going to kill Voldemort made something inside Harry shrivel up and die. No, Ron and Hermione would definitely be more understanding.
Harry sighed. As he stepped out into the corridor something lit up above his head, turning the dust motes in the air around him into a thousand points of drifting light. He stopped and looked up.
Nestled into the arched stone ceiling was a single white rose, real and alive but every petal glowing so brightly it almost hurt to look at it.
"Well, well, Harry sub rosa." Hermione hefted the books she was holding into a better position under her arm and smiled at him. "I was just coming to look for you. I thought you'd like to see the cup destroyed."
Finally, they could destroy another Horcrux. The good news lifted Harry's mood. He also let himself feel some relief that they'd run into each other in the corridor. Hermione coming up to Draco's room could have been really embarrassing for all concerned.
Of course, Harry going in search of Ron and Hermione could have had the same result, if on a lesser scale. Ron and Lavender's full-on make-out sessions in the Gryffindor common room had been excruciating, but they'd never made Harry feel as uncomfortable as he had witnessing that one small kiss. He was happy for them, but he felt like he'd intruded on something private and special.
As they walked away the glow faded, until the rose was translucent and almost invisible against the stonework. "What does the rose do?"
"It enforces confidentiality," Hermione said. "Anything said beneath it cannot be repeated elsewhere. Isn't it wonderful that such an old spell is still being used?" she continued brightly. "This whole place is fascinating. Did you know that it's less than a hundred years old? The Bythells are very much New Blood, but they're trying to present themselves as much older." Harry stared at her. She smiled at him, and he told himself that he'd imagined the subtle hint of scorn in her voice.
"Draco doesn't seem very impressed with them," he said, and it was just a reply, something to fill the silence, not a test at all…
"Is he ever impressed by anything other than himself?"
Harry laughed. "Sometimes."
He followed Hermione up some spiralling stairs and into a room even smaller than Draco's. Ron's snores greeted them before they even opened the door; he was sprawled out on the couch, dead to the world.
The table was piled high with open books. Harry picked up a notebook. Its pages were filled with Hermione's neat handwriting, and here and there she'd drawn a strange symbol, more complex than the runes they'd learned at school. She shrugged when he looked at her. "I've been working out some spells. They didn't teach us Horcrux destruction at school, you know." She picked up a glass jar with runes scratched all over its surface.
"They should add it to the curriculum."
The joke flew straight over Hermione's head. "There's a lot they don't teach us," she said, opening the jar. Harry caught the scent of something foul. "History of Magic is particularly bad. Binns leaves out so much. And all the wand-work we do, when there are forms of magic out there so much more powerful and interesting? They could at least do an introductory class on ritual magic."
Harry frowned. The only ritual magic he'd ever seen had been performed by Voldemort and Wormtail - which told him all he needed to know about it.
Hermione put Hufflepuff's cup in the jar and screwed the lid back on. Harry looked at the notebook in his hand. Two words jumped up at him, written extra large and underlined. Sacrifice. Transformation. A chill slipped down his back.
"It's really no wonder that the Wizarding World has become so weak," Hermione said calmly."Malfoy and his kind make such a fuss about being better than Muggles, but what have they done recently? The Wizarding World steals Muggle inventions, while making no advancements of its own. They locked the Wild magic away from the world, and for what? To become insular, hedonistic, parasitic and pathetic." She looked at her wand with distaste as she tapped it against the jar.
Wild fire exploded into being inside the jar, large flames that hissed as if they were alive and spun and danced around the cup in a vicious dance that mirrored Harry's horrified thoughts. The cup blackened and melted. The runes on the jar glowed. Harry felt a stab of pain in his head, and heard the whisper of a fair-away scream.
"It's okay, Harry. The runes will hold the fiendfyre in the jar, and I've put a Sealing Charm on it for when it's done."
There was something else on the table, half hidden amongst the books. Harry saw a glint of bone as Hermione reached out to touch it. And he suddenly knew.
He reached out to grab Ron's shoulder, but his rough shake only made his friend grunt and snore louder. "What have you done to him?"
"He needs the sleep." Hermione sounded hurt - but she wasn't really Hermione, was she? The smell from the jar made his eyes water; he remembered the witch he'd seen in the fire. The magic he'd felt then had seemed familiar…
He remembered the grotto walls exploding into shards under his hands, and teetering Imperiused on the edge of the Grand's third floor landing…
"You…tried to kill me?" Every bit of the pain and betrayal he felt came out in those five words. It wasn't possible…Hermione would never… But she's not herself.
"No! Harry, I…" Hermione sighed. "You don't understand."
There were too many mirrors. Multiple copies of Draco glared back at him as he stepped down into the bathtub, and showed him his weakness as he slumped into the water. Still, there was a bright side, he decided as he massaged Bythell's most expensive shampoo into his hair. When Harry arrived he'd get a three hundred and sixty degree view of Potter nudity and that was a much more appealing prospect.
Each and every one of his reflections broke into the same leer. Lazy warmth pooled in his muscles as he rinsed his hair and stretched out in the bath, The smell of bergamot drifted up from the foam as the hot water did its work, easing his tired body. Every inch of it hurt, but now it wasn't in a bad way.
God - he could still feel him. He ran his hands over bruises left by overeager fingers, over nipples still sore to touch, over swollen lips…and with every movement, he was painfully aware of his stinging arse and that hot ache inside him.
Fuck's sake - now he was ready to go again -
Suffering from Full Moon Blues and feelings of Inhumanity? Try Chosen One Cock, applied vigorously at regular intervals.
Draco snorted. Fine, so he was going mad - that was hardly new. He curled his fingers around his cock and gave it a lazy tug.
Perhaps when the Full Moon had passed he'd be in better control of himself, and they could try it the other way around. Potter was the curious type - he had to be wondering what it felt like. Even if he was reluctant, Draco was certain that a couple of pokes at Harry's over-developed sense of fair play would be enough to get him spread out on the bed with his arse in the air.
The thought of that made his balls ache. His fingers tightened, his back arched - and something moved inside his head.
Draco froze, still clutching his rapidly softening cock.
What the hell?
He turned his attention inwards, ignoring the dissipating fantasies and turning the full force of his formidable mind back onto itself.
Draco had always known his own mind. Compartmentalising his thoughts and feelings had been second nature to him even before he'd gone to Hogwarts, and his Occulmency training had changed that undisciplined ability into a real power. When he visualised his mind, he saw it as a cluttered attic room, filled to bursting with treasured memories and jealously hoarded grudges. His Occulmency shields were paper screens emblazoned with the Malfoy crest, easily moved to subtly divert intruders away from their targets and trap them in petty thoughts of putting bubotuber pus into Nott's pumpkin juice and how pink frills made Pansy look like an oversized Pygmy Puff. The back of his mind held a towering heap of battered old school trunks, where his more painful memories and uncomfortable emotions were carefully locked away. And it was there that that alien presence was lurking, a dark mass of anger, pain and hunger that felt Draco's attention turn towards it and exulted in his fear.
However hot the water was, it couldn't fight the icy chill that spread through him. He sat there shaking, the last shreds of his arousal gone, his eyes staring blankly at the mirrors and the living pomegranate trees that formed their frames but no longer really seeing them, totally transfixed by the monster inside his head.
It was the wolf.
While he'd been transformed, Draco had been vaguely aware of the wolf as a separate entity, and himself as a mere passenger in its head - albeit with a Wolfsbane-gifted ability to steer. Now their positions were reversed, and the Potion was wearing off…it was no longer tame, and its wants and needs were bleeding out into him. A tiny flicker of relief - earlier, with Harry, the things Draco had wanted to do…that hadn't been him, wasn't him - was smothered by panic.
It was inside his head.
He heard a whimper that had to have come from his own mouth, embarrassingly loud - but not so loud as the creak of floorboards outside the door -
Draco forced his attention back outwards, trying not to cringe as he mentally turned his back on the beast. His cheeks were wet, and he roughly scrubbed his eyes free of tears as the door clicked open. He'd be damned if Potter was going to catch him crying in another bloody bathroom -
It wasn't Potter.
"I never thought I'd have to entertain a Malfoy," Bythell said. "Or werewolves. I honestly don't know which is worse." He shut the door behind him, and Draco fought the urge to sink down lower in the water. "I hope you're enjoying my hospitality."
"You're an abysmal host, Bythell. But you already know that." Draco gave an exaggerated yawn. "What do you want, exactly?"
"What are you doing here?" Bythell didn't even do him the courtesy of not staring at his scars. But coming from such a family of ill-bred parvenus, he could hardly be expected to know any better.
"Potter kidnapped me. He's keeping me as his sex slave." Draco put his arm to his forehead and did what he thought was a passable parody of a violated maiden. "Save me, please!"
Bythell's mouth twisted in disgust. "You haven't changed." But a flicker of uncertainty crossed his face as he looked at Draco. His gaze settled on Draco's arm - and stayed there, even as Draco let it drop, stretching his arms along the rim of the tub. His left arm, Draco realised - Bythell was staring at his left forearm. There were no prizes for guessing what had caught his attention.
Draco leered at him. When it wasn't burning, he could almost forget he even had the Mark, but it was good to know it hadn't lost its power to intimidate. "You know," he drawled, "I could ask you the same thing. Why are you here?"
Bythell rallied and smirked at him. "It's my house."
"You know what I mean."
Bythell studied him for a moment. Draco could almost see the cogs in his head turning; he always did have more money than brain cells. "The advantages outweigh the risks," he said simply. That should have been a cue for another crack about Livia, but Draco didn't say anything. He really couldn't see any 'advantages' to choosing either side, but at least Bythell had got to make a choice. For the first time Draco actually envied the guy - and that was disgusting. "You -" Bythell broke off, his gaze returning inexorably to Draco's arm, then started again. "You're the last person I expected to find with the Order," he said in a rush - and was that a touch of accusation in his voice? "Your father -"
"Is dead." Draco kept his voice cold and matter-of-fact; the feelings that surged up inside him were anything but. Bythell, with his untouched home and easy choices, this upstart whom his father wouldn't have even acknowledged in the street - how did he even have the nerve to mention him, to stand there and judge Draco? He felt his face twist. Bythell met his eyes and took an involuntary step back. "You don't know me," Draco snarled.
The beast surged out of its hiding place. He could feel its stinking presence at the forefront of his mind, and it was almost as if it had torn open all the trunks in its rush, because the memories it brought with it were amongst his worst.
He thought of his father, his body limp and cold on the stone table; Bellatrix and her cadaver; Inferi clambering over the playground wall; Potter on the stretcher, his black hair turned grey by the rock dust; dark shapes huddled in the gutter; Greyback ruffling Rolf's hair; his mother's hand clamped around his arm, as if she could tear the Dark Mark off with her fingers; parchments covered in names; Dumbledore, his body outlined in green light before it fell; the slashed portraits; Snape carefully unhooking Draco's fingers from his robes as Draco cried and begged, all pride and dignity gone as the cell door slammed shut between them; the stench of the Dementor's breath; Harry's eyes, shadowed and empty…
Draco sucked in a deep breath and turned his Occulmency shields back in on himself, desperately trying to buy himself some time, a chance to maintain his dignity. "You don't know what you're getting into." He forced his mouth into a grin, knowing it must look terrible. "Run now, while you have the chance."
Bythell's eyes were locked on his, and whatever he'd seen there had made them wide and terrified. "Run where?" he whispered. And that was the big question, wasn't it? His fingers fumbled for the door knob, and he made one last attempt to regain his composure. "You've got ink on your chest." His robes swished against the tiles as he turned on his heel and exited the room a hell of a lot faster than he'd come in.
Draco looked down at himself. There was a black smudge on his skin, all around the St Christopher. The pendant itself had gone black. Sudden panic gave him the strength to lock the memories away, and he felt the beast slink back into its dark corner, oozing amusement as he slipped the pendant off and examined it. The blackness had the feel and consistency of wet ink, and it came off on his fingers, running into the lines and whirls until his fingertips looked like contour maps.
It's broken. Oh, fuck…
Life-line or leash, the St. Christopher had at least been a way to keep in contact with Snape. Without it Draco was truly on his own, and the thought was terrifying. Would Snape think that he'd been betrayed, that Draco had broken it on purpose? Would the Dark Lord think he'd defected?
Oh god… Mother…
His fingers jerked shut around the pendant, its bevelled edges digging into his palm. More of the black liquid burst free - lots of it, too much, running down over his wrist and forearm as if he'd smashed an ink bottle in his hand.
"Fuck!" He threw the useless thing away from him as hard as he could. It bounced off one of the mirrors, cracking it in the process, and dropped onto the tiled floor with a clatter that sounded almost mocking.
Seven years of bad luck…
Laughter forced its way out of his throat, becoming half snort, half sob as he tried to suppress it. The water, once so relaxing, felt as constricting as a straightjacket, and his fingernails left gouges in the smooth tiles as he hauled himself out of the bath, trying to breathe. And the thing in his head purred, reminding him of how pointless it all was - how most of what he so badly needed to escape was actually inside him, bound up in his blood, capable of transforming his body, prowling around inside his mind.
Draco lifted his head and howled, pouring all his frustration, all his fear and all his anger into the sound. Pain shot through his fingers as he deliberately cracked and splintered the tiles. Then a tiny sound caught his attention. He froze, completely still apart from his widening eyes as he watched the ink pouring out of the pendant and streaming up the mirrored wall. The words it formed were in Snape's very distinctive handwriting and he couldn't help a cautious flicker of hope rising inside him.
It appears the games are over. The ink flowed apart and reformed. The Dark Lord has ordered you to return.
That was good, wasn't it? He'd be on his own territory, in control of his own fate…
…well away from Potter and all his strange ideas…
He expects you to bring Harry Potter with you.
The words seemed to dance before Draco's eyes, merging together in his vision even before they started to change again.
Okay, so breaking the mirror was a bad idea…
He started to laugh again. This time he let it out, the harsh, bitter sound echoing around the empty room. His chest tightened, and the laughter tasted no better than the bile that rose in his throat.
Ten o'clock tonight, Draco. Failure is not an option. Even if you don't value your own head, I trust you to consider Narcissa's - and my own, naturally.
The last line was hardly necessary. The Dark Lord valued knowledge of his minions' weaknesses - and he knew Draco's all too well…
The laughter turned into a strangled sob, but his fists clenched, his knuckles grinding into the tiles. His scattered, panicky thoughts rushed together, reforming into cold ruthless clarity. It seemed the Dark Lord didn't know all his weaknesses.
Because Draco rather liked Harry's head, too, and had no intention of seeing it separated from his body.
The words dissolved and the ink dripped down the mirror.
Draco had never hated the stupid bastard more.
A light draft ruffled his wet hair. He saw a quick flicker of movement in the mirror, and grabbed his wand -
The first Stunner only winded him.
The second was rather more effective.
The bone circlet sat amongst the books. "That thing's a Horcrux, isn't it?" And now it seemed so obvious. Voldemort certainly hadn't been the first to make a Horcrux - just the first to take the idea so far.
Hermione's hands clenched into fists against the battered wood of the tabletop. "This is all such a mess," she said, her voice catching on some unknown emotion. "Would you believe me if I told you that I can control it?"
"It?" Harry moved along the wall, keeping his distance. He still felt stupid, aiming his wand at Hermione, of all people, but underneath the brimstone and ashes scent of the fiendfyre he was sure he could smell the sea.
"Her, then." Harry half expected to see an evil grin on her face, and a different person looking out of her eyes, but her expression was sad and soft. The tears in her eyes glittered in the flickering light. "I didn't know that she wanted to hurt you, Harry - please believe me."
Of course he believed her. He had so many questions jostling for space in his head, but that was one he'd never need to ask. "How long have you known?" Why didn't you tell us? How could you take this risk, after what happened with Ginny?
"For certain? Not until last night."
Harry thought back to the Old Schoolhouse. Lucius Malfoy's behaviour then was suddenly not quite as bizarre. "He knew - Lucius fucking Malfoy. He set this up." His fingers tightened on his wand. God, he wished Malfoy was still alive - if only so he could give him a well-deserved punch to the face. And he sent his own son to get the circlet - what the hell?
Hermione's shoulders straightened; she blinked away the tears. "The only wizard powerful enough to take Voldemort on is dead," she said, her voice calm. "We can beat his minions all we like, but if we can't face him directly then we've already lost. Evadne has knowledge we can use, and power -"
"AND SHE'S MESSING WITH YOUR HEAD!" Harry couldn't listen to this. He eyed the circlet; all he had to do was destroy it and he could make this stop - he could have his friend back -
"I'd be dead now if wasn't for her. She taught me how to dispose of Horcruxes safely -"
"She made you kill!" The moment the words left his mouth, he regretted them - he couldn't keep the accusation out of his voice, and Hermione looked away, her eyes filling with tears again.
"I killed, to protect her - and you." Harry heard that silky voice in his head, and gagged at the smell filling his nostrils. "Is that so very evil, Son of Gryffindor?"
The fiendfyre in the jar spat and hissed as the Sealing Charm activated. He didn't have much time before it would be gone - and his best chance to dispose of the circlet would go with it.
Cold burned his fingers as he snatched the bone circlet from the table. Images flashed through his head - a little girl cowering in the corner of a wooden shack; two wizards casting spells at each other across a very familiar courtyard; a woman screaming as flames consumed her; dozens of galleys tossed about on storm-swelled waves; blond-haired children playing on a beach; tarot cards swept off a table in a fit of rage…and water, all around him, tinted pink with his blood. When he tried to breathe, his lungs burned with pain.
Flames spiralled up into the room as he tore the lid off the jar. He felt the tip of a wand touch the back of his neck.
"I can't let you do that, Harry. I'm sorry."