Title: Coming of Age: Chapter 10 -- When Harry met Draco... (10/?)

Author name: Frances Potter

Author email:

Category: Just about everything: Angst/Darkfic, Mystery, a little Action/Adventure, some Romance.

Keywords: Harry, Draco, Ron, Hermione, Hedwig, Lucius and Voldemort.

Spoilers: All books

Rating: PG-13 (UK rating 12). (Non-explicit adult themes, bad language, mental distress, violence)

Summary: Harry Potter thinks he has finally defeated Voldemort. But the battle has taken its toll and he decides to leave the Wizarding world for good. Three years later, the Dark Lord has a 21st birthday present for the Boy Who Lived, and it involves Draco Malfoy. Can the two overcome their past differences and work together before Voldemort destroys them both?

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Dedication: This chapter is dedicated to Kovack, my beloved cat who died on 6th January 2002. He made a very brief cameo in Chapter 6 as Crookshanks' friend. Both Thomas, his brother, and I miss him very much

What you need to know...

Check out the beginning of Chapter 9 for a quick rundown of events so far! Hedwig has helped Draco escape from Malfoy Manor. He is picked up on the streets of London by Fred and George and taken to Ron's house. Ron, who blames Draco for the deaths of Arthur and Bill, is not very pleased to see Draco and he takes great delight in beating him up. Hermione only stops him from doing the ex-Slytherin serious damage. Chapter Ten follows on directly from the previous chapter...

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Every day you crawl into the night A fallen angel with your wings set alight When you hit the ground Everything turns to blue I can't get through the smoke that's surrounding you Cos when you're falling I can't tell which way is down And when you're screaming Somehow I don't hear a sound And when your seeing things Then your feet don't touch the ground Cos when you're falling I can't tell which way is down

-- When You're Falling -- Afrocelt Sound System

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Coming of Age Chapter Ten -- When Harry met Draco...

Lucius Malfoy was aware of everything that happened around him.

Aware of his own breath and the beat of his heart, and of the sensation of the clothes on his skin.

He could feel the pressure of his fingers on the quill in his hand. See the sheet of parchment on the desk. Read the words the quill was making. Even sense the irritation of an itch on the back of his hand.

But Lucius could do nothing about it.

He had no control over the fingers that scratched briefly at the irritation. He was trapped within his own body, a body that was controlled by a force greater than even he could overpower.

From within his prison, Lucius could feel the being that was Voldemort. It was this man's consciousness, this other personality, which controlled the physical skin and bones, using it to fulfil his own desires for power and control over life and death. And by learning how to possess and live like a parasite in another's body, Voldemort had finally found an answer to his desire for immortality.

Lucius put out a testing thought towards the hand holding the quill. Sometimes, if he tried very hard, and if Voldemort was distracted, he could regain a measure of control. Could cause the clench of a muscle, the flick of a finger. But such defiance was always punished.

As it was now.

He felt an invisible hand squeeze at his equally invisible throat. He might have been without form, but the sensations of pain were the same as before. Voldemort could cause him to feel such terrible pain if he so wanted.

"Be a good boy, Lucius, or I will never let you free."

Fading into the background of his own consciousness, Lucius felt himself shiver again. Sometimes he thought he shivered out of fear. Or perhaps it was the effects of the powerful Dark magic that held him trapped here in the darkness of his own mind.

When the Dark Lord had asked him all those years ago for the use of his body, Lucius had been horrified. That he should allow anyone such intimate control was an abomination. But Voldemort was his Master. His Lord. And he had already sworn to follow him to the ends of the earth. Had already gifted Voldemort the life of his own son.

"Surely," Voldemort had questioned. "You can do this one small thing for me?"

The plan had been simple. Get the Potter boy to trap Dumbledore in a cave of living crystal where the old man's powers would be useless. But they needed bait to trick the enemy, and what better than the Dark Lord's own resurrected snake-like body? They had used the empty animated husk as the lure, and it had worked to perfection. The one wizard powerful enough to destroy the Dark Lord was forever imprisoned at the side of that empty husk.

"And afterwards, Master?" Lucius had asked. "Where will you house yourself once your body is no more?"

"Why, Lucius, where do you think? In that charming son of yours. Where else?"

But Lucius Malfoy had power of his own. He controlled a vast empire within the Wizarding world, and it had taken Voldemort mere days to realise the potential of keeping this older body with its network of contacts, rather than using the younger one.

Draco's turn would come later, Lucius was sure of that now. Once Voldemort had worn out the flesh of his present host, he would move on to Draco, then another and another....

Immortality by being a parasite, devouring the souls of his victims and feasting off their very life essence.

How could you destroy a being with that power? With that ability?

"Don't even think about destroying me, Lucius," the voice echoed in his mind. "Why should you care about your son now after all the things you have done to him in the past?"

"Because he is my son."

"Remember I know your thoughts, Lucius. All of them. You enjoyed your treatment of him."

"I was trying to make him better than what he was. Trying to teach him. If he had done as he was told, it would not have happened."

"Oh course, Lucius." The voice was derisive. "You only ever did it for the boy's own good."

I'll talk to him.

The words echoed through the two separate, but joined minds, silencing them as they both realised who had spoken them. Lucius gasped at the new presence. "Potter."

The responding chuckle was dark, full of vengeance. "Oh yes, Lucius. Our boy has finally found him. Can you sense how close Potter is to him? All Draco has to do is reach out and he could touch him."

"Yes. Yes, I can feel him."

"Can you sense the power in him, Lucius? Can you imagine what it would be like to have that power coursing though your veins?"

"Yes." The voice was a whisper.

"I have a gift for you, Lucius. When this is over, you can have him. You can have that fresh powerful young body."

"But I don't have the ability to take over another form."

"Fool, Lucius. I can do that for you. In payment for the years I have used this form."

"But you will take all his powers. What will be left for me?"

"A new life, Lucius. A new young life instead of this old body? And don't worry, I will leave some of his power for you."

"Will he know? Will Potter still be there?"

"Oh, of course, just as you are now here with me. And I will have Draco. Imagine it Lucius. Together and with that joint power we can rule the world."

"And Draco? Will he know? Will he still be there -- his mind in that body?"

"Yes."

A dark thought slowly manifested itself within Lucius mind. The ultimate punishment for a wayward son who would never, ever listen. "Then let me have him. Let me have Draco."

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"I'll talk to him."

The quiet voice made everybody jump. Harry stepped out of the shadows where he had been watching the confrontation since he and Hermione had heard Draco's cry. He stood for a moment, eyes resting calmly on Draco's face. "You made it then."

Draco stood, favouring his right leg. "No thanks to that bloody owl of yours."

"Well, she has got a strange sense of humour. Probably something to do with being stuck in a cage for long periods." Head slightly to one side, Harry studied the man in front of him for the first time in over four years. October 1997. Even then, during that contact in the stone corridors under the Slytherin School, Harry had only seen him briefly. Hands grabbing him, pulling him up from the rock face where he clung precariously. Brief eye-to-eye contact, then Draco was gone in the darkness. Rescued by his enemy.

And, of course, there had been the last visit to Draco's safe haven; the cloud illusion Draco had created as a child to go to when he felt threatened or in danger. The only impression Harry had been left with from that contact was that Draco seemed tall.

Except in reality Draco wasn't. He was only an inch or two taller than Harry, and his build was probably slimmer under the floor-length travel-stained cloak, which now dragged back over one shoulder, revealing black jeans and a shirt. Draco still had the body of a Seeker -- small and trim.

The face that watched him had matured and the shadow of beard growth marked the pale skin of his face. But somehow even that and the dark stain of a black eye didn't detract from the fact that Draco still looked like an angel. All pale skin and hair flopping lazily around his face, its tangled strands only adding to the impression.

As if he knew what Harry was thinking, Draco raised a hand and long, slim fingers pushed through the blond hair, pushing it back from his face.

Harry was reminded of Petunia cooing over baby pictures of Dudley, calling him her little angel. And there had been a chubby cherub quality about baby Dudley -- a bit like a Renaissance painting. Fortunately, or unfortunately, that had disappeared, as Dudley got older.

But Angel Draco was as far removed from one of those cherubs as one could be. From his pale flawless skin, to the prominent cheekbones and dusky, pale grey eyes, there was the classic innocence of a Christmas card angel, all sweetness and light. Endearing.

But just underneath, there was Ron's Prince of Darkness, swooping down on wings of fire ready to devour and destroy.

Harry saw that Draco was mirroring his posture, even down to the slight tilt of the head. Classic good and evil, Harry thought, twisted here because he was the dark-haired one and Draco the white. Opposite to the old westerns Harry had taken to watching on satellite where the good guy always wore the white hat and the villain the black.

"I think we need to talk," Harry finally said. Green eyes stared lightly into grey. Draco held his gaze.

"Not here. In private." The words were demanding.

"Why should I do that when I don't trust you here with all these good people around me?"

"Because of the curse. Because I know what happened to your scar in that nice little car of yours." The green eyes showed no emotion, they just held him in their steady gaze. Voldemort is right, Draco decided, I can feel the power, and, boy, is it strong. "And because of this." He pulled down his collar, revealing his own lightning bolt scar. "A present from one of our favourite people."

Harry gave a knowing look, and picked up his wand from where Ron had dropped it. "Okay." He gestured for Draco to follow him outside.

"Harry!" Ron was clearly agitated by the way events were progressing.

"It's okay, Ron. If he tries anything, you have my personal blessing to rip his arms off and use them as Bludger bats."

Harry then did something that made everyone in the room gasp.

Harry held out his wand to Draco.

For a moment, Draco just stared at it, his forehead knotted in confusion. Then, very slowly, he reached out and his hand closed around the now familiar shaft. He felt the same surge of energy that had assaulted his senses the first time he had used the wand, and it caused his breath to catch in his throat.

He looked back from the wand at Harry to ask why he had given it to him, but all he saw was the other's back as Harry headed for the door. Draco watched the perfect target and felt a rush of adrenaline as the tiny voice in his mind whispered, Go on. Take down the ward spells. Take him now. Bring him back to your Master.

Eyelids closed, he swallowed, trying to bite back the compulsion to act. He was aware of the other wands in the room, that the other occupants were pointing them at him. How fast could he disable them? Did he want to? The voice hissed Yes, and with a rising feeling of panic, Draco fled outside.

Harry was waiting for him on the patio, beside a round wrought iron table.

Draco flung the wand down. "What did you do that for?" His voice hissed with anger.

"Do what?"

"Give me the fucking wand. I could have done anything." Draco was hurt physically from the beatings and now mentally from the mocking voice in his mind, dragging him down deeper and deeper into the suffocating mire of confusion. He raised a hand to his forehead and realised that it was shaking.

"But you didn't."

"What?"

"You didn't do anything. You could have, but you didn't. You dealt with it."

"Probably because of the other wands pointed at me."

Harry noticed a change in Draco's tone. He now sounded like the boy Harry remembered from Hogwarts, his voice a mocking drawl. "Is it hard?" Draco didn't respond, but simply raised a sardonic eyebrow.

"Sometimes I can pick up emotions from you." Harry continued. "It was more noticeable when I was on the cloud -- your secret place, but I can feel it now." He waited for a response, but none was forthcoming. "It's there, in your mind now, Malfoy, trying to control you, make you do things you don't want to. I picked it up the moment I came into the kitchen. Ron was lucky. If you'd given in to it, if you'd let it control you, he would be dead now.

"The wand was to show that you could deal with this. You can cope with what your father is doing to you." Harry felt it now, pricking at his own mind. It was difficult to describe the manifestation of power it brought, but he felt like it gave him the potential to destroy something, not out of fear but out of malice and with no sense of guilt about doing so. It gnawed into his psyche, as it did with Draco, threatening to overwhelm him given the opportunity.

"I don't need your bloody sympathy, Potter," Draco sat down before his legs gave way. He wanted to reach out for help, but years of indoctrination prevented him from doing so. Malfoys never ask for help. That had been drummed into him from the moment he had been old enough to understand. To admit to Harry that he needed him, to admit to the person who had been his enemy for ten years, was anathema to him.

"Have it your way." Harry stepped to the table.

Behind him, the sun was setting, and for a moment Draco saw it halo around Harry's head, causing the dark hair to flare with streaks of gold. The image disappeared as Harry sat down, and Draco pulled his cloak tighter. He realised he was shivering, but knew it was not from the cold. Normally he would have found the late September autumnal chill refreshing, but today something else chilled him to the bones.

Harry, dressed only in a loose fitting shirt and jeans, watched him. Just as he was aware of the chatter in Draco's mind, he could sense the dark energy chilling him. Hedwig had been right. Draco oozed dark magic despite the spells she had managed to remove, and Harry wondered why he had never noticed it before. It had been a risk giving him the wand, but Harry needed to build up some sort of trust. Needed to show Draco he could control this ... thing. That he could beat the darkness which Voldemort had infused him with.

It was strange, Harry considered, being here with Draco after all these years. He had been mulling over in his mind what this meeting might be like ever since the decision to get Draco out had been made. Would he still hate his old enemy? Would he, like Ron, want to kick the shit out of him?

To Harry's surprise, he realised he felt nothing. No animosity, no anger, not even gratitude for Draco having saved his life. Unlike his friends, who had been in almost constant contact with the Malfoy family, his three years away from the Wizarding world had somehow taken away any feelings he might have had. He looked at the slight figure, shadowed in the growing darkness and muffled in the cloak, and the emotion that inched to the surface was, surprisingly he decided, of pity. Despite his money, position, family and pureblood rhetoric, Draco looked sad and lonely. Maybe, Harry debated, it was because of what had happened to Draco in the last few days. Then he remembered the photographs he had taken of Draco and his parents in Diagon Alley, and he knew that the fear shown in that print was with Draco all the time.

Harry picked up the wand and pointed it at the twin lamps on the table. "Lumos." The candles flickered to life, casting a glow that spread as far as the edge of the table. Harry sat on the opposite side of the table, the candles between them.

"Can you do that without a wand?" Draco asked quietly.

"Can you?"

"I asked first."

"You know you need a wand to do magic." Harry took off his glasses and cleaned them with the edge of his shirt. He didn't put them back on. Instead he carefully placed them on the table and he looked across at Draco, the candlelight causing Harry's eyes to sparkle with green fire.

It was very off-putting. Draco couldn't remember Harry without those trademark glasses. They were as much part of the persona of The Boy Who Lived as was the scar. But Draco did feel calmer in the man's company. The voice in his mind had receded to almost nothing and the coldness had started to dissipate. "I've been talking to someone who thinks you can do magic without a wand."

"Who?"

Draco wondered about couching his comments in riddles, but Harry had never had problems saying 'the name'. "Voldemort." Harry's eyebrows rose, questioning. "Do you remember the cloud and what I said about my father?"

Harry shrugged. "The cloud was an illusion, and illusions don't always tell the truth."

"Okay, then I'll tell you again. Where do you want me to start?"

"Up to you. I've got all the time in the world."

Draco met Harry's gaze, his own eyes suddenly dark. "That's the problem. You haven't, not if 'he' has his way." Suddenly warm, he fiddled with the clasp of his cloak and took it off.

"Why?"

Leaning forward, arms resting on the tabletop, Draco spoke. "It started on my birthday." He closed his eyes briefly. Was it only seven weeks ago? 31st July 2001 now seemed like a lifetime ago. He felt like he had died on that day, like he'd been someone else before. But then, who was he now? What had Voldemort changed him in to?

Taking a deep breath, Draco finally continued. "My father told me he had a surprise for my birthday. As I waited for his gift, I was hit by a surge of the most incredible magical energy I have ever experienced. It felt like my whole body was just ripped apart. Everything -- skin, bones, blood, cells. In the same instance, it was put back together again, but I knew something had changed. I found out later that this was energy coming back from you. It was being used to link us together. Then he showed me your image. Do you remember that day in your car? You looked terrible and your scar was bleeding."

Harry's hand went absently to his forehead and he brushed at the scar just above his right eye. "I remember."

"He told me who he really was."

"Voldemort?" Draco nodded. "Do you believe him?"

"Oh yes. It's him." Draco wanted to say something about how he finally understood what Harry had been through during all those battles with the Dark Lord, but he just couldn't bring himself to say so. He would say it later, he decided. Yes, later. "But it was my father as well in a strange way. He told me my father's essence was no longer there. That he'd agreed to give Voldemort his body. Yet I could still sense him. Voldemort is very good at role-play; just wait until you see him. I think he plays Lucius Malfoy better than my father did."

"Does anyone else know?"

"I don't think so. Even the Death Eaters and his other followers think that Lucius has taken over from where Voldemort left off before you killed him." He paused thoughtfully. "Except for my mother. I'm sure she's always known. Everyone else seems to believe the story that you had lied, that he had never been resurrected."

"So who did I trap in the cave? I take it you know about the cave under the Slytherin School?"

"Of course. Supposedly it's my father. The whole thing was a trap; from the moment you rescued Professor Snape and found the cave. It was a set up, Potter, to get rid of Dumbledore. Without him, you would lose most of your protection and there would be no one to teach you the true nature of what powers you would possess once you turned 21."

Harry hid his shock well, his eyes betraying nothing. He had spent the first 11 years of his life learning to hide exactly what he felt. To betray his true feelings to the Dursleys had always earned him a punishment, so he had learned to shield his eyes and keep them neutral even if inside he was seething. And that was what he was doing now, hiding his true feelings.

Deep inside, however, he was reeling. It was one thing being told this story when he was in some dream world, because he could always believe that it was a fantasy. He had thought that he'd come to terms with the idea after discussing it with Sirius, Hedwig and Hermione. He really believed he had accepted his own failure to destroy the Dark Lord and of losing Dumbledore. But to hear the story again now, with cold, stark reality surrounding him was much harder than anything he could ever have envisaged.

He had sacrificed Professor Dumbledore for nothing. He had imprisoned Lucius Malfoy at the same time. Voldemort was still very much alive. He had succeeded at NOTHING. And now he was paying the price for running away three years ago by having these incurable curses hanging over him.

And what about Snape? Had Snape been in on this all along? Had he still been a Death Eater when Harry and the three Weasley boys had rescued him? Was the whole rescue attempt just Voldemort's way of leading Harry to the crystal cave? And what about the potion Snape had given him a few days before? Was it safe? How did he know whether Snape was trying to poison him or not? "Did Snape know what was going on?"

"No. He got used, like the rest of us."

Liar! Harry heard his mind screaming. Everyone is lying to me! Why can't someone tell me the truth? Why can't they all stop using me? Even Dumbledore. Why didn't he tell me about these powers I'm supposed to have now? He must have known. He could have prepared me for this.

He picked up the wand. Was the strange way his wand now reacted to him and his ability to do wandless magic part of these 'new powers'? If there was no one around who could teach him how to use them, they were just so much extra baggage fouling up his life.

Suddenly he wanted to be home with Emily, away from magic. She would make him feel safe, and that was what he wanted more than anything right now. But it could never be the same again, could it? He couldn't just go home to that life which had been so perfect for the last few years. Back to the safe Muggle world where he was Harry the photographer -- Harry the Normal Person. Voldemort had taken his life away from him for the second time. First he had destroyed his parents and had taken away his childhood. Now Voldemort was taking away the life Harry had built for himself. Even if he managed to survive this, he could not go back to his normal Muggle life again. It would always be tainted by the fact that he was a wizard; he could no longer deny that fact, as much as he wanted to.

He flexed the wand between his two hands, wanting to snap it in two, wanting to break this thing connecting him to the Wizarding world and to Voldemort. He felt he could sense the phoenix feather deep in the heart of the holly wood and wondered if he could sense its brother in Voldemort's wand. Immortality. That was what Voldemort has once told him he was striving for. Would the Dark Lord keep rising, like a phoenix, back to life each time Harry tried to destroy him? The thought of forever fighting this man sent a shockwave through Harry, and he shuddered at the thought of being trapped in a never-ending cycle of life and death trying to destroy something that could not die.

The wand dropped from numb fingers and he looked at it, horrified by the power it could bestow on him if he just asked for it. Horrified that if he accepted it, it could change him beyond recognition. Turn him into a person who might be closer to Voldemort than to himself.

He realised that Draco was watching him, a frown on his face. Was he sensing Harry's fears? Harry's concerns?

"Potter?" Draco's voice was quiet, tinged with concern.

Harry looked up, meeting the other's gaze. He took a breath, trying to focus back onto the conversation he was supposed to be having.

"And you never knew?" he finally spoke, his voice catching slightly. "About the switch?"

For a moment Draco continued watching Harry, trying to work out what was going on in the other's mind. Emotion rolled off Harry in waves, and he felt it pass through him, tingling at his nerve endings. "Are you all right?" he finally had to ask.

Harry shifted on his chair, the mask he had worn earlier slipping back into place again. "I'm fine. I just need to get this over with."

Draco felt the barriers return and almost gasped out loud as the emotion was cut off, leaving him feeling bereft. He swallowed, taking a calming breath before continuing. "I had no idea about the switch. Voldemort used my father's position to rise through the ministry. Once he got to be Minister of Magic, he started making changes. People saw him as some sort of saviour and just followed along. They aren't under Imperius or anything." He looked skyward for the moment, noticing the first star against the darkening blue sky. "Now I look back, I think the switch was early on. Not long after the Tri-Wizard Tournament. It was Voldemort who ordered the deaths of Weasley's father and brother, not my father."

"But Ron is right. You didn't do anything to stop it."

Draco sat back in his chair, face now out of the circle of light. "Do we really have to go over this again? There was nothing I could do. We were in a room overflowing with Death Eaters, none of whom would have listened to me."

"You could have tried."

"Yeah, well, I'm not you, am I? I'm not the Great Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived. I'm just Draco Malfoy who lost out to you in almost everything. And I didn't come here at great personal expense to talk about the Weasleys."

"If we are going to sort this curse thing out, then you're going to have to deal with them, because they will all be involved."

"I can't change what happened."

"No, but you can help make it right."

"By doing what? Apologizing? Do you really think any of those people," he pointed towards the house, "would accept an apology from me?" The chair scrapped against the flagstones. "This is pointless. I'm going. I'll deal with it on my own." He got to his feet.

"Sit down." The voice was a whisper, and it reminded Draco of the tone Voldemort used. He stood beside the table, trying to sort out the confusion in his mind. Reality was, indeed, slipping way.

A movement at his feet caught Draco's attention and he looked down. Pushing out from the folds of his cloak was a black and white cat. It twisted once round his legs then sat at his feet, looking up with him with green eyes that reminded him of the other eyes watching him across the table.

Finally Draco returned to his chair, holding out his hand to the cat without thinking. He felt it sniff at his fingers before pushing its head against his hand. He'd always liked cats; their aloofness reminded him of himself, but his father would never let him have a cat. In fact, he reminded himself, he wasn't allowed any pet. Lucius had told him owning a pet was a sign of weakness. "Don't push me, Potter."

"Then go. I can't make you stay here."

Draco gave a sudden start as the cat jumped lightly into his lap. For a moment, he considered returning the animal to the ground, but it turned a full 360-degree circle and settled down, its head now resting warmly against his stomach, its green eyes studying him. A small metal disc glittered from the cat's collar and he idly flicked it into the light. The tidy script writing read 'Kovack', and on the reverse it said 'I live with Frances; if you think I'm lost, call 050756'. He ran a finger over the disc's surface, feeling the indentations where the wording had been engraved. The hand continued across the cat's head, gently running over the soft fine fur. The cat purred silently, the purr a sensation that rumbled through Draco's body.

The cat finally closed its eyes, and Draco looked from one green gaze to the other. It perplexed him that he found it so easy to talk to Potter. He'd expected it to be difficult opening up to his enemy, but in fact it was quite the opposite -- an almost cathartic experience. But to feel so open, so vulnerable scared him.

Rhythmically he continued stroking the cat, occasionally pausing to scratch it under the chin. "You are a powerful wizard. Your parents were powerful in their own right, but you are supposed to be greater still. The sum of the two halves would end up being greater than the whole. Voldemort had known this would happen for years, even before you were born. He wanted that power for himself, but it doesn't manifest itself until the person reaches 21. You should get Granger to research this 21 thing. In wizard legend, it's a time of true transition. Voldemort's problem was that he knew no one would let him get at you."

"Is this where you came in?"

"Voldemort told me he had created both of us, that we have his life force in us. Twin souls connected by blah, blah, blah. I guess you know how he can rant on about things. Loves the sound of his own voice." A wry smile flickered across Harry's face. "Doesn't this make you wonder why we've never gotten on?"

Harry knew it wasn't a question, but he answered anyway. "I can imagine a few reasons."

"So can I. Voldemort planned to kill you as a baby, when you would be too weak to defend yourself. Then your powers would revert to me because of the link he'd created between us. I would be brought up by the Dark side, and because I would be taught my place in the greater scheme of things, at the age of 21 I'd be willing to die and hand it all over to him."

"And the scar?" Harry gestured at Draco's neck.

"Oh, yes, my lovely new, or rather old, dark mark. I never needed the skull and serpent thing because I already had this." With his free hand (the other was still stroking Kovack), he undid a couple of buttons and pulled open the shirt. The scar shone gold in the candlelight. "I got mine on my 1st birthday. His plan was that the moment he cursed you with the scar, the connection between us would be complete. It would hold just long enough to transfer your powers to me. Then you would die and I'd have 20 years of life left."

Draco suddenly let out a ragged sob and closed his eyes. The cat shifted as he did so, a paw now resting on his arm as though it was aware of Draco's pain, Kovack allowed Draco's hand to twist in his black and white fur. "I have the most incredible headache."

Harry watched him for a moment, and then picking up his wand he whispered. "Amoveovere Doloris."

Draco didn't move for a minute or two, and then with a long, slow sigh he opened his eyes. "Thank you."

Harry shrugged. "Are you okay to continue?"

"Do I have a choice?" Draco was surprised that Harry should show concern.

"You aren't a prisoner here, Malfoy. We have to work together on this."

"Work together?"

Harry let out a sigh of exasperation. "Can you deal with this on your own?" Draco looked down at the cat and said nothing. "Then we have to deal with it together. The sooner I can get this sorted, the sooner I can get on with my life."

The comment caused Draco to look up. "And what life is that, Potter?"

"One that doesn't involve you, wizards or magic." Draco thought he saw a flash of anger in the emerald eyes. "Voldemort's plan didn't work."

Draco continued studying Harry. So The Boy Who Lived didn't like his return to the wizarding world. Interesting. "No," he finally continued. "And that, as they say, is history. Baby Potter survived and Evil guy disappeared. He never thought he would have the opportunity to try again. Until that trick with your wand after the Tri-Wizard Tournament. The Priori Incantatem."

"How did you know about that?" For the first time, Harry looked surprised.

"He told me, idiot."

"I can give you the headache back again if you don't play nice, Malfoy."

Draco held up his hands. "Something that happened during that spell made him realise he could have another stab after your 21st birthday. The first time he tried to carry out this ceremony was on Halloween. He is planning something for 31st October this year. He's going to get you back to Godric's Hollow and perform the same ceremony he did when we were both babies. You die and I get your powers. Voldemort then takes them from me and becomes Evil Overlord of the Universe."

"And this mirroring spell?"

"It was a while before I found out about that. At first I just thought he was being nasty for the hell of it. Then he told me the spell allowed him to hurt you by hurting me."

"Is it different from the spell that links us?"

Draco nodded. "The link through the scars he's using for the ceremony was part of the energy surge I felt coming back from you. The mirroring curse, Speculumous, is what he's using to control me and to hurt you. Any curse he uses on me, you get to experience." Voldemort's confession as to why he had used Draco as the trigger came to mind. All those apologies that night, all that talk of explanations. How could he have fallen for them? What was it Voldemort had said to him? Follow me and I will teach you how to use your power. We will rule - father and son - and no one will be able to stop us. How could he have believed the Dark Lord had wanted him as his son, as his successor?

But the little voice in his mind chimed in, You know it's all true. Bring back Potter, and you will find out just how true.

Draco shook it away. "Then your owl turned up. Nice touch, having an Animagus as a messenger owl."

"I only found out a few weeks ago."

"Really?" A huge grin spread across Draco's face. "You had an owl in your room who was really this very pretty bird?" He giggled at his own joke. "Bird?" Harry did not laugh. "Oh, forget it."

The Green eyes bore into him, giving Draco the feeling that Harry could see perfectly well without his glasses. "Hedwig is a wonderful person. She risked her life to get you out."

"I know, but it hasn't been easy for me either." Draco shoulders sagged as a wave of tiredness swept over him. He looked down at the cat again and realised it was watching him intently through half closed eyes. It yawned, showing long pointed teeth. The rumbling purr vibrated through Draco's body. When he looked up again, he saw that the mask covering Harry's eyes had slipped. He looked as tired as Draco felt.

"Potter. Can I tell you something? I had to break out of my own home to come here. I have been accused of nearly killing my own mother. I am on the run from the Aurors, and the guy in charge is someone who hates me. Marcus Flint has never forgiven me for not beating Gryffindor at Quidditch." There was no humour in Draco's voice, no sarcastic undertone. "Voldemort is going to kill us both if he gets the chance. I don't want to die, and I am also fed up being his catalyst. He's trying to break you down so that when the great day comes, he will be able to deal with you once and for all. I know you feel the curses he's using on the both of us. Do they hurt?" Harry nodded. "Well, if it hurt you, imagine what it was like for me. I feel like I'm in hell, burning up forever with no end in sight." He dragged a hand across his face, making it look like he was brushing his hair away rather than wiping tears of remembered pain before Harry saw them.

But Harry saw, and felt the pain again, still all too fresh in his mind as well. "Are you safe now?"

"I don't know. I don't know how far he can reach. I don't know if he will find me and drag me back. He is good at mind games as well as out-and-out pain. He keeps trying to make me believe different things, get me confused. But I do know that he's going to force you to go to Godric's Hollow, and once you are there, he's going to rip us both into pieces and probably never put us back together again."

"No, he won't." The voice was strangely quiet, and Draco remembered the tone from Hogwarts. That quiet, determined voice which demanded attention and made you know that Harry was going to get his own way. The first time Draco had heard it was when he had taken Longbottom's Remembrall during their first flying lesson. And now he was hearing it again.

Harry came to his feet and moved around the table. Kovack watched as the other man approached. The cat rubbed its head once more against Draco's body then jumped lightly to the ground and wound around Harry's legs. Then, with a little meow, the cat sauntered from the garden, tail held high.

Then, to Draco's surprise, Harry put a hand on his shoulder. "Come on. You must be tired."

It was the last thing Draco had expected and the one thing he couldn't cope with. Compassion from Potter.

For several seconds Draco just sat staring at the candles. The tears started slowly at first, filling his eyes with stinging saltiness. He blinked hard, trying to stop them, back stiff as he tried to stop himself from shaking, fists clenched hard on the table before him.

Slowly, too slowly for him to stop, he finally broke down, shedding tears that had been stored up for years. He leaned forward, cradling his head in his own arms, all the time aware of the pressure of Harry's hand on his shoulder.

********************

Putting the razor down, Draco splashed water over his face and studied his reflection in the mirror.

You still look a mess, the mirror told him.

"Thanks, I really need to know that." He ran a hand over the now smooth skin of his face, grateful for his light colouring. At least he didn't get a five o'clock shadow like Potter probably did. Nor did he have to put up with red whiskers like Weasley. The steaming water filling the bath fogged the mirror again, and he wiped the condensation from the surface with a towel. The mirror giggled back. Even without the beard growth (which actually wasn't that much, he reminded himself), the face he saw was not Draco Malfoy at his best. Someone had once told him he would still look good dressed only in a black bin bag, but today, even if he were in his best robes, he would probably look like a tramp.

He peered closer; trying to see what damage Weasley's back-hander had actually inflicted. The bruise ran across his left cheekbone and around his eye. Fingers carefully prodded at it, and he decried the fact that although his knowledge of first aid magic was pretty good, he had never learned to perform it on himself. Maybe he could persuade Potter to help.

On second thoughts, Potter was the last person he wanted to see now. It had been a couple of hours since Draco had broken down in front of Potter, and he still smarted from the outburst. Crying was something Malfoys did not do. Crying in front of one's mortal enemy was tantamount to treason.

Returning to the bath, he turned off the water before carefully checking his other injuries. The whole of his right side was a mess, covered with bruises from Weasley's big feet. It looked worse around his ribs, where the bruises overlaid the fading yellow of Voldemort's last beating. The black and blue marks continued in a series of shoe-shaped impressions down his leg, and his knee looked swollen from the blow Weasley had delivered to the joint. He flexed his knee, and decided that he would probably have a very effective limp by the morning.

His right thigh was a mess too. The skin had been scraped off in a patch about six inches across. Circling that was a larger, angry, red area, and he could just make out the tread pattern of Weasley's shoe on the skin. He touched it tentatively and watched as bloody liquid seeped from the damaged flesh.

And finally, there was the back of his head where he had cracked it on the floor. He had already tried to see the damage in the mirror without much success. The lump felt the size of a Bludger, and was incredibly painful even now, hours later.

What had he gotten himself into?

He was beginning to think that he had exchanged one almost dire predicament for another. At least back at home he was in a situation he had been used to and, thus, could handle. Here, in this new place, he had no idea what to expect. Weasley's venomous comments and attack had come as a total surprise, which was probably why he had reacted so badly.

As for Potter. Well, it might have been four years since he had last seen the ex-Gryffindor, but Draco had expected their relationship to carry on from the place where it had halted after their last confrontation. This Harry, however, was a different person from those days. Draco couldn't quite place how Harry had changed, but he was not the same. There had been none of the antagonism that had marked any contact between them in the past. This Harry had been like a calm, still pool of water into which Draco's own emotions seem to have been poured. The serenity exuded by Harry had seeped into him, and that was probably why he had found it so easy to talk.

With a heartfelt sigh, Draco tried to forget what had happened to him, at least for the time being anyway. He lowered himself into the bubble-filled bath, hissing in pain as the hot water touched his injured flesh. The hiss of pain slowly turned into a groan of pleasure as he settled into the liquid depths, the warmth seeping immediately into his tired flesh, easing the aches and tenderness. He carefully lay back, feeling the bubbles against his neck and in his hair.

This was the first decent wash he'd managed since fleeing the manor three days before, and his skin felt grimy to the touch. Even during his school days he had been fastidious about his cleanliness, so to have worn the same clothes now for those three days made him shudder. He ran a hand through the foam and filled his palm with the lavender-scented bubbles. It was not a scent he would normally have picked for himself, but anything would do in a time of crisis. He assumed the bubble bath was Hermione's. Weasley did not strike him as a lavender sort of boy.

Taking a breath, he slid down into the water until he was completely submerged. Eyes closed, he felt his hair float around him and he ran his fingers through it, washing the grime from the strands. He stayed under until he thought his lungs might burst. Finally surfacing, he gasped for air, water spilling onto the floor.

"I hope it drips through your ceiling, Weasley," he muttered. Leaning back, he let out a sudden yelp of pain as the inflamed lump on the back of his head connected with the hard surface of the bath. Eyes watering, he waited for the throbbing to subside. "I hope the whole bloody ceiling falls in." He touched the lump gently, pulling a face.

Draco eventually found a comfortable position and closed his eyes, drifting off in the warmth with a contented sigh.

Sometime later, judging from the temperature of the water, which was now closer to tepid than warm, he was roused by a knock at the door.

He opened his eyes, but didn't move. If he stayed in exactly the same position, he knew he wouldn't notice how cold the water had become. "Yes?"

The door opened slightly and Harry poked his head round. "Um, Hermione asked me to bring you some towels." He gave a nervous smile and entered the room, eyes averted from the bath. He put the linen on top of a small cupboard, fiddled for a moment before finally turning back, focusing on a spot somewhere above Draco's head.

Draco had sunk lower into the water, hands and bubbles protectively about him. "I am trying to have a quiet moment here," he replied, realising how few bubbles actually remained. He felt strangely vulnerable stuck in the bath while Harry did his best not to look at him.

Picking up a large bath towel, Harry finally shifted to face the bedraggled man. There were bubbles in Draco's hair and across his shoulders, and Harry was aware of the smell of lavender in the room. He looked away again, embarrassed to have noticed. Holding the towel tightly against his chest, he pointed at the bundle he had carried into the room. "There is something for you to wear tonight as well. Hermione said she'd put your own stuff in to wash overnight." He glanced at the pile of clothes Draco had left on the floor. Turning them over with his toe, he looked suspiciously at the stains on the trousers. "Is this grass?"

"I don't remember. Now, if you've finished, I'd like to get out."

"Umm." He gestured with the towel towards a medical kit which he had bought into the bathroom. "Hermione asked me to check out --" the towel was waved at Draco -- "your injuries."

Draco eyed the medical kit suspiciously before slipping deeper into the rapidly cooling water. "And since when are you qualified to check anything?"

"In case you're interested I studied first aid magic during my final two years." Harry felt intimidated by the situation. He didn't want to be here, but with Hermione busily placating Ron and the twins now gone, he didn't have much choice. "The teachers thought it might be a good idea if everyone learned considering the circumstances."

Draco cast a wary eye in his direction, but didn't look at him directly. "Circumstances?"

"Yes. Voldemort, war, major bloodshed." Harry finally turned back to face him, and threw the towel at Draco. "I'm sure you understand."

Draco grabbed the towel out of the air and stared from it to Harry, who had now turned his back again. He stood up, water flowing down his body, and wrapping the towel around his waist, he climbed out of the bath. Harry had moved a chair to the middle of the room, and he stood behind it, waiting for Draco to sit.

Doing as instructed, Draco was surprised by the feel of cloth against his back and shoulder. He stiffened slightly under the touch, but slowly relaxed against Harry's ministrations. The tenderness of the other's actions came as a shock and he wasn't sure how to react.

When Draco had sat down, Harry hadn't been sure what to do. Water still dripped from Draco's hair, trickling down his wet shoulders and back. He had picked up a second towel meaning to give it to Draco but instead was drawn to the man's slightly muscular back. Carefully he began to dry the pale skin, noting there was no excess flesh on him. Draco's shoulder blades struck out like knife-edges and he could see all of his spine and ribs. But what surprised Harry more were the lines that criss-crossed the whole of Draco's back.

Harry slowly dried the marks, studying each as he did so, the frown deepening on his face with each passage of the towel across the back. He realised that they were scars, some of which were white and clearly old, while others were red, and obviously very recent. His eyes quickly retraced the towel's journey. He counted 13 of the thin marks and realised they were the result of a cane or a whip.

Frowning, Harry absently wiped at the shoulders and upper arm. "Who did this?" His hands suddenly became still as the words he had thought actually became spoken. He felt Draco tense under the hand that rested on his shoulder.

"What?"

Harry swallowed, embarrassed, but also curious. Who had caused them and why? Some of these scars looked years old. Was Draco an abused child? Had his parents beaten him? He carefully traced one of the old scars that ran diagonally across the back from left shoulder to right hip, disappearing it to the towel. "You've been beaten." The words were soft, but spoken with authority.

Draco's back arched slightly, away from Harry fingers. "This has nothing to do with you."

"I just wondered --"

"Well don't." Unseen by Harry, Draco closed his eyes, fighting back tears left from earlier in the garden. He wanted to tell Harry the truth, wanted someone other than his father and himself to know the truth. But the truth was hidden behind years of lies and he couldn't bring himself to break the vow of silence so strongly enforced by his father.

Yet there was a strange sense of release just from the fact that someone else had seen the signs of his father's brutality. Now someone else knew his secret. But what would Harry think if he was told the truth. How Lucius would beat him and then use spells to repair the damage. How sometimes he would leave one of the wounds in place to heal naturally, producing the network of scars on his back and top of his legs. Sometimes Draco thought his father saw his son as some sort of painting canvas on which he produced this work of art, always looking for just the right line to add to his ongoing masterpiece.

Would Harry believe him if he told the truth? Would he understand that Lucius had sworn Draco to secrecy? Had always told him it was between father and son and no one else must ever be told? Could he really betray the promises Lucius had made him make? And why would Harry believe him anyway?

How could he tell him his father used to beat him when he made a mistake and sometimes even when he got it right just to remind him of what would happen if he didn't study hard enough? How could he explain that his father would tell him it was always his fault? Do you think I enjoy doing this? Lucius would say. You make me do this. You and your inability to follow even the simplest of instructions.

Draco found himself trembling almost uncontrollably at the memory and was surprised to feel hands again resting lightly on his shoulders. The touch was so soft it felt like a whisper of silk on his skin. A breath hitched in his throat.

"Malfoy? Are you alright?" The room was quite warm, Harry noted, and Malfoy should not be cold. Draco nodded, arms now held tightly about him. "Okay, come on." He pulled Draco to his feet and made him put on a dressing gown before pulling away the wet towel from around his waist. The gown was pulled tightly around the shivering body, and Harry sat him down again. "Do you feel ill?"

"No. It's nothing. I'm fine. Now will you get this finished and leave me alone?"

Harry stared hard into the other's face, trying to read the look in the grey eyes. They seemed very distant and, he realised, just a little bit scared. "Are you sure?"

"I am fine," Draco responded very slowly.

Suddenly Harry crouched down, his hands on Draco's knees. "Look, I can help if you want me to."

"It's not that easy." He knew immediately even those few words were too much, and his eyelids fluttered closed. "I'm just very tired."

Remaining very still for several minutes, Harry finally straightened. "Okay, whatever you say." He returned to the towels and collected a dry one. "I need to dry your hair so I can check out the damage from your fall." The shoulders shrugged slightly. "Do you want to do it?" Another shrug but no overt movement.

Harry approached the stiff back again and began to carefully towel-dry the fine blond hair. Then, with equal care, he ran his fingers through the silky strands to investigate the injury with his fingertips. The torn skin had formed a vivid line now, and it no longer bled. There was, however a large inflamed red area surrounding it, and the lump was the size of his palm. He touched the edge with a fingertip and watched as Draco flinched slightly. "Ron wants me to leave this, but I'd like to try something if you don't mind."

"What? Like turning me into a chocolate frog?"

"No." With his left hand, Harry cupped the side of Draco head, holding it still. "Do you trust me?"

"Not really, but what else have I got to lose?" Draco found he couldn't move his head; the hold was gently tight, almost reassuring. He kept his focus on a spot on the wall. "Okay."

Not knowing what to expect, Draco was surprised to just feel the flat of a hand touch the wound. At first there was nothing, then slowly a strange sensation seemed to condense in the tiny space between the hand and his skull. It grew in strength, seeping into his skin and bone. The feeling didn't hurt, but it made him shudder slightly as the sensation of magic flickered through him.

When Harry removed his hand, the sensation remained for a while, then as it cleared Draco realised the pain had gone completely. Dazed, he raised a hand to his head and gingerly touched the spot.

There was nothing but smooth, healthy skin. No lump. No cut. No bruising. He spun round, meeting the green eyes for the first time since Harry had come into the bathroom. "How...."

Harry raised a finger to his lips, silencing Draco. He took a deep breath and placed his hand on Draco's bruised face. As the breath was released, the same sensation as before flowed from his hand into the damaged flesh. He studied the repair, fingertips brushing what had once been bruised flash. There was a flush to the area now, coloured by increased blood flow. Harry nodded to himself. The hand remained in contact as he knelt on the floor. It trailed down Draco's arm and finally came to rest on his side. He could feel the man tremble slightly at the touch, and knew without asking that Voldemort had inflicted some of the damage he felt under his hand.

Again on the out-breath the power flowed. Harry realised he could almost feel Draco's pain, as though for a second he had experienced it as well. He let out a small hiss of shared pain, the sound hitching in his throat. It was a moment before he felt ready to continue again. His whole body felt tense, as though he were an overstretched guitar string just ready to snap in two. His hands trembled with tension and power, and he realised he was scared of what he was suddenly capable of.

Finally, the hand reached for the hem of the dressing gown, pulling back the cloth to reveal the damage caused by Ron's foot. He was aware of Draco's eyes on him as he laid his hand carefully on the outside of Draco's thigh, the wound disappearing under his touch.

"How did you do that?" Draco finally managed to ask as Harry straightened. He swayed slightly and Draco's hand shot out to steady him. "Harry?"

The sensation of vertigo was so unexpected that Harry thought he might pass out. It passed after a few seconds, and he wondered if he had imagined it. "Thank you," he finally managed to say as Draco released his arm.

Standing very still, Harry rubbed his hands together. The sensation of power working though them had been awe-inspiring and he was more than a little shocked by how successful his very first attempt at wandless magic had been. He met the other's gaze and was instantly transported back to Hogwarts and their battles as children. Then he suddenly realised that between them, they were the Slytherin colours. His green eyes and Draco's grey/silver eyes. He pondered the thought for a moment before resting a hand on Draco's shoulder. The tips of his index and middle finger brushed against the raised flesh of Draco's scar and he cocked his head slightly, studying the curious shape.

For a moment he thought he felt a sensation in his own scar, as though he was caressing it without touching it, but decided that wasn't possible.

Finally, he favoured Draco with a slight smile. "I told you I trained in first aid magic."

With that, he fled the bathroom.

Draco watched the closed door for some moments, the smile on his face the first genuine one he had managed in a very long while.

********************

The tapping on the door brought Harry back from the place Draco's stories had taken him. Since fleeing the bathroom, he had hidden away in the guest room Hermione had shown him to earlier. At first he had refused the offer of a place to sleep, but there was no way he could drive home after what had taken place with Draco. The healing magic had left him feeling faint, almost as though he wasn't moving at a normal pace.

It he were truthful, he hadn't really expected anything to happen. True, he instinctively felt it should work, but it had been a surprise nevertheless. The after-effects had come as a complete surprise. The feeling of weakness in his body was not actually unpleasant but it was disorientating. Were the after-effects occurring because he did not really know how to use this form of magic? Or was there something more? Was the energy coming directly from him and would he become progressively weaker each time he used it?

Unfortunately the only person who could answer his questions was no longer here, but Harry decided he would have to be more careful with its use in the future.

Someone knocked on the door again and Harry sighed. He wasn't sure that he really wanted to talk to anyone, but he finally called out, "Come in."

The door creaked open just enough for Ron to poke his head in. "Okay, Harry?"

"Sure." Harry, who was stretched out on the bed, sat up and crossed his legs.

Ron closed the door behind him and bounced onto the bed. "Not exactly the birthday party you'd imagined."

"No. But then, you didn't expect me either. I would have called, but you don't have a phone and Hedwig was out with him." Harry hooked a finger in the general direction of the room he knew Draco had been given. "That's why I came here, to tell you and Hermione what was going on. I honestly didn't know he'd turn up here."

Scooting back to lean against the wall, Ron mirrored Harry's posture. He was reminded of evenings at Hogwarts when he and Harry would spend hours sitting on their beds, sometimes hidden behind the long, dark red, curtains, talking about everything from Quidditch to, well, Quidditch. Sometimes Seamus, Neville or Dean would join them. Sometimes even Hermione would sneak into the boys' dormitory.

"Yeah, well." Ron shrugged. He caught the pillow Harry threw at him and propped it behind his back. "That's one hell of a story Malfoy told. Do you think he's telling the truth?" Harry had insisted that Draco tell the Weasley brothers and Hermione his story. What he had given them was a truncated and slightly less friendly version, which had been met with a very frosty reception.

Harry nodded. "I think so. At least he's told the same story twice now. If he's lying, it's quite convincing. We already know about the mirroring curse. Snape confirmed that, and I can tell you it is real enough for me. That scar on his neck isn't recent and it looks like it's been there for years, even if we weren't aware of it before. As for Voldemort and this Halloween ceremony. That we do only have his word for." He picked at the bedspread for a moment, teasing a couple of threads loose. "You know more about Lucius Malfoy than I do. What do you think about him?"

Ron shrugged. "Exactly the same as I always have. The whole Malfoy clan are bad pieces of work and Lucius is the worst. I don't know how he's managing it, but he is slowly poisoning everyone and coercing people into following him without them actually realising it is happening. It's like he's got the power to enslave the whole world, wizard and Muggle alike." He paused, clearly shocked at what he had just said. He gave a shudder. "That sounds more than a bit like Voldemort, doesn't it?"

"It does. Maybe Draco is telling the truth." Ron didn't respond, and Harry finally looked up from the bedspread to see a frown on the other's face. "I'm sorry. About your father and Bill."

"You didn't know."

"I wasn't there"

"True." Ron took a deep breath and pushed a shock of red hair from his forehead. "Why did you go?"

"Ron...."

"No, Harry. Tell me. We've all spent the last three years wondering what we did to make you leave."

Harry frowned, his scar dark against his pale flesh. "None of you did anything. It wasn't like that."

"Then tell me what it was like." Ron folded his arms across his chest and studied his old friend. The colour had drained completely from Harry's face; in fact he looked ashen, as if in shock. It made his hair look even blacker and his green eyes seemed huge. "I remember asking back then, Harry, and you wouldn't answer ... wouldn't explain."

Grabbing at his knees, Harry hugged them to his chest and rested his forehead there for a moment. He'd been waiting for this for weeks now -- ever since Ron had turned up at his birthday party. Sooner or later someone would ask him to explain. He wished it had been Hermione; she at least might have been sympathetic. But Ron? Ron had been his best friend; he had been by Harry's side through so many terrible events. And where had Harry been at the worst time in his best friend's life? He'd been sitting on a cliff top, wallowing in his own misery, already denying he had ever been a wizard. Would things have been different if he had stayed, Harry wondered. Could he have saved his friend's family? Would Ron hate him as he hated Draco if Harry had tried and failed?

He finally looked up and pulled off his glasses, not wanting to look at the other with clear vision. "I'm not sure I know what to say."

"Try. We've put our lives on hold for you. You owe us that much."

Harry looked angrily at Ron for a moment, but the look was lost without the glasses. How dare Ron say that? Hadn't Harry done enough in all those years? Hadn't he risked his life enough time? Would these people never let him find the peace he wanted? He slapped down the emotion, knowing that he didn't want to argue with Ron. Not at the moment anyway. "Okay. I did something I am really not proud of. I let Dumbledore talk me into using him as bait for Voldemort. I took away the only person Voldemort was scared of, the only person who could stand up to the Dark Lord. I shut him up in a cave of living crystal, which would trap him in an everlasting hell. No escape. No way out. Before I locked the cave shut, I got a taste of what was happening to the man who had been like a grandfather to me. I thought he might end up in a deep sleep or something like that. Even death would have been preferable to what it was actually like. Try and imagine Ron, what it would be like to start screaming and never, ever stop. That is what I condemned him to."

"Harry..."

"No, you asked. Let me finish. I heard a similar scream coming from Voldemort. I didn't think it was possible, but that was even worse. It sucked every ounce of resolve I had and I nearly couldn't do it. He seeped into me and tried to persuade me to let him go. He was so convincing, Ron. He offered me the world and I nearly took it. Nearly succumbed to his propositions and enticements. He even nearly persuaded me that he hadn't killed my parents.

"I got out and managed to seal the cave, but Voldemort was still in my mind. He left me in a very dark place with no way out. I tried to fight it, but the more I did, the worse it got." Harry rubbed at his eyes, trying to banish the remembered pain. "I couldn't tell anyone because the longer I stayed in the Wizarding world, the more Voldemort climbed into my mind. It was as though without Dumbledore I became open to all the dark magic out there." A small laugh sounded which made Ron freeze. "I was so scared."

"Why didn't you talk to us?" Ron shifted up the bed, close enough to touch Harry. "You didn't have to go through that on your own."

"Yes I did. What would you have done? Voldemort managed to do what I had spent seven years trying to stop. He had me believing things I KNEW were wrong. It would have been so easy to cross that line right there and then. I was this close." He held his thumb and index finger about an inch apart. "I was once told there was no such thing as good and evil, but only power and the way it's used. I didn't believe it at the time, but I have felt both now, and they are so very close. In the end I realised the only thing I could do was to get away from the memories and all the Wizarding connections. And that was why I left." Harry's head dropped back to the headboard and he stared at the ceiling.

Ron watched him for a moment, wondering what to say next. He finally cleared his throat. "Now we know Voldemort wasn't in the cave, it sort of makes sense. Him still being there after you sealed the cave."

"Right. I didn't know at the time, but after what Draco said, I can see it now. Voldemort planned the whole thing to get rid of Dumbledore. Once he was gone, there was no one left to stop Voldemort and no one to help shield me from dark magic. I hadn't known that either -- how much protection Dumbledore was giving me."

"Is it still there? The Darkness?" Ron could feel the concern rising in him. If Harry was being influenced in any way by Voldemort and with Malfoy here....

"The moment I left the magical environment, the sensation left me. It took me a long time to climb back out -- to find myself again. But I made it eventually. Emily helped. She was like a rock. Without her I don't think I would have made it." Eyelids fluttered closed, Harry took a great breath which he slowly released as if trying to find an inner calmness. "Then he found me again and put this curse on me. I can feel the Darkness again, Ron. I can feel myself slipping back into that pit."

"Harry," his hand touched the other's ankle. "You can deal with this. We're all here for you -- you are with friends."

"Ron, I know that. But only one person can help, and I trapped him in that cave. I've got these powers and there is no one to show me how to use them." His fist clenched tightly and wondered whether to tell Ron what had happened with Draco. In the end he decided against it. "If I don't learn, then they will control me and I dread to think where that will lead to."

"Will you come to Hogwarts with me?" Ron wished Harry would open his eyes. It was like looking at a blank canvas, and Ron was scared of the images he was drawing on it. "Remus works there with the other Aurors. He can help you with this."

"I'll think about it. In the meantime, I have to sort out things with Draco. He's a key to this if I can just find the right lock." The comment was mused more to himself than Ron.

"You know, I'd come here to tell you that I wasn't prepared to work with Draco." The eyelids finally flickered open and green eyes locked with Ron's blue. "I hate him with a vengeance, Harry. It makes me sick to think that he is staying in my house, eating my food, sleeping in my room."

"Ron, he..."

"No. This is my turn." Ron took a breath. "I will help you in any way I can, you know that. But him, I just can't."

"Ron, he didn't kill them."

"Don't try and defend him."

"I'm not. You know he wasn't responsible. He didn't murder Arthur and Bill."

"He did nothing either."

"Turn the tables a minute. Imagine it was the other way round and it was a group of our people and they had Lucius and Draco. And they were going to kill them. Would you have stopped them?"

"We wouldn't have killed them. You know that."

"Wouldn't we? You got very close to it earlier."

I..." Ron dropped down on the bed, away from Harry and onto his back. "And now I feel like shit because of it. I didn't think I was capable of that." He stared at the ceiling and realised that Harry's hand was now on his ankle. "You see, Malfoy's doing it again. Making ME feel guilty for what he's done." The silence that followed lasted a long time, and when Ron finally spoke, his voice was quiet. "Okay. But I'm doing this for you, not for him. And if I think he is a danger to you, I won't hesitate to do something about it. He hasn't changed, Harry, please remember that. He's still the same bastard we knew at school." He turned slightly, meeting the other's eyes. "Don't be taken in by him."

"I understand and I don't trust him. I believe what he's told us, but I do not trust him."

"Good." An evil glint slowly solidified in Ron's blue eyes, and he smiled. "It really felt good, you know, kicking the crap out of him."

********************

It had taken him a while, but Draco had finally managed to locate a bottle of alcohol. It didn't matter what alcohol it was (this was brandy), all he wanted was something to dull the senses and to interfere with the chattering voice in his mind. A voice he knew belonged to Voldemort.

The voice had started on the night the Dark Lord had first used Cruciatus on him out on the steps by the fountain. After that, Draco had known when Voldemort was coming for him. The sensation would start in the pit of his stomach and slowly spread as the man came closer. Sometimes he thought he could even hear his father's voice in his mind, telling him what he was planning to do to his son next. But that wasn't possible, was it? Lucius was trapped with Dumbledore. Lucius was far, far away.

At first, he had thought the ability to know what Voldemort was planning would be a useful tool. He could prepare himself ... be ready. But in reality, it did the opposite. The expectation became almost as bad as the actual act and Draco was left a nervous wreck, struggling to cope as his world collapsed around him.

Draco knew that Voldemort's curses did not actually produce physical injuries; he'd worked that out almost immediately. He knew that if he could control his thoughts, he could control the pain. It had helped a couple of times, but the constant pressure made any belief in his abilities almost zero. Trying to convince yourself that it is all in the mind when you are being consumed by fire is not an easy task. He could sense Voldemort now, whispering somewhere in the back of his mind. Sometimes the words were as clear as they had been earlier, but mostly the sound was that of constant chatter that ate away at his self-control.

Two things had helped. First, there had been Harry. Draco hated to admit it (and probably would never tell the man), but if it hadn't been for Harry and those visits to his safe place on the cloud, he didn't think he would have been able to cope. He could sense Harry now, and wondered again whether the effect worked both ways. Did it mean that Voldemort could sense Harry as well? He shivered at the prospect, worried about the possible consequences of what was happening to him.

It was that thought that make him seek out the solace of the bottle now. He had found out by accident that alcohol dulled the thought processes in his brain and stilled the voice so he no longer heard it. He needed to break this connection. He wasn't sure if the Dark Lord could actually locate him through this link, or whether it just made him aware of what Draco was doing and feeling. He knew he should tell Harry, but what was the point? No one could help, and by telling he just gave away a little bit more of himself. And he'd given away too much already.

The kitchen door opened and he looked up from his glass, body stiffening. "Granger. Why can't you people just bugger off and leave me alone?"

"This does happen to be my kitchen in case you've forgotten."

Hermione looked at him for a moment. He was wearing a pair of Ron's pyjamas, which hung loosely on his smaller frame. The buttons of the jacket were undone, and he'd pulled the sleeves up to free his hands. Fine silky hair hung untidily around his face. "Besides, you ruined my birthday, so I don't see why I should give you the run of my home."

Draco looked at her. "What? Today?"

"Yes. Not that you would be interested anyway. You managed to spoil enough of them in the past, so why change the habit of a lifetime?"

Draco watched as Hermione pulled her dressing gown tighter about her. Then he got to his feet, retrieved a glass from the cupboard and poured a double measure into it. He pushed it across the table and sat back down, refilling his own glass. "Happy birthday."

"It's a bit late for me," she glanced at the clock, realising that it was already midnight. "Or early, depending on your point of view."

"Go on, live a little. It's your birthday after all." Draco took a gulp of the dark amber liquid, pulling a face. "Was your birthday."

"Is there a reason why you are slowly getting drunk in my kitchen? On my brandy?"

"Apart from being cursed by the Dark Lord, disowned by my own family, out in the world without a sickle and wearing the pyjamas of one of my sworn enemies? No, I just feel like getting completely smashed."

"Does alcohol help?"

"To do what?"

"I've been checking up on this curse. There isn't much about it because the victims ... well..."

"Die?"

She nodded. "One person who lived through it told of being aware of the caster in their mind all the time. Like a voice you couldn't hear properly. She used narcotics to dull her senses."

"Have you told anyone else?" Hermione shook her head. "Then don't. It's hard enough having Voldemort in my head without Weasley and the others knowing."

"I can't promise that. Does Voldemort know where you are now?"

He shrugged. "I doubt it. If he did, I think you might have found your lovely house surrounded by Death Eaters long before now." He wanted to say more to her, to tell her what he was experiencing. But she was a Mudblood, he reminded himself and he owed her nothing. She would tell Weasel and the others everything -- all his secrets. His hand went to his forehead, brushing at a spot where a headache was beginning to throb.

"We can help, you know," Hermione spoke softly. "You really don't need to do this alone."

"How can you help? The word is there's no cure except dying." He pointed a finger at her. "Oh, I get it, you're going to kill me."

"Don't be stupid. I would have arranged for Harry to drown you in the bath if that were the case. I can give you a protection charm and something to help you cope without this." She reached for the brandy bottle, stopping Draco from filling his glass again. "That way you won't have to deal with a hangover on top of everything else."

"And why would you want to help me?" She looked confused. "Well, I'm hardly on your list of favourite people, am I? Being the son of an evil overload and held responsible for all sorts of dastardly deeds."

She laughed a little. "Malfoy, just because I don't like you doesn't mean I won't help. That's the difference between your lot and our lot."

"I don't have a 'lot' anymore." He sat back and drained the last dregs from his glass. As he looked down into the now empty glass he realised he actually had nothing to lose. He looked at her, his eyes grey pits, which seemed to suck in the very light from the room. "Okay."

"Okay what?"

"Okay, tell me what to do."

"Please." He stared at her, eyes wide. "I'm offering to help, you are accepting. It is customary to say please."

"I don't beg." His eyes became cold grey slate.

"Oh, for goodness sake, Malfoy, you are such an insufferable prig even after everything that's happened to you."

His face remained set, but the coldness slowly evaporated from his stare. "I've spent years cultivating that priggishness."

She pushed her hair back from her face and retrieved a wand from somewhere. "I'm not going to argue with you. I gave Harry a charm, which has helped him. I made a similar one for you. Plus I can give you a potion which will stop the whispering and help you sleep."

A small bottled appeared on the table, and she pushed it across to him. "Take a spoonful before you go to bed."

"And during the day?"

"Can't help much there, I'm afraid, unless you want to walk around like a zombie. If you get a good night's sleep, the daytime will be easier anyway. You'll be more alert and more able to cut the noise out." She reached into her pocket and took out a length of twin-coloured cord. "This is charmed to help hide you from Voldemort. It isn't a cure-all and I'm not sure how strong it is, but it will give you the chance to have some respite from what he's doing even if it doesn't hide you completely."

Draco took the twisted green and silver cord. "Slytherin. Shouldn't it be the same colour as the one Potter is wearing?"

"No, it's individually tailored to the person. The colours are part of the charm and that's how yours has turned out. Here, let me." She moved round the table and paused for a moment before reaching a hand to his head. He didn't struggle as she brushed his hair away from the wounds, checking the injury. She frowned and then looked again. It had gone. Then she realised that the black eye had also vanished. "What happened?"

"To what?"

"To this? And to all the bruising?"

Draco opened his mouth to answer and then slowly closed it. They didn't know about Harry or his new powers. They had no idea what he was capable of. He debated for a moment whether to say anything and then decided to keep Harry's secret for the moment at least. "What do you think I spent the last two years at school doing?" He echoed Harry's earlier comment about this training. "We had lessons in first aid magic." Which wasn't far from the truth, he reminded himself. He just couldn't do it on himself. "Impressed?"

"Umm," she responded thoughtfully, her hand running over the place the injury on his head had been. There was something she was unsure about. A sensation picked up from him. Finally she spoke again, "Which is your wand hand?" He held up his left hand and she tied the cord loosely around it. He felt it settle there, and a strange calmness spread through his body.

She perched on the edge of the table. "You know, Ron is normally a very gentle person. He doesn't like violence."

Draco looked up at her. "Ah, the real reason you are here? To defend what he did?" His eyes flashed with anger. At last, something he could focus on. His continuous hatred of Ronald Weasley. He almost said a prayer of thanks. "You could have fooled me."

"Can you understand why he is so upset? Ron and his family lost their father and brother in a vicious attack."

"People got killed on both sides. That's war." She didn't respond. "I've lost my father as well. And my mother."

"But you've lost them to your own side. You can't blame any of that on us."

He leaned back in his chair and folded his arm. For some reason he felt extremely calm. "I didn't ask for this and you have NO idea what it has been like. You should get off that holier-than-thou pedestal of yours and realise that you and Weasley and Potter aren't the only people who've been hurt. And just because my views are different from yours, that doesn't automatically mean that I am wrong." He came to his feet and reached across the table for the bottle. "Now if you've nothing more constructive to say, I am trying to get drunk here."

He looked up at her, his face masked in the sort of expression she remembered from their days at school. A haughty, arrogant stare that said he didn't think she was capable of helping anyone.

"Okay," Hermione grabbed the bottle out of his hand. "Just remember, I did offer. And yes, we are all hurting. ALL of us have lost something. So you might try getting off your own pedestal for once and maybe seeing what it's like down here in the real world." She headed for the door, shutting the door quietly behind her.

Draco watched her leave, desperate to call her back, but not knowing how to do so. He felt like he had been stripped of almost everything he had once called his own. Not even the wretched clothes he was wearing now were his own. He had nothing and if it wasn't for the charity of these people he would be sleeping out in a field again.

He slumped back down onto the chair and put his head in his hands, desperately wanting some place to escape to.

********************

Hermione stood by the kitchen door for several minutes, wondering whether to go back in. She knew that Draco would be drinking the brandy he had poured for her. Malfoy was a complete enigma, and she couldn't come to grips with where he was coming from at all. Nothing had changed, she decided. Malfoy was just the same arrogant child she had known at Hogwarts. And yet, there was something else, as though he were crying out to be understood, wanting to be helped. With a shake of her head, she headed up the stairs.

The door to Harry's room was ajar, and the light was on. She knocked on the door, and then looked in. "Harry."

He was sitting in bed, a book on his lap, but his glasses were off so she knew he wasn't actually reading. "Did you find him?"

Closing the door behind her, Hermione crossed over to the bed. "He's down in the kitchen getting drunk. But I've taken away his bottle," She held up the brandy.

"I didn't think that was your tipple."

"Malfoy's a mess, Harry." She put the bottle down and perched on the bed. "I don't think he's going to be much help to anyone at the moment, least of all you."

Harry looked thoughtfully into the distance for a moment, debating whether to her about the marks on Draco's back. It was not, he decided, his place to reveal Draco's secrets even to someone he trusted such as Hermione. "You sound like you might have a little sympathy for him," he finally responded.

"Of course I have, but that doesn't mean I have to like him does it." Hermione gave a little sigh. "But you can only kick a dog so many times before he bites back. Harry, I don't know what you are planning, but I have seen that look in your eyes before. You need to be careful if it involves Malfoy because he's unstable at the moment and you can't rely on what his actions might be."

Harry looked away for a moment and then down at the book on his lap. He carefully closed it and moved it to one side. "Okay. I'll bear that in mind." When he looked back at her, Hermione saw his expression had become neutral, placid. "Were you able to help him at all?"

"I've given him a potion to help him sleep and a protection charm like the one you're wearing. But I'm only a trainee Mediwitch, and that's about the most I can do. You both need help from people much more knowledgeable than me."

"Ron suggested going to Hogwarts."

"He's right. That's where the Aurors are based now. Remus Lupin is in charge, along with Alastor Moody. They might be able to help with the curses."

"And Malfoy's trauma?"

"There are people up there who can help. You don't have to do this on your own, Harry."

"I'll think about it. Hermione, I'm sorry we've ruined your birthday. I really didn't expect Malfoy to turn up here and as for Ron's reaction." Harry shook his head in disbelief. "If I'd had any idea what he would do, I would have stepped in earlier. It all happened so quickly."

"Well, at least it will give me something to write in my diary now." She smiled, head to one side. "I was surprised to see you here. I wasn't sure you'd remember."

"How could I ever forget your birthday? I might not have been around, but I did always remember." A small smile played on his lips. "But I guess that doesn't really mean a lot does it." Hermione looked away, her eyes fixed on a painting on a banal picture of wood sprites on the wall. Harry saw her throat working as she swallowed, and she blinked rapidly. He wanted to reach out and gather her in his arms. Instead, he held out a small gift-wrapped package. "It's just a little gift."

Hermione finally pulled her gaze from the fairies dancing in their little woodland glade, and looked at the package in surprise. "Oh. Thank you." Inside the small box was a bracelet made of two twisted strands of enamelled metal, one gold, and the other scarlet. It looked like the charm she had given Harry.

"I found it when I went to Diagon Alley."

"It's lovely." She slid the delicate band onto her left wrist and leaned forward to kiss his cheek.

Harry watched as Hermione studied the bracelet, twisting it slowly round and round her wrist with her other hand. "There are some charms on it -- mainly protection. There's a direction one as well, so you can give it a location and it will give you the direction you need to go in." He reached out, stopping the incessant movement as his fingers closed on her right hand. For a moment her fist clenched and Harry's larger hand surrounded it, then she turned her hand over, linking her fingers with his. "I talked with Ron."

"I know. He told me."

"Did he tell you what I said?" She shook her head, and Harry swore under his breath. Having told the story once, he really didn't want to retell it. He sighted and began all over again.

It was no easier the second time around.

Hermione let him speak without interrupting and by the time he had finished her mind raced with so many questions. She debated asking them, but there was something in Harry's demeanour that prevented her. He was dealing with so much at the moment, and she suddenly did not want to add to his burdens. Instead, she simply said, "We'll get through this." She squeezed his hand "We've done it before."

"But I've never felt as unwell as this. It feels like I've got a great big weight tied to my body, and it's just dragging me down, deeper and deeper." He knew this feeling was not due to the healing magic. It had been there long before that, but he was sure it was stronger now, exacerbated by the healing.

She touched his face and found that it was feverish. "I can get you a restorative potion, it will help."

"It's been worse since Malfoy turned up here, and I don't know if I feel worse because of the curse or because he's just down the hall." He looked at her, the green of his eyes washed of colour through his tiredness. "It's all getting out of control and I don't know what to do."

"How is it worse?"

"Oh, it's difficult to describe. It's not like telepathy or a mental connection. It's more emotional, visceral, like I can feel the pressure eating away at him as though it is doing the same to me. I know he's a mess, Hermione because I can sense it in here." He tapped a finger on his chest. "And it make me feel on edge -- it would be so easy to explode, just scream at someone. I wanted to scream at Ron earlier and hit him and kick him back because I could feel the pain he's caused to Draco. But I don't want to fight with Ron. I've upset him enough already. I don't want to lose him as my friend, not after just finding him again." His hands were in his hair, a gesture Hermione recognised from so many years ago. "How the hell am I ever going to get through this?"

Hermione registered that he had called Malfoy 'Draco'. She had never heard Harry use Malfoy's given name before and for some reason its use worried her. She needed to talk to Hedwig about this. Needed to tell Sirius and Remus that the connection from the curses was deeper than any of them realised. "You aren't alone."

Harry looked directly at her, and it was almost as if she could see his mind working, crunching through options and alternatives. "I am," he finally said. "I have to finish off what I started -- this time for good."

Hermione stared into the green depths and knew what he was thinking. She suddenly feared for his life. "You can't go after Voldemort. Not now, not in the state you're in." Her hand gripped tighter. "I won't let you."

"You couldn't stop me if I wanted to go. I need to..." He paused and she could see that he was clenching his teeth. "I'm not telling you. You'll tell Ron, and at best he'll try to stop me. At worse he'll want to come along."

"Harry, what are you planning to do? Harry!"

"Hermione, I need someone to look after Draco. Will you do that for me? If Voldemort gets hold of him, he'll kill him and I'll die too. Get him to Hogwarts or somewhere they won't be able to find him."

"And in the meantime you're going to do what?" She suddenly shifted forward and took hold of his chin, making him look at her. "Tell me, Harry, or I'll get Sirius here ... and Snape and every other bloody person on our side and we will stop you doing something stupid."

He tried to pull away, but her hands moved to either side of his head, holding him securely. There was a look of real determination on her face. "Harry."

"I have to try to rescue Dumbledore."

"No..."

"Yes. If what Draco said is true, there might be some way to get him out. I have to know, one way or the other."

"And you plan to do this alone?"

"I can't take anyone else." He finally grabbed at her hands and pulled them away. "I won't take anyone." The expression on his face matched that on Hermione's. "If they got killed... No, I have to do this on my own."

"I won't let you."

"I'm sorry, love, but you don't have any choice."

"Don't you dare call me that!" Hermione snatched her hands away. "Don't you dare try and get round me by calling me 'love'. You gave up any right to terms of endearment when you pissed off out of my life." Suddenly three years of pain and hurt flooded through her being and for a split second she really, really hated him. "You leave without a word and then turn up here as if nothing... NOTHING... has happened."

"That is not true."

"Yes it is. Harry Potter the Hero, who has to do it all by himself. Have you learned nothing? Don't you realise there are things you can't do on your own?"

"Don't do this... I need..."

"Don't you dare say you need me, either. That's something else you gave up the right to when you walked out and left me."

Silenced by the vitriolic response Harry just sat there watching her. He had no idea what to say or even what to think. For some reason he had always expected Hermione to be there for him, no matter what he did or said. But the hurt in her eyes now... the -- was it hatred he saw there as well? "Hermione, I'm sorry."

"Not good enough. Do you know I want to beat you to a pulp?"

"Then hit me, I deserve it --."

"-- and, you bastard, I want to hold you and kiss you and make everything all right."

"What?"

Hermione suddenly came to her feet, needing to distance herself from both Harry and the bed. "I am not going to let you go and get yourself killed."

"But what you just said..."

"You will never, ever refer to that again, understand." Her voice was a hiss of determination.

"But..."

"When are you going?"

"To -- to where?"

She was pleased to see the shock still on Harry's face and took grim satisfaction in confusing him. The truth was she could fall into those arms right now. Wanted to make love to him again with the passion they had shared in the past. Wanted to experience the thrill of those lips on her body and the way Harry could make her react. Harry made love like he flew, taking risks, with a joyful abandonment. But just down the corridor Ron was waiting and she loved him as well. Careful, thoughtful Ron who treated her like she might break.

"If you're going to be so stupid as to try and get to Dumbledore, you're going to need help."

"I'm not taking anyone with me." Harry finally managed to get some semblance of order back into his muddled brain.

"So, what are you going to do? Just turn up at the Slytherin School and knock on the door?"

"Well, I haven't thought that far yet."

Hermione folded her arms. "I thought so. Promise me you won't go until I've had chance to find out how you can get in. We have people in the school who can give us information."

"You're going to help me? I thought..."

"We're both on the same side, Harry. If you need to do this then although I might not approve, I will help."

"But Ron and Sirius?"

"Will I tell them?" Harry nodded. "I will if you go tearing off without thinking this through. In fact I'll stop you myself if you do something stupid." She turned to the door.

"Where are you going?" Harry asked, still shocked by what had just transpired.

"To get that restorative potion."

********************

He hadn't had this nightmare for years, not since he'd left Hogwarts. But it was different this time. Before, he had always been part of it, but now he was watching from afar. Watching from the golden cloud.

He saw his father. Heard him shouting, panicking.

"Lily, take Harry and go! It's him! Go! Run! I'll hold him off --"

He watched as his mother picked up baby Harry from where he had been playing happily in a corner. She fled the lounge and locked herself in the downstairs playroom.

James waited in the middle of the room, his wand pointing at the locked front door. Harry had never seen this nightmare from this point-of-view. He'd always been with his mother, had never seen his father waiting ... waiting. It could be him down there waiting. Could be him, knowing that he stood no chance against forces much more powerful than he was. Except for the eyes, of course. Dark eyes under a shock of black hair.

Those eyes flickered around the room, looking for escape. The fear on that face caused it to look bleached white in the harsh light of the bulb hanging above him. There was no shade on the light, and Harry wondered why. Hadn't they been in the house long enough to put up a shade? His father reacted as if he had heard his son, and he too looked up. He pointed his wand at the light and intoned silently. The brightness dissolved, scurrying away to leave the room in the gloom of twilight. But he didn't move, didn't look for a hiding place. James stood in the centre of the room and watched the door.

Harry heard the lock click open, saw the handle turn and the door move a few inches. The darkness seeped through the crack. More than just the night, it was the taint of Voldemort's magic.

He could see his father's mouth moving again, silent incantations directed at the door. The door slammed shut, bands of steel forming barricades over the entrance. James knew that the Fidelius charm had failed. What must Voldemort have done to Peter to force the information from him? Even now, in this dire time, James found time to worry about his friends.

The spell that finally shattered the door also took out half of the wall. The force of the blast sent James crashing back, lifting him off his feet and smashing him into the wall. He dropped to the floor, a tangle of breathless limbs. Glasses now missing, James scrambled about, trying to find his wand and glasses in the wood and brick splinters that showered the room, sending up a choking cloud of dust. His fingers closed around the wand, but his glasses had been destroyed, one lens missing, the other covered in tiny cracks. James looked up towards the gapping hole and Harry saw that his father's face was streaked with blood.

There were others. Cloaked figures. Visible through the gaping hole where the door and wall had once been. They waited in silence, no one paying attention to the sound of the baby crying in the arms of the man standing slightly apart from them. The man gently rocked the child, holding him safely in the crook of his arm. Tiny fingers reached out to his father's hand, holding on tightly to the fingers, which he tried to ram in his mouth. The man smiled, his blond hair visible from the folds of his hood. The crying stopped as the child suckled on a finger, unaware of what was going to happen to him.

Enveloped in the debris, someone entered the room, shrouded in a cloak, hood up, face in shadow. From deep within the folds of the material, Harry heard a cackle of high-pitched laughter.

Voldemort.

"Hello, James. I told you that you couldn't escape from me." The voice sounded so ordinary, like they were just discussing the weather.

"What did you do to Peter?" James scrambled to his feet.

The chuckle from Voldemort was so dark, it made Harry shudder. "Nothing, James. He was quite, quite happy to betray you."

"No!"

"Oh yes, and for such a small price as well." The figure stepped further into the room. "Now, give me the boy, and you and your wife can leave."

"You can't have him. I won't let you." James pointed his wand at Voldemort and hurled a succession of curses at him. Each stopped short, as though hitting a barrier before the Dark Lord.

"You won't let me? You are nothing. Less than nothing"

Desperately, Harry tried to find a way down to the ground, but there was none. He was trapped, only able to watch and never to be a part of what was happening below. He watched in fascinated horror as Voldemort returned his father's curses. They slammed into James, his body distorted by the pain. He tried to get away, but there was nowhere to hide in the debris. His father's blood streaked the wall and floor, everything he touched turned crimson. Then, when Harry thought he could take no more, he heard Voldemort intone the killing curse and his father was enveloped in a flash of green light. James Potter dropped to the floor like a dead weight, eyes staring blankly up at his son, the wand in his hand split in two all the way down its shaft.

"Nooooo!" Harry's scream of anguish went unheard by the people now entering the house. The only person who heard seemed to be the child. Little grey eyes looked upwards, blond locks curling around the pale face.

Then Harry heard it again. A scream that had haunted his years at Hogwarts. A woman screaming. Begging. Pleading.

"Not Harry! Not Harry! Please -- I'll do anything --"

And he remembered the moment with a clarity that almost killed him. It had always been there locked in his mind, the truth of the moment when he had seen his mother die.

Remembered Lily standing protectively before him, trying to shield him from the monster approaching.

Stand aside -- stand aside, girl -- "

"Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!"

Saw as the same curses used on his father shattered his mother's body

"Stand aside, you silly girl ... stand aside, now ..."

Saw the growing flowers of crimson splatter his own baby clothes, streak across his cheek. Felt his mother's hands trying to grab at him, to shield him, protect him.

"Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead. Please ... have mercy ... have mercy..."

But the cloaked man was past mercy, past caring, when he pointed his wand at Lily one last time and in a cold quiet voice said the Killing curse. The room pulsed with a green glow and Harry heard Voldemort's shrill voice laughing as Lily screamed, taking the full brunt of the curse straight to her heart.

But she didn't die, not straight away. Harry watched in disbelief, tears streaking down his face, as his mother's hand reached towards her child, saw her mouth move, saying his name one last time. How could she still be alive? How could she have survived? Lily's green eyes shone brightly as she met the mirror of them in her son, then the light in her eyes flickered and disappeared, going out forever.

Harry stood on the edge of the cloud and thought he heard the fluttering of wings. He jumped into oblivion.

********************

The soft flutter of wings changed into the rustle of fabric as Hedwig entered through the open bedroom window and transformed into her human form. She watched the sleeping figure toss and turn his way through the nightmare that had called her to him.

Silently, her feet bare on the wooden floor, she crossed to the edge of the bed and carefully reached her hands out to the flailing arms. As she stilled the movement, she murmured soft words of encouragement, and finally gathered Harry in her arms.

Harry came out of the nightmare with a jolt, not breathing for a moment, eyes wide in terror.

The emerald eyes darted around the room as if looking for something, tears running down his cheeks and pooling in the fabric of Hedwig's tunic. They finally found her face and locked with her own tear-filled eyes.

He blinked up at her, vision blurred further by the tears. A hand twisted in her long hair. "Mummy?"

"Shh, Harry darling. It's okay. You're safe now." With a silent cry of anguish, Hedwig drew the boy tighter into her arms and wept along with him.

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The text shown in italics during Harry's dream is taken from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban by JK Rowling.

Next chapter: Muggles -- Harry takes Draco home. Draco gets to meet Emily. Emily gets to confront Harry, and just what will she make of Hedwig?

Author's Notes:

Thanks to all my betas: Josie, Thursday, Ashleigh, Ginzai and Lynn. A special welcome to Aja for her help with the Harry/Draco dynamic (snigger).

Thanks to all who have recently reviewed. If I have missed your name from this list, sorry. Every review is read and appreciated. Ayla Pascal, lazymeoo7, AVK, Emily Anne, Mim, evilkarky, Josie, purple colored geek, Alex, Iris, FernWithy, RicaSieg(akaBlossom), Demeter, sir dorcas cadogan, Andrea B, Ice Queen, Midnight Owl, Aziraphael, Evil*Fair, ~beccy, gwen (), Erin, Haruka7, Alex (), Freda Potter, lilahp, Kim

Special thanks to everyone at HP_Coming of Age for your comments and general kindness while waiting for this chapter.

Reviews are always welcome, either here on the FictionAlley Board (click on review), to me at or at the Yahoo group for this story. All up and coming chapters will be posted there first. Click HERE to sign up for HP_comingofage