Rating: Mature

Warnings: Slash. Profanity. OOC-ness.

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any of the songs mentioned in this chapter.

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Previously:

Harry made his feelings known through the medium of song. Draco and Harry went to Scrimgeour for help. Oliver made his feelings known in a more direct fashion.

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Mother Knows Best

Chapter Thirty

Stranger

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That Tuesday, for the first time since coming to Hogwarts, Harry woke up with the intention of skipping school. It wasn't an easy feat, considering it was a boarding school, and Harry would no doubt be catching hell for it from a variety of concerned parties, but this was too important to pass up.

He'd contacted Moody.

In a desolate patch of woods on the outskirts of Merlin, in the same direction heading out toward Malfoy Manor, Harry drove Remus' nondescript Honda onto a dirt road that led exactly three miles to where Moody had designated they meet. And, okay, so he didn't exactly have permission to take Remus' car, but Harry figured, if you were going to fuck up and inspire anger and disappointment in someone you loved, it was better to do so in one fell swoop rather than dragging it out and letting it fester over the course of however long you planned on fucking up.

He'd texted Remus before leaving so that Remus would know it hadn't been stolen. By a stranger, anyway.

Three miles into the woods at exactly eleven in the morning, the dirt road abruptly ended. Harry put the car in park and turned to look at Draco, who was scanning the trees surrounding them with a rather skeptical look on his face.

"Are you sure this is it?" the blonde questioned, raising a doubtful eyebrow at him.

Moody's number had been stored on Draco's phone and, naturally, the blonde used this to his advantage. He'd refused to hand it over until Harry promised not to go off anywhere potentially dangerous without him. Thusly, Draco had been present for half of the conversation Harry'd had with Moody, which had gone pretty much like so:

"Who is this?" Moody had growled in lieu of a greeting.

"Um," Harry had stalled, the sheer unfriendliness of Moody's voice giving him pause, "My name is Harry Potter. Is this, er, Moody?" Draco had laughed at him silently until Harry'd flicked his ear.

Moody didn't answer his question. "Is this a secure line?"

"Secure…? It's a cell phone," Harry answered, staring kind of disbelievingly at the ceiling. "Rufus Scrimgeour told me to call you. About Tom Riddle?"

And Moody had hung up.

It wasn't until about midnight that Draco's phone had buzzed with a text message with very specific directions to where Moody had apparently decided to meet them.

"Pretty sure," Harry answered with a shrug. He'd followed Moody's instructions to the letter, and this is where they'd ended up, in the middle of the woods in a car Harry hoped Remus wouldn't report as stolen.

Draco rolled his eyes and messed about with the radio, anything to disrupt the eerie silence of the woods. "We should've taken my car," the blonde grumbled for the umpteenth time. "At least it has a decent stereo system."

Harry didn't bother arguing with him. Draco's car was classic and flashy, bound to attract the attention of unwanted observers, whereas Remus' sedan blended in seamlessly. Besides, having the blonde's car sitting in the school's parking lot all morning at least gave Draco plausible deniability.

Why Draco was with him in the first place was… Well.

Just then, Harry sensed something move in his peripheral vision, fleeting, but when he turned to look –switching off the ignition entirely to stop the music and ignoring the annoyed look Draco shot him- nothing was there. He reached into his bag on the floorboard, a spark of trepidation keeping his eyes on the trees, alert.

"What?" Draco whispered, following Harry's line of sight in a rather paranoid fashion.

But after a minute passed with nothing happening, Harry was ready to dismiss the movement. It could've just been a bird. After all, this was the woods.

Beside him, Draco sighed. "He said eleven," the blonde complained, checking his phone once again for the time. "Which was half an hour ago. Either he's not coming or we're not in the right place. Let's just-"

When the blonde didn't continue, Harry finally took his eyes from the surrounding woods to look at him. His stomach dropped at what he saw.

"Hands up!" a man growled, opening Draco's door with one hand. He was pointing a gun at Harry with the other when the raven reached for the floorboard.

Harry's first impression of the man was that he must have been homeless, the possibility of him being Moody not crossing his mind. This man looked like a stray dog and he was looking at Harry with one blue eye while the other stared at a point a foot or so away, cloudy and wide.

Harry put his hands up and watched as the man directed Draco out of the car, keeping the gun trained on Harry the whole time. Draco seized up when the man patted down his sides one-handed, confiscating his wallet, his camera, and the phone in the blonde's trembling grip and demanding he keep his hands up.

Harry was next, and the man took his wallet and phone as well while he stood by the open driver's side door. The gun was now trained on Draco's wide-eyed face. Harry didn't dare move.

"Harry Potter, eh?" the man said, reading it off the raven's driver's license. He tossed it onto the car's roof, along with everything else, and looked back and forth between them curiously. "And a Malfoy."

"Are you… Mad-Eye Moody?" Harry asked as it occurred to him, breath coming quick, his hands still raised above his head.

The man ignored him, taking the keys out of the ignition and rifling through the bag on the floorboard, which contained nothing of consequence except his phone and… well.

"What's this?" the man –Moody- grunted, pulling a gun out of Harry's bag and examining it with his one good eye.

"That's, uh…" Harry trailed off, avoiding Draco's accusing eyes that said they would be talking about this, just as soon as there wasn't a gun pointed at them.

"Came prepared, did you?" Moody said with a grin that didn't put Harry at ease whatsoever. Abruptly, he lowered the gun he'd had trained at Harry and, with a glance to their surroundings, started off into the woods. "Follow me, then," he said, shouldering Harry's bag. Remus' car beeped once as Moody locked it with the remote over his shoulder, like an afterthought.

With no other choice, Harry and Draco lowered their hands and started following. They were only a few steps away before Draco thought to turn back for his phone, which Moody had left laying on top of the car.

"No phones!" Moody circumvented before Draco's hand managed to touch it. He hadn't even had to look.

After they'd been walking for what felt like eternity, Harry figured he deserved it when Draco shoved him into a patch of dead blackberry thorns.

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Moody's house wasn't a house. When the man finally came to a stop in a partial clearing, extended his arms and declared "Home sweet home" to an empty patch of grass, Harry began planning an escape. This had not been a good idea. What the hell had he been thinking, meeting some guy he didn't know in the middle of the woods? So what if Moody still had Remus' car keys. There was no time like the present to learn how to hotwire a car.

But then Moody started kicking at the ground, and Harry was too curious to slip back into the woods and the sanctuary of Remus' car. Besides, he had no idea where the hell it was.

Moody bent down and grunted as if trying to lift something heavy, and a moment later there was a large metal door sticking out of the ground in the shape of an octagon. It was an honest-to-god bunker, Harry realized, gaping as Moody disappeared inside, climbing down down down into the ground. The door was left open as if Moody expected them to follow him inside. Inside the bunker.

"I'm not going in there," Draco refused, shaking his head in a resolute fashion and crossing his arms over his chest mulishly. He was still hanging back by the edge of the woods, unwilling to come any closer.

"Well?" demanded Moody, just his head sticking up out of the ground. His arms came up to brace himself. "Come on, now. I don't have all day."

Harry took a step forward, but stopped when he realized that Draco was, in fact, not going anywhere. Harry raised an eyebrow at him.

"What's the hold-up, kid?" Moody questioned impatiently. "Get the lead out."

Draco had been completely silent the entire way through the woods, but now that a firearm was no longer in sight, the blonde felt safe enough to open his mouth. Harry winced preemptively.

"Listen, Sleeper Cell," Draco sneered at Moody with a hand on his hip, looking both condescending and unimpressed, "I don't know who you think you are, and I honestly don't care, but you are batshit crazy if you think I'm going into your fucking lair after you pulled a gun on us, took our stuff, and practically forced us to kidnap ourselves. I'm not turning into part of your skin-suit, okay, Buffalo Bill? And I don't know about this guy," the blonde said, pointing at Harry without looking at him, "but I'm not disappearing into a giant hole in the ground to help you plot against the government or prepare for the apocalypse or whatever it is you do down there, alright? So you can just take me back to the car now."

To his credit, Moody only looked a fraction angrier than always seemed to look. "You're a mouthy little thing, ain't you?"

Harry let out strange, nervous barking noise that seemed to echo all around them, something between a hysterical laugh and an equally hysterical guffaw. When the other two stared at him, Harry cleared his throat and started for the bunker. Moody disappeared inside.

"Harry!" Draco hissed, shifting and obviously not wanting to be left in the middle of the woods, alone.

A foot away from the bunker, Harry sighed without turning to look back at him. If he saw Draco's face, he knew he'd give in. "What other option do we have?"

There was a moment of silence from Draco before the blonde was storming past him in righteous fury, growling out an, "I hate you!" as he climbed down into the bunker.

But Harry honestly didn't think Moody was dangerous. Despite his temperament and the fact that he'd pulled a gun on them, Harry had a feeling that Moody was someone they could trust. Okay, well, it was more than a feeling. Draco actually had the sense to look him up the night before. Turns out, the guy had a connection with the police department.

When he'd made it down into the bunker, Draco was leaning against the wall by the ladder, leveling Moody with a distrustful gaze. Moody was glaring right back at him, arms crossed over his chest, but as soon as Harry's feet met the floor, the man looked at him and grunted.

"Let's talk."

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Moody's bunker was far less 'doomsday survivalist' than either of them had anticipated. Sure, most of the walls were peppered with newsprint and printed articles, post-its and torn-off notebook paper, little memos written on receipts and takeout menus. There were about a dozen different laptops scattered across the room and a generator humming in a sort of built-in shelf, but overall the place was borderline homey. There was a tiny kitchen area off to one corner, a cot leaning against the wall near a coat rack that held Harry's bag. There was even a beat-up sofa sitting right in the middle of it all.

A notepad he had yet to actually write anything in tapping against his knee, Moody raised an expectant eyebrow when Harry stopped talking. "Is that it?"

Harry blinked in disbelief. "What do you mean, 'is that it'? We just told you everything."

"You told me a story that can't be verified," Moody corrected.

Harry shot off the threadbare sofa and leaned across the make-shift coffee table. "Look at my face!" he shouted, pointing at himself. The scrapes and bruises were almost healed now, giving his words less credibility than he would've liked. "You think I did this to myself?"

"Harry, just let it go," Draco said, pulling at the raven's sleeve. He understood why Harry was upset. This was probably the only person who could help them and he just… "He doesn't believe us."

"Now I didn't say I don't believe you," Moody told them gruffly. "But don't expect an arrest based on a story with no corroborating evidence."

Harry stood back and crossed his arms over his chest. "What would you say if I told you we can prove it?"

Moody snorted at the raven's feeble attempt at dishonesty. "Bullshit."

"Well, that was a hell of a lot of effort for nothing," Draco grumbled, hand falling away from Harry's sleeve.

"What am I supposed to do, huh? This guy, this fucking…" Harry trailed off, jaw clenched in tightly coiled fury. "He doesn't slip up. He sent me to the hospital and I never even saw his face. The bastard knew Draco wouldn't report him! Peter…" The raven shook his head. "Riddle caught him, I know he did. He knew Peter was going to turn himself in."

"Go home," Moody told them. "Forget about Riddle. Stay at school and you'll be fine. If you really want him behind bars, you won't say another word about any of this, not to anyone."

"That's your answer?" Harry said, giving a sardonic shrug. "Forget about it?"

"Harry," Draco said, taking hold of the raven's sleeve again as he noticed the angry clenching of Moody's jaw. Harry jerked out of his grasp.

"People are dying and I should just forget about it!" the raven scoffed in disbelief. "What about you, Mystery Man? What are you gonna do? Hide out in your little hole in the ground and just hope he screws up eventually?"

Draco barely even saw what happened. One second Harry was standing and the next he was on the floor, staring up at Moody in shock. The man had kicked his knees out from under him.

"You have no idea what I've given up to catch this monster," Moody growled down at Harry. "Do you think I'm living here for the hell of it? That I'm gathering intell from children for kicks?"

"You recognized my name, didn't you?" Harry said, grabbing hold of Moody's makeshift coffee table to pull himself up. "You think he killed my parents, too, don't you?"

Moody gave him a stony glare. "A fire killed your parents, kid."

"And Riddle just so happened to be there?" Harry questioned. He stood up, green eyes electrifying in their intensity. "We looked you up, you know. You were put on suspension and then retired that same year, and I think I know why."

Moody's face didn't change.

"You were an investigator with the Arson Division, right?" Harry said, raising an eyebrow. "You must've known Riddle had something to do with it. I'm guessing they didn't believe you."

As if nostalgic at the reminder, Moody's gaze drifted along the walls of the bunker, the endless information he'd accumulated. And then he shook his head. "He doesn't slip up."

This man had been carrying this around with him and following loose ends for over a decade. He'd fought for the justice of a couple of strangers who had burned to death saving their infant son. He'd lost a lot because of it. The fact that he was still fighting, perhaps more than anything, reaffirmed Harry's belief that he was someone to be trusted.

"Go home," Moody said again. "Get some sleep. You look like death warmed over."

But Moody wasn't going to tell them anything. They were a couple of kids playing with fire, who couldn't be trusted not to screw everything up. Harry scoffed and left without a word, throwing in the towel.

"You know your way back?" Moody questioned as Harry vanished from the top of the ladder, his bag over his shoulder.

Draco started for the ladder and shrugged. "We'll manage."

"Hey, kid."

Draco turned back only to find a hand striking up toward his face. He leapt back in shock with a startled yelp, almost tripping over his own feet. But Moody's hand stopped just before it could connect with his nose, leaving Draco looking up at him in disbelief.

"Palm heel strike," Moody told him, making the gesture again as if instructing him. "Do it right and you'll knock him out flat."

Draco nodded in understanding, eyes wide as saucers. He'd had some reservations about telling Moody the whole truth. The less-than-legal interrogation tactics Harry had executed with Peter, of course, but especially what had really happen that Christmas Eve in Riddle's office at Campaign Headquarters. It was personal, not to mention mortifying. But Harry was adamant on full disclosure. This was their only shot; they couldn't leave anything out. Still, it surprised him that Moody cared enough to show him a self-defense technique.

When he made it outside, Harry was watching the clouds, disenchanted and waiting for him. At the sound of Moody pulling the bunker door shut, metal on metal, the raven looked at him, sighed, and started for the trees.

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Much like their arduous trek to the car, the drive back was mostly silent. Neither of them felt much like talking about what a failure meeting Moody had been. Still, when Draco noticed they'd missed the turn leading back to Hogwarts, he spoke up.

"Where are we going?" Draco asked around a yawn. "And you'd better say there's food involved."

Harry glanced at him, an uncertainty about his face that garnered Draco's full attention, before pulling off to the side of the road and putting the car in park. Draco watched him with a sense apprehension.

"Moody doesn't know anything we don't," Harry told him, staring at his hands on the steering wheel. "I'd bet you anything we're the first lead he's had in years. He's desperate."

"He's right," Draco told him and lifted a hand to halt the raven's oncoming protests. "Harry, what do you think is going to happen if keep snooping around like this?"

Just then, Draco had an awful thought; his parents being informed by one of Riddle's flunkies that both Harry and himself had died from a drug overdose. It would be in the news, everywhere, that Harry had lured him into the world of crystal meth. Draco would be dead, his killer would be mayor, and his own father –clueless- would have helped him get there.

"We're both gonna be in some serious trouble," Harry finished for him, nodding as if Draco had answered some unasked question and reaching forward to put the car back into drive. "I'll take you back to school."

Draco stopped his hand. "Nice try," he said, because Harry wasn't going off alone. Not again. "Do you have a plan?"

Harry sat back and lifted a shoulder in a shrug. "Sort of."

"Does it have anything to do with Art of War-style interrogations?" Draco questioned, only half-mocking. "Or armed vigilantes who live underground?"

Harry shook his head. "Your camera," he shrugged again. "Maybe some binoculars."

"We won't be needing this, then," Draco said, giving the raven a sharp look and kicking at Harry's bag, which had been deposited back onto the floorboard.

Harry winced, having hoped Draco had forgotten about the gun. He put the car in drive and headed back onto the road as a distraction. "It's not loaded."

"Then what's the point?" Draco scoffed. "It's probably been reported stolen since Christmas. God, Harry, do you want to be arrested?"

Harry kept his eyes on the road. "I'll get rid of it, alright?" he said in an attempt to pacify the blonde. "It's just for show, anyway."

"Driving around with a stolen gun in a stolen car," Draco mused, making a face. "Don't I just have the best taste?"

Surprisingly, Harry laughed. "The worst," he agreed, his grin lighting up his face and taking away a weeks worth of sleepless nights. "Would buying lunch make up for it?"

"A little," Draco smiled, internally marveling at how one laugh from Harry could make his mood do a complete one-eighty. "Where are we headed after that?"

Harry glanced at him shiftily, fingers drumming on the steering wheel. "Police department."

Draco widened his eyes at the raven, incredulous. "Oh, that's smart," he scoffed.

Harry shrugged. "I can't think of anywhere else he would be."

"Riddle?" the blonde questioned and continued without needing confirmation. "It's almost three on a weekday. He wouldn't be there. He'd be back at the Manor by now."

The car suddenly swerved partially into the wrong lane, Draco's arm jerking forward to stop his collision with the dash. An oncoming SUV blared its horn at them as Harry jerked the car back into the right lane.

"Jesus Christ, Harry!"

Harry's eyes were wide and shocked, more from what Draco had said than their sudden brush with death.

"The Manor?" he parroted. "As in, your house, the Manor?"

"He's marrying my aunt," Draco told him, hand pressed over his still racing heart. "They've been staying there since Thanksgiving."

"At your house?" Harry said again, head jerking back and forth between Draco and the road. "And you're just now telling me? That's not- Wait, Thanksgiving? Is that why you wanted me to stay that night?"

"No," Draco told him. "I wanted you to stay because I missed you. I didn't know Riddle was a sadist pervert until later. Now do you think you could you watch the road?"

All was silent for about thirty seconds before Draco glanced at Harry, gauging his reaction. What he saw made him glare. The bastard was smiling.

"God. What." Draco demanded.

Harry shook his head, unable to smother the grin overtaking his face. "So you did miss me."

It was strange. Draco had been the cause of the dark cloud that had been persistently hanging over Harry's head for two weeks now, but it seemed he was also the only one who could lift it.

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Lunch was a paper bag affair tucked between them in the console, much to Draco's very vocal displeasure. They'd followed Riddle from Malfoy Manor to a restaurant in East Merlin and parked inconspicuously across the street. Harry had liberated Draco's camera, zooming in on what he could see of Riddle. Lucky for them, the chief of police seemed to have insisted on a window seat.

"Oh, hey," Harry said as he watched a woman enter the restaurant. "That's my anger management counselor!"

Draco leaned into Harry, head to head, to get a better look. "That's my aunt," he said, watching as Bella sat down across from Riddle inside the restaurant.

Harry looked at him in confusion. "So… She was trying to dig information out of me? To drive me into insanity with her counseling techniques? What?"

"I'm guessing the former," Draco shrugged, taking the camera and leaning back in his seat, feet propped up on the dash.

Harry blinked widely, still trying to wrap his head around it. "Well, don't I feel special."

"This is stupid," Draco told him, watching as Riddle and Bella did absolutely nothing of interest. "They're not doing anything. It's like the worst reality show ever."

"You have a better idea?"

"Well, what do you think he's going to do, Harry? He's a pretty hands-off kind of drug lord, okay? He's not going to lead us straight to his meth lab or whatever in broad daylight."

"Well, we're already here," Harry said, dipping a French fry into his milkshake and ignoring the revolted look Draco shot him for it. "Let's just wait and see if anything happens."

Draco sighed. "Private investigation is a lot less fun than they make it seem on TV."

Their little stake-out was a bust. Three hours later, and nothing. Everything Riddle did during the three hours Harry and Draco spent watching him, everywhere he went, seemed perfectly legit. The shadiest thing he and Bella did was stop at a jewelry store on the way back to Malfoy Manor. Bella came out admiring a new tennis bracelet. A tennis bracelet, for chrissake.

So after following Riddle back to Malfoy Manor, they decided to call it a day. A long, pointless, completely ineffectual day. On the drive back, Draco made him pull over at a gas station to use the restroom.

"You're going to use a gas station bathroom," Harry stated doubtfully, opening the gas cap on Remus' car. He figured the least he could do after stealing Remus' car was to make sure the tank was full when he returned it.

"As long as I don't have to touch anything," Draco told him, boots clicking against the pavement as he made his way to the door.

It was your average, everyday gas station, Draco supposed, but the look the clerk gave him when he walked in unsettled him. The guy was wide-eyed and twitchy, yellow teeth and sickly thin, and he reminded Draco instantly of Peter. It was disturbing, the fact that he could now recognize a meth addict when he saw one and know immediately, but nevertheless, Draco ignored him and headed for the bathroom.

It was pitch black inside when he opened the door and Draco was forced to feel around for a light switch. He came up short, however, and had to let go of the door –his only source of light- to search further.

The door shut by itself with a soft click, leaving Draco in near darkness. The only light came from under the door, and illuminated in the little source of light, Draco noticed with surprise, was a pair of shoes that definitely didn't belong to him.

His first thought was that someone was standing behind the door, but a second later he stopped breathing. The shoes stepped out of the light, disappearing into the shadows and moving closer. Heart hammering in his chest, Draco backed himself into the wall behind him as soundlessly as possible.

Except what was behind him wasn't a wall.

"Guess who?"

The voice that Draco had no trouble putting a face to slithered up his spine and he tried to scream, tried to run for the door, but a hand came around him to clamp over his mouth. If that didn't silence him, the hand that was suddenly around his throat did.

"Now, now," Riddle soothed, speaking into the skin of Draco's neck. "We don't have enough time for that."

The hand at his throat vanished and reappeared around his waist, holding him tight.

"Now I'm going to let go of your mouth," Riddle told him, "but if you scream, I'll have to cut off your air supply, alright?"

The words were said so casually, so matter-of-fact, that Draco had no doubt Riddle meant it. Jerkily, he nodded, but as soon as Riddle's hand was off his mouth he gasped out, "Let me go."

His own words unsettled him, echoing loud in the tiny bathroom even though his voice was just above a whisper, angry and panicked and scared. Why he was staying quiet, he didn't know, but he didn't want to find out what Riddle would do if he shouted it.

"I only want to apologize," Riddle said, as though Draco was being unreasonable. "I admit it, Draco. I misjudged you and things got a bit rough. I'm very sorry for that."

But Draco could barely hear him over the thoughts racing through his head. Everything that came out of the man's mouth just went right under the umbrella term of crazy. He jerked his elbow, aiming for the man's stomach but getting his forearm instead. He couldn't see a thing.

"Harry knows I'm in here," Draco snarled. "He's waiting right out-"

"I know," Riddle told him, his tone patient. "And I don't blame you for being frightened-"

Draco's temper flared. He stomped as hard as he could on Riddle's foot and grinded down mercilessly with his heel. A nine-hundred dollar Jimmy Choo boot versus a loafer. Riddle hissed into his neck and grabbed his throat again.

Instead of issuing another warning, Riddle finished his sentence. "But stalking me, Draco?"

Draco stopped struggling. "I never-"

"I've been a cop for nearly twenty years," Riddle said, idle as his fingers trailed down the column of Draco's throat. "Do you really think I can't tell when I'm being followed?"

Draco had a horrifying thought. What if Riddle wasn't alone? What if Riddle's flunkies were outside dealing with Harry? Blind panic settled into his chest. He lashed out, breathing so fast it sounded like he was sobbing.

Riddle lost grip of the blonde's waist for a split second and Draco tried to bolt for the door. He didn't make it far. Next thing he knew he was being slammed against the wall so hard he crumbled onto the dirty tiled floor like a ragdoll, the breath knocked out of him and the back of his head throbbing from where it'd hit the wall.

Riddle tsked in disapproval and crouched down in front of him, his breath hot on Draco's face. He seemed distracted suddenly. "Did you get my present?"

It was Christmas all over again, and Draco had been doing so well pretending it had never happened. It wasn't that long ago, not at all, but so much had happen since then that it felt like years. Everything came rushing back to him at once, the memory of helplessness, the sound of Riddle's phone ringing off the hook, the smell of his cologne. Draco swore he could taste peppermint.

"Draco, don't be this way," Riddle said when the blonde said nothing and didn't look up. He pressed an apologetic kiss to Draco's jaw and pushed the blonde's disheveled hair out of his face. "We had a misunderstanding. That's no reason for this sort of behavior. Stalking me. Calling me names."

Draco's breath hitched before he even realized what Riddle meant. Calling him names?

Riddle seemed to know exactly what he was thinking. "Oh, what was it you said?" he mused. "'Sadist pervert,' was it?"

Everything suddenly seemed to stop. Draco thought back to earlier, when he was still in the car with Harry. Had Riddle been there, watching them, listening? He couldn't have been. They were on the road at the time and no one else was in the car, which meant…

Riddle took hold of the blonde's chin, making Draco look at him. His eyes had gotten used to the dark, but Riddle's face was still nothing but shadows. "Are you trying to hurt my feelings?"

Draco swallowed convulsively. "H-How-?"

"That isn't important," Riddle told him, his hand coming up to smooth back Draco's hair, petting him. The blonde flinched. "What's important is that we understand each other."

Just because he was expecting it didn't mean it wasn't painful. When Riddle wrenched his head back by the fist he had tangled in Draco's hair, the blonde forced himself not to make a sound. He wouldn't give Riddle the satisfaction.

Riddle pulled Draco up off the floor by the grip on his hair. "I don't want you and that boyfriend of yours following me around anymore, Draco. It's a serious invasion of my privacy," Riddle said, his gentle voice in stark contrast to the violent grip. "Do you understand that?"

Not trusting his voice, Draco only nodded.

"Excellent," Riddle purred, yanking the blonde in close. "I'm glad we've cleared that up. We certainly wouldn't want dear Harry back in the hospital, would we?"

It was a threat on Harry's life and that, more than the pain of his scalp, more than the blind panic the man inspired in him, ignited a rage so intense in the pit of his stomach, Draco's hand stuck forward without a second's thought. Riddle wasn't expecting it, but he still managed to reel his head back and out of the way before the heel of Draco's palm managed to land a blow.

And then Riddle had him by the throat again, tight, and Draco couldn't breath. "Now, that wasn't very nice. I'm starting to wonder if Harry is becoming a bad influence."

Draco longed to tell him to go fuck himself, but he was already getting dizzy. His lungs were starting to burn. He couldn't breath. Panic seized all thought and he couldn't breath.

"I'm afraid you haven't grasped the severity of the situation," Riddle told him, whispering. "It wouldn't take much to remove Harry Potter from the picture. Or your parents, for that matter. After all, accidents happen all the time."

Draco's pulse was pounding in his ears, louder than the slithering undercurrent of Riddle's voice. He clawed at Riddle's hands, trying in vain to pry them off and cutting into his neck in the process. His vision was turning black.

"I hold your fate in the palm of my hand," Riddle said, gentle and calm. "You could wake up an orphan tomorrow. Your parents could become convinced you need to be admitted to a rehabilitation clinic to recover from your rampant drug addition." Riddle leveled their eyes and smiled, eyes alight with amusement. "You could die in a gas station bathroom."

And then he let go. Draco choked on his first gasp of air, lungs on fire. Heaving and coughing, he held the wall in an effort not to pass out.

"I'll keep in touch," Riddle told him, smoothing a hand up and down Draco's back as the boy struggled to catch his breath. "It's been a pleasure seeing you again, Draco. It really has."

Draco listened to the slow tap-tap-tap of Riddle's shoes against the tile as he walked away, and then he was blinded by the glare of the bathroom light. He winced, and when he opened his eyes again, Riddle was disappearing through the door.

"Don't be a stranger."

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Harry had been waiting by the car nearly ten minutes now, watching people come and go. And while it wasn't unusual for Draco to spend an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom, this was ridiculous. He got a bad feeling around minute five, but nobody that went in or came out of the gas station looked at all suspicious, so he chalked it up to paranoia. But that was five minutes ago.

The man working the register was an Addict with a capital-A. It was the first thing Harry noticed. Spend any amount of time with a chicken head and you know what to look for. The second thing he noticed was the nervous glances he kept shooting the men's room, wiping sweaty hands on his tattered jeans.

Harry practically ran for the restroom. The door wasn't locked, so he pulled it open without a second thought.

"Draco?"

And there he was, just washing his face in the sink. Harry's shoulders sagged in obvious relief. But then Draco looked up at him through the mirror, eyes red, face flushed, and Harry knew something was wrong.

"Shut the door," Draco told him, ripping out a few paper towels to dry his face. He was breathy heavily, slow and deep. His voice was off, raw and hoarse like he'd been screaming.

Doing as told, Harry walked in and shut the door, locking it for good measure. "What happened?"

"I think…" Draco said, whispering like he thought someone was listening. "I think Riddle bugged Lupin's car."

Which… Harry couldn't even process that. He put a hand on Draco's back, and only then did he realize the blonde was shaking. It turned his blood cold. "What are you-?"

"He was here, Harry," Draco told him, eyes wide and dead serious. "He was right here, as soon as I walked in."

"Here? Riddle was-" Draco shushed him, and he lowered his voice to a whisper. "He was in here?"

"He was waiting for me," the blonde said, dropping his eyes and sighing as he tossed the paper towels into a wastepaper basket by the sink. "He knew we were following him. He knew- Harry, he knew things I've only said to you, alone, inside of that car."

"Are you okay?" the raven questioned, pulling the blonde closer and looking him over. And then he saw the blonde's neck, red and already bruising, and he felt like sobbing. "Shit. What did he-? Did he hurt you? Are you-?"

In that second, Harry hated himself more than ever before. He'd been maybe fifty feet away, waiting in the parking lot like an idiot, letting Riddle get his fucking hands on Draco. Again. For the second goddamn time.

Draco shook his head, clearing his throat like he couldn't help it. "I'm okay," he whispered, and put his arms around the raven's neck, holding on and just breathing. "Let's just- He could be listening, okay? Let's just go back to school."

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When they opened the door to dorm room number sixty-six, four pairs of eyes zeroed in on them instantly. Before they even stepped foot inside, all of their roommates were on their feet, wanting answers.

"Well, it's about time," Ron told them, glaring at them and snapping his phone shut. "You know, at least one of you could've answered your phone."

"What happened to you?" Seamus demanded, looking even angrier than Ron. "You wouldn't believe the amount of shit we've been though today because of-"

It might've been the haunted look on both their faces, the fact that Draco seemed seconds away from collapsing, the bruises circling his throat, or just the desperate way they clung to each other, Harry didn't know, but everyone in the room went suddenly quiet.

Blaise was the first to speak. "Jesus Christ, what happened to you?"

"Please, guys, not now," Harry sighed, one arm out of his jacket. All he wanted to do was hide away behind the curtains of Draco's bed and sleep until this nightmare was over. Draco had the same idea as him, apparently, because when Harry looked, the blonde was already climbing into bed fully dressed.

But then all movement from the blonde suddenly stopped. He backed away from his bed as if a monster was lurking beneath his covers. And then Harry saw it. A plain white box was sitting in the middle of Draco's bed. Everyone seemed to notice something was wrong, some change in the air that drew everyone's attention to Draco.

Draco took a step back and pointed at it. "What is this?"

Everyone looked around at each other cluelessly.

Dean shrugged. "It's been there since we got out of class."

No one knew how it got there, Harry realized. Draco looked at him, and it was clear that he had no intention of opening the box. Something in the look on his face made Harry move closer. He knew that nothing good could possibly come from opening it, knew that he would regret it afterward, but nevertheless, Harry picked the box up and flipped the top off, like ripping off a band-aid.

Rose petals fell to the floor like autumn leaves, velvet red and lazy. Harry tipped the box over onto Draco's bed, more petals scattering. In the middle of it all was a belt.

Harry held it up for Draco to see. "What the hell is a belt supposed to mean?" he questioned, eyebrows drawn together in confusion. The flowers Riddle had sent, at least, had meant something.

Draco ran a shaking hand across his face. "It's mine. He- At the fundraiser," the blonde told him, his words disjointed and uncomfortable like he detested the taste of them. Finally, biting his lip, his eyes dropped from the belt down to the floor. "Riddle-" He cut himself off with a wince, looking frustrated. "I left it," he explained carefully, glancing up at Harry as though willing him to understand what he couldn't bring himself to say.

And Harry did. Liquid rage shot through his veins as he looked again at the belt. What he saw made him throw the thing against the wall.

The insane motherfucker had his initials engraved on Draco's belt and sent it back in a box of rose petals.

Draco must've seen it, too, because he was backing away, away from the blank box and mess of rose petals on his bed, from his own tainted belt like the thing would come to life and wrap itself around his throat. "I don't want to do this anymore."

Looking back at him, Harry noticed the faint tremors running through Draco's frame, the way he kept shooting glances all over the room like he thought someone was watching. The anger Harry had felt seconds before melted away at the sight of him. The blonde looked terrified.

Ron was looking back and forth between them like they were insane. "What the hell is going on?!"

Draco had retracted his steps all the way to the door. "Harry, I don't want to be here," the blonde stated desperately.

Harry was already shrugging back into his jacket. He snatched up Draco's keys from the blonde's desk and grabbed his bag off the couch on his way to the door. He took Draco's hand. "Come on."

Ron spluttered, looking indignant. "Hey!"

But they were already gone. "Later!" the raven promised before the door closed behind them.

Their safe haven had been ripped away from them. They couldn't be inside the dorm anymore and feel anything but fear. Riddle had successfully pervaded the one place they'd ever truly felt at home.

"It could be anywhere," Harry mused, slipping through the back exit of the entrance building as quietly as he could, locking it behind him. "It could be in the dorm."

"He knew I called him a pervert and exactly where we were going," Draco told him, breathing a sigh of relief when his car came into view at the very edge of the parking lot. "It has got to be in that car."

Harry gave him a look. "Who says there's just the one?"

Draco looked at his car and shook his head, taking a step back. "I can't do this."

"It's just a scare tactic," Harry said, hoping like hell that it was true. "That's all it is. Why else would he let you know about it?"

"I don't- Harry, the paranoia is going to drive us crazy."

"I'm sorry," the raven told him, pulling at his hair in frustration. He was so out of his depth; he didn't know what to do. "God, I'm so- I never should've let you come with me today."

"Because I'm such a fragile little daffodil, right? Is that it?" Draco sneered, suddenly angry at the other boy for no good reason at all. "If I'm so fragile, Harry, if I'm so fucking breakable, then why did you?"

"Because I miss you!" Harry shot back before immediately wishing he hadn't. Surprise overtook the anger on Draco face and Harry sighed in resignation. "Why do you think? Even after- God, after all the shit you pulled, you'd think I would learn."

Draco didn't have anything to say to that, so he didn't say anything. Instead, he turned away and tried to calm down. He didn't want to fight, he didn't want to blame Harry, but it was just so hard not to.

"Look," Harry told him, and his voice, if nothing else, was calmer. "You don't have to do anything you don't want, alright? This has got to end, Draco, and soon, but you don't have to be part of it."

Which was complete bullshit. Of course Draco had to be a part of it. He couldn't let Harry go off and get himself killed. And maybe that didn't matter to Harry, but Draco couldn't let that happen. He couldn't. Like it or not, he'd given the raven a piece of himself. Losing Harry… Losing Harry meant losing everything. He would never recover.

"Come on," the raven said, reaching for the blonde's hand. "He's just trying to scare us. We'll get a room or something, alright? It's okay."

Rage lifted over Draco like a tidal wave and he slapped Harry's hands away. "No, it's not!" Draco snapped, suddenly furious again, like all the fear and worry and frustration, just everything, was catching up to him in one fell swoop. "We're not okay! Nothing is ever okay! What happened tonight- This is not okay!"

"Draco!" Harry grabbed him by the shoulders, stilling him. They couldn't do this here. "Babe, just get in the car!"

"Hey!"

Harry and Draco snapped out of whatever argument they were having, turning around to face whoever had called out to them. For a second they were blinded by the bright glare of a flashlight, and then they were staring at Oliver Wood.

"What the hell is going on?"

Harry cursed and let his hands fall away from the blonde beside him, turning a glare on their sudden intruder. Oliver Wood was the last thing they needed right now.

The expression on Oliver's face gave Draco a clear picture of what they must look like. Draco screaming at Harry in the school's parking lot in the dark after they'd been missing all day, his eyes red like he'd been crying, ugly bruises in the shape of hands around his neck, and Harry trying to get him into the car. In a nutshell, it looked bad. Really bad. And while it was nice that Oliver was worried about him, Draco just wanted him to leave. He could not deal with this right now on top of everything else.

Draco sighed, his panic receding to make way for a bone-deep exhaustion. "Nothing," the blonde said, crossing over to the passenger side of the car.

Harry shook his head, turning his back on Oliver as the TA approached. The flashlight switched off, bringing a moment of complete darkness before their eyes adjusted to the light the moon was providing them.

Oliver scoffed. "Nothing? Draco-"

Halfway to the driver's side door, Harry turned and bared his teeth in a snarl. "Mind your own business!"

Oliver looked from Harry hateful face to Draco and sighed. "You told him."

Draco's eyes widened, pausing midway into the passenger seat to stare at Oliver in disbelief.

Bemused, Harry turned to him in question. "Told me what?"

"Nothing!" the blonde repeated. Cursing under his breath, Draco shot Oliver a pointed look that he hoped conveyed what an idiot he thought the TA was for bringing that particular topic up for conversation.

But now Harry wasn't moving, facing off against Oliver as if daring him to come any closer. Oliver kept his distance; a hand raised palm-up at Harry as though placating a rabid animal.

"Harry!" Draco demanded, wanting to get away as soon as physically possible and so not in the mood for this Neanderthal posturing shit. It was only a matter of time before somebody else showed up.

"Draco, I don't know what's going on here, but you're both in a hell of a lot of trouble already," Oliver told him, his voice calm and authoritative. "Do not get in that car with him."

Glaring, Harry shoved him hard in the chest. "Just who the fuck are you to tell him what to do?"

Oliver bit his lip and resolutely did not acknowledge Harry at all. "Draco," he said patiently, an unspoken 'come with me' inherent in his tone.

Indignant at being ignored and enraged, absolutely livid that Oliver thought Draco needed protecting from Harry of all people, Harry shoved him again even harder, forcing the TA back a couple of steps. "Stop talking to him!" Harry'd had enough of this guy, had enough of him coming around and making a bad situation worse, had enough of him period. He was the last straw on a bad day.

"Goddamn it, Harry, let's go!" Draco growled, rolling his eyes and disappearing into the car with a slam of the door.

Finally, Oliver met the raven's eyes. "I don't know what your problem is, but-"

"Stop pretending like you know anything," Harry glared, because this was the same old song and dance. People will believe what they want to believe, and Oliver wanted to believe that Harry was the worst kind of animal. There was no convincing him otherwise, so Harry headed for the car.

"I know where kids like you end up," the TA told him, eyes narrowed in contempt as the raven walked away. "You're not taking him with you."

Harry barked out an incredulous laugh without turning back. "Yeah?" he mocked, jerking the door open and climbing inside. He shrugged, giving Oliver a brazen grin, just daring him to do something. "Try and stop me."

They drove away with Oliver watching the car, Harry watching as Oliver disappeared in the rear-view mirror. Draco was slouched into his seat, not looking at anything, arms crossed over his chest and sulking.

Harry went on autopilot as he drove, his mind going over their run-in with Wood. He was embarrassed at the way he'd handled the situation, at how he'd acted exactly the way Oliver had expected him to. Like an asshole, in other words. But he couldn't stand the way Oliver had looked at Draco as if the blonde was some victim he was intent upon saving. And Harry… Harry was the monster he needed to be saved from.

It wasn't what Oliver had thought, but it wasn't that far from the truth, either. It was true that being around Harry was the easiest way to get hurt. His track record practically spoke for itself. And yes, Draco had no business being friends with him, being anything to him. But Harry really didn't need the reminder, the reminder that no matter what he did, no matter how hard he tried, he would never he good enough. He'd never be enough of anything.

It stayed like this, the atmosphere in the car stagnant and frustrated, for several long, tense moments before Draco got fed up with it and opened his mouth.

"'Try and stop me,'" Draco parroted, his thoughts running along the same vein as Harry's. "Moron."

"What was he talking about?" Harry questioned despite himself. He knew he should just let it go, but that had always been his problem. He didn't let anything go unless it was pried forcefully out of his hands.

"Nothing," Draco sighed, resting his head on the chilly window. "It doesn't matter."

Harry drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "If it doesn't matter then why can't you tell me?"

"Because you'll just freak out about it like you do with everything!" Draco told him, his patience running thin. "God, Harry, this caveman bullshit has seriously got to go. I already told you, okay? I don't want him."

"That doesn't mean he doesn't want you," Harry said, forcing himself to stay cool. "I won't freak out, okay? I just want to know."

"Why?"

"Because you're-!" Harry cut off abruptly, looking mortified at himself and shaking his head. "You know what? Never mind."

But Draco was already smirking, turned around fully in his seat now to face Harry, who was refusing to look at him. "Were you about to say 'mine'?" the blonde inquired, his tone of voice a kind of disbelieving amusement that only intensified as Harry went a little red. Draco laughed in delight. "Oh, my god, you were totally about to say 'mine', weren't you?"

Harry wanted to slam his head into the steering column and die. "That wasn't- No," he denied, defensive and oh-so unconvincing. He groaned at himself. "I don't know."

He could feel Draco watching him, and while he still sort of wanted the ground to come up and swallow him whole, he was glad his self-induced embarrassment had managed to raise the blonde's spirits a little.

"Aw, it's okay," Draco teased, nudging the raven's leg with the toe of his boot. "I could be yours."

"Put your seatbelt on," Harry groused, looking pained.

Draco laughed softly, watching a side of Harry that he hadn't seen in a while, a side that he missed. Always choking up at the mushy love stuff.

"He kissed me," Draco admitted easily with an indifferent shrug, watching for the raven's reaction.

Harry nodded, over and over again, eyes fixed on the road. His fingers drummed on the steering wheel. His jaw clench, unclenched, clenched again. Looked at Draco.

"He kissed you," the raven said, accepting and nonchalant except for how he'd said it through his teeth.

Draco raised an eyebrow. "Would you watch the road?"

Harry looked back at the road. He hardly looked like he was breathing, he was so tense.

Draco sighed and turned forward in his seat. "You're freaking out."

"No, I'm not," the raven muttered.

Draco waited a beat, and then-

"Did you kiss him back?" the raven questioned.

"Christ," Draco laughed.

Harry gave a defensive shrug. "What?"

"You just can't help yourself, can you?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "I was never this pathetic before I met you."

"How do you think I felt when you were chasing after Smith?" Draco retorted, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice even now.

Harry had to force himself to watch the road. He thought about how he felt every time Oliver so much as talked to the blonde, the agony he felt when Remus said they seemed close. He thought about how Zach and Draco always seemed seconds away from ripping each other apart. And then he felt like an asshole.

"I'm sorry," he said, because he was. He really was. If Draco felt even a fraction of what he did, and had to watch silently as Harry went through that stupid, messed-up thing with Zach… Harry didn't want to think of what would've happened if the tables were turned, if it was him having to watch Draco fuck around with some other guy, want some other guy, but something told him bloodshed and jail time would've been involved. "God, Draco. I didn't even- Why the hell don't you hate me?"

"Because I'm too busy doing the exact opposite," Draco told him, completely matter-of-fact. Yesterday's news, like Harry should already know.

And yeah, Draco had used him, Draco had lied to him for months, but Harry had been breaking his heart for just as long. Ever since they met, Harry had always felt like Draco had him wrapped around his finger, like one word from the blonde could make him feel ten feet tall but could cut him to pieces just as easily. Draco had such a huge part of him it was terrifying. He didn't know it worked the other way around.

"I guess we both fucked up," Harry said to himself, pulling to a stop at a red light. And then a cab pulled up in another lane. "Oh, shit."

Draco blinked at him. "What?"

"Get down!" Harry ducked, pulling the blonde down with him.

"Why?" Draco questioned, alarmed. "What's-?"

"Sirius and Remus," Harry told him, peeking up over the dash to watch the cab. "They must not recognize your car."

"Oliver probably called Lupin the minute we left," Draco theorized, and considering what Oliver had probably assumed, he really couldn't blame the guy.

"Which means there's no reason we can't make a pit-stop at the apartment," Harry considered, looking over at Draco for his opinion.

Draco shrugged. "And after that?"

"After that," Harry sighed, sitting upright after the light turned green and the cab drove right passed them. "You take your car back to Hogwarts and tell anyone who asks that you haven't seen me." Harry held up a hand to stall Draco's inevitable objection. "I know you don't want to be there, but I'm not leaving you somewhere by yourself and I'm sure as hell not taking you home while that creepy fuck's still living there."

Draco was looking at him like he'd lost his goddamn mind. "I'm not going back without you."

"We don't have time to be stubborn, Draco," Harry told him. "You said yourself you don't want to do this."

"Well, I'm over it," the blonde replied, and punched Harry in the shoulder when the raven gave him an incredulous look. "No, I know I freaked out a little, but if you were ambushed in a gas station bathroom and nearly strangled to death, then you would've, too."

"All the more reason you should stay out of it."

"He threatened to kill you," Draco told him, and paused just to let that sink in for a moment. "Did I tell you that? He threatened to kill my parents. Harry... I just want this to be over."

And that… Harry couldn't refuse him that. He wanted it to be over, too. That's all he's ever wanted, right from the start, to put all this mess behind him and move on. And he really, really hated to admit it, but it didn't seem so impossible with Draco sitting next to him.

"We don't leave each other's sight," Harry stipulated. "Not for a second. From this moment on, we are attached at the hip, okay?"

Draco smirked, reaching over to lace their fingers together. "So only a little more codependent than usual."

Harry squeezed his hand and didn't bother trying to refute. "It's probably gonna be dangerous," he said, a warning he knew wouldn't be heeded. "And there's a really good chance we'll run into Riddle again."

Draco refused, absolutely refused to let that scare him. "What's the plan? And please tell me it's better than the last one."

"Not really," Harry admitted. "We've got to see Peter."

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Author's Note: Okay, so I thought I knew exactly what this chapter would contain. I had everything planned out. After I started writing it, though, I hated it. It was predictable and exhausting, so I deleted it. And then this happened, unplanned and impulsive, and I kept it. I'll leave it up to you guys whether that was a mistake or not.

Also, I've really got to apologize for taking so damn long to update. I start a new chapter thinking "Oh, this won't take long at all" and then RL happens and I think "It's okay, I hasn't been that long" and then more shit happens and I'm like "Christ on a cracker, where have I been for three months?" So yeah, I am ashamed. Sorry. :(