Title: A Star and a Stray Cat
Summary: Draco wanted what Harry had: family, job, an Animagus form, love; Harry wanted Draco.
Warnings: Adultery, Disturbing Imagery
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based in the world created by J.K. Rowling. They aren't mine and I make no money from them.
Author's notes: Not completely DH epilogue compliant. Written for the 2008 hpinspired Animagus exchange for empress-jae. Please enjoy. Thanks so my betas. : megyal, oootheitooo, KF, and the Inspired mods. a href" upload./wikipedia/commons/6/68/Lynxlynxpoing.jpg"Here is a close picture of what Harry looks like in Animagus form./a
Word count: Approximately 18,000
A rain of spell lights flashed through the street blinding him as he dodged between a parked Mercedes and the alley wall. Bicket had disappeared. It'd been ten minutes since Harry'd released his SOS beacon and still no back-up Aurors had arrived. The dark wizard they were trailing had trapped them like a tiger in the bush and the proverbial ring of flames had choked off the only escape. By the standard Auror labeling system, this particular suspect had been categorized as a 'minor threat' requiring only two Aurors for his apprehension. Now Harry was trapped, partnerless, and certain that he was thoroughly and utterly screwed.
Swift, flitting glances unveiled no people, no targets; he could see neither the origins of the curses nor the other Auror. He had to locate Bicket; he would not desert his partner.
Calling his magic to him, he began the change into a much faster, smaller target. The change warmed him, made him feel alive, but there was always a brief moment where he sank below the surface of his consciousness, losing his surroundings. It was narcotic, almost as good a high as a thoroughly mind-blowing orgasm.
Mere seconds slipped by and he was down on all fours, the world around him exposed in a relief of sights, smells and sounds, the lack of which made him feel blind and stupid as a human. He took a prolonged sniff of the air, inhaling the acrid scents from the car's engine and the spell-fire that had suffused the area only moments before. His hearing honed into the cacophony of life around him, fanning out in a half circle away from the car. Car horns, a cat yowling, a rat skittering through the sewer grate. A groan nearby. Perhaps, he thought, that was Bicket.
Crouched low, he slunk behind the car and darted around the corner tight against the wall, keeping his senses tuned sharp. Finally, he pinpointed the groaning: across the road to the other side of the alley.
Cautious, he waited, watching and listening. All was quiet, still. He didn't see anyone or hear anything alarming. So he took his chance and sprinted across the alley.
Out of nowhere a curse zapped through the air, a jagged bolt of negative energy plunging straight into his torso. It was blinding and it was sharp and a sudden overwhelming sensation of pure existence threatened to burn him alive. He tumbled and flipped and slammed into the brick wall. The last thing he heard was footsteps approaching.
It was a pile of sad lessons that Draco had learned after school. He would not ever please his father. He would not ever become an Auror due to past allegiances branded with cursed ink into his arm. He would never live a life of love, having been forced into a loveless marriage, which he'd eventually escaped, and he would never, ever learn how to become an Animagus.
He'd always wanted to. It seemed he was doomed to be Transfigured into a ferret without ever developing the skill to perform the transmutation himself. He studied with masters, he examined every book he could get his hands on, he watched Animagi change over and over again at the clinic, but he just couldn't perfect the magic.
Draco was doomed to never feel that freedom; was doomed to never have that kind of escape. And as happens with all failures, those who can't do, teach. With all of his expertise acquired on the subject of his failure, he became a foremost expert on Animagi.
That morning he'd helped a twenty-something witch, and right after that a foreign wizard with sizable bulk, each complete their first Animagus transformation and it was with bitter joy that he did so.
"Mr. Malfoy," called his secretary through a little speaker. The sound crackled; Draco'd thought about fixing the charm, but he hadn't had the time. "That emergency Auror case is here to see you."
"Okay," he said, glancing over at the file he hadn't reviewed yet. He was often pulled into the law enforcement's cases as an expert witness or to help solve specialty work. It was the closest to actual Auror work he would ever get. So close to both of his dreams, but so damned far away.
The door opened and in walked Ginny Potter with a moderate-sized cat walking at her feet. Draco looked down at the animal standing in sharp contrast against the black and white mosaic tile. It was the darkest lynx he'd ever seen, the spots on its fur barely distinguishable. The animal's high ears were topped with impossibly long, black tufts and it had markings circling its bright, orange eyes. It was only when Draco's eyes landed on the white flash on its forehead did he truly understood who had just walked into his office.
"Mrs. Potter. How can I help you?" he asked, his tone professional with just a touch of indifference. This cat was Harry Potter, who had everything Draco wanted but didn't have. This was Potter, fucking Potter who'd followed him all sixth year, saved his life in that last. He'd always resented the prat for that. He was Draco's prime adversary and he'd saved his life. He owed Potter and they both knew it.
"Hello, Mr. Malfoy," Weasley… no Potter, said as she pulled a pair of spectacles from off her face and put them away into her purse. She smiled at him and Draco blinked. "I hope you can help us. Harry's been…" she placed her hand on the cat's head and rubbed a bit; the cat closed his eyes halfway, content. "…cursed a little."
"A little?" Draco asked. How could someone be cursed a little?
"Well, the Healers looked him over and said there wasn't any physical damage, however, he can't seem to turn back into his human shape." She scratched around his ears and the lynx purred. Draco had a purring lynx, no wait, a purring Harry Potter in his office. Those bright eyes watched him through a slit gaze. For some reason they made Draco want to step away.
"Please," Draco said, gesturing towards the guest chairs, "sit down and tell me about what happened." Now he wished he'd read through that file Magical Law Enforcement had sent him.
Potter sat, holding her denim purse across her knees, and the other Potter squatted next to the chair and Draco realized he needed to give them some other designation.
"But first, does Mr. Potter have another name he goes by in Animagus form?" Draco asked.
"Yes, he goes by Tufts," she said with a warm smile, petting the long hair on the end of his left ear. The purr grew loud. Draco suppressed the urge to frown at the noise.
She pulled a shrunken file from her purse, wordlessly restored it and placed it on Draco's desk next to another pile of case folders and a cold mug of tea. "This is what the office gave me. Obviously I wasn't there when Harry was attacked and Harry's partner was injured and didn't see what happened. All that is known is that they were chasing down a dark wizard who they encountered in an alley in Soho. They were overwhelmed and Harry'd transformed into Tufts to get to his partner and was hit with a spell." She looked down at Tufts. "And he didn't remember anything after that." Tufts snarled and licked at the air. Those teeth shone white in the office light.
"I see. Well, I can run a full diagnostic on Tufts and from there I can give you a regimen of spells or potions that can help counter the curse."
"Really!" Potterette said—yes, Potterette worked well—she stood, holding out her hand. Draco took it, nonplussed, and she shook with excited vigor. "Thank you so much," she said, relieved.
"I haven't cured him yet," Draco began.
"But you're the best. If you can't do it, well it looks like I'll forever be married to a cat," she said with a laugh. Draco had an overwhelming desire to not let her down. For once he actually felt happy that Potter had found someone like Potterette. He figured that even though he didn't have happiness, someone should. Bitterness had made him soft.
"I'll do my best. Now, if you wouldn't mind waiting in the lobby…" he held his hand out towards the door.
She nodded and then looked back down to her feline husband and winked.
Winked? Draco thought that an odd gesture but then she was leaving, giving him one last hopeful look before the door closed.
Draco looked down at the lynx who still sat on his haunches next to the chair. He was casually licking his foot.
"Well, Tufts, let's get started." Tufts flicked an ear.
Countless spells later and Draco was admittedly flummoxed. After spending hours studying it, he'd only discovered that the spell was designed to solely be broken by the caster. It was smart, it learned and adapted to all of Draco's assaults on it, thus denying him the opportunity to break it down to its basic layout. This would not be a quick fix.
Tufts was lying down, his head resting on his crossed front feet, watching Draco as he poured over his notes.
"No, not the Bumbleton Method, I tried that. And it wasn't…" Draco mumbled over his work, he found it helped new ideas to evolve if he could hear a theory. Something with trying to one-up himself.
"Okay, so Bumbleton's theory says that if you can pull away one thread of a spell, the rest will collapse. I can't separate, let alone capture any of the singular data, and I can't face it as a complex unit, so that means I should try to provide a new vessel for the spell to jump to…"
A knock on his office door interrupted him from his train of thought. He quickly scratched out a few notes so he wouldn't forget this new theory and opened the door.
"Hello, Mr. Malfoy," Potterette said with a smile. "I'm sorry, but I've got to go pick up Lily from Molly's." She looked down at Tufts and back up at Draco, a conciliatory grin on her face. "Can you keep him for the rest of the day?"
Tufts lifted his head off his huge paws and looked up at her. He tilted his head to one side, looking more like a dog than a cat. "Is that okay, Harry?" she asked him with a dimpled grin and he yawned. Draco noticed his short tail twitch as well. Apparently that was a good sign, because she looked over at Draco again.
"Would that be possible?" she asked.
"Certainly. We will be done today at five o'clock. You can…"
"Oh, I have a meeting until seven." She gave him one of those 'I'm sorry, but I really want my way' grins and his shoulders sagged. Then something bumped his leg and he looked down at the lynx, leaning against Draco as he looked up at his wife.
"Yes, that is fine." He felt like telling her she was going to be charged for his extra time, but since the Ministry was paying for it, he doubted it would sound like anything but petulance. At least he'd already cancelled his other appointments.
"Thank you so much, Mr. Malfoy." She held out her hand to be shaken again.
"Mrs. Potter," he said in good-bye as he shook with her and she laughed.
"Oh, please. Call me Ginny."
He nodded mutely and she turned and left, casting one more mischievous glance over her shoulder at her husband. Surely, there was something here he was missing, and he hated being the one left out.
"Well, Tufts. Do you need a kitty box or are you toilet trained?" he asked with a smirk. Tufts snarled silently at him and gave his paw two licks.
Draco looked at him curiously. This case could take some time and Draco didn't relish deciphering paw lickings and tail twitchings to figure out just what Potter had to say. Hmming to himself, he walked over to his wall of books, most written by experts over the centuries, and most containing nothing but crap. He kept them, though. Something about having everything.
Facing the wall of knowledge, he lifted his wand and performed a few swift slashes before himself. "Books containing spells on communication between a human wizard and another wizard in Animagus form." Three books came floating off the shelves towards him.
"Porte's Clasique Magicka," Draco read. "That's a load of drivel." He tossed it over his shoulder and it landed on the floor with a disgruntled ruffle of its pages. "Murch and Burges… Hmm, this might have something." He set to flipping through the pages, scanning each spell for something that might directly or indirectly be applied to Animagi communication. "Let's see. This might work."
After rolling his sleeves up, Draco leaned over his desk to scribble a note about the spell's design, right next to an annual Healer's appointment and a phone number to a Chinese restaurant, in the margin of his desk calendar. The calendar's maple trees swayed in a gentle breeze as Draco wrote.
"Yes, this will work… All I do is change out this part with something to tie in either mental or verbal…" He lost himself in the challenge.
Finally, when he finished and he had no margin left, he stood and looked over at Tufts and the cat quickly looked away.
"Potter! Were you staring at my arse?" Draco chided in indignation. Tufts continued to look pointedly away, ignoring Draco's accusation. "Cats," Draco scoffed then lifted his wand.
The cat flicked an ear.
"Okay." With a stiff loop, Draco performed the wand movement and incanted the chant to connect the two of them through what Draco hoped would be easy communication. It was all rather vague how it might work, though. Then he pointed his wand directly at Potter and a jet of yellow light zapped him, causing the cat to leap up and fluff out in alarm, hissing and glaring at Draco. Draco put his wand to his own throat, then temple and the spell flashed in completion.
"Oh, that didn't hurt. You were always a pansy, Potter."
Draco blinked. Sharp words, somewhat jumbled and not entirely coherent, were popping into his mind and then quickly popped away. He had to be quick to catch the wily things before he missed them entirely. He would need a little practice.
"So, Tufts. How are you feeling?" he probed as he sat back against the edge of his desk, crossing his arms over his chest.
Bad. Bad Draco.
"What?" What was Potter on about now?
Then an image of Draco's forearm flashed across his mind and Draco noticed Tufts glaring at his faded Dark Mark. He'd long ago stopped letting the brand bother him, but still he rarely showed it in public. Obviously, he hadn't considered Potter in the shape of Tufts public enough and had let his guard down.
"Does this bother you?" he asked, rubbing his hand twice over the tattoo.
Tufts growled, then began pacing.
Evil, bad man took familylivesfriendshopes. Impressions and imagery fluttered through Draco's mind and emotions pressed against his chest cavity, causing goose bumps to erupt across his skin and the tiny fair hairs over his body to rise. The experience, powerful and surreal, left Draco with an overwhelming feeling of contrition.
"Yes, Voldemort was an evil, bad man. But you killed him. He's gone. He has no more power, no hold on anyone. And thank you for that, by the way. I never did that; thank you." He watched as Tufts paced back and forth along the length of his office, tail flicking to and fro.
"Would you like me to cover it up? It no longer bothers me, it's the past. However, if it's causing you distress, I shall cover it."
Tufts stopped his stalking right before Draco and lowered himself to his haunches. With his sharp eyes he looked up at the man and flicked an ear. Their eyes met and Draco felt inclined to look away, the predatory gaze almost too much. But he held the gaze and then the cat half-closed his eyes and looked at the remains of the Mark. For a long time he just sat there staring at it. Draco's skin tingled.
No… 'ts okay.
"Good, it's a bit too warm in here, if you ask me. So, now onto more important questions. How do deal with your needs, such as toilet facilities, food and water, rest. You need to relay to me what you need."
Tuna. Draco felt his mouth water. Bugger, Tufts not only relayed emotions and thoughts, but also bodily reactions. He frowned at Potter.
"I'm not going shopping. We can get dinner after I ask some questions." Though it was already rather late and the clock read half past five. However, since Mrs. Potter was not coming by until seven, they had time.
"Can you tell me about the incident in which you were cursed?" Draco pushed himself off from the edge of his desk and went to his water cooler to fill a plastic cup with water. As an afterthought, he filled another cup and placed it on the floor. Tufts padded over and began lapping out of the small cup, almost tipping it over and submerging his nose into the cramped container instead.
"Might have to get you a bowl," Draco said with a warm smile. Something about Potter as a cat made him less intimidating, less of some unattainable level to live up to and be compared with. Tufts pulled his muzzle out of the cup—it tilted dangerously to the side—and licked at his lips, eyes trained on Draco.
Hmmm. Some emotion came across with the odd sound, but Draco couldn't quite define it, all he knew is that it was heady, and he frowned down at Tufts.
"What are you on about?" Draco asked. Tufts looked away and another emotion seeped through Draco's senses… admonishment, shyness, embarrassment. Draco narrowed his eyes, pondering Tufts.
Cursed. The word brought with it a flash of Tufts racing across the street and being stuck by such shocking sensation, that Draco dropped to his knees, overwhelmed and unprepared by the impression. His world turned arse over kettle as Tufts tumbled across the street and then blackness snuck in like insidious fog, removing sight and sound and consciousness.
The last thing Harry saw through Tufts eyes was the face of one wizard, wand in hand, looking down at Harry with a most wicked grin.
Gasping for breath, Draco snapped out of the memory that Tufts had sent him, clutching the edge of his desk with his left hand. He'd noticed papers and quills littering the floor and he wondered when he'd knocked them off.
Tufts was by his side, pressing his forehead to Draco's temple.
Okay? Purrs emanated from the cat's chest. Draco, studying animals and Animagi for years, knew that cats not only purred when happy, but also when frightened or unsure. He rubbed at the cat's neck and then pulled his hand away.
"Yeah, you just set me for a loop there, Potter. A little warning next time, if you wouldn't mind." He got to his feet to toss himself into his chair with a heavy sigh. "What happened after?"
The cat did a kind of shrug, a ripple of his fur. Friends saved. Woke with huntingpack.
"Do you know who that was who cursed you or what the curse might have been?"
Schooner? Draco recognized the name, but it'd been so long since he'd had anything to do with the Dark side of wizarding society, that those memories were locked away in a rusty box, moldering away. He had, however, kept accurate and secluded files he could review if it seemed like it would be needed in curing Potter.
And why would Draco do that? Why would he go digging in his deeply buried past, long forgotten, for Potter of all people?
He looked down at the cat who looked back at him, half-lidded eyes feigning disinterest.
Potter was the perfect fucking cat.
Well, there was nothing else he could do. Much to his annoyance, he couldn't break this curse; the individual who'd cast it needed to remove it. They'd have to find Schooner.
By the time Potterette returned, half past seven, Draco's nose was buried into another book and Tufts was sitting quietly at his feet.
"Hello Mr. Malfoy," she said as she entered his office. Tufts lifted his head but remained where he'd tucked in for the past hour. When a little girl with red pig-tails followed her in, Tufts was to his feet and by her side as fast as a cheetah. The emotional spike of joy and love seeped over to Draco.
"Daddy!" the girl said, gripping Tufts ears and burying her face in his fur.
"Mrs. Potter…" he began, but she interrupted with, "Ginny, please."
"Ginny," he restarted as he watched Harry and his daughter, "I think I might have a lead, but there isn't much I can do for him, right now."
Her smile melted from her face, leaving worried, sad eyes and a frown of disappointment. "Oh, that's too bad." She looked down at Tufts and Lily playing with each other. "He so loves his children," she said, almost to herself.
"He does appear to be the doting father and husband," Draco commented in his dutiful 'make small talk with the client' fashion.
She laughed, though, and Draco wondered what he'd said that was funny. "Yes, he certainly is," she said, her eyes sparkling with hidden knowledge that annoyed Draco. Here they were a happy couple and she seemed amused by what he'd said. At least they were still together; he and his wife had parted ways two years ago.
"Daddy, when are you coming home?" Lily asked, kissing his fuzzy ears.
"Oh, honey. Daddy is coming home tonight." Potterette reached out and smoothed her daughter's hair.
"As a kitty?" she asked, her voice high and sweet.
Watching the tableau, Draco felt stupidly guilty at not having cured the man. "When will Daddy be Daddy again?" she asked. Tufts licked her and she giggled.
"Soon, honey. Mr. Malfoy here is going to cure him soon. I bet even before your brothers get home from Uncle Charlie's," she said, not even looking up at Draco. But the little girl did and she smiled at him, bright and happy like his own Scorpius had when he was that young and full of a delight only the innocent could truly manifest.
"Thank you Mr. Malfoy, sir," she said, shockingly polite for someone so young and so… common.
"I will do my best," he said to Lily.
"Well, Mr. Malfoy. When should I bring Tufts back?" Potterette asked.
"I'll call you; I have to do some research first."
They shook hands and Tufts butted Draco's leg with his head and proceeded to rub along it with his entire body. He would have to launder everything with all of the cat hair floating about.
"He likes you!" Lily said, excited, reminding Draco of his own dear son at that age, and Potterette shushed her and smiled an apology.
"He's never been in Animagus form this long," she explained and Draco nodded. He understood. When wizards or witches were in the form of their animal shape for too long, their minds and actions began to show more and more of the animal's natural tendencies.
Lily gripped her father around his neck, murmuring into his scruff, "You like him, don't you," and Draco received a definite feeling of approval from Tufts.
"Well dear, let's go," her mother said urgently and rushed them out of Draco's office. "Talk to you soon, Mr. Malfoy," she said over her shoulder, child in one arm, cat by her side.
"Yes, we'll be in touch."
He couldn't help but watch as they walked down the corridor, the lynx repeatedly glancing over his shoulder at him. He couldn't help but remember that sharp flush of warm emotion from Tufts.
With shoulders hunched, he stepped from his Floo, dropped folders and piles of paper on his end table and quickly headed for his scotch. He toed off his shoes and left them jumbled under the small table and tossed his cloak over his overstuffed recliner. It'd been a long day and he had much to think about.
With drink in hand, ice rattling about like bone dice, he grabbed his paperwork on Potter and sat in his most comfy chair. Soon he was lost in the details until a surly voice broke his concentration.
"What's gotten you all pensive today, Draco?"
His silver eyes glanced up and he looked into the dark, flat ones of the portrait. Severus looked down from where he hung above the mantelpiece. A lit candle sconce framed each side of the portrait, casting the already dark painting into even more shadows. Severus liked it that way.
"Newest case. You couldn't even imagine," Draco sighed.
The painted man tilted his head, his faint expression suggesting Severus Snape could very well imagine many things and that Draco should just speak.
"Potter. Harry Potter. He's my newest client. Lynx Animagus." Draco sighed again.
"Hmm, I see," Severus said, watching Draco closely.
The ice tinkled in the glass as Draco swirled it, his gaze lost in the dancing liquid. Severus cleared his throat.
"Yes?" Draco asked, slightly annoyed. Usually he valued having Severus' portrait in residence at his home, but sometimes, when the man silently waited for Draco to divulge his insecurities and worries, he was nothing but a nuisance.
"Oh do grow up, Draco. Either tell me what is bothering you or quit with the ice clattering. It only makes me more aware that I've nothing to drink in this damned painting. I've read all of the books… I could have at least been given a potions laboratory in the background to work with." He stopped speaking, it was a familiar complaint, and stared sharply at Draco down his overly large nose. The artist didn't skimp on paint when he'd tackled the nose.
Draco chuckled. Who was the one who needed to grow up?
"Potter. Animagus. Auror. Happily married. I just…" Draco stopped and shrugged. He just what? He just wished he'd had everything he dreamed of? He just wished he had what the Chosen One had? He snorted and drank down the last of his drink, rattling the ice even more. The liquid burned life into him. "I just resent—at times—the state of my own affairs." He slouched low in his chair, hiding from this admission.
Severus studied him like a bubbling brew, eyebrows knit together in contemplation. "Excellent career," Severus began, "expert in your field, beloved father, name cleared of past mistakes…" He sneered when Draco didn't say anything. "So, you wish you were Potter?" he said in a scathing tone.
"No!" Draco sat up straight. "Of course not."
"What has the boy gotten himself into this time?" Severus cut him off before he could babble some empty explanation.
"Oh, well he got cursed and can't change back. And his wife, Ginny Weasley—Potterette, I call her—she doesn't seem too worried. Sure, she's worried that he's cursed, but she leaves him in my office to go gallivanting about to a weekday rotary meeting or to get her nails done. I've no idea. Shouldn't a proper wife wait, worrying by his side?" He hadn't really registered this until just now.
"Trouble in paradise? Perhaps you have less to be jealous about than you thought."
Draco rolled his eyes as he shook his head. "I'm not jealous of the man. Come on, he's cursed and stuck as an animal."
"Ah, but he can transform where you cannot."
"Yes, thank you for that astute observation, Professor." With a glower he squinted at the snide man. Severus sat there, unmoving. What did it say about his social life that his closest friend was a man in a portrait, long dead and moved on when he, himself, could not? "I'm not jealous of Potter."
He stood and filled his glass again, then lifted it to Severus and downed it in one gulp.
"Brat," Severus said, and then stood to leave.
"Wait!" Draco called out. "I've a question for you."
"And you feel that taunting me with things I shall never partake in again, things I can only remember in a half hazy glean, will garner my cooperation?" He was irritated, and Draco knew he shouldn't have teased the man, but he remained, nonetheless. Perhaps they were both lonely.
"Potter was cursed by an ex-Death Eater, a spell that has trapped him in Animagus form that can only be deconstructed by the caster. He was tracking a man called Schooner. Ring any bells?"
"Schooner? Adrian Schooner?" Those flat eyes stared at Draco and he wished the artist had given them more dimension, more life.
"I don't know."
"I believe he has some properties over Europe. A farm in Scotland, a cottage in Germany, near the Mosel. Possibly Bulgaria, too. I don't quite remember." Severus scowled and Draco's throat constricted, like he wanted to console the man… the painting, for his spongy brain of pigment and solvent. They'd been through this before; consolation would only harbor a grudge.
"I think," Severus continued, examining the empty space above him, "that you might find something about him in my notes."
Draco nodded. "I'll look into them. Thank you, Severus."
Severus nodded, though he didn't meet Draco's eyes. "I shall leave you to your research then." The man slipped beyond the edge of the painting. Draco swore he would hire the best portrait maker for his own painting, perhaps someone who knew him, liked him, unlike the artist commissioned for Severus' own.
"That's him!" Draco whooped to the empty study. A candle flame flickered in a draft from the Floo. He'd gathered his notes as well as Severus', both locked tightly away, hidden behind spells of obfuscation, and between the two sets he discovered probable locations where Schooner could have run to.
Merlin, this could take him all over Europe. Luckily the Ministry was paying and they had deep pockets. Deeper than his own, certainly.
Amble, Scotland. Cochem, Germany. Samokov, Bulgaria. Lisbon, Portugal.
Draco hadn't done much traveling and certainly had no experience tracking people down, and perhaps this wasn't even part of his duty to cure Potter, but the tiny thrill that blossomed in his chest couldn't, wouldn't, be smothered.
Morning dawned through his office window where he'd already burned a few hours writing a report on what he'd discovered about the curse and the potential locations of the caster. He expressly urged that the caster had to be found to remove the curse and then submitted his report to the head of the Auror Division.
He suggested, if obliquely, that his presence would be necessary to facilitate the removal of the curse.
The response was immediate. A large tawny owl fluttered to his window and held out its leg, eagerly looking about for a treat. Draco placed two large owl biscuits in the tray and the owl hooted in delight.
He unrolled the parchment and read.
Mr. Draco Malfoy,
Thank you for agreeing to work on the case of Mr. Harry Potter.
Curse breakers in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement agree with your assessment of the curse and believe that it is unbreakable by conventional means.
I will not inquire as to your knowledge of the whereabouts of Mr. Adrian Schooner, however I thank you for the information.
We would like to discuss with you the next step in addressing Mr. Potter's curse. Could you attend the office of the Auror Division at one o'clock this afternoon? Please send reply.
Auror Ron Weasley
With a deep breath, Draco pulled out his own parchment and thought about what he wanted to say. Yes, of course he would meet. Should he keep it that simple? What if Weasley's promise to not press about his information was false? They couldn't charge him for past crimes, however he didn't wish to press it. He'd worked with the Aurors for so long he hadn't considered them a threat until now. He'd opened his vaults, withdrew secret information purposefully forgotten and covered in dust, for Potter.
Finally, he wrote a simple response agreeing to the meeting and spent the rest of the morning pacing, working scenarios over in play-by-play until he had to meet with Weasley.
When Draco entered the office, he was met by Ron Weasley, Ginny Potter, Seamus Finnigan and Tufts. It was a Gryffindor reunion and Draco felt appalled by the hopeful looks. Granted, none of them looked at him with awe or respect, not even a little disdain. They looked at him like he held the answers. Like he was a friend.
How the mighty have fallen.
"Mr. Malfoy, thank you for coming," Potterette said. Tufts blinked at him but he felt distinct warmth coming from the cat.
Weasley stood and shook Draco's hand, then it was Finnigan's turn. It was chummy.
Weasley sat, then Finnigan, but Draco stood tall, refusing to join in the camaraderie. Weasley's mouth twisted a little in disappointment. Ah, poor little redheaded do-gooder.
"What is it you wished to speak to me about?" Draco asked. His voice held no derision, no condemnation, just pure professional interest.
"I'll be frank," Weasley said. He leaned forward, his elbows perched on his desk. His fingers were steepled before his face, a sort of mastermind look that Draco had to bite his lip to keep from chuckling over. "We don't have a lot of manpower to send Aurors running around Europe looking for the ex-Death Eater," he said the word with such contempt that Draco's hackles rose in defense, "who cursed Harry. Seamus has agreed to do what he can, but I'm hoping you will help, too." He glanced over at Potterette and then down at Potter. Both were watching Weasley with interest.
"Here is my offer. The Ministry will continue to pay consulting fees, but on top of that, if you assist Harry in hunting down Schooner, we will offer a hazard pay stipend and cover all travel expenses. In return, we would like it if you would work with Seamus and Har—Tufts, in tracking down the man."
"I've given you what information I have, Weasley," Draco explained though his heart beat hard and fast in his chest at the possibility, the hint of what Weasley might be suggesting.
"Yes, and thank you." Weasley dipped his head at Draco. "However… I, we, were hoping you could accompany Harry, as Tufts—you are the Animagus expert here—to visit some of the locations you've pinpointed in a reconnaissance mission. I know Harry is still Harry in there, if a bit more catty," Tufts hissed at Weasley, but Draco could tell it was a playful act, "and he can communicate to an extent. If you find something, contact me or Seamus immediately and we will follow through."
"We can communicate," Draco said, his voice blasé. Were they letting him go on an Auror mission? Were they letting him be in the field, tracking down the bad guy? With his past? His lack of training?
"What?" Weasley asked, confused.
"A charm. We can communicate." He looked over at the cat, whose orange eyes were staring right at him, digging their gaze into his heart, his soul.
You want this. It wasn't a question. Tufts knew. Tufts could feel him as much as he could feel Tufts.
"Yes," he said to the cat.
"What? What did he say?" Finnigan asked, his gaze zipping from Potter to Draco and back again. Tufts sneezed and Draco could feel his amusement.
"Oh, the furball just asked if someone would get him a cat toy, mouse shaped preferably, with Super Nip. Must be Super Nip, he says." Tufts hissed and went to hide behind Potterette, who was chuckling into the back of her hand.
"Well, apparently you two get along," Weasley said with a smirk. Draco was shocked; he didn't think Ginger had it in him. "Okay, so if you're up for it, Malfoy, I would like to send you and Harry to Bulgaria and Seamus will go to Scotland first. Check in if you do or do not find anything. I'll give you your next location if you don't find anything, and if you do, then we'll get Seamus over there along with some other Aurors."
Draco gave a sharp nod; he didn't want the man to realize, to understand, just how excited this made him. If Draco was a stronger man he would convince himself it didn't matter, but he'd long ago given up lying to himself. To your own self be true; a maxim he heartedly agreed with.
"Great. Can you be ready by Monday? Will that be enough time to clear your schedule," Weasley asked.
Draco knew he could easily cancel his forthcoming appointments. "I'll see what I can do, Weasley. I have some important clients to meet and I will need to find them an appropriate referral."
Weasley nodded and Tufts sneezed again. Draco glared at the cat. Tufts half closed his eyes and he got the overwhelming feeling of contentment. What was up with Potter? Draco increasingly worried that being in Animagus form for so long was beginning to have an adverse effect on the human within.
"Well, if that is all…" Draco took a step towards the door, needing to escape the Gryffindor pheromones in the air, when Weasley called out to him.
"Remember, Malfoy. Don't do anything heroic. Just reconnaissance. The last thing I need is for a civilian to get injured working in the field for us. Got it?" he said and Draco nodded, turning to leave.
I'm looking forward to this, Draco.
His stalled his flight and glanced over his shoulder to stare at the cat. His hair had fallen into his eyes—though he was so focused he wasn't bothered by the strands blocking his vision. Tufts was licking his foot and a rumbling purr could be heard all the way across the room. With a confused shake to his head, Draco left.
"Daddy! Don't go." The little girl's hands were gripped so tightly, entwined really, with Tufts' fur, that not only a sense of utter dejection, but pain, was coming across their link.
Draco shifted from one foot to the other, wanting to escape, get out of there, get away from this wash of feelings that were not his own and that he couldn't control.
"Don't leave me, Daddy! I'll be a good girl."
Lily, sweet Lily, my cub. Must protect my cub. My sweet Lily.
Over and over Tufts mumbled to himself. Misery. Abject misery.
Potterette was down on one knee next to her husband and her daughter, shushing her, murmuring empty promises and consolations.
"Honey, Daddy has to go and find the bad man who cursed him so he can be your regular daddy again. It's okay. He'll be back before you know it." The ginger haired woman tucked a strand of her daughter's hair, darker than her own but still holding the red stigma of a Weasley, behind her ear.
"I don't want him to go," the little girl wailed, her eyes leaking and nose running.
Scorpius would never have performed such a public display. Perhaps it was a girl thing, he wasn't quite sure, but he was certain a well behaved child like his own would not put on such a performance.
"Come on, honey. Let's let Daddy and Mr. Malfoy go. The sooner they go, the sooner they will return." Potterette looked up at Draco with a mix of sadness and apology. She grabbed her daughter's hands and unwound them from the lynx's fur as Tufts tried to lick the tears from his daughter's face.
My cub, I'm sorry. My cub. I'll miss you.
Finally, pressed by emotions and desperation, by an innate understanding as a father, Draco approached the sad departure and squatted next to the three.
He smiled at Lily. Potterette gasped, but he chose to ignore it. "Hey Lily," he said to the little girl. She grew quiet and looked over at him. "Your daddy is going to miss you so much. He tells me how much he's going to miss you and that he wants to stay. But he also wants to hold you in his arms and he can't do that right now. He can't hold you and heal you and take care of you as Tufts." She sniffed at him. Tufts licked his hand, and then rubbed his entire body along his daughter's hip.
"You're his daughter and he's so proud of you and he wants to be able to protect you. He has to go, so he can come back to you and be with you forever. Okay?" She nodded and rubbed the snot from her nose across her sleeve. Draco cringed, but continued to smile anyway. Even his Scorpius had done that before they'd taught him such things were unsanitary.
"Thank you… Draco," Potterette said and placed her hand lightly on Draco's arm.
He nodded as she scooped up her daughter and with a few sad Bye Daddys they left his office, quietly clicking the door shut.
"How you doing, Tufts?" he asked the cat who exuded anxiety.
Cub… can't guard Lily.
His thoughts weren't totally coherent but he knew that Potter was extremely apprehensive about being away from his family, though he must do it all the time on missions. And weren't his sons off visiting the crazy dragon-loving uncle? Something about being a cat for so long, it was making him territorial and protective.
Tufts padded across the floor, pacing, his ears back.
"Tufts… Potter. Listen to me." The cat glared at him. "Your wife," an odd flash of emotion, "is a competent witch. I saw her fighting in the Battle at Hogwarts. She can protect your daughter and herself. They will be fine. Plus you have that red-headed menace of a best friend and the entire Auror Division, which I am sure will all be watching over your family even if they are up to their noses in cases. Don't worry. We will find Schooner, get you cured, and you can go back to your carefree, perfect life." He didn't know why he was suddenly angry with Potter. Sometimes, in brief glimpses, he would see his life for what it really was and he was shocked to realize he didn't recognize any of it.
His marriage was over and his son was with his ex-wife. And though his job was fulfilling, it was still a reminder of his failings.
"Pull it together. We've got a Portkey ready to trigger."
Tufts growled, actually growled at him, as he checked his pocket for his shrunken luggage and the communication mirror he would use to contact Weasley.
"Yeah, I am. And you're going catty on me--so remember, when I pull your arse out of instinct phases, that while I'm an asshole, I'm also human. Got it?"
The cat blinked and sat down on his haunches. His tail swished in annoyance.
"Good. Come on." Draco held out the half-used roll of Muggle masking tape and Tufts walked over and leaned to touch it with his neck. Seconds passed and as the familiar tug took them away to Bulgaria, Draco realized Tufts hadn't once pined over parting from his wife.
They'd arrived on a low foothill of Rila Mountain miles out of town and had to trek through mixed forest and fields of knee high grasses, and climb over farmers' fences. It wasn't Draco's idea of fun. He got grass seeds in his socks, ripped a hole in his trousers, and twisted an ankle over a rough section of rocky ground. He was in the most foul of moods when they finally arrived at the edge of the city.
"Be a good cat, stick to my heels lest we draw more attention. I should glamour you to look like a house cat. Harmless," he said with a tad too much maliciousness. Tufts didn't look impressed.
"I will be close," Draco automatically corrected; annoyance and frustration pummeled the center of his chest, where he felt those odd, other emotions. They felt alien, something he knew wasn't his, wasn't coming from him, but he recognized most of them and understood Potter better because of them. The man… the cat was worried. He no longer thought in complete sentences after only a few weeks of constant transformation.
"Sorry," Draco mumbled and then after a few cleaning, healing and mending charms, walked into Samokov.
Draco pulled himself to his highest height, nothing to sneeze at he knew, and walked boldly through town with a lynx brushing against his leg. He looked like a nobleman with a pampered pet of days gone by. People walked by, staring and talking amongst themselves in a language he didn't understand.
His wand rested up his sleeve, ready for subtle and not so subtle action.
Tufts was skittish and he slunk low to the ground, avoiding those who drew too close.
"Potter," Draco whispered through clenched teeth, "Relax. I'm here. I'll make sure everything is fine." He tried to sound assuring.
I know, 'aco. Much people. Smelly people.
"Let's get a place to stay, first. Then we can go and check out the address I have."
Tufts slunk from one side of Draco's legs to the other as they walked down the narrow street of the old part of town. The air was full of the scent of fresh bread and the gnarled trees growing in a small park were beginning to sprout new growth. Draco's head was held high and he caught everyone's eye who deigned to stare at him and his 'pet.' So focused with looking forward, he didn't notice the young boy who'd scuttled up behind them to grab at Tufts.
Sharp panic lanced his chest. He whirled around and saw the boy giggle and point.
"Kotka!" the little boy cried in delight. Tufts was couched low, ready to strike.
"No!" Draco cried out and he wasn't sure if it was to Tufts or the boy, but the boy lunged for the lynx, grabbing at ears anyway.
A jolt to his heart made Draco worry about a cardiac arrest. Tufts went limp and fell to the ground.
"Tufts?" Draco called, worried. The little boy looked scared.
Draco knelt next to the cat and ran his fingers over his fur. It was so soft, thick and soft.
"Tufts?" One bright eye struggled open. Draco's held breath gushed out.
"Kotka?" The boy asked and began rattling off a stream of words Draco couldn't separate from the next. Tufts lifted himself up, shook his head and then looked at the boy. The two appraised each other in quiet scrutiny and the boy smiled and reached out.
"You okay with this, Potter?" he mumbled.
Cub. Not mine. 't's okay.
Draco realized Potter loved children, and as the boy reached out and patted him on the nose, Tufts purred.
A woman came around the corner of a bakery and ran up to them, calling out angrily and the little boy looked sharply at his own shoes, avoiding the woman's stern gaze. She babbled to Draco about something, grabbed the boy's hand and tugged him down the street.
"You okay? You faint or something?"
Shut down. No hurt cub.
Draco nodded vaguely in understanding. "You like kids, don't you?"
Tufts purred and licked his paw. Yes. Mine best.
Draco laughed. "Of course, Tufts. Each father thinks that. You miss your boys? Have they been gone long?"
Confusion nagged Draco. Miss boys. Gone long?
"No, Tufts. They haven't been gone long." Tufts' quickly dissipating brain function triggered Draco's compassion. He shivered and pulled his coat closer.
Then Tufts looked up at Draco and tilted his head to one side. 'orpius?
"He's with his mother. I see him often, but he lives with his mother," he said quietly
Sadness and longing and understanding. Though, how Potter could understand, he wasn't quite sure. But something else… something that eased all of the other tight emotions that were constricting his heart. Damn if he couldn't name it.
Three hours of beating the cobbles and asking questions with broad gestures and a few words he'd picked up, Draco found a room that would accept Tufts. He paid with money he'd brought, already converted at Gringotts, and kept the receipt to deliver to Weasley's ready hand.
It only had one bed, but that hadn't bothered Draco, figuring Tufts would nap on the carpet, thick if a bit worn. There was a wash basin, a cracked, hazy mirror and a bathroom down the hall. A huge painting of a ski slope hung on one wall and the window looked out over a back alley where the garbage was collected.
Tufts stuck his head out of the window and sniffed into the frigid wind.
"Like that, do you?" Draco asked with disgust.
He left Tufts to smell the 'bright' smells and sat on the bed, bouncing a little, and listened to the 'squeak squeak squeak' of the movement. He took in a deep breath and let it slowly out through his nose. Well, he was undercover; it wouldn't do to stay at the fanciest hotel. He was sure properly greased palms would allow even Tufts in, but he was on a job, he couldn't flounce around like he normally would have.
He stood and quickly began casting disinfectant and pest removal charms, household spells he'd learned at Hogwarts that he'd never let his mother know he knew.
Returning to the bed, he laid back and flopped his arms out to his sides; both hands dangled over the edges of the bed. His stomach grumbled and he wondered if he could get Chinese take-away here. Maybe pizza.
The bed dipped and a heavy weight landed on his chest.
"You're heavy," he groaned, but didn't move to push Tufts off. It was odd how here he was, in a foreign country, in a shabby hotel room with Potter lying on top of him. Just that thought, Potter lying on top of him, did something to the structure of his world.
Tufts crawled up Draco's side until his face was level with Draco's, licked his rough tongue along his cheek, and settled his chin on Draco's shoulder, cozy as could be, and began purring.
Comfy. Happy. GoodDraco.
Then they slipped into a nap.
That afternoon Draco crawled out from under the cat, whose black-tipped tail flicked at the disturbance, and retired to the shower down the hall.
When he returned, wrapped up in a single, thin towel—they didn't even have robes for the guests!—Tufts sat up and looked at him.
Draco stalled his movements, something about that look… And then seeping through their connection, entirely inappropriate feelings. Tufts crouched low on the bed and took a precise step closer.
"Tufts… Potter! What the hell?" he asked, but the lynx dropped down to the floor and continued to prowl towards him. "Potter, if I didn't know better, I'd get the feeling you fancied me." He would try for a joke, snap the man out of this folly. Perhaps he'd been having a dream about his wife and was confused by his unfamiliar surroundings.
Hmm, Draco. Mine.
"What! I'm not yours. You already have someone. What about your wife?! Ginny?" Reason did not stop Tufts; he had Draco backed up against the door, the cold wood chilling his shoulder blades even as the smoldering feelings heated his core.
Ginny, my mate. Mother of cubs. Tufts stopped and sat down, a look of contemplation on his feline face. Family. Not… His ears went back and he growled.
"Potter…" Draco tried to inch his way along the wall away from Potter, but the cat lunged forward, pressing his face to Draco's crotch and inhaled. Draco squeaked like a virgin maiden, though his body reacted in ways his brain most assuredly hadn't told it to.
Regaining some sense, Draco pushed the cat's head away and ran to the open area of the small room. His eyes darted from one corner of the room to the next. Where had he put his wand? Then he saw it, over by his un-shrunk luggage. On the other side of Potter.
"You can't want me, you're married. Happily, I might add. You're a cat Potter! Stop giving in to instinct."
Always wanted you. Ask Ginny. Tufts remained sitting, watching Draco, eyes thin slits of intensity. Draco couldn't help but notice that Tufts' penis had extended, pink and glistening.
"Merlin, Potter. Control yourself. You. Are. A. Cat. Doesn't do much for me." And it was true, though he certainly had harbored his own fantasies of Potter, flashes from his dissident brain after school and even in the early years of his marriage. One of those many 'irreconcilable' differences.
Ginny knows. Ginny other. You. Want you. And then an overwhelming surge of sorrow and loss and unfulfilled desire practically knocked Draco to the floor.
"I see, Potter. But forget it. You're married. And a cat." Tufts huffed, but seemed to pull himself together as he sank to the floor, resigned and sad. "Maybe," Draco started, watching the cat keenly, "we can talk about this after… after you are human again." But did he want to? And why bother reassuring the man? To avoid a funk? And did he really want to entertain the idea of something with Potter? Harry? The man who had everything?
But obviously, he didn't have everything.
Draco turned away and shyly got dressed, sure he could feel Potter's beady cat eyes on his backside the entire time. But when he turned around, fully clothed, Tufts was turned away, lying down facing the far corner.
"Ready?" he asked quietly. Tufts lifted his head and looked over at Draco.
Sorry. Making bad ease.
"Don't worry about it. Let's go."
The two left the rundown hotel and began walking the streets, trying to decipher the map they had that was written with the Cyrillic alphabet, Draco constantly checking on Potter, wondering about him as they lost themselves in the town. By sundown they finally found the two story brick building. It was in a modest neighborhood along a busy street lined with elm trees. Cars whizzed past them as they stood on one corner and watched the front entrance.
"So, what do we do now, Auror extraordinaire?"
Wait. Watch. Me behind.
"Wait? What do you mean? We aren't splitting up are we?"
Tufts looked up at him and flicked an ear. People stared at them as they passed, giving them a wide berth. Draco realized they probably thought him a bit mad, talking to a wild animal on a public street.
More eyes better.
"Well, yes, I can see that. But how can we communicate if either one of us needs the other? What if we get separated, you get kidnapped and can't call out to me?"
Tufts snarled, showing the full length of one fang, but the emotion was completely cocky.
"Stop smirking, Tufts. It doesn't become you."
"Of course not, it just doesn't appeal to me to make stupid mistakes."
Too open. Bad hunting. Tufts looked around them at the people, at the buildings surrounding the street.
"Rooftop?" Draco suggested and Tufts nodded once and got to his feet, padding down the street. Draco followed after.
After casing out building after building, they finally found one with access to the roof and with Disillusionment spells in place they watched and waited, letting the night cover them in darkness. Draco had long ago gotten so bored that his mind went to working out problems in his head. Problems about his cases, problems about Potter's case, problems with Potter's randy display. He tried to be attentive, but this watching and waiting held little interest. How did Potter do it?
As his attention moved from internal processing to those external, he saw that Tufts still sat in his same position, watching the front of the building. He'd twitch an ear or flick his tail every so often, but mostly he remained stoic, unmoving.
Draco stared up at the stars, watching them twinkle. Like dreams, they were all out of reach, beyond anyone's grasp. He'd had his dreams, but circumstances forced him to move beyond mere hopes and think about reality. He wasn't where he was because of random actions; he worked for everything he had. And if it wasn't perfect… well… At least his life was his own. But maybe… He looked over at Tufts, avidly spying on the building.
A derisive noise escaped his down-turned lips. Who was he fooling? If wishes grew on trees he'd have a bushel and none of them would ever come true. If they did he wouldn't be sitting here now, dreaming of a life beyond reach, participating in a mockery of his unrealized vision.
Tufts glanced over at his noise, tilting his head in his curious 'What?' expression.
"Nothing… Just thinking. Look at all those stars," he said wistfully.
"Wishes don't come true," Draco mocked.
And magic fake.
Draco laughed and then, after some consideration, reached out to slowly touch Tufts, run his hand from the crown of his head, along his back to the end of his tail. Tufts' skin twitched under his touch, alive, every inch of him alive.
Tufts turned back to watch the building and purred.
It was the third day of their surveillance and Draco groaned at the idea of sitting on the roof again, doing nothing.
Wasn't the Auror life full of action? Where was all the action?
He lay in bed, starting at the wooden beams crossing the ceiling. It was cold and he'd shivered through the night. "Potter, I think we need a new strategy," he said to the room. A head popped up from the floor and looked at him.
"Nrow," Tufts said and Draco faced him. Tufts rarely made any noises.
"What, need out?"
The cat jumped onto the bed and lay across Draco's stomach, his ears half back, a sign he was unsure.
Draco reached up and scratched him, growing amused as the ears perked up.
"Bed hog," he said, but he didn't complain. The cat was warm. After their initial peculiar conversation and Potter's admission of desire, Potter had been on his best behavior. But while he was behaving, he still craved touch, attention, and Draco gave it to him, feeling less worried about the appropriateness of it all since Potter was a cat.
"How you doing, by the way? You miss Lily? Ginny?" He didn't look at Potter when he asked. He knew he always missed Scorpius.
Draco pondered that, then said dully, "Yes, family love."
Then he was distracted from his encroaching melancholy by a lick across his neck. It sent goose bumps across his arms, those fangs close to his face.
Today, I go behind. Tufts thought slowly, forcing each word.
Draco huffed in frustration. "Okay. But I'm Disillusioning you."
The two rose, left to eat and find a place for Tufts to do his business, and then went to the home of Schooner once again. Draco cast the spells on them and they parted ways. His gut churned at the idea of Potter off on his own, mostly defenseless in this city, as a cat, no wand, no way to communicate, but he was getting tired of nothing. They had to take chances to get anywhere.
As the day dragged on Draco penned a letter in his head to Ginny Potter, beloved wife and mother.
Mrs. Potter. I have come to the conclusion that your husband…
Mrs. Potter. Ginny Potter. Tufts and I have been talking…
Potterette, so you and your husband are in a marriage of convenience?
Ginny. Your husband wants me. How do you feel about that? I think that I might want him, too.
Merlin, watching was so boring. He spotted a large black bird fly overhead.
But his boredom was derailed as a loud bang rose up from the back of the building and a man sprinted down the street, followed by a racing lynx.
"Shit!" Draco cried, momentarily considering Apparition, but knew the people would hear the crack and possibly see through his Disillusionment. So he leaped to his feet and ran for the stairwell, taking the steps three at a time, his heart racing, pummeling his chest as he slammed into the exit door, pushing it open to the mostly empty street, a few people staring down the road in alarm.
He ran that way, watching as pedestrians pointed or yelled, but soon had fewer and fewer signs to follow.
"Which way did they go?" he yelled at one old man, who looked at him in fright and quickly shuffled away.
Draco ran down one street, then the next, checking alleys, looking around corners, but he saw neither hide nor hair of Tufts.
Not knowing what else to do, he returned to the house, going around the back where Tufts had bolted from and discovered a door standing ajar. Weasley's words were bold in his head. "Don't do anything heroic. Just reconnaissance." Yeah, and what else was he supposed to do? Sit around with his thumb up his arse? He walked in.
The place stank of Dark magic and rotten food. His skin prickled as he passed through the entrance and he recognized alarm spells going off at his intrusion. With quick spellwork he halted the alarms and removed other unsavory curses that he'd almost triggered. Luckily his time with the Dark Lord wasn't all for naught.
Stepping cautiously through the back room, Draco passed through a kitchen to enter a receiving room where stairs led up and another entrance way opened into a parlor. The place was in decay, none of the furniture was in any state of repair, in fact everything look ancient, rotten away like it'd been lost at the bottom of the sea.
He turned towards the stairs and ascended, taking one at a time, his wand gripped in his sweaty palm. The silk wallpaper was peeling and water stains created a mosaic of a map of Europe, or maybe it was the profile of a man with a very large chin.
The third step from the top creaked and Draco stopped, held his breath, and listened. The place was silent. Not even the ticking of a clock or the sound of the street could be heard. It was all so isolated.
He continued his upward trek until he reached the landing and saw a long hallway with four rooms, two on either side. All of the doors were closed, but something about the first one to his left sent shivers down his spine. He didn't want to go there; he didn't want to look.
But he reached his hand out anyway, gripped the knob and with slow terror, he opened the door.
A high pitched whining reached his ears, pulled him from the dark abyss he'd fled to. His brain couldn't quite account for what it'd seen, so Draco'd proceeded to pass out. The whine grew louder as Draco began to come to and an abrasive sensation kept brushing across his cheeks, his lips, his forehead.
Then he remembered what was in the room. He remembered the stench, the greasy feel crawling across his skin. The back of his head hurt where he'd hit it against the wall when he'd backed away, frantic to be anywhere else.
He remembered the sight. The sight of bodies piled high: mutilated, decaying bodies of women.
The whine blended into words, repeated over and over in supplication. In a plea.
"It's…" his throat was dry and he had to swallow and try again. "I'm okay, Harry. I'm okay." He reached up and gripped at the cat's fur and pulled him close, his eyes, now that he had someone there with him, someone to stomach the horror with, roamed over the massacre within the walls.
"Was this Schooner's doing?" he asked.
"Did you get him?"
The cat shook his head roughly, growling low, a promise of destruction.
"Let's get out of here. Contact Weasley. Maybe he bolted to Portugal or Germany. We have to catch this fucker." And not just for Potter anymore.
Their room seemed fresh and airy after that house of death.
Draco grabbed the two way mirror, perched on the edge of the bed, and pushed magic into it to connect with Weasley. Tufts sat on the bed behind him, looking over Draco's shoulder so they could both see the Auror's face when it appeared.
"Malfoy! About bloody time. We were worried! You should have contacted us sooner." Weasley's face was a deeper red than his hair.
"Sorry, there wasn't any need. Now there is."
"What have you got?" He turned from worried and angry to eager.
"Nothing. Well, he was here, but he ran. We couldn't catch him. Though you better contact the local Aurors because his place is full of Dark magic and corpses." Tufts growled over his shoulder.
Now Ron's face paled, his eyes wide. "What do you mean?"
"I mean he has a room full of bodies, Weasley! What else could I mean!?" The pent up anger and fear took hold of him and he almost threw the mirror against the wall. That place was worse, far worse, than the manor under the rule of the Dark Lord. His stomach churned at the memory of that room, of the twisted and tortured bodies piled up like trash.
Draco, his fist white as it clutched the handle of the mirror, looked over at Tufts.
"I'm trying, thank you very much," he said through gritted teeth, though the presence of the lynx over his shoulder eased the grip of panic that had been threatening him.
"Malfoy, I want you to come back. We'll send another Auror to the next site. This is too deep for you."
Draco took a deep breath. Was he ready to give up? He looked back over at Tufts, at Harry Potter, and knew this man would protect him, and he also knew he had to cure him soon.
"We don't have time," Draco said with half weary sigh, half resigned haughtiness. "Potter and I are going to Portugal…"
Guard Scotland. Seamus Germany.
"Potter suggests you put a guard on the Scottish location," he said, keeping eye contact with Tufts to make sure he understood correctly, "and to send Finnigan to Germany." Then he added his own suggestion. "And make sure the Bulgarian Aurors have this place guarded as well." Weasley nodded.
"Weasley," he asked as an after thought. "What happens if Schooner doesn't return to another of his locations? Surely we've shown our hand already."
"One thing we've found these pureblooded Death Eaters value is property and heritage. They almost always go back to some ancestral home… Oh, sorry." Weasley swallowed, and then shrugged. Draco almost laughed.
"No problem. And yes, you're right. Okay, then, we're off. I'll contact you once we find the location." Draco ran his hand through his hair, it felt sweaty and he wanted a shower.
"Please do. Good luck you two." Weasley's face was large in the mirror, his eyes furrowed and lips turned down.
"No need to worry. Potter's got me to watch his back," Draco said with a smirk and switched off the mirror.
"I'm showering and then we shall go," he told Tufts.
'll protect you. Potter stressed 'you' and Draco had to snort.
"We'll protect each other. Right?" He left to shower.
Lisbon was a city mixed with old and new. It was large enough to contain its own wizarding section, but Draco and Tufts had agreed to avoid other wizards. Here, Tufts garnered even more curiosity, though less fear. Everyone assumed he was a trained pet. One woman even yelled at Draco about having his 'dog' off his leash.
Tufts was amused and Draco couldn't help but let the light emotion consume him.
"Good boy," Draco said and patted Tufts on the head. "Sit."
They found a boarding house by the river and it was a much better place than their last accommodations. The bed was larger with less squeak, there was a closet and a toilet, though the shower was still down the hallway. The window opened to the water and a fresh breeze tossed the light curtains about. Plus it was much warmer than Bulgaria.
Being a larger city, it took them an entire day to find the address. Luckily they could mostly decipher the map.
It was a palatial house on a large parcel of property decorated with blooming hedges and expansive trees shading the lawn below in darkness at the late hour. The walls were white washed and the roof tiled in red clay slats. Two large columns stood on either side of the double front doors.
"Wow," Draco muttered. It wasn't as large as the manor, few private homes were anymore. He hadn't known that the Schooners were a prominent enough family to own such luxuries. He guessed he didn't know all of the important families after all.
Draco cocked an eye and wondered how hard Tufts had worked on forming that word.
The two looked at each other and he could see laughter in the eyes of the cat and he wished, oh how he wished, that right now Potter were human and he wasn't married and Draco had the guts to try.
"Well, we know where it is." Draco stifled a yawn. "Let's grab a nap and some nosh before we come back to watch the place."
Tufts butted Draco in the thigh, then turned and walked back the way they'd come.
Three urgent sensations assailed Draco's senses before he even realized he was awake. The first was that he wasn't alone in bed and that his bed partner was not a cat. The second was that he had a rock hard erection. The third consisted of a warm, contented feeling nestled in the place where his heart normally rested.
Then he realized what it was exactly that had woken him. A hand, a foreign hand not his own, was rubbing his arm, slowly, sensually, up and down, dancing across the thin skin of his inner elbow.
His cock thrummed against the constriction of his cotton pants and his eyes snapped open to look at the body next to him.
It was Potter.
An in the flesh, human, Potter.
Potter's eyes opened, slowly at first, but then they bulged in understanding that he was human and promptly his body morphed into that of Tufts. Draco watched as his form shrunk to more than a half his normal size, fur sprouted over his entire body and his features distorted and flexed into those of the lynx.
"What the hell?" Draco squawked.
Not sure. Feel clearer.
"We need to return, this is a new development and I need my books." He jumped from bed, grabbing for his trousers, flinching as his erection refused to be stashed away.
Amusement flittered across the bond.
"What? Merlin damn it!" Draco whirled around, annoyed at the stupid cat. Annoyed that he'd had morning wood with Potter pressed against him and that Potter wasn't available anymore.
You like Hermione. Tufts snorted and Draco noticed, thankfully, that he brought no attention to Draco's current predicament. Finally, he got his pants zipped up, though he knew he wouldn't be walking quite right for some time.
"I like Granger?" he asked, still irritated.
Are like Hermione. Books. Research.
"Oh, please, do shut up. Come on. We'll be back in a few hours if I'm right as to where I need to look."
He charmed a galleon into a Portkey and pressed it to Tufts' fur to let it tug them away.
They almost tumbled in their landing, but Draco was graceful on his feet and collected himself with ease. He raced into his library, startled Severus in his portrait and began rifling through books. Tufts padded softly in behind him.
"Well, well. Potter. And how are you today?" Severus mocked. "Oh, not much to say, I see."
Tufts squatted and stared up at Severus' portrait.
Snape. Tufts thought with awe.
"Yeah, I've got his portrait. Grubby artist, if you ask me," Draco said absentmindedly as he flipped pages. He knew he read something about this, somewhere.
"Why are you talking about me like that, Draco?" Severus asked, sounding almost hurt. The fact that Severus' painting was poorly executed was known between them both, but never discussed.
"Not at you, sir. Potter. I was talking to Potter. Now, both of you, let me be."
When he finally found the passage he'd been looking for, he found the painted man and the cat man contemplating each other. Tufts was sitting before the huge portrait in Draco's living quarters. His head was tilted to one side, as if he was listening for the rustle of some unwitting prey animal; a mouse, or maybe a squirrel. Listening, waiting, and Snape, quiet and dour as ever, looked down his prodigious nose at the lynx sitting there.
The two remained, sizing each other up, the soft ticking of a grandfather clock filling up the empty air.
"Am I interrupting?" Draco sneered.
"Potter says thanks," he said distractedly as he prepared to explain what he'd found.
"For what?" Severus asked. Draco looked down at Tufts.
Saving me. Loving mother.
Though he was confused, he relayed the message anyway. "Saving him and loving mother? Now, shut it you two and listen." He missed Severus' jaw dropping.
"It says prolonged morphing can cause a wizard or witch to lose their mind, become completely animal. However, in some cases where the wizard or witch can't change back, in moments of relaxation they will do it unconsciously. The mind's subconscious way of protecting itself. Too bad it doesn't say anything about forcing this condition… it just says it would happen to people when they were relaxed or felt safe." He flipped a page. "And nothing on forcing a wizard out of the morphed phase if they didn't change back." He snapped the book shut. It wasn't a cure, but it did answer one question… to save Potter's mind, he had to be relaxed.
How the hell could they force a relaxed situation? Wasn't that an oxymoron?
Apparently, though, he was relaxed enough while sleeping with Draco. Draco shivered at the memory, then he noticed Tufts avidly watching him… And so was Severus.
"What?" He glanced down; did he still have an erection?
Tufts walked over to him and rubbed his entire body along Draco's right leg, then turned and rubbed along his left leg, purring.
"Would you stop marking me, Potter!"
"Ah, I see," Severus said.
"Oh, do shut up."
"Potter, as cat, appears to have grown attached to you."
Want Draco, Tufts thought, looking up at Severus.
"I'm not going to tell him that!" Draco said, exasperated. They were all working against him. Even Severus had abandoned him on the battlefront.
"Tell me what?"
"Potter, while we're here, shall I call your wife?" He tried to sound snide, mean even, reminding the man of his responsibilities but then Tufts' ears shot up.
Cubs. Lily. JamesAlLily. See cubs. He ran to the Floo making sharp chirping noises.
Draco sighed. "Alright. I'll Floo Potterette and the mini-Potters and you can all have a lovely afternoon in my home. Shall I make scones?" He threw in the Floo Powder with a roll of his eyes.
It only took a few minutes and Draco found himself knee deep in Potters and other flotsam that drained in from the Potter's house. Both wife and daughter hugged him, loved on him as Dean Thomas stood by and smiled at the reunion. The boys were missing, apparently still flying on dragons.
"Daddy! I've missed you." The little girl nuzzled the lynx's spotted fur.
"Where are your sons?" Draco asked for Potter's sake. Tufts chirped some more as he looked up at Potterette.
"Oh, they're still with Charlie. Probably better this way," she said and Draco agreed; Potter seemed quite content to mall his youngest. Draco glanced up from the two and saw Severus; the painted man hanging on the wall stared at the little girl in disbelief.
"Severus?" Draco asked, moving to stand by him in consolidation to one side of the room.
"She looks just like Lily. My Lily." Draco'd never heard Severus sound so vulnerable, like his soul was laid bare for him to see.
Draco watched as Tufts and Lily romped and as Potterette and Thomas stood next to each other, shoulders touching. If he were Potter, he'd be a bit annoyed at a man, even a friend, seeming so friendly with his wife.
"Harry, how're you doing?" Thomas asked as he crouched to Tufts' level. Tufts butted his head into Thomas' knee, playfully, nothing like the way he butted Draco. Draco frowned. Why the hell was he even comparing?
Tell Dean care for Ginny. Draco was happy Potter was back to more complete sentences.
"Potter says to make sure Ginny is well taken care of," Draco relayed.
Thomas looked curtly up at Draco, then with a shrug, stood and wrapped his arm around Potterette's back. She giggled and laid her head on Thomas' shoulder. "Of course, Harry," he said a little cautiously as he looked from Tufts to Draco. "You know I'd do anything for her."
Draco's eyes bulged and then he tried to cool his features, but realized he'd failed.
"Umm, does he know?" Thomas asked, slowly releasing Potterette and taking a cautious step away.
"Well, I'm sure he's figured something out by now, Dean," Potterette said with a laugh.
Told you. Ginny has another. Married, but not together.
"What the hell, Potter? You never said that!" Draco didn't know exactly how to take this.
"Said what?" Thomas took another step from Potter's wife.
"What is going on?" Draco finally asked—annoyed at guessing and not believing what his brain devised with the facts given.
Potterette took up the mantle of bravery, though he wasn't really shocked at that. "Harry and I are married and have three children. I love him and always will, but we discovered that we don't quite love each other in the right way." Draco stared in awe. Tufts came over to sit by Draco, rubbing his hand with his muzzle. Absentmindedly he began rubbing those tufted ears.
"Harry's biggest imperative after school was to stop the bad guys and have a family. I was more a means to an end." She looked wryly down at Potter, who sneezed. "But that's okay. He admitted after our sex life hit the rocks that he discovered he was attracted to men, always had been, but that he'd been lying to himself for years. I do love him, but…" then she looked over at Thomas and gripped his hand. Thomas looked like he wanted to fade into the carpet, "when Harry realized his true attraction," here she looked pointedly at Draco, "I was free to pursue other avenues as well."
"But… But what about your children?" Draco said, aghast. Lily was distracting herself by pulling books off of Draco's bookshelves. Luckily, only the ones he didn't care for were sorted to the lowest shelves. She seemed oblivious to the conversation, entertained by the grumbling volumes.
"Oh, well the older boys know everything. Lily, she thinks of Dean as a kind of uncle that's around all the time. When she gets older, we'll tell her. Harry and I are just better friends, even if it weren't for the gay thing," she finished with a laugh and tossed her hair over her shoulder in a distracted kind of way. She was watching her daughter, her look full of fierce pride and love.
"Why don't you just divorce?" Draco thought back to his own ruined marriage, the fights, the barristers, the Prophet, Scorpius crying and he could already guess at the answer.
Family. Won't abandon family.
"Why?" Thomas asked. "I'm fine with the arrangement. The Potters are as well. I don't really want kids of my own, and here I sort of have them ready made." He laughed. "And I love Ginny and I wouldn't want to put them through the whole crap surrounding a divorce. God, that's the last thing Harry needs. 'Potter's Failed Marriage.' I can see the headlines now."
"And," Ginny began with a wry smile. "I find it my duty to tell you," she looked sharply down at her husband, who licked at Draco's leg, "that my husband's fancied you since sixth year."
All of the blood drained out of Draco's face. "What are you saying? I have your blessing to steal your husband away from you?"
"Oh, now Draco. Don't think of it as stealing my husband. Think of him more as my best friend, close roommate. And truly, you can't steal him because he is already yours."
Mine. You're mine.
What the hell of a twisted fairyland had he fallen into?
A tearful goodbye, Lily crying as she was pulled into the Floo, left Tufts in a subdued mood as they returned to Portugal. They'd returned to their room, having blown the day in England and Draco knew that Potter was not in the mood for any kind of a stake out.
"You okay?" he asked the cat who was curled on the floor.
"You'll be with her soon."
Tufts lifted his head with effort, then sadly looked over at Draco. His eyes seemed swollen with longing for his daughter. Draco understood.
"Come on," Draco patted the bed next to him and lifted up the covers. Tufts rose to his feet and popped onto the bed, turning in circles and then finally burrowed under the sheets. His short tail switched and slowly, as if asking for permission, he laid his chin on Draco's chest.
"Good night, Potter," Draco said with a ruffle to his furry ears, then dropped his hand to his side and waited for sleep to take him.
It took him forever to finally sleep, and it was severed short by a soft snuffing against his ear and a languid swipe of tongue to his neck.
"Hmmm," said a very human throat. Draco stiffened. Every part of him.
"Potter," he said.
"Shhhh." Potter began suckling along Draco's pulse point. A thrum of dull pleasure seeped into Draco's nerves, slowly like a silent assassin, and soon he was rightly beyond any kind of coherency.
Then Potter hissed, a sibilant mix of hisses and slurs and the silent assassin turned into a raging knight as all of Draco's points of sensation charged alive, alight with fire and demand and urgency to get there, get somewhere, but all he could do was feel.
Harry's hands slid up Draco's shirt, dancing across his rib bones, tickling his left nipple into a firm pebble and then up through his collar to dig fingers into his blond hair. The steady build up burned Draco from within. He'd never felt like this with his wife, he'd never felt alive and wanted and ready to charge into the utter unknown before.
"Merlin, Draco… Sthutha suthmasstha…"
"A cat who hisses," he managed to say through bouts of short-circuited thought-waves.
"I'm not a cat now." Harry pressed his very human erection, hard and more than a little intimidating, against Draco's hip.
"So are you a snake, then?" he muttered, trying to keep his mind from complete breakdown. Then Draco felt Potter grip his cock and squeeze with sure force, not enough to hurt, not even enough to worry him, but just enough to let Draco know that yes, this was Potter, yes, he knew what he was doing and yes, Draco was his.
"You're the snake," Potter said, licking his way from ear, nipping and nibbling and tasting the entire journey to his cheek to finally look down into Draco's face. "Kiss me."
Draco nodded and Potter smirked and finally, he kissed him.
Brief rises of his conscience reminded him of a few important details: Potter was married, Potter had kids who loved him, especially a young daughter who was waiting for her father to kiss her goodnight and read her The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The man had a family, Merlin be damned!
Harry's tongue ran along the bottom of his own, causing it to unfurl, to dance and entwine.
"You're so beautiful. I want you," Harry murmured against his lips, murmured tales of secrets in the night. His eyes were green again, alight with some inner glow that seemed to let slip only a small portion of Potter's living spark through. "Stop thinking so much."
"Someone's got to. Potter, I do have principles." Draco's heart tripped. He didn't want to stop, fucking Merlin he did not want to stop. "You have responsibilities." His voice was breathless.
"Yes, and I won't skimp on them. Ginny is happy. The kids are happy. I want to be happy, too. But I won't… I'm not forcing you into this, Draco. Just remember. Ginny knows. Ginny approves. It's only your own," Harry stopped and gave Draco the scampiest smirk, "principles that are stopping you."
"You want this?" Draco asked as he dropped sensitive fingertips along Harry's clavicle. "Me?" Somehow it all seemed so surreal. Harry, who had the family, the doting wife, the Animagus skills, the amazing job… Harry, who had everything, wanted him.
"God yes, Draco. I've wanted you for so, so long." Emotion hitched at Harry's voice, hurtling into Draco's center, and he drew Harry towards his waiting lips and kissed him, tasting Harry and hopes and dreams, all on the tip of his tongue.
Then with a sharp thrust of his hips, Harry caused Draco to shift to the right, their erections aligned, and then he did just what Harry had suggested, he stopped thinking.
It was only frottage and they even had a layer of cotton separating them, but Draco's blood had never raced like this before. He knew that this was exactly where he should be, exactly who he should be with, as he whispered out Harry's name in release.
After Draco came, Harry rutted more furiously, frantically. Draco murmured in his ear, things like "Yes, Harry," and "Come for me" and when Draco felt the man stiffen in his arms and warm jets hit his T-shirt, he felt overwhelmingly content.
Harry looked up at him, a half-cocked, dopey smile on his face
"'s nice," he said, sounding alarmingly Tufts like.
"Yes, it was," Draco agreed, nuzzling along Harry's neck. He breathed in deep and smelled Harry's sweat and his own saliva mixed with the bitter scent of their semen. Musky undertones that shot right to his center.
Seconds ticked by into moments until time was a concept neither man bothered with.
"Go back to sleep," Draco said and cast a cleaning charm over them before wrapping his arms around Harry's shoulders and pulling him against his chest. "We've got a long day tomorrow."
Harry chuckled and let himself be pulled down.
Time. It was nothing.
When he woke, he was cuddled up with a large ball of fur and the tiny ball of anticipation he'd surfaced with loosened. The cat was watching him, orange eyes half-lidded.
"Guess no morning shag," Draco said in mock woe.
Someday. Soon. Have you. Have Lily, Al, James. Tufts purred.
"Damned demanding beast," Draco scolded as he rose to get ready for the day.
They'd eaten quickly and disguised under veils of magical illusion, they walked through the warm morning to the large manor where they hoped to find Schooner.
Tufts stalked beside him, a ghostly shimmer around him that only Draco could see. When in this mood, wearing the guise of hunter, nothing ever appeared spontaneous in Potter's movements; everything was always so calculated, deliberate. There was no wasted motion in any action he performed. But even as he initiated his actions with such refined elegance, Draco couldn't deny there always appeared to be some inexplicable delight taken in his every movement, like he found joy in the simple act of walking or sitting and like so many of the little quirks he'd recently learned about him, it was entirely endearing.
He shook his head. When had he gotten such romantic notions; it was amusing, to say the least. But it was true, he had gotten attached, against his own better judgement, to a man who was married. To a man who was currently a cat.
Tufts spotted a dog across the street and his short tail bobbed up as he dashed off for the chase. The dog sensing something, turned and ran, harried by Potter's swift pace. Draco chuckled when Tufts finally returned, padding along triumphantly. Yes, he found that endearing as well.
"Stop chasing mongrels, you never know what you might catch."
They crossed onto the property from the shaded street and Draco pulled short as Potter darted in front of his feet, almost tripping him.
"What the hell?" Draco said, annoyed.
"Oh. Yeah." He should have sensed them himself and his annoyance redirected itself at his own blunder. The wards were elaborate and crafty and fortunately Draco had been familiar enough with the Manor's wards that they posed only a limited challenge. When he opened a hole through the magic, the two slipped through onto the manicured grounds.
Topiaries of some rich scented shrubbery guarded the house in shapes of fierce lions and rearing centaurs. Tufts sniffed at a large, boxwood tiger that sniffed back, rustling a rounded ear, but none of the floral guards attacked.
They moved slowly from one shadowy recess in a hedge to around the corner of a roman styled gazebo. There were no other guards, of either human or elf or animal, to stop their progress to the back veranda. A mischievous vine grew unkempt over a lattice to the side and huge yellow flowers covered every inch of the green foliage.
From inside they could hear the hollow tunes of muted music skipping over and over against a crack in the vinyl, a low voice softly urging anyone within earshot to 'deeply sleep' over and over along with the soft patter of drum beats.
"We should contact Weasley," Draco whispered harshly.
Tufts snorted. Finish this.
"Yes, yes, but I'm calling for your friend." Draco grumbled, he didn't really want to be surrounded by Aurors, but he certainly didn't want to get cursed by the likes of Schooner. He pulled out the mirror, enlarged it and pushed his magic through the handle.
"Yes, Malfoy?" Weasley asked with that same eager glint to his eye he had last time.
"We're at Schooner's Lisbon property and we are going in. Not sure if anyone is here yet." Draco gave him the address and directions.
"I'm sending backup," he said.
Draco looked at Tufts, then thought of that room full of the dead. "Sure, but we're going to scout a bit."
"Okay. Be careful. And listen to Potter!"
"Of course," he said and cut the connection.
Draco looked down to meet Tufts' eyes, bright and ready for action. He nodded once and the cat blinked. Draco cast Alohomora on the door.
It opened with a quiet click. The music grew louder through the open door. "Deeply sleep… Deeply sleep…"
They shared one more glance and Tufts sprinted in, with Draco directly in pursuit. Tufts scurried under a grand piano, ivory keys reflecting soft candlelight from a silver candelabra resting on the top. The candles were all black, barely melted into their rounded tips, but then Draco thought they could very well be everlasting candles.
Still, he was on guard. Someone was very well here, in the house, perhaps watching them as they skulked about searching for its inhabitants.
"Where?" he whispered sharply.
"You got it," Draco said, tight on Tufts' heels as he sprinted from the conservatory to a hallway leading into the mansion. The place was bright with whitewashed walls and fancy wallpaper. Fine art decorated the walls: a Monet, a Picasso, some other landscapes that Draco remembered his mother talking about but he couldn't stir up the artist's name. A furtive movement caught Draco's attention, causing him to duck in response, before he realized that it was just a mirror at the end of the hallway. His nerves were humming with tension.
The repeated "deeply sleep" faded as they put more and more walls between them and their exit. It was like a desperate sign warning that they were descending deeply into the demon's den. Draco swallowed against a lump in his throat.
Tufts finally brought them to a closed door, its golden handle glimmering in the fluorescence of an overhead light. It seemed to taunt him. He didn't want to turn that handle; he was taken back to that second floor room in Samokov.
"No." The feeble word snuck out of Draco's constricted throat.
"No," he said more firmly. "I'm not going in there, Harry. I can't do it. Not if… Not if what I saw last time…" His gore rose and he couldn't continue; instead he just shook his head.
Draco nodded dumbly.
Door. Tufts looked meaningly at the door and like a zombie Draco reached up and pulled the handle.
Tufts slipped through as the stench crept out. Oh Merlin, Draco thought. Not again.
So focused on the door before him, he didn't hear the step to his side and then all he felt was a sharp pain to the right side of his head, causing his knees to unlatch, plummeting him to the floor as shards of pottery fell along with him.
"Got you, little trespasser," the man said. Draco glanced over his shoulder and saw that it was Adrian Schooner, the sick, twisted Death Eater from his past. Face to face with the man, Draco remembered meeting him only a few times and he'd never seemed like the psychopath he was revealed to be; but then mass murderers were always the quiet ones in the neighborhood.
"You. I know you. What are you doing here, Malfoy? Come to join my collection? I admit, I like women better, though you are a pretty one."
"You're fucked, Schooner. Aurors will be swarming this place in no time. Remove the curse you put on Harry Potter and I'll let you go." He tried to sound tough, even as he looked up from his position on his hands and knees. His gut was tumbling and he wasn't sure if it was from fear or the crack in his skull. Warm liquid trailed down the nap of his neck.
"Oh yes, I'm sure they are, Malfoy. If they were coming, they would have been here. Now, let's see… What's the first thing I should do to you?" Schooner lifted his foot and pushed Draco over so he thumped onto his side, crunching shards of broken vase under his hip. He felt the mirror in his pocket. The Aurors were coming, his brain reminded him. Soon, they would have help soon.
The man ran the tip of his wand along his chin in contemplation, his beady eyes measuring Draco.
Draco couldn't respond.
"I think you need to do exactly as I said," Draco said with all the bravado he could muster. He struggled to right himself, gain his feet, but Schooner brought his heel down sharply on Draco's collar bone and he fell prone onto his back, completely vulnerable.
"Yes, and why should I do anything you ask? Traitor!" And he aimed his wand, casting a Cruciatus Curse that tore at Draco's senses, plunging him into a river of pain.
He screamed, cries ripping from his throat as his body convulsed against the curse. Endless pain and endless screams. But then they were all cut short as a ball of brown blazed past him, launching itself right at Schooner.
Snarling reached Draco's ears as he pulled himself together after the harsh curse. He'd been under the Cruciatus many times during the Dark Lord's reign, but it'd been years and he'd grown soft with his safe job and lack of life on the edge. Suddenly, he missed his home and his safety, even his unexciting job helping other people achieve powers he never could. He longed for his books, sniping at Severus, and visiting with his son. A powerful longing for his placid predictability overwhelmed him.
Now angry, he jumped to his feet and watched as Tufts tore into the man, slicing at him with long claws and ripping out flesh with sharp teeth. Repeatedly he could hear Mine. Mine. Mine. echoing through Tufts' mind, reaching his own, under the shrieks of the assailed Dark wizard.
Schooner's wand had rolled away from his limp palm and Draco stooped to scoop it up.
"It's okay, Tufts. Harry." Draco lifted his own wand as Tufts backed off. He didn't want to be here anymore. He didn't want to be stuck with madmen, he'd had enough of madmen, and he wanted to be home, with Harry and whatever thing there was between them.
With violent force, Draco jutted his wand at Schooner, almost skewering the man. "You will break this curse on Harry, you sick fuck," he spat out. "You will break it or I will break you, and have no doubt that I know exactly how to prolong your screams for so long your neighbors will think the place haunted. Remember, Schooner, I was a Death Eater, too."
The man had gone white and his body shook as he lay on the floor; crimson blood oozed out his many punctures. He was caught: cat fangs from one side, wand tip at the other. Draco flicked his wand and a loud crack caused Tufts to jump and Schooner to scream, just like Draco had promised.
But Draco wasn't having anything to do with kindness and forgiveness and as flashes of mangled corpses flittered through his memory, as the smell from the basement mingled with the scent of fresh blood, as his worry for Harry bit into his consciousness, he cursed the man again, breaking another leg bone. Draco marveled at how fragile the human body really was.
"Are you listening to me, Schooner? Are you paying attention to my words, because I hate repeating myself? I hate it when I'm not listened to. You will take off this curse. I will give you your wand, and you will take the curse off Potter. Now, if you try to do anything else, trust me when I tell you my soul already carries the taint of Dark magic and what's another curse when weighed against the power of the Dark Lord's will."
He held out the thin wand and with a shaking hand Schooner took it. Tufts sat down, his muzzle glistening with blood, and nervous anticipation flooded Draco. Concentrating, he pushed those feelings away and focused on every twitch, every sigh the man on the floor made.
"I'm watching you," he warned, his jaw aching as his teeth ground together. Schooner could kill Harry, right here, and Draco probably couldn't stop him. They all knew the sick game they were trapped in.
Schooner lifted his wand and pointed it at Tufts. Tufts began purring, panic seeping through their connection, and Draco let a sob escape his tense lips as he watched the tip of the wand lift and swish and a magenta wave of light wash over the cat.
One second. Two. Three and nothing seemed to be happening and Draco stepped towards Schooner, ready to kick him in the teeth, but then Harry's form twisted and writhed and Draco was stalled in his tracks.
With spasms and effort, Harry stood on two legs, and his body lengthened, his dark, spotted fur reabsorbed into his skin and he became human once again.
"Holy shit, I thought he was going to curse me," Harry confessed in a release of breath. His shoulders sagged and he almost fell to the ground, but stepped back to catch himself, eyes still locked on their captive.
Draco snagged Schooner's wand back then slumped against the wall. The stress of this entire situation had surely reduced his life to under a hundred. Damn, how Harry could do this on a regular basis was beyond him.
"Guess I'll call Weasley again," Draco said and Harry let out a nervous laugh.
With a deep breath he relaxed. Harry was no longer stuck as Tufts. Schooner lay cringing, disarmed. The Aurors were coming to clean up the mess. He could return home. He silently thanked, just a little, the crazed nature of crazy men who curse when they could have killed.
He pulled out the mirror and connected with Weasley.
The tightly tucked sheets were cool where Draco had wriggled in his toes. The bright sun smiled through the window, lighting the room. It felt like spring. He couldn't resist smiling in return.
A long arm slithered its way over his torso and Draco rolled his head to look at Harry.
"Morning," Harry said with his own smile. They lay with goofy grins like idiots. Like love struck idiots. Draco didn't mind.
He leaned forward, eyes glued to Harry's thin lips, to his tongue darting with anticipation, when a commotion down the hall pulled him back.
Lily rampaged through the room and scrambled her way upon the bed, bouncing between the two men.
"Get up! Get up! Scorpius will be here soon!"
They shared a look, then Harry grabbed his daughter by her waist and rolled her around, tickling her as little girl shrieks filled the air.
"Uncle Draco! Help me!" she squealed.
A swift as a cat, he snatched up his pillow and smacked Harry across the head.
"Hey!" Harry cried out but his affront was stalled as Lily's dexterous fingers dug into his armpits, causing more pain than actually tickling.
Draco wacked him again.
"Okay! Okay. I give! Mercy," he begged. Tiny feathers that had poofed from the pillow caught the sun's rays as they slowly settled to the bed.
"Oh, Daddy," said Lily, her tone disconcertedly close to her mother's, "you can't give up now. We just got started."
And as Lily giggled and Harry begged, Draco thanked his lucky star for all he had in his life. Peace, love and family. Things he'd always wanted, and all the time in the world.