Title: Prodigal
Author: Aoife Malfoy
Challenge: Originally written for H/D Worldcup '08 for Team Fanon Prompt 1: The Fool Tarot Card
Word count: 13,326
Rating: NC-17 for graphic violence and language
Warnings: AU. First Person POV. Draco-centric. Set after HBP. Not DH Compliant.
Summary: One year after Dumbledore's death, the tide turns in Voldemort's favour and with Harry Potter locked in the Malfoy dungeons, the fate of the Wizarding World seems bleak. Who'll save the saviour when he's in need of saving?
Author's Note: Many thanks to my betas Emmalificent and Anthimaeria who were so very patient with me! Also many group hugs to Team Fanon! Based on the literal and figurative meaning of the card, centred on the themes of blind faith, innocence and beginnings.

The sun is high in the sky on this lazy afternoon. The birds are chirping and the wind is gentle. There is nothing that marks this day as different from the next.

But I know better.

I wipe my hands on my robes, uncaring of how uncouth the gesture seems. I am too busy trying to hide the jolt of anxiety threatening to make its way up my chest and I resist the urge to crane my head to see past the muddy window for the twentieth time. It should be happening any minute now.

Just a couple more seconds.

I am nothing if not efficiently organized.

Soon enough explosions are heard overhead and as the cloaked figures around me galvanize into action, I find myself caught in a catalyst moment.

My eyes close against Providence even as they burn with unshed tears.

Who would have thought it would come to this?

o-O-o

Five months ago the tide turned in Voldemort's favour. With the mental breakdown of Scrimgeour, the forces of light were in shambles. They had no clear direction or leader. Too many middle managers and not enough true leadership, probably. Scrimgeour's breakdown occurred a year to the very day of Dumbledore's death. Slightly ironic that I was the cause of both.

The night before the change I had planned and led an attack on Azkaban to free any remaining Death Eaters and a few known sympathizers. My only goal at the time had been to free Father. But then, it seems that everything I do is for him. Sods law then that I should retrieve him broken beyond all repair.

With Voldemort's troops replenished and hell bent on bringing down the ministry that had put them away, the war finally turned in His favour. Little by little, the Dark Lord began to take control of the Wizarding world. Mudbloods and those who supported them were killed, of course. Along with anyone who dared oppose Him, regardless of blood status.

Diagon Alley is virtually empty. Aurors stationed there are picked off one by one, taken prisoner or killed, depending on the whim of the passing Death Eater. I find it odd that the Dark Lord takes prisoners. Surely it would be so much more efficient to just kill them. Yet at every gathering there seems to be at least one.

Regardless of status; social, blood, monetary or rank; I've seen officials, Muggles, purebloods, mudbloods, whores, the rich and famous, all killed. It doesn't matter. The Dark Lord takes them all. Join or die. Sometimes he doesn't even offer that.

Still, it's somewhat a surprise to arrive at the Dark Lord's current abode—a converted Godric's Hollow, the Dark Lord, it seems, likes irony—and find Potter.

The sight of my boyhood nemesis, clad only in torn and blood-soaked jeans, slumped on the floor at the Dark Lord's feet, should, stir some emotion. Anything—hatred, glee, satisfaction. Maybe even pity for the pain that the welts—whip marks, burns and cuts—must be causing.

I can't see his face but I imagine it's colourful—black, blue and red. The Dark Lord's three favourites.

It's over then. Is all I can think, feeling neither joyful nor disappointed. It's just...an observation. It's not unusual. I've not felt more than half alive since I rescued retrieved my father.

I look over to him. As expected, he's waiting patiently. Looking at Potter. Looking through Potter almost, just so long as he's looking where the Dark Lord wants us all to focus. He won't turn away, I know, not until I want him to.

I tear my eyes away to see who else has been Called. Even in full regalia I can tell them apart. Aunt Bella's on the Dark Lord's left, she twitches constantly. The little tic of muscles in her wand arm, and beneath her left eye are visible even through the mask.

Snape's on the other side of Him. Completely still and clad in robes even darker than ours. That's either an illusion or my own preconception. I'm not entirely sure.

Father and I stand next to Snape, then the Notts—father and son—then Grahamson and Cole. Both only a couple of years older than myself. Too young to have been a Death Eater during Our Lord's first uprising, but eager and bloodthirsty enough to be in His inner circle now. Which this is. Only a small gathering of the most trusted.

Although not trusted enough to watch the torture.

I wonder if the upstarts were? Could that be their handiwork on Potter's back?

Bella's not capable of that level of brutality. Too coarse and too Muggle to dirty her pureblood hands with. Not that this ever stops her from watching, though.

Snape? I'm not sure exactly what he's capable of. I can't see him being so callous and ham-handed with a whip though. If Snape whipped someone, it would be precise—straight lines and right angles, not a mess of crossing lines.

My eyes flick back to Potter. No, definitely not Snape's work.

After the usual greetings, my thoughts drift, only listening with half an ear. I've seen and performed enough daring captures that Potter's abduction from outside the Order's safe house seems positively dreary in comparison. Three fellow Death Eaters killed or captured? Oh dear—such a shame! Who would have thought the Order would dare fight to keep their saviour?

If I were being objective, I would say that it's only through sheer dumb luck that Grahamson and Cole managed to escape, apparently with Potter in tow.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see the two of them and Nott junior shake their heads in disgust. If I had the energy or the inclination, I'd quite like to knock some sense into them. This is a war after all. We're fighting for our lives, not playacting.

But in the end, as long as it's not Father or me, I just don't care. Well, as long as it's not Father. I hardly think I'd care if I died. What with me being dead and all, not much time to worry about the specifics, I'd imagine.

There is a small applause, which I quite rightly join in.

It crosses my mind to wonder if the cream teas will be served before or after the raffle. It's so very civilised here after all. Except for the prone, whipped body of course. But no doubt the Witches Institution will catch on to that fad too.

What can I say? Sometimes all I have is humour.

"So, my loyal Death Eaters, you see my quandary..." The Dark Lord trails off, looking around the small circle, almost looking through us, into our very souls, if we have such things any more.

"I can't kill Potter, that would be foolish. Those who have so far remained neutral may turn against us and those loyal to Potter would mount an attack against us, the likes of which we've not seen before." A pause, dramatic and a more cynical person might say, staged.

"With Potter alive, they still have hope. Taking hope from anyone will drive them to desperation. And our position is still too fragile to deal with that eventuality. Rescuing Potter should also keep them busy," A flick of his hand, as if our enemies are nothing but five-year-olds needing to be entertained.

We all wait patiently. I'm confused. I have an inkling of where this might go, but still it would seem...illogical.

"And so, Potter must be kept alive and safe," he says, with a curl of the lip.

I know wherever Potter goes, it won't be 'safe', not for him anyway. But then, I guess it depends on your definition of safe.

"Severus has suggested a solution."

The slight hiss in his voice is more noticeable with the unplanned alliteration and I feel a smile tugging at my lips. But this is neither the time nor the place. This is happening more and more frequently. Occasionally, I think I must be going as mad as my father. Except he doesn't laugh...

"Potter cannot, unfortunately, stay with me. It would be..."

The worried pause makes me wonder if he's thinking of the prophecy. I've not heard it in its entirety but there are enough rumours to make me believe there may be truth to Potter being the 'Chosen One'.

"...an ill conceived plan. Severus has kindly agreed to give our honoured guest..." He pauses again to make a mocking bow in Potter's direction, followed by a foot under his shoulder which pushes him onto his marred back.

Potter seems unable to do more than whimper at the pain. Huh, I guess he's awake.

"...quarters to call his own."

No shock there. Snape has been a favourite ever since Dumbledore fell.

"However, I can think of somewhere infinitely better warded." Another pause, completely for effect.

"Lucius," the Dark Lord calls softly.

I grip my hidden wand tightly. I've taken to carrying it in my sleeve for just this type of situation.

Father looks straight at the Dark Lord. If I didn't know any better, I'd say he almost looks eager.

"Malfoy Manor has been warded by Salazar Slytherin, is that true?"

Shit.

Luckily, Father always takes his time before answering the Dark Lord. I point the wand in Father's direction and cast a non-verbal Imperio. My will slides over his mind easily.

"So it has been said and recorded, my Lord. However, I must regretfully admit to being unable to enlighten you about the precise nature of these wards."

My words come out in Father's perfect tones. He even inclines his head in the expected manner. I'm thankful I knew him well enough before Azkaban to be able to predict his reactions to a situation.

"Of course," the Dark Lord hisses, seemingly satisfied. There's a gleam in his eyes, an ominous glint that suggests he knows exactly what's going on. I'm not overly concerned at the present. He protects those loyal to him. So long as I can keep up the pretence, fool the others.

He snaps into movement, whipping around Potter's body to grasp Cole's arm. "Now don't tell anyone where he's hidden," he threatens, and presses a long spindly finger to the mark on the boy's arm.

Almost instantly the room is filled with more Death Eaters. My own brand burns in sympathy, the sensation dulled slightly since I am already where I should be.

The meeting progresses. Potter is more than conscious now, awakened by the renewed pain as they torture and gloat over him.

I pretend to take an interest. I half-heartedly join in the catcalls and heckling, but my mind is on other matters. Predominantly—where on earth am I going to put him?

o-O-o

The room is empty again before I know it. The Dark Lord is talking softly in Father's ear, giving him instructions, no doubt. I'll find out later. Father is good with instructions.

He leaves in a flurry of robes, taking Aunt Bella and Snape with him. The latter shoots me a glare over his shoulder. I'd forgotten that this was his plan. No doubt he wanted Potter for his own nefarious purposes.

Father is watching me, waiting for his next move, I suppose. He always does this when we're alone. It's likely why I'm hardly ever in his presence.

I bite back the useless sigh that almost slips past my lips and merely take his arm to Apparate us both. The ever-present taste of regret sits like ash in my mouth but I swallow it down anyway.

o-O-o

Screams tear through the night and into my subconscious as I am snapped rudely awake. Fuck! Surely the Dark Lord could've waited until morning?

Even as this question formulates in my sleepy mind, my steps are echoing against stone and I'm already calling myself ten kinds of stupid. Of course he would've wanted Potter installed in the Manor as soon as possible. And to be tortured within an inch of his life as soon as they're able to strap him onto the nearest available surface. I should've asked Father to tell me of his instructions instead of buggering off to my room.

The screams are louder now and filled with more anguish. The pitch getting higher as the garbled sounds stretch throughout the stillness of the night. I halt as the dungeon door looms before me. My hand rests on the ancient handle.

What to do?

The torture is most assuredly coming from the highest order since Father wouldn't couldn't make that decision on his own. There's nothing else for it then. Like most things that fill my hours, it needs to be done.

Soon—soon I will have to step in. The torture might've been going on for hours for all I know but Father is faltering now. I can feel it. He can only go for so long on his own until he needed me. My eyes close on their own accord. I rest my head against the oak wood as another volley of shrieks penetrates it. Oh how I wish these walls were impenetrable and I could cast a Silencio! But what good is a dungeon if it can't amplify screams?

A few more silent minutes tick by. I wish I could fool myself into thinking Father received instructions for a reprieve, but I know better.

It is time.

With teeth clenched, hands shaking but my eyes dry and staring straight forward, I whisper the spell I know so well.

"Imperio."

o-O-o

It seems like ages before I can end it and as soon as I do, my fingers grasp the edge of cool glass. Not even bothering to measure it, I fix myself a drink and down it quickly, welcoming the golden fire that burns down my throat. I close my eyes wearily; the memory of each spell Father had to cast is still fresh and the dark shroud that always settles around me when I use Dark magic grows a bit heavier. Amidst the silent air, Potter's screams have yet to fade. His body is probably still twitching under the remembrance of the prolonged torture.

Cursing, I get up quickly or rather as quickly as I can with about half a bottle of Firewhisky in me. Trust Potter to be so cumbersome as to die within his first night! I sigh as I roll my eyes. To my infinite gratitude, the grating shrieks of pain stop before I am faced once again with Potter's door. Resolving to get this shite over with, I quickly open it, unsure of what I'll find.

I stiffen as soon as enough light offers me a view of what's inside. Of all the things I'd ever expected, this—this never crossed my mind.

The fates must really hate me.

Or they're truly hurting for a good laugh.

Potter is standing with his back to the door, his hands clutching either side of the dirty sink, his bloodied head bowed. His thin body is shaking and he rakes unsteady fingers over his pale face. Tears are streaming steadily into the grimy basin. Defeat and pain mark every line of his posture. The moment is so very much the same and yet so very different.

The spells have already been cast and it's more than just a Sectumsempra or even a Cruciatus. Just like I'm sure those aren't the first tears Potter has shed tonight. Blood has been spilled on the floor, on the walls...in my hands.

I close the door quietly in a manner that I once wished Potter would have done that day. Resolving to hunt down yet another bottle of the cellar's finest whisky, I make my way up the steps. The night is passed under the pleasant haze of Firewhisky and Ogden's but even as reality blurs around the edges, I cannot forget the scene I witnessed.

Damn, Potter. Damn him to hell.

o-O-o

The next day isn't any better. On the whole, it's actually quite worse. I wake up from a nightmare, if one can call it that. It's only me running through a long hall. Hardly anything to fret about, but it's the same bloody thing that's been haunting me since sixth year. I curse as I run my hand through my hair. If I could only get to the end of that hallway...

I shake my head. Then what? It's just a stupid dream.

Then, comes another visit from our Lord. It was to be expected. He has come to inspect his pet's new surroundings or he might've come to torture Potter a little bit more. Or perhaps he's simply feeling bored and in need of distraction.

With the Dark Lord, one can never tell.

I keep my head respectfully bowed as he makes his way past me, my wand at the ready. He seems pleased. A good sign. Perhaps Father and I can have a respite from the raids tonight.

"I see you've been keeping true to your word, Lucius! I was right to send the boy here."

A flick of the wrist and Father's words are mine.

"I am glad you approve, my Lord."

Voldemort merely turns to the battered form on the floor and kicks him viciously. Potter stirs with a low groan.

"Tell me, pet, do you like your new quarters?"

"Not as good as what I'm used to," the boy stupidly bites out through clenched teeth. "But, I'm sure by your Slytherin standards a dungeon is as good as home."

This earns him another solid kick paired with a well aimed Cruciatus—one that's solely concentrated on his bits. Honestly, are all Gryffindors this daft?

"You might think you're clever, Potter, but you are not," he sneers. "You are wandless, defenceless and so far from home that you might as well be on another realm so far as all your little friends are concerned. There will be no rescue or any other sort of dashing escape this time. Soon you will come to realise all this and then—" he lifts his face closer as he leans forward. "Then you will be broken, and there'll be so many pieces of you that no one will ever know how to put you back together again."

Those red eyes bore down on defiant green. In spite of being a good two feet away from his line of sight, even I am cowed by the Dark Lord's expression. This is why I can't even begin to comprehend what happens next.

Potter is laughing, laughing so hard he shakes with not only the after-effects of the Cruciatus but with hilarity as well.

"I-I ca-can't believe you just threatened me with the fate of Humpty Dumpty!" he chokes out, his body doubled over both in pain and with laughter.

His eyes flash only once and the simultaneous spell that rings through the stale air silences Potter's inane chuckles by filling his mouth with screams of pain.

It takes a long time before there is nothing in the air but silence.

o-O-o

"Draco."

There is something distinctly disturbing about the way the Dark Lord says my name. He rolls out the 'r' languidly and draws out the 'o'. My blasted imagination, of course, isn't any help since it always conveniently supplies me with the very discomfiting image of his long snake-like tongue wrapped around the letters. Like I said, utterly disturbing.

"Yes, my Lord?" I ask with a respectful bow, careful to keep my eyes low and my tone subservient.

"You will look after your old school chum, yes? Take care that he is not too—" he pauses and I obediently look as if I'm waiting with baited breath, "—overtaxed by your father? I do intend to keep him for quite a while."

"Of course, my Lord." I nod at once.

"But do be sure not to heal him either." A menacing smile follows, one that's mostly yellowed teeth. "A few potions and a house-elf's worth of healing magic after each session should be enough. After all, we wouldn't want to spoil Lucius' beautiful work."

"That would be a travesty," I agree readily.

A flash of red catches my eye and before I can steel myself for it, I suddenly feel as if my head is being cleaved in two. I grimace as I fight to keep my equilibrium and struggle to avoid vomiting on the Dark Lord. After a while, the pressure lessens, and I am finally able to breathe without feeling as if my brain is about to explode.

Without another word, Voldemort leaves the hall; an air of triumph lingers in his wake.

o-O-o

It would have happened eventually. I'm sure of it. I just honestly wish that it didn't have to happen now. For whilst I've never backed down from a confrontation with Potter, this afternoon's ordeal has taken a lot out of me. My temper is frayed and my body is weak from all the magical activity I've expelled. A nap seems just the ticket and that's what I'd be doing now, enfolded in my comfortable duvet, if it weren't for the Dark Lord's orders.

Sodding blasted orders!

I haven't even managed to open the bloody door and the maniac is already running at the mouth. How he has that kind of energy after hours under torture, I will never know.

"I knew it, Malfoy! I knew it all along!" he snarls at me from his corner, like an injured kneazle. His arms are wound carefully on his slowly healing stomach, his teeth bared and his face is a mixture of pain and rage. "I knew you were on his side!"

"Yes, Potter. I chose my family over the side with people I hate and who hate me just as much!" I sneer right back. "How utterly insensible!"

"So we both agree then that you're a daft bastard?"

The nerve of the stupid git! I clutch my wand. All traces of sympathy or whatever the hell that insanity was last night is wiped clean by this blatant provocation. I welcome the surge of raw anger. The familiarity of it sweeps over me like an embrace from an old friend.

"What? Are you going to hex me now, Malfoy?" he sneers. "Come on then, give it your best shot."

"Are you trying to get yourself killed?" I step menacingly closer. "Because believe me, you're on your bloody way!"

A low, mocking laugh is the only reply I get, and I grit my teeth so hard I think I might chip something.

"It seems I know something about you that you don't." He gives me a smirk similar to my own.

"What pray tell, would that be?" I mock him right back. "Because you are such a paragon of self-awareness yourself!" I shake my head. "Don't make me laugh."

He chuckles softly. "You can't kill me because you wouldn't dare. Your Lord would have your and your dear father's hide for garters if you even tried. That's the one great thing about you, Malfoy."

"You're a coward."

I stiffen at the accusation so carelessly thrown at me, but before I can howl and rage in indignant fury, the next words out of his stupid mouth stop me.

"It's the only thing that makes you worth anything."

"Do you really think you've the right to appraise anything of worth?" I scoff. "You're a Gryffindor, Potter. Not only that, but you're the poster boy for the side of light. You cherish all kinds of silly things! The beauty of a perfect day, fluffy white bunnies, pretty much all manners of living beings, big or small. " I shake my head, already turning for the door.

"How can you value anything if you hold it equal to everything else?

o-O-o

It happens again the next night and the next and the one after that. The hexes shift and change. Our Lord demands variety, but the level of pain is still the same—excruciating. He wants the sessions to be longer each time as well and that, of course, taxes me more than I'd care to admit. Long term exposure to Imperius is surely detrimental to Father's health but what else can I do? It is the only thing keeping us safe, and yet this line of thought comes under fire each and every time the light in Father's eyes dims a tiny bit more.

I gulp down what has to be my eighth shot of Firewhisky and stand up slowly. Reality is once again pleasantly skewed and I thank the heavens for whichever ancestor in our pure Malfoy line had the bloody sense to develop the ability to hold their liquor. I don't even stumble as I make my way down the stairs and if my steps are a tad too jaunty or my face a bit too flushed, no one can tell in the low light of the dungeons. I'm already thinking about the lovely warm bath that's awaiting me after I'm done with this troublesome errand when my breath catches in my throat.

Potter is on his back and shaking violently. He's covered with the same stain that's seeping through the stone-cobbled floors. His face is pale and drawn and his breaths come out in short raspy drags that come alarmingly slower and slower.

I blink twice and rub my eyes for good measure, but the image doesn't abate. The parody of yet another moment on my top ten list of things to Obliviate makes me want to run screaming from the room. Instead I find myself moving forward, propelled by an unknown force. Suddenly, I am right by his side, my hands wet with his blood as I try to help him.

There's too much fucking blood and Potter's eyes are going all glazed and wonky. I slap his face several times, and get a weak jab in my side for my efforts. I would have shoved the little bastard if he didn't choose that precise moment to cough wetly and shiver against me.

It had to be Aunt Bella. I grimace as I survey his wounds. There's not enough cuts to warrant such an appalling amount of blood. Plus out of all the Death Eaters, she is always the one that gets carried away. Something about the pain, screams, and gore. She says it sings to her blood, or something equally revolting like that.

Another groan, a faint one this time. By Merlin, I think the idiot is getting heavier by the minute! Potter, you can't bloody lose it now! The Dark Lord will have my hide for garters, and, I don't even want to begin to contemplate what he'll do if he ever gets a hold of Father!

Bloody hell. If only I could cast a healing charm on him! A tiny, obscenely strong one. That should be enough to tide him over until that blasted house elf came!

"Come on, Potter!" I jostle him a little harder and all I get is a slight stir. "You can't fall asleep, okay? Got that?"

I shake him a bit more. "Bad. Things. Happen. When. You. Sleep."

Unfortunately, I'm not getting through to the stupid sod and I can already tell he is slipping into unconsciousness once more. I need to do something. Get him angry. Get him crying. Get him laughing. Something! Just anything to get him up and about and thinking, not just lying there dying like a wilting mandrake.

"Did you know the Dark Lord doesn't wear any pants on Tuesdays?" I blurt out.

He coughs even more violently, his eyes stinging from the force of it. "You've got to be shitting me! That's what you came here to tell me?"

"Honestly, Potter. You're so crass!" I snort to cover my sharp exhale of relief at his begrudging responsiveness. "And no I am not 'shitting you' as you say. It's the house-elves' one notable act of resistance. They all claim that Tuesday is Undergarment Day, by long established tradition."

"You're wankered, aren't you? You've got to be. Either that or you've finally gone the same way as your dad."

I sneer so hard I think my face is going to break. "Of course I'm bloody wankered—I'm talking to you, aren't I? And if you mean if I've finally grown up to be as great and powerful as my Father, then yes, Potter. You're correct, because really you can't mean anything else."

"So anyway, Tuesday—No Pants Day. Watch out for it. Or better yet, don't." I wince as the horrible mental picture comes to haunt me once again. Damn it! I was drinking to get rid of unpleasant thoughts, not enhance them.

"Hey!" I slap him a little upside the head. Okay, so maybe more than a little. The irritating brat had no right to be so bloody infuriating when he's already half dead! "I told you not to do that!"

Potter growls—actually growls at me like a sodding wet cat! "Will you just fuck off and let me die in peace, Malfoy?"

"Oh, for the love of Merlin's hanging left nut, Potter! Don't be so melodramatic. You're not dying. You haven't managed it in the past 17 years; you're not going to do so now. Especially not in this cell. We just had it cleaned."

He tries to raise his eyebrow mockingly but falls short considering he seems to have lost most feeling in his face. "Don't want me messing the place up?"

I swallow a grin and nod instead. "Exactly. Now be a good little saviour and stay conscious."

He laughs shakily and more than just a dribble of blood accompanies the hollow sound. "Saviour? Can't believe you can throw that at me whilst I'm bleeding to death on your floor. Do I look like I've saved anything? Do I look chosen for anything but death?"

"Tsk, tsk. What did I tell you about toning down the melodrama? You'd think we were in the middle of a Greek tragedy! You'll always be the boy hero in this story, Potter. Deal with it."

"I've just spent the last two hours under Cruciatus. I've been whipped and cut on every part on my body. I'm pretty sure that half the blood covering the walls is mine. And you still think I'm a hero?"

"Someone has to be."

Potter stares at me in confusion. By gods, I think he's the only man to actually become stupider on his death bed! But suddenly his gaze sharpens as he looks down pointedly at my arms, which (how the bloody fuck did that happen?) are holding him up. "Are you sure it's me?"

I growl at that. "Yes! Besides, Father said I can only keep one courageously stupid Gryffindor at a time. Certainly a lesson well learned. Why, my Uncle Maximillian almost lost half his pinky toe when he stupidly agreed to host a Hogwarts reunion in the Manor with an open buffet. All the Gryffindors in attendance created a bloody stampede trying to get to the crab cakes."

Potter's laughter is weak and too close to my ear for my sanity, but his breaths come steadier now, and the wetness beneath my fingers has begun to dry. And to my utter and complete consternation, I find that for now, in this very brief almost nonexistent short period of time, it's all that matters.

o-O-o

Something changes after that frantic night. Something so subtle I can't quite put my finger on it. But it's there. It's in the way he no longer snarls at me when I do my nightly checks or how I can't summon up the energy to be properly hateful towards him.

For the life of me, I can't recall exactly what went on in that room that day. Oh, I remember the blood. That's not entirely all that easy to forget and not even a litre of Ogden's could erase the memory. I remember Potter shaking violently and dying slowly in my arms. Then I hear laughter by not only one voice but two. The rest is a jumble of colours and light, while the next morning is one filled with quite a lot of horrified shock and pain all around.

It's awkward, this new development with Potter. This forced interest I have in keeping him from keeling over wars with the requirement to torture him. It reminds me too much of sixth year, of days spent in useless anger and helpless despair, of needing to hurt someone but not wanting to.

It's quite odd to be in this position once again. To be the one who offers both deliverance and damnation. I never thought I'd have to give a repeat performance.

He grunts by way of greeting because he was raised by bears and not proper wizards. Slowly, he sits up, his body on the mend for the umpteenth time. His next words are the same revelation he hands me each time I come and check on him. "I'm still not dead, Malfoy."

"I can see that, thanks. Do you want a prize for this great feat?" I roll my eyes, quashing the familiar surge of relief that besieges me every time I find him well enough to snap at me.

"I think all the scars on my back are enough from your lot," he snorts.

"Suit yourself. We have a ton of leftover goods from pillaging the village last night."

"I would say I hope you're joking but I'm afraid I don't have enough energy to waste on pointless things."

I cluck my tongue. "Must you always be so melodramatic this early in the morning?"

"Well, excuse me for not being a ray of sunshine after a night of torture by your bloody father!"

"You're excused."

"God, you're such an infuriating bastard! Even when you're soused to the gills!"

"Do you see me stumbling, Potter? Ambling around like a one-legged moron, singing, slurring and carrying on like there's no tomorrow? I am not pissed, and even if I was—"

"You smell like you fell into a barrel of Firewhisky and swam around in it for a good few hours!"

"So what? Have I offended your delicate Gryffindor sensibilities? You are such a—"

A low laugh cuts off my tirade. It increases in volume when the git gets a look at my astonished face. His frail body is shaking with the force of it and his eyes water from hilarity. What the hell? Has he finally gone insane?

"D-don't you think it's funny that the only bloody person in this whole nightmare who truly gives a damn whether I live or die is you?" He wheezes out between breaths. "I hate you and you hate me and you have to drown yourself in alcohol to stomach even coming into this room."

He wipes at his eyes. "But each time you come in through that door, you get this look. Your stupid face lights up, did you know? And for a minute, just one mind you, you almost look like you're genuinely glad to see me and to see for yourself that I'm all right." He shakes his head. "And it's so fucked up, because that look is the only thing I can remember when I'm pushed to the limit in the middle of one of your father's torture sessions. It should be Ginny's just after she's told me she misses me or even Ron and Hermione's smiles that used to greet me each morning. Instead, it's your stupid pale pointy face because it feels like I've been here forever, I can't even remember what theirs look like!"

His laughter starts again, a touch of hysteria colouring it now. His world has been turned upside down. Nothing will ever be the same because everything he's known has been ripped away. Soon enough my own laughter joins his.

It's fucking hilarious that it's only now that I find I have something in common with the Git of Gryffindor.

o-O-o

It's that blasted hall again; a long winding thing that has no beginning and no end. It never stops and neither do I. I just keep on running. Nothing nefarious is chasing me, but nonetheless I am compelled to run, run so fast my lungs hurt, my eyes sting and my breath is trapped in my throat.

The next thing I know I'm sitting up on my bed, sheets twisted around me, and my breath is coming out in long, shuddering gasps. My repeated validations of it being just a dream sound hollow even to my own ears and even less and less do I believe them.

Our side is in power and everything should be perfect, but it's not. Father isn't here, not in any way that matters and Mother—I don't even want to think about where she might be and how she's faring, especially not now, when I am too drained to pretend. My world is in disarray and only one thing is certain.

Nothing makes sense anymore.

o-O-o

"Don't do that!"

"I-I can't help it—'m tired, want sleep."

"We've been through this before, Potter. Almost every other night now! If you sleep, you may not wake again. A concussion does that!"

"And I keep telling you, I don't fucking care anymore! J-just fuck off! And stop that!"

"No! I will keep flicking your stupid little ear until that blasted house-elf comes through that sodding door."

"Can't you—"

"No, I told you before. The Dark Lord has given me specific instructions."

"Sod you and your Dark Lord!"

"Where exactly do you think you're going, idiot? Knock that off before you hurt yourself."

"Too late, don't you think? Your fucking father's seen to that."

"Yes, he has. Now stop being stupid and come here."

"Are you going to keep flicking me?"

"Obviously! Which reminds me, did you know that if you flick the back of a centaur's ears you're hitting an erogenous zone?"

"Are you shitting m—er of course you're not! Bloody hell, Malfoy! Do I look like I need that kind of information right now?"

"Actually yes, Potter. Yes, you do."

"Merlin, you're evil. I'm afraid to ask how you even came across that! Because if it involved you, the Divination classroom and Firenze, I'd really rather not know."

"Oh please! As if I'd be into bestiality. Besides, Brown would've scratched my eyes out."

"Lavender? But she's with Ron! Or at least she was!"

"Was. And what better way to heal her cruelly wounded heart than by getting serviced by a fourteen inch—"

"Shut up! Oh my God, Malfoy! You stupid prick!"

"Not as big a prick as—"

"Gah!"

o-O-o

It should alarm me how fast our legendary heated battle of hate shifts into quick-witted banter. It really should, but seeing how I hardly remember half the things I say to him and it's really the only time of the day where I can steal any peace (be it from a bottle of whisky or the surprisingly entertaining tangents my conversations with Potter often take), I'm not really all that fussed.

It doesn't mean anything anyway. He's still slated to die and I'm still accountable for him before that and if this strange civility prevents us from killing each other in the meantime, all the better.

I'm here again, talking his ear off over one thing or another. His session tonight isn't so bad. I made sure of it. I'm way too tired and my throat is still sore from staying with him two nights ago. Surely the Dark Lord wouldn't be doing one of his visits tomorrow. After all, with the way the war is going he's sure to be quite busy. Besides, tomorrow's Tuesday.

I laugh as this thought comes to mind and I'm about to share it with him when a jagged piece of rock snags my foot. I grimace as I land sorely on my backside, blinking at the hand in front of me.

"Graceful, Malfoy. What is it you said about alcohol not making you stumble?" he says with a roll of his eyes. He laughs easily, his hand still extended towards me.

Another jolt. Another inverted memory. Unpleasant and wholly discomfiting. It reminds me yet again of things I've not dwelled upon in years. It's made even worse when I look up at the idiot's face. A hot knife twists violently inside me as I see the beginnings of something akin to trust shining in the depths of those green eyes. How disgustingly predictable.

"You're such a moron, Potter." I shove the offending hand away as I rise to my feet.

"And you're a git, Malfoy," he shoots back, confusion colouring his earlier bemusement.

This only serves to anger me more and I snarl. As I push him forcefully against the unforgiving stone, my left forearm crushes his windpipe.

"And a Death Eater!" I hiss as I press down harder until his face reddens and his body fights for oxygen. Subduing his pitiful attempts with embarrassing ease, I lean closer.

"Gods, you're pathetic! Did you think that because I can manage a few hours of cordial conversation with you that we've become friends? That I've had some miraculous change of heart and will let you escape? You are so despicably naive! It's a wonder that the Dark Lord hasn't managed to nab you sooner!"

"Yeah, well, you know me," Potter wheezes out raggedly. His words are rough as he struggles to breathe and talk at the same time. "I do the whole not dying thing and just keep right on living!"

"Yes, that is definitely one of your most irritating traits." I tighten my grip even further.

"I'm sure you have a long list," he pants, his lips turning blue but his eyes still wildly defiant. "We should compare notes sometime."

I look down at him incredulously. His tortured form is frail and weak in my hands and yet he still shakes and struggles and fights for each drag of breath. How can one person possess that much headstrong stupidity?

"You are such a Gryffindor," I bite out softly and I'm about to fling his battered body away but my breath is suddenly caught by the fierceness shining on his face.

"That was almost a Slytherin." He throws out this revelation and if that wasn't shocking enough, the spike of pain that goes through my arm is.

"You bloody bastard!" I cradle my wounded arm. A sharp metal spike is sticking out from it, right on the head of the tattooed skull. I curse myself even more for having let my guard down so easily.

"Serves you right for strangling me like that!" he growls as he takes in deep breaths of air.

I struggle with my wand before I'm finally able to remove the spike and heal the wound."Fucking hell! That hurts!"

"Oh cry me a bloody river, Malfoy!" he snaps back as he slides down to the ground, exhausted.

Silence settles between us as we both try to get our bearings. My chest is heaving as adrenalin continues to flow through my veins. I let him get too close! How could I've been so stupid? If he'd angled it higher who knows where I would be?

"You could've gone for the heart," I say quietly. "You could've killed me with that and tried to escape."

"An attempt which I'm sure would have been foiled by not only the small army of Malfoy-obsessed house-elves you seem to be breeding around here but also your blasted father." He shakes his head wearily. "I wouldn't have made it past the gate."

"Ahh so the lion does have a brain after all." I smirk.

"Gods, you're crap at metaphors, Malfoy! It was the Scarecrow that needed the brain, not the Lion!" He frowns when he sees my perplexed expression, and waves it away. "Nothing! Forget about it. Muggle thing. And even then, I wouldn't have killed you anyway."

I snort at this. "And this compassion, of course, is because of our endearing little friendship in Hogwarts, isn't it?" I roll my eyes. "Don't be stupid, Potter. If the only way out of this place had been through me, you would've taken it."

"You seem sure."

"Any sane person would have! Or am I wrong to assume this applies to you? I'd certainly have no qualms about it!"

"Somehow I doubt that." And there is that infuriating lopsided grin of his again!

"Did I seem all that fussed when I had my arm shoved against your throat?" I growl.

He merely shrugs, silly arse grin still plastered on his face. "And yet I'm still here. I rest my case."

"You're such a smug little wanker! You don't know—"

"Yes, I do." And again, he says it in that disgustingly earnest way of his. "I know better than anyone that nothing's as simple as good and evil."

"Oh? Do you now? And does this asinine statement not apply to you? You're so filled with squeaky clean goodness I sometimes wonder if you shit righteous indignation out your arse!"

He comes at me again. A step closer, and most assuredly invading my personal space, but just when I'm about to step back, a simple touch stops me cold.

"I used to think that too."

My breath hitches as I feel him trace the ugly scar on the tip of my chin down to the base of my throat. He does it slowly, carefully, almost reverently, as if the wound is still raw and the pain still fresh. I swallow convulsively against the tender caress. It is so gentle, it borders on loving and with closed eyes, it's too easy to imagine the soothing touch followed by a trail of teasing lips. This image should be enough to jolt me into awareness and snap me back into reality. But it's only when his voice registers far too closely for my already shaky sanity that I even remember where I am.

"I don't anymore."

I do the only thing I can do. The one thing I've always done when caught by surprise and backed into a corner. My legs can't carry me out of the room fast enough.

o-O-o

If I were to be honest with myself, I'd acknowledge the real reason why I avoided his room after that. But I'm not. Not unless it suits me, at least and this doesn't sit well with me at all. At first I try to drown it out with alcohol, which by now is my favoured source of escape, and it works for awhile though I never really sleep and the few precious hours that I can manage it are always filled with that stupid dream. I even up the ante and go back to relying on the veritable bank of hate I have for him. I increase the number of spells Father has to cast once again and add more power behind them, knowing full well that this will have Potter broken and bleeding on the floor all throughout the night. This time, however, he will have to fight unconsciousness alone.

It doesn't help. In fact, it goes even a little bit further and makes everything much worse. For the very next day, I find myself waking up with my face planted uncomfortably against dirtied stone and my arms full of a barely conscious Potter who is muttering over and over again, "You came. You came. You came," in such a practised way that I'm sure he's been repeating it for far longer than he's been able to believe it.

But it is only after Snape visits that I realize how fucked I truly am.

"Prof—"

He sneers darkly as he makes his way past me. "I thought by now you would have realized we're no longer in Hogwarts, Draco."

"Of course, Snape." I incline my head, crushing the overwhelming urge to clench my fists defensively and stress his name childishly. "Do you bring news from the front? We haven't heard anything in quite awhile."

"And you wouldn't have. There are a lot more important things going on out there." He takes off his gloves. "Take me to him."

A wave of panic settles in the pit of my stomach at the sight of Snape's narrowed eyes. I definitely don't like the look of that. Especially when I remember how angry he had been at being passed over as Potter's keeper. "Has the Dark Lord sent you?"

"No, it was Father Christmas." He rolls his eyes. "Of course he sent me! What is this, Draco? Have you accidentally killed him in a fit of childish pique? Is that why you're currently testing my patience and wasting precious time?"

"No, of course not!" I shoot back, angry at how badly the conversation is going. With difficulty, I compose myself quickly, though not quickly enough by the look of Snape's amused countenance. "Follow me."

Soon enough we're in Potter's cell and he's blinking up at us blearily. I quickly take my leave, my throat already parched at the thought of the unfinished bottle of whisky in my room and the sweet oblivion the liquor will bring. However, I've barely taken a step out the door before his voice stops me.

"Stay."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I don't repeat myself, Draco. You've known that for the past seven years." He smirks as he stands over a snarling Potter. "And that wasn't a request."

Of course, I stay. What else can I do? I stand stoically against every potion shoved down his bruised throat. I remain unmoved as he finally collapses onto the floor with a deadened thud. I don't move a muscle. I never make a sound. My eyes are always clear. Nonetheless, Snape knows.

He stops in front of me, his eyes sweeping across my face. No doubt taking in the tension in my jaw and the tightness around my eyes. He says nothing of it though, merely stands there for a bit longer before he finally lays down his judgement.

"You're a fool."

He brushes past me before I can even begin to answer, but with my heart constricting painfully in my chest as I stare at Potter's unconscious form, I would've only agreed with him anyway.

o-O-o

"You're brooding."

"I am not."

"You are. Believe me, I would know."

"Finally admitting to being a Drama Queen, Potter?"

"Says the boy who cried over being scratched by what he himself had previously described as an 'overgrown chicken'!"

"That stupid bird was a savage! It had bloodlust in its eyes!"

"Who's wearing that crown now, then?"

"Oh shut it, you!"

"Is that a smile? Yes, I think it is! Or is it just the light reflecting off your pointy face? I can't tell sometimes."

"Nice, Potter. Really nice."

"Aww, don't be like that, you know, you look constipated when you brood."

"What the—You are incomprehensible! What is it with your preoccupation with bowel movements?"

"I think your crown should come in pink! Ow! Gods, I was just joking, you bastard!"

"You know what, Potter? I feel better already."

"Figures you'd be a sadist."

"Everyone needs a hobby."

"Is that what you blame your cross-dressing on, too?"

"Ouch! Malfoy! That one bloody hurt!"

o-O-o

The days get harder as they pass and whilst there is no word of reprimand from the Dark Lord, the sheer possibility of getting one someday gnaws at my chest. This, coupled with the dizzying realization of how invested I truly am in Potter, is doing odd things to my heart.

It hurts at night and wreaks havoc with my concentration, causing Father to miss his mark or dampening the impact of a spell midway. Not even the liquid burn of whisky or the sweet swirl of wine can take it away. It only quiets under the first light of dawn with stone against my back and his shivering form by my side.

It can't last.

It's horrible and so very wrong and I can already think of a thousand vivid ways it could end badly. Snape's right! I am a fool because he doesn't feel the same way and even if he did, well—he just shouldn't! I already have too many ghosts haunting my conscience.

But I don't think I can let him go.

o-O-o

He is shaking again, as violently as that very first time I ever approached him. Blood is everywhere once more and just the sight of it makes me ill. I hold him still so the cuts I won't heal can't be aggravated, and rest his weight solidly against my chest.

Something went wrong tonight. The spells Father sent Potter didn't work like they were supposed to and it caused me to increase their potency, the ever-present threat of the Dark Lord finding out about my favour towards Potter at the forefront of my mind.

What happened next was a shower of red sparks and even redder blood.

It was awful and in an instant I was flying down the stairs and bursting into that room. I don't remember what I said to Father, nor am I all that aware of what I'm saying now. All I know is that I'm sorry and I didn't mean it. I press fevered lips against the crown of his hair, willing for him to understand something I can't put into words.

His only response is to shake more violently, sobs hitching in his chest as he presses his battered face against the curve of my throat. His chapped lips form around two words I never thought I'd ever hear from him.

"K-kill me."

His eyes are stinging from the tears and his face is averted but I can tell that he means it. I'm already shaking my head, denying him of this madness when the truth stills my tongue.

Isn't that what I'm already doing?

A broken sob is wretched from me then and I pull him closer to my chest. The jumbled mixture of words in my head finally finds a voice.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

o-O-o

I stare at the heavy oak doors in trepidation. My answer lies in there. I know it but I fear it as well. I have no trouble admitting that. It's not exactly easy to deny when I've been waiting out here, shaking for the past two hours.

What if I go in there and find it to be all too easy?

What if I go in there and find it to be too hard?

My mind has been chasing these thoughts for hours, days even. There's only one way to find out. I take a deep breath and try to dispel the unmoving ball of apprehension that's settled at the pit of my stomach.

It doesn't work, but I open the door anyway.

o-O-o

He is sitting on his favourite chair, dressed in his tailored robes, and looking so much like the same man I've known all my life that it pains me to look up those last few inches and meet his eyes.

They're the same, of course. Glassy and unfocused. The way they have been ever since Azkaban. A reminder that the sole reason he's even in this room is due to rote memory and not through any conscious will of his own. And it still hurts every time I'm reminded of it and I can't believe I thought for even a minute that it would ever stop hurting.

Even to be in the same room with him is painful and the heavy silence that surrounds us is all but suffocating the air out of my lungs.

"Call my name." The words come with a flick of my wand and an audible plea in my voice. However, the command is only met with more silence. I shiver as the first of many tears dots the polished mahogany surface of his desk.

"Say 'Draco'"

"Draco."

"Say you love me"

"You love me."

A smile, a quivering one because I do, so very very much.

"Yes, but say 'I love you'."

"I love you."

"Tell me you forgive me." I swallow thickly. "Say 'I forgive you'."

"I forgive you."

A whimper tears through my chest then, bringing me to lunge forward and clutch him tightly. With sobs racking through me, I cry into his chest like the child I sometimes wish I still was.

How in the world did I ever think this could be easy?

o-O-o

I'm running again. My feet's slapping hard against tile and it is the only sound that can be heard. It echoes dully throughout the long corridor until it haunts me with every step I take. When the fuck am I going to reach the end of this bloody hallway?

The question, of course, goes unanswered. It always does, and the hall only seems to lengthen with each step I take, taunting me with the prospect that the blasted thing might very well be never-ending.

I wake once again to cold sweat and tears.

Swallowing, I try to slow my breath, finding that fear tastes bitter in the morning.

o-O-o

"Shut your gob and wear that." I throw a pile of clothes at him and simultaneously cast most of the Healing spells I know.

"What's this? Is my 'tortured prisoner' look offending your fashion sense? Or maybe—Ow! Malfoy!" He rubs at the fresh welt on his arm.

"I told you to shut it, didn't I?" I sneer, anxiety and shattered nerves making me irate. "Hurry up! And drink this!"

"Wha?" He stops in the middle of hopping around trying to put on a sock. "What's wrong with you? What's going on?"

"Just do as I say!"

"No! I won't! Contrary to popular belief, and I admit until recently my own included, you are not your father! You can't just order me about. I don't care whose dungeon this is!"

"You have a lot of balls saying that, Potter," I spit. "Especially when it's a topic you know nothing about!"

"So tell me then? That's what I've been saying!" He throws me a questioning look before knocking back the potion I gave him. "What the hell is going on?"

"You're leaving today, Potter." I turn my back to him, not wanting to see the excitement that would undoubtedly cross his face. "You've overstayed your welcome."

"Gods, Malfoy! Only you could make it sound like I was here for a luxury holiday!" He chuckles softly as he stretches his back. "So where are they shipping me off to then? You know, as odd as this might seem, I'm really going to miss you."

I curse the way my heart leaps into my throat at this tender admission. So carelessly given, and yet my mind latches on to it like a starving dog. Merlin, I'm pathetic. "You really are an idiot, Potter," I growl as I spell the clothes onto his body so he'd stop limping around like a wounded duck. "I didn't say you were being moved. I said you were leaving." I shove my open palm in his face then, unable to say the words that would make his leaving me possible.

His hand shakes as he claims his wand. His face lights up the room as his magic settles around the object in his palm. "Y-you're helping me escape?"

"Got it in one! Or should I say in one thousand," I snort as I roll my eyes, careful to keep my tumultuous feelings from showing on my face. "Now move it! Or are you waiting for the Dark Lord to come down on our heads?"

"But I can't Apparate. How will I—"

"Portkey. There's wards that prevent me from bringing one here, so come on!" I urge him forward as I dismantle the wards surrounding his body. "There! Now we have about twenty minutes before anyone will know you've escaped."

"How do—"

"I warded the wards." I smirk smugly. "Now say that twenty times fast."

His laughter resounds in the hallway as we rush past and it's a sound I've never heard before. It's never been that casual or that carefree, completely removed of tension. It's definitely something I wish I could hear everyday.

I shake my head, running faster. Brilliant, just bloody brilliant! Now I'm pathetic and a sentimental sod.

Thankfully, we're almost there. Just down the end of the hall and I'm about to shout in blessed relief when I notice something—I'm running alone.

"Potter? What the hell?" I stare at him as he stands there in the middle of the hall, looking as bewildered as I feel. "When I said we had twenty minutes that wasn't just something I pulled out my arse! That's really all we have."

"You." He mutters shakily. "You said 'you'. Before anyone could tell you've escaped."

"Well, yes! That is the gist of it!" I snarl as I look around apprehensively. "Now is really not the time to be transfixed on a pronoun, Potter!"

"Why aren't you coming with me?" he growls back angrily, looking for all the world like a rabid dog.

"Because I'm not the one imprisoned in the dungeons! Did you hit your head or something?" I surreptitiously check the back of his skull for any signs of blunt trauma I hadn't managed to heal.

"No, you idiot!" He pushes me against the wall. "He'll figure out that you helped me! You know that! The second he steps through that door, he'll rape your mind and see!"

"I'll take my chances. Now stop being stupid—"

"No! I won't let you do that! I won't be the reason why you end up dead!"

The concern is palpable in his voice and even more so in the determined glint in his eye. It shames me to admit that it's causing me to develop quite a breathing problem.

"Fine! Give me a moment to collect my things! Father and I will meet you in—"

"What? Are you off your trolley? You can't bring Lucius with you! Besides, he won't go with you anyway." He grits his teeth angrily."What? Are you going to Imperio him to come along with us then?"

"He's my bloody father, Potter!" I shove him away from me, watching with a small jolt of grim satisfaction as he tumbles hard onto the ground. "If I have to, I will! I won't leave him!"

"How can you be so blind?" he growls. "He might be your father but he is also a monster! You saw what he did to me each night! We can't take him with us!" He shakes his head forcefully. 'I refuse."

"But—"

"I know you love him and it must kill you to hear this, but you know it's the truth. He's the sort of man that is truly evil. He actually gives Voldemort a run for his money." Potter shudders as he hugs himself. "His eyes are always the same when he tortures me. There's no fucking emotion in them. Even as I was choking on my own bile and practically drowning, he never as much as flinched. Not once. Anyone who could do that to another person is inhuman!"

My fist is already colliding with the side of his face before I register what I'm doing. All I want is for him to stop, to shut up about my father...about me. But even then, his words are still ringing in my ears. Even then, it doesn't make them any less true.

"He's my father."

"I'll never forgive him."

"Then I'm staying." I shake my head, desperate to dispel the tears I know will come. I can hardly look at him. The misdirected hatred in his eyes reminds me of what needs to be done and how foolish I've been to have thought that someday it could ever be...more. That I could ever be more than who I truly am.

"Go on, and please let the door hit you on your way out." I manage to dredge up a weak smile. "For old times' sake."

"You really think I'd leave you?" He snorts as he plants his arse down on the floor. "Not happening, Malfoy."

"Are you completely daft?" I gape at him. "You've just told me in great detail how much you're being tortured nightly! And it was only two days ago that you were begging me to kill you. If you stay here you will die! Now you only have a good five minutes, so I suggest—"

"You'll walk me back to my lovely room? Why I never thought you'd ask!" He bats his eyelashes at me in a horridly alluring way.

"You're serious about this."

"Better believe it, Malfoy."

"Merlin, you really are the archetypal boy hero, aren't you?" I stare at him, agog and more than a little bit flummoxed.

"Shut it! Now what will it be?"

I survey his face a little bit more, focusing on the tension in his jaw and the tightness around his mouth. He is every bit as apprehensive as I am, but he means it. If I don't go, he'll be staying too.

"Come on!" I grab his hand and pull; just in the nick of time as a spell explodes over the very spot Potter's head had occupied. I curse long and loud when I see a cloaked Death Eater cutting off our escape route. "This way!" I yell, my hand still holding onto his tightly as I manoeuvre around different corridors and rooms, trying to lose the hooded figure on our tail.

We finally skid to a halt as I find the chamber I'm looking for. "Quick, in here!" I shove him inside and secure the door with every warding spell that springs to mind.

"It's a dead end!" Potter cries out in despair.

"Oh ye of little faith," I snort as I motion to the cabinet propped up in the corner of the room.

He stands over it, his fingers moving along its smooth surface. "You used this to get them in, didn't you?" He takes a steadying breath. "Back at Hogwarts."

"Yes." Potter closes his eyes against the painful recollection and I can't help adding, "But it has a better purpose now."

"Yes, it does." He nods solemnly as he looks back at me. His eyes are still shining a little bit too wetly for my liking but his lips are curved with a tentative smile. He isn't offering forgiveness, at least not yet, but it gives me the hope that someday he will.

I know before I do it. Know that giving in to this one great temptation will eventually lead to madness, to things better left alone, but still I can't help myself nor do I want to, especially since I'm crap at denying myself anything in the first place. And so when I grab his face and slide his lips against mine, I know that it'd be a kiss that won't allow itself to be the last.

It's intoxicating like that very first sip of Firewhisky or the first flight on a broom. It only lasts for a moment but it's enough to tide me over for the dark days I know to be ahead. It also strengthens my resolve for what needs to come next.

I pull back and search his face, inwardly crowing with joy when all I see is shock and a breathless sort of amazement. It almost brings me to kiss him again, but the shouts coming from outside the room warn me that this decision would be unwise.

There are too many things left to say and not enough time to say them. I desperately search for something to tell him. Words that won't sound stupid or impersonal or insane. It's too early to love him, isn't it? A wish for good luck would be simply idiotic. And to say that I like him when I'm as good as willing to die for him would just be a gross understatement.

A blast shakes the walls and nearly sends us off our feet. Just in time, for I finally find the one thing I want him to understand in the midst of all this chaos and once more after all this is said and done. My voice is steady as I meet his gaze head on, my eyes memorizing every nuance of his face and my hands resting solidly on his shoulders.

"I'm not sorry."

It comes out as a growl and then he's gone, tumbling backwards into the cabinet and out of danger.

The door crashes behind me but I'm past caring. He's out of their clutches now and Father is safe.

Nothing else really matters.

o-O-o

"Is he dead?"

"No, my Lord, but it won't be long now."

Ugh! My head! What happened?

"Leave him then. He has failed me."

"If I may offer a suggestion, my Lord?"

Snape? What's going on? Why can't I see anything? My eyes feel so heavy.

"What is it, Severus?"

"He may prove invaluable when commandeering the Manor."

Merlin, what are they saying? I can barely hear anything! My head feels like it's wrapped in wool.

"Are you implying I need this mere slip of a boy to conquer bricks and stone?"

"Never, my Lord, but the Malfoys are known for warding their possessions with blood magic. And with Lucius gone, he is the last one."

Ha! Take that you, red-eyed bastard! You'll never find him! Do you hear me? You'll never hurt him again!

"Fine, but he has failed me twice now. What use is he to me when he couldn't even stop a half-dead boy from escaping? I have no need for incompetents and cowards."

"I may find his assistance helpful in my workshop. He is quite adequate at potions."

"So be it. He is your charge and I do expect those potions to be done twice as quickly now that you have your 'help'"

"Of course, my Lord."

"Oh and do put him under Cruciatus when he wakes up. I would cast one now, but the impact just wouldn't be the same."

"Yes, my Lord."

I'm about to protest, to offer some form of refusal to whatever design they both had in store but already the world is dimming around the edges, unconsciousness claiming me once again.

o-O-o

Light slowly penetrates my closed eyelids. I groan loudly as I try to sit up, but a firm hand stops me.

"Drink this."

It's an order, plain and simple, and I can only offer a whimper of protest before the potion is shoved down my throat. Glaring weakly at the man as I wipe my mouth sluggishly, I'm about to snap at him when he cuts me off.

"Now that you're done languishing for the better part of the week, we can begin." Snape sneers as he steps in front of me. I'm about to offer a cheeky remark in kind, but it gets lost at the sight of his thunderous expression.

"What were you thinking?" he growls. "Actually, never mind because I am quite sure you weren't doing anything of the sort!"

Before I can even begin to form a response, he's off again, cold fury practically reverberating from his form.

"Not only did you let Potter escape, but you actually commandeered the whole half brained attempt yourself! Nearly getting your head blown off, and Potter's as well, in the process! Merlin knows where you hid Lucius!" He glowers at me darkly. "Have I left any evidence of your stupidity out? Encapsulated the depths of your foolish behaviour yet?"

"How do you know all this?" I demand, flabbergasted. "Better yet, why haven't you told our Lord?"

"You still call him your Lord after what you've done?"

"Seeing as I'm still in one piece and he is a 'guest' in the Manor then yes." I meet his hard gaze squarely. "He is still my Lord."

"At least you're not entirely witless."

"And apparently you're not all that loyal." I snort as I cross my arms over my chest. "So were they right? Were you always Dumbledore's man?"

"I take that back, you're completely daft!" He shakes his head. "I am no one's but my own."

I laugh then. Oh this is priceless! "And you call me thick? We are all slaves to our masters. Some have a name and others do not, regardless whether you choose to acknowledge it."

"Spare me the metaphysical nonsense, Draco," he snorts. "You should have left Potter for the Order to deal with. They would have come for him soon enough. Instead your impulsive behaviour almost ruined everything, yet again."

"And when would I have known that this great rescue was going to happen? Should I have looked at my crystal ball that morning? Or perhaps asked you when you were still being your super-secret spy self?"

"Believe me, if I'd had even an inkling that you'd be this dim-witted, I would have said something," he snarls. "However, there is nothing for it. We must move forward."

"With what?" I ask him, taken aback.

"What else?" he snaps. "Now that the seat of power has shifted to the Manor, we are within striking distance!"

"Do you mean to tell me that you want my help to bring down the Dark Lord?" I stare at him, dumbfounded.

"Yes! You're the only one who can dismantle the wards long enough," he says intently.

"Why on earth do you think I'd do such a thing? Potter is safe and so is Father." I shake my head. "You're mental if you think I care about anything beyond that."

A slow calculating look crosses his features. "If you think your beloved Potter will rest knowing that you could possibly be either dead or on your bloody way to it then you are delusional." The thin smile curves even higher with his next words and it takes me every shred of self-control I possess not to wrap my hands around his neck and squeeze.

"As for Lucius, he may be hidden safely for now, but that can always change."

"Is that a threat?" I ask him quietly, anger softening my voice to a deadly whisper.

"Do you really need to ask?" he says sharply as he turns on his heel and leaves the room, arrogantly trusting that when he does, there will be no curse aimed for his head.

o-O-o

Now here I am. It is only a matter of time before they burst into this room. I must leave at once if I don't want to be caught in the crossfire between two sides I have no allegiance to. But even as I berate myself, I'm already pulling up my hood and stepping back into the unobtrusive shadows. I have to see him. Just a small glimpse and then I can go. I've come too far not to.

Soon enough the door is blasted off its hinges and he is right there, exactly how I pictured him to be in this one moment. Wild hair in disarray, clothes dishevelled and his eyes glinting in a manner that pretty much dares anything to come his way. His face is battered with bruises and his body is stained with blood.

He is still the most gorgeous thing I've seen in weeks.

I smile sadly as I look my fill. There are a thousand things I want to say. From inane things like 'You look awful'' and 'You have a bit of celery stuck to your teeth,' to intensely frightening stuff like "I missed you every second of every day," and "I love you." I keep my silence, though, as I watch him cross the hall. The Dark Lord has Apparated onto the scene and soon it will be filled with flying hexes.

A flash of blond catches my eye before I can Apparate away, and for a minute I don't think I can breathe. Father is standing there, right beside the Dark Lord. The snake-face bastard found him! Dread seizes my throat as cold realization sets in. Father's wand is in his hand and his head is tilted as though he's consciously listening to the bastard. My heart catches in my throat as duelling emotions of horrified disbelief and wild hope course through me. I stare at his form intently, searching for any sign that the man before me is the same one I've known and loved all my life.

His movements are jerky in a way that they have never been before, at least not until recently and his shoulders are slightly slumped as he looms over Potter's defiant stance. He holds his wand indelicately between his fingers and his eyes—his eyes are blank.

He isn't my father.

He hasn't been for a good long while.

It's a truth I never wanted to face, I still don't. I want to flee from it so badly that my eyes burn and my stomach is tied into knots. There is nothing I'd rather do than clutch my wand and leave this madness. To curl into bed with the soothing taste of Firewhisky on my tongue and forget it all in sweet oblivion. The thought is exceptionally tempting, but alas, two very important things prevent me from doing so.

And they are currently about to rip each other's throats out.

It's too late to turn away and hide from this moment. I've reached the point of no return and this knowledge finally spurs me into action and makes me break away from the shadows. As I move out from the alcove, it suddenly dawns on me that this—this is familiar. I've seen this hallway before. In fact, I've dreamed of it so many times that I reckon I've memorised each pattern on the tiled floor. As realization sinks in, a bemused smile tugs on my lips and my steps never falter.

I've finally reached the end of that damn hall.

I'm not running anymore.

The end.