Title: Rejoicing in Their Strength
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Warnings: Torture, violence, profanity, insanity, character death (not Harry or Draco), creature!fic (werewolf!Harry). Takes place after DH but ignores the epilogue.
Summary: Lucius went mad after the war, and he has killed Narcissa and confined Draco to Malfoy Manor while he does magical experiments on him. Draco escapes at times by astral travel. During one of his journeys, he is astonished to find Harry Potter, who vanished after the war, living in the Forest of Dean.
Author's Notes: This fic is rather graphic in its descriptions of the torture that Lucius inflicts on Draco. Tread with caution. It will probably be six or seven parts long.
Rejoicing in Their Strength
"Draco. How are you?"
Draco closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was always worst when his father began the torture by talking to him pleasantly. It would be better if he could wear out that initial politeness and let the madness emerge. He lay motionless, as if asleep, and listened to his father padding nearer, his bare feet soft on the flagstones of the underground lab.
"Oh, Draco." Lucius's voice was soft with sorrow, which was worse still. "Do you think you can escape? You can't. I have to cure you, and I'll do that no matter how much you scream, because it's my responsibility as your father to heal you."
Worst of all. Draco decided that he might as well meet his fate head-on, and sat up and turned sideways on the raised "bed" that Lucius confined him to whenever he wanted Draco to stay in the lab. A cage of blue light surrounded the bed, one that Draco could have done something about it if he had his wand. Of course, Lucius had seized that long ago, and he always kept Draco naked, so even if the cage did someday miraculously disappear, Draco wouldn't get very far.
Not in any conventional way, at least.
Lucius examined him approvingly, and then nodded. "Much better, I think. The sores have cleared up, haven't they?"
The "sores" were welts left from the last whipping Lucius had inflicted on him. Draco swallowed. "Yes, sir, they have," he whispered.
Lucius stepped through the blue light as if it wasn't there and laid a caressing hand on Draco's shoulder. "You don't need to say 'sir' to me," he said, eyes clear and concerned. "I'm your beloved father. There should be no formality between us."
Draco nodded, gaze on the ground. Of course, if he forgot to say "sir" and addressed Lucius by name, then the whippings and the "treatments" were worse. But Lucius never remembered that during the moments before the thickest madness descended.
"Good!" Lucius stepped back and clapped his hands. "I think we'll try the salt treatment today. That one seems to be most effective."
Then I'll definitely have to go away, Draco thought, and closed his eyes as his father raised his wand and began to chant the spell that would turn Draco's blood to salt in his legs. It hurt like nothing else (except some of the other cruel "treatments" Lucius had thought up) and Draco simply couldn't stay in his body and bear it.
It wasn't that he didn't want to fight. But without a wand, and against a wizard of Lucius's power and insane determination—against the man who had killed his mother—it was impossible.
When he heard the first syllables of the spell echoing off the stone walls, Draco snapped his spirit out of his body and went.
Draco opened his eyes to find himself hovering in a dark purple mist lit by small silver sunbursts, which resolved into five-pointed stars if he looked at them closely enough. He could feel nothing, which wasn't a surprise. His "body" here was a wispy thing, formed out of spirit and fog, so transparent the stars could easily shine through it. But he could see and hear, and that was enough for him.
He didn't know if this place in between the house where his body lay and his destinations was real or not. He wasn't entirely sure that the visions he saw when he "traveled" were real. But that didn't matter, as long as they took him away from Lucius.
It's not as though I'll ever get to use my information to threaten anyone or earn freedom, he thought sardonically. He'd tried, in the days when he thought he might still be able to get access to Floo powder or an owl. Lucius had cast a spell that Draco recognized in retaliation, one that would cut off his fingers if he went near either one again.
Though isn't that counterproductive, that you fight to keep your body whole when dying would mean you were free?
Draco shook his head. He had long since stopped questioning most of the decisions he made. He thought he was going mad himself, but there was so little he could do to help that that he ignored the sensation and went ahead.
Into the future. Seeking some possibility of escape.
That's what brought you here, Draco reminded himself, and then turned his gaze towards the transparent dark blue floor beneath him. He wanted to go somewhere green tonight, somewhere wild, where freedom still sang in the open and walked beneath the branches. It hardly mattered where his magic took him. No one had ever shown the ability to see him. Otherwise, Draco would have used this method to seek out help.
As always, once he had pictured a likely destination in his mind, the magic that drove him this far reached out and chose a place. A cord suddenly snapped taut between Draco and that place, and his "body" hurtled down through the misty floor like a diving hawk.
Draco rushed into green light, and golden. He blinked in surprise. He hadn't realized Lucius was torturing him during daylight. Of course, it was rather easy to lose track of time in a dungeon.
All around him, tall trees reached arched branches to the sky. The grass and moss underneath were littered with only occasional briars or weeds; Draco thought the trees had blocked the sunlight from reaching the forest floor. Drifts of autumn leaves from last year, now mostly black, were more common.
And right in front of him was a tall young woman with long tawny hair, walking along a sandy trail with a swinging stride.
Draco thought of leaving again, and the simple action made the forest grow mistier around him. He had wanted a completely uninhabited place. The presence of this woman suggested it wasn't.
One thing made him stay and look more closely at the woman, though. She had sticks tangled into and woven through her hair. Why would anyone, even someone camping in the woods, bear that instead of stopping to pick them out?
The longer he looked—his spirit automatically flashed through the woods after the woman as she moved on—the more oddities he saw. Her feet were bare. Dirt was worked in under her fingernails, most of which were broken. A series of white scars crisscrossed her left forearm, resembling bites.
Probably she's just a Muggle runaway, Draco silently argued with himself. Or someone camping who hasn't had the chance to bathe yet. There's no reason for me to stay.
He could at least look in on her destination, though. That might prove entertaining. Draco was continually amused, now that he had the leisure to examine them, about the sorts of hardships that Muggles put themselves through. He hadn't had the chance to see the way they scrambled in the wild.
The woman rounded a corner in the trail and came out into the middle of a wide glade. Draco blinked and glanced around. The only way he might have seen this clearing was from above; it was well-hidden by a thick wall of trees that drew back abruptly to reveal the open space of grass. In fact, he thought the abruptness unnatural. Someone had cut those branches that might have projected beyond the wall.
Draco turned around—though as quickly as the magic made him move, it was more like reappearing facing another way. He saw three other people jogging out of the clearing to meet the woman. There were no tents, Draco saw. He blinked and stared harder, wondering what sort of crazy Muggles he'd stumbled on.
Then he realized there were faint, misty shapes in the air, which suggested houses covered with a Disillusionment Charm. He'd stumbled onto wizards.
Why would wizards be living in the middle of a forest, and looking like that?
The woman, whose name seemed to be Celia, laughed and held out her arms to the first person who came to meet her. He was a young man with dark hair and brilliant blue eyes, and he waved a wand that removed the dirt and the twigs and the grass stains efficiently from Celia. The bite scars stayed, Draco noticed; they must have belonged to a much older wound.
"How was it?" asked the man, grinning.
"Harder than I thought it would be," Celia admitted, and turned so that his wand could wave over the twigs clinging to her hair. "For one thing, whatever our exalted leader says, it's not natural to go a week without a bath."
The man rolled his eyes, while the tall woman behind him, who had streaks of grey in her hair and bright black eyes, laughed. "He says that it's necessary to 'embrace our lupine nature' and 'learn to control ourselves when the change comes,'" she said, altering her voice to a timbre that Draco almost recognized. "Of course, he would. He's been more successful than any of us at it." She brushed her hair away from her neck, and Draco saw the same sorts of white scars there that decorated Celia's arm.
That, combined with her comment about "lupine nature," made Draco shiver. They're a werewolf pack. They must be.
He thought about willing himself away from there. On the other hand, none of them could see him, either; he was standing right beside Celia, and no one had said anything yet. And they could hardly hurt him when his body was immaterial and any bite would go through him. Besides, Draco didn't think it was the full moon yet.
And he was interested, more interested than he had been in anything in a long time.
"You're always agreeing with him, Leila." Celia looked at her from beneath a strand of hair as the man charmed the last of the twigs out of it. "I find it tiresome."
"At least I'm here to argue with him," said the third person, who had been standing behind the man and whom Draco had failed to pay much attention to until now. She was another woman, though small and slim enough she might have passed for a teenage boy from a distance. Her hair was red like a Weasley's, but she had no freckles. Draco was relieved. There was only so much of an assault that his eyes could stand. "So you can give thanks for that."
"Maybe she shouldn't," the man murmured idly, though the tension in his shoulders as he stepped back from Celia told Draco it wasn't idle at all. "How many people have you nearly eaten now?"
The small woman moved forwards, bristling. Her red hair seemed to stand on end, and she was actually showing her teeth. The man fell into a defensive crouch, his wand weaving back and forth in front of him. Celia looked torn between amused and alarmed. Leila folded her arms and rolled her eyes.
"Enough." The authoritative voice spoke from a house that Draco thought stood farther away from the others, though he hadn't paid much attention to those arrangements yet, enthralled as he was with watching the people. "Josh, you should know better than to tease Hyacinth. Her wolf is stronger than the rest of ours, that's all."
"Except yours," said Josh, looking grateful for an excuse to put his wand away. Hyacinth relaxed and let her lips drop back over her teeth.
"The harder the struggle, the worthier the victory." The voice sounded as if it were quoting something.
Draco turned around, finally, to look at the man who could make angry werewolves calm down, and found himself staring at Harry Potter.
Potter leaned against the invisible house behind him, one heel cocked to rest on the wall, his arms folded like Leila's, his green eyes wary and brilliant at the same time. There was no doubt it was him; the shaggy hair still slid apart to show the lightning bolt scar on his forehead. But he had changed, and Draco didn't think the slightly ragged clothing or the scarred bite visible on his right shoulder were the biggest parts of it.
He carried an aura of power with him now. Draco couldn't feel anything in his spiritual state, and yet this reached out to him and crackled around him the way it seemed to crackle around Potter's fellow werewolves. It was a soothing lightning, if such a thing existed. It threatened greater strength than any Draco could command and promised protection. If he would only yield, then he could lean on that strength and be comforted and sheltered for the rest of his life.
It was so long since Draco had felt anything like it that he found himself staring, enchanted.
Potter looked past his pack, and his eyes abruptly fastened on Draco. He started forwards with an exclamation, his hand stretched out. "Malfoy?"
Draco panicked. No one was supposed to be able to see him when he was traveling like this. He had been in more than one situation where it would be dangerous to be discovered, but this would be the most dangerous of all.
The other werewolves were swinging around to look at him now, their confused voices making a chorus that haunted Draco. If someone discovered what had happened to him—if they mocked him because he hadn't been strong enough to escape from Lucius—
He leaped without thinking, and snapped back into his body. At once the burning along his veins twined around him like loops of strangling rope, and he screamed.
"A better reaction than I've had for some time," Lucius said, sounding pleased. His hand stroked down Draco's back and pressed firmly in the middle of his spine, as if he thought that he could urge further cries out of him that way. "Yes. Do scream, Draco. A purging of pain is necessary to rid you of the disease, and, alas, the only way to purge pain is to suffer it."
It was too much. He hadn't been braced to endure the agony, since he hadn't felt anything until this very moment. Draco buried his head in his arms and wept, while Lucius stroked his back and his hair and murmured soothing nonsense words.
His father's wand was always ready with a Rennervate whenever Draco passed out.
Later, when he was lying in the soft bed that Lucius sometimes gave him after he had tortured him and wincing as lingering jolts of shock and pain ran through his muscles, Draco found his mind returning to what he had seen of Potter's little werewolf pack.
It was impossible that Potter could have seen him simply because he was a werewolf. The others hadn't been able to, if their yelps of confusion were any indication. And Draco had been around people before in his spiritual travels, though not by choice, including people who had known him much more intimately than Potter. None of them had betrayed the slightest awareness of his presence.
If they had, Draco thought, curling up into a position that left his head buried in his arms but his legs stretched out, then I wouldn't have spent so much time cooped up in this house with a madman.
His heart leaped with wonder then, and he paused and swallowed, wondering if he dared reveal his situation to Potter and ask for help—
But he rejected the notion in the next instant. Potter had made it all too clear during their schooldays that he would love to see pain inflicted on Draco of exactly the kind that Lucius was inflicting. He had even done it himself with the Sectumsempra Curse. Why would he spare any effort to rescue Draco now?
Draco wanted the pain to end, but if it had to continue, then he would prefer to deal with it himself. He didn't want the memory of mockery to ring in his ears.
And the pain would never end.
Despair rose above him and came down as a great black crashing wave, burying him fathoms deep in silence and darkness.
Your mind doesn't make any sense.
It didn't make any sense for him to have returned to the forest to observe Potter's little werewolf camp, Draco acknowledged to himself. He had every reason to stay far away. Fear of mockery, fear of what else Potter might be able to do to him if he could see Draco, fear of encountering savagery and bloodlust instead of the peace he needed to see on these journeys, fear of Potter enlisting other people who might able to sense him—because if one could, maybe others could—in the hunt for Draco…
All of them boil down to fear.
Draco shrugged. It had been months since his existence had consisted of anything else.
He wondered for a moment if he was going mad, because this was the most irrational thing he had done since Lucius had imprisoned him. But he rejected the thought, shouted at it and broke it over his knee. Lucius had encouraged Draco to distrust his own perceptions from the first day he tortured him, told him that he was sick and shouldn't fight the pain because it was meant to help him. He hadn't forced Draco down that road so far. Draco would not travel it on his own.
So he stood behind the trees, because if Potter could see his spirit form there was at least no indication that he could see Draco through solid objects, and watched the werewolf pack going about their day.
Josh, the only man in the pack besides Potter, was practicing what seemed to be meditation, crouching on a woven grass mat with his eyes closed and breathing slowly. Celia, the woman Draco had followed through the forest the other day, was reading a book which she moved her lips over; Draco had sneaked as close as he dared, but still couldn't see the title. Leila, who apparently agreed with everything Potter said—as if he could make a home in the wilderness without at least one of his little sycophants around—hummed under her breath as she brewed a potion that had the smell and consistency of Wolfbane. An impromptu lab had been set up under the trees at the very edge of the clearing, and Draco, after watching Leila for a time, had to admit she was clever in substituting some forest-given ingredients for rarer ones she was obviously missing.
Potter sat in the shade of a flowering bush not far from one of the disgusted houses and talked softly to the woman named Hyacinth.
Draco sneered at that at first. Of course everyone else in the pack would be busy and devoted to their tasks, while Potter did what he could to avoid work. And Hyacinth didn't look as if she particularly welcomed the conversation. She stared over Potter's head into the forest, her eyes slitted and her breath moving in rasping huffs over her bared teeth. Potter was probably just talking to hear the sound of his own voice.
But when he had spent a few hours watching them, Draco noticed something else. Another half-hour, and he had to admit it existed, against all his inclinations and all his prior knowledge of Potter.
Hyacinth had started out with her teeth bared and her expression uninterested. But slowly, she uncoiled and turned her head towards Potter like a sunflower tracking the sun. By now she was lying with her hands folded underneath her chin like a wolf with its head on its paws and watching him with a dull wonder. Before, Draco would have said that she was on the verge of snapping and running like the wild thing she was into the trees; now she seemed calmer and more human.
Celia regularly glanced up from her book at Potter. Josh turned in his meditation so that he could face him. Leila would finish a stage of the Wolfsbane, shake her head, take a satisfied breath, and then look so that she could catch a glimpse of him over her shoulder.
Potter was the center of his little pack's existence, as thoroughly as the sun was the center of the solar system.
Draco curled his lip. He laughed—under his breath, because he wasn't sure how much of his speech Potter could hear. He pictured Potter lounging under the adoration of the pack like a spoiled prince, every now and then showing his scar so that he could produce excited little squeals.
But the effort to make himself despise Potter for ruling the lives of his companions didn't work, because Draco could feel the effect of that strength.
His father had taught him to worship power, and however much Draco rejected the later manifestations of that attitude, he remembered it as something comforting in childhood. If one of his friends injured him or argued with him, he could rest secure in the knowledge that his father would do something about it. Lucius was a man others cowered before. Draco remembered several times standing tall and proud at his side and seeing someone else slink away with lowered eyes.
It wasn't comfortable to have that same strength wielding a whip over you or causing fungus to grow through your skin, of course. But when you could lean on it, shelter within it…
And Potter's strength was a palpable aura around him, and his packmates obviously reveled in it.
Finally, Potter stood, with Hyacinth lying at his feet and drowsing in the sunlight. Josh and Celia turned around immediately. Leila took a bit longer, involved as she was in the potion, but she finally glanced up, and then whipped around as if she'd committed some offense in not responding to Potter at once.
Potter nodded and started speaking. His eyes moved constantly from face to face, but that didn't give Draco an impression of nervousness; instead, he seemed to be checking for any sign that his people didn't understand his words. Draco stirred unhappily. That was the kind of leader he'd thought the Dark Lord was, once. It still hurt to remember how wrong he'd been.
Enough of pain. Enough of fear. I'm here to observe something that doesn't concern me and forget for a little while. So Draco did his best to pay attention to Potter's words. They were loud enough, God knew. Potter hadn't lost his liking for making speeches.
"Tomorrow's the full moon. We'll have the potion, but remember: this isn't about subduing the wolf. If we wrestle with it, it's angry and becomes harder to control later, and we're condemning ourselves to a life of needless guilt, because it can't be banished completely. I knew someone whose entire life was a misery because he decided that he was a monster, even when he didn't hurt people, simply because the wolf existed." Potter's eyes grew distant for a moment.
Lupin, Draco thought, remembering the scruffy Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Yes, he looked like someone who hated his life and probably felt needlessly guilty.
"It isn't about giving in to the wolf, either," Potter continued, apparently because his daily quota of looking Pale and Stern and Noble hadn't been fulfilled yet. "The ones who do that become true monsters, like Fenrir Greyback." His right hand made an aborted little movement that rendered Draco dead certain Greyback had been the cause of Potter's own bite. "No, we have to pursue the middle course, and be both human and wolf at once. That's the reason I've had you living 'wild' in the forest, the way that some of you have complained about." He looked directly at Celia.
"It's the living without a bath that I object to," Celia muttered, pushing strands of tawny hair away from her face and frowning at Potter.
Potter smiled. "I know it takes some time to get used to," he said. "But the last time I transformed, I did it with the potion in my body and my mind calmed and soothed by having listened to some of the wolf's impulses. It's a delicate balancing act, but it's the kind we have to perform if we don't want to lose our minds."
"I don't want to lose mine," Hyacinth said, lifting her head and shaking herself off as if she'd been immersed in water. "I just don't believe that this is going to work. And if I don't believe it will work, then it won't." Her voice was full of gloomy satisfaction.
Potter dropped to a crouch in front of her and tucked his hands under her chin. "Don't give up," he whispered. His voice was low, but intense enough that the hair on the back of Draco's neck stood up. "And it's not a simple matter of belief. Nothing's simple anymore, now that we've got the wolves inside us. If you fight—and I know you're a fighter, Hyacinth—then you can achieve that balance."
The pack became still, staring at Potter, who seemed to be sending out invisible ripples of confidence. Draco sneered. To be that dependent on one person would make me ill.
But he could see the temptation of it. If there was someone who was counseling him to hold on to his sanity while Lucius tortured him, because someday he would come and pull Draco out of the Manor…
Draco shredded the fantasy. Start thinking like that and he would go mad whether he wanted to or not.
Potter stood up when Hyacinth lowered her head and glanced from one member of the pack to another. He acted as if he could see each of their souls when he looked into their eyes. Draco knew he really couldn't, but he had to admit, grudgingly, that it was a good act.
"We are going to dance with our wolves," Potter said. "And we are going to lead the dance, not stumble hopelessly through it."
Everyone nodded as if hypnotized. Draco snorted.
Potter immediately took a step forwards, his head cocked. Draco froze again, but it wasn't enough, because Potter gave a single deep sniff and then said, in a voice that had descended several levels, "Malfoy, why don't you come out of hiding? I know you're there."
Terrified, Draco snapped himself back to his body again. At least what Lucius was doing to him was an evil he understood.