All characters belong to J.K. Rowling of course.

Thanks so much to my beta and good friend, the brilliant ObsidianEmbrace. Thanks also to the very talented Kristen who has been a wonderful friend and support to me. Both are wonderful authors. Go check out their wonderful Stories.

Sorry for such a long wait, but this past year has been very difficult for me. First I was very ill, and then my father passed away. I will try to update more often if RL behaves! Thank to all of you who have stuck it out with me!


"Lucius," Severus said, with a slight sneer. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"

"Are you going to keep me standing in the doorway Severus?" Lucius said haughtily. "Or are you going to invite me in?"

"Oh, of course Lucius. Pardon my manners."

"So," Severus said, as he reached out a hand to take Lucius' cloak and cane, "What brings you to this Muggle hell hole, as you so aptly put it the last time you graced me with your presence?"

Lucius gingerly settled himself into the frayed arm-chair, but not before planting a look of disgust on his pale features.

"Honestly Severus. I know that the Dark Lord said to keep a low profile, but this," he said, his upper lip lifting in a sneer, "is carrying it too far."

Severus turned his back on the blond aristocrat, and gritted his teeth. He tossed some ice into two glasses, and filled them both with brandy.

He took a deep breath before turning around and handing the glass of brandy to Lucius.

"So, Lucius. You haven't told me why you're here."

Lucius lifted a blond eyebrow. "I think that it's fairly obvious Severus. I wish to see my son."

"I'm afraid that's not possible."

"And why is that?" Lucius asked sharply.

Severus sat down, and crossed his long legs; he was formulating a response that would satisfy Lucius…for the time being anyway.

"Relax Lucius. Sit back down." Severus said when the blond man had jumped up angrily.

"Where is my son Severus?" Lucius asked in a dangerous voice.

Severus could see a pulsing in the man's temple, and his finger's tightening on the polished handle of his cane.

"Relax Lucius, and sit down. Draco is simply at Hogwarts, completing some extra credit work that I have set him."

"I see. Just why would he need to go to Hogwarts, when he has your wonderful, fully-stocked library here to peruse?" he sneered.

Severus took a sip of his drink.

"While I have spent many years accumulating these rare and expensive volumes, my collection nowhere equals that of Hogwarts. Besides, I have also set Draco an advanced, independent study project in Potions. My lab here is severely lacking to that of Hogwarts."

"Of course it is," Lucius said, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.

Severus dearly hoped that the man would not take it upon himself to go Hogwarts to check up on Draco; Severus would have some serious explaining to do.

"So is that the only reason that you have honoured me with your presence?" Severus asked, hoping to steer the conversation towards less dangerous topics.

"No it isn't, but I am pleased to see that you are making Draco's education a priority. It is unacceptable that that Mudblood continually surpasses Draco's grades," he spat.

"Why is it Severus, that you award her such high marks?" he growled, and slammed his cane down on the floor.

"You know very well why Lucius. I must answer to the Headmaster and justify all the grades that I submit. While I can choose what student, or rather what House to favour, and award points at my own discretion, grades are scrutinised by the Headmaster and the Board of Wizarding Education, as you well know."

"Yes. Very convenient," he sneered.

"Draco is at the top of all his classes Lucius. You should be proud of him."

Lucius' eyes flashed.

"Do not ever presume to tell me how to feel about my own son Severus."

"Forgive me. I was only trying to point out to you that Draco is consistently at the top of all of his classes. Perhaps you should-"

"Do not tell me what to do with my son!" Lucius bellowed. "I do not care if Draco is at the top of his class. I want him to be the best in his class. All of his classes. I want him to do better than the Mudblood. He is a Malfoy. He must be worthy of the name."

Lucius got up and paced back and forth, stomping his cane on the floor as he ranted. He swirled around to pierce Severus with grey eyes that were as warm as chips of ice.

"Perhaps I was mistaken that you were the best person to help Draco realise his potential. I think perhaps it is time for Draco to return home."

Severus drew in a sharp breath.

"You know that I have only Draco's best interest at heart."

"Perhaps Severus, but I think perhaps that you're interpretation of what is best for Draco and mine are two different things."

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. The man was seriously getting on his nerves; Lucius' favourite pastime was playing mind games.

"What are you implying Lucius?"

"I'm not implying anything. I'm saying that you've gone soft Severus," he said coldly.

"I don't think that either Draco, or any of my students, would agree with you. I demand the best of my Slytherins. Anything else is unacceptable," Severus said dryly.

"The boy needs discipline Severus."

"And he is getting it Lucius," Severus snapped. "I rather resent your suggestion that I'd be anything less than exacting with Draco. My Slytherins know that I won't tolerate anything but excellence, and they know the consequences should they fail to meet my high expectations."

"Maybe," Lucius said slowly.

He got up and walked over to the window.

"Very well Severus. I will give you the benefit of the doubt. Merlin knows that the Dark Lord has been quite adamant that you are trustworthy and that it is you he wishes to train Draco in the Dark Arts," he said jealously.

He drained the last dregs of his drink, and placed it on the side table. "I will, however," he said in a soft voice, which nevertheless sounded threatening, "expect a thorough weekly report on Draco's progress."

Severus nodded his head. "Of course Lucius."

Lucius made it almost to the door, and suddenly, both men hissed in pain and clutched their arms.

Severus cursed inwardly. The Dark Lord had the worse timing. With thoughts of Draco and Harry still huddled in the closet, Severus prepared himself mentally to face his Dark Master.


"Let me out Uncle Vernon. I'll be good. Please let me out."

"Potter," Draco whispered harshly. "You have to be quiet. My father will hear you and then it'll all be over."

Harry began clawing at the door. "No. Please, I'm sorry Uncle Vernon. I swear that I didn't tell the teacher how I broke my arm. I swear."

"Potter please, you have to be quiet."

"Don't close the door Uncle Vernon. Please don't close the door."

Draco knelt beside Harry in the cramped space.

"Potter…Harry, you aren't with your aunt and uncle." He touched Harry lightly on the shoulder.

Harry flinched and squealed.

Draco raked his fingers through his blond hair. He tried to think of how he could calm Potter down.

He came up empty. He wasn't good at this emotional crap. He was used to manipulating, cheating, and saving your own arse at any cost; empathy and sympathy just weren't in his vocabulary. But having spent the last several weeks with a Gryffindor, (oh Merlin, shoot me!) he'd learnt that Gryffindors, and particularly Potter, had the most annoying habit of sacrificing themselves to save the world. And they actually put their own interests aside, as well as their well-being and safety, for the greater good. What a load of absolute rubbish!

However, as Draco had spent way more time with a Gryffindor than he'd ever envisioned or ever wished for, to his utter horror, some of these feelings had rubbed off on him.

"Potter, you're not with your relatives, you're here with me at Professor Snape's house. You have to get yourself under control. My father can't know that you're here. We'll both be in danger."

If anything, this only made Harry more anxious. He tried to grab the door handle, in a desperate attempt to escape.

Draco grabbed Harry's hand and held it firmly.

"Potter Please- calm down. My father mustn't discover that you're here. It would be disastrous."

The lump in Draco's throat only worsened when Potter only became more agitated. He pressed his ear against the door when he suddenly heard the front door slam.

Draco opened the door slightly.

A slice of light filtered in through the crack in the door.

Draco gingerly opened the door wider, and stepped out. He made his way towards the stairs and quietly crept down. The sigh of relief that escaped, was immediately replaced by a gnawing in the pit of his stomach at the realisation that the parlour below was empty, and that meant that Severus and his father had probably received a summons from the Dark Lord.

Every time Severus was called, Draco was overcome with apprehension. Although he did love his father, despite his harsh ways and volatile temper, he was more worried about Severus.

Draco wasn't naïve; he knew that Severus wasn't loyal to the Dark Lord; if truth be told, Draco himself had little desire to become a Death Eater. He didn't fool himself that he had a choice though. His father would not tolerate anything else.

Harry suddenly came to with the realisation that he'd made a complete fool of himself. Shame washed over him as he realised that he'd had a melt-down in front of Draco Malfoy. It was almost worse than spilling his deepest secrets in front of the whole class.


Harry looked up to see the blond crouch down.

"My father and Severus are gone, but I don't think it'd be a good idea for you to come down just yet. Just in case they decide to come back."

"Come, let's get you out of here," he said softly, reaching out a hand to pull Harry up.

All Harry could think of was that he almost preferred to stay in the broom cupboard, than to face Malfoy after making a total arse of himself.

"You go to our room. I rather fancy a spot of tea, and I daresay you could use some too."

Harry could feel the flush creep up his neck. Frankly, right now he could use a couple of Firewhiskeys—forget about the tea!

Harry lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He just couldn't believe that how he'd lost it there.

All the self-control and independence that he'd worked so hard to gain had all gone down the drain in one fell swoop.

In all the years that he'd lived with the Dursleys, Harry had guarded his secrets closely to his heart, but now all his dirty laundry was hanging out to dry. First in class and now with Malfoy. There was nothing left to hide, was there? He thought sadly.

"Here you go Potter," Draco said, as he carried in a tray with tea and sandwiches. Of course the sandwiches were not the everyday variety of sandwiches.

Harry rolled his eyes. "You cut off the crusts Malfoy?"

"Well of course Potter. Just because I have to be holed up in this shack, doesn't mean that I must act like a peasant," he sneered haughtily.

"Now, there's the same old Draco Malfoy that we all know and love."

Draco shifted uncomfortably.

"Yeah well, I like to think that there's still some of me left." He raked his long fingers through his pale hair. "I don't know how to act any differently," he said softly.

"I'm not asking you to Malfoy. I've grown accustomed to your little…shall we say idiosyncrasies. You know…like you sorta get used to a wart," he teased lightly.

"Yeah well, I guess that you've kind of grown on me too Potter."

Harry spooned some sugar into his cup, and looked up at Draco.

"About what happened in there," he hesitated, "-I, well…that is to say, I-"

"I won't say a word," Draco finished his sentence.

"I've just made a total arse of myself Malfoy. Why are you passing up on the chance to use this against me with your Slytherin buddies?" he asked suspiciously.

Draco's shoulders slumped.

"Has nothing that happened in the past few weeks made any difference to you at all Potter?"

"I'm sorry Malfoy, but you've been a real arse to me since we came to Hogwarts. It's a little hard to forget it all, just because you've been half-decent to me for a couple of weeks."

"I know Potter. You think I don't know that I've treated you like crap for the past four years."

"Then why'd you do it? Because your daddy told you to?"

"Yes Potter I did. Are you happy? Is that what you wanted to hear? That I'm my father's little puppet?'

"So you're saying that if you're father hadn't told you to be an arse to me, you would have treated me like your best pal?" Harry scoffed at him.

"Of course not. You were a pain in your own right, and it had nothing to do with your connection to the Dark Lord. Correction—it did have to do with your connection to the Dark Lord, but not in the way you think," he said hurriedly, when he saw Harry's disbelieving expression.

Draco jumped up and began pacing the room.

"You really were Saint Potter you know. You turned out to be this paragon of virtue; this bloody symbol of the light that could do no wrong. You turned out to be nothing like my parents and I thought that you would be. And it was Harry Potter this, and Harry Potter that. You could do no wrong in the eyes of the teachers; you got away with bloody murder. If I'd pulled half of the bloody stunts that you'd pulled over the years, I'd have been expelled. Of course running off at every turn on your half-baked Gryffindor stunts would have landed me in the morgue, but you…you just seemed to bounce back from adversity like a cat with nine lives. It was bloody sickening!"

Sure…it didn't help that my father instructed me to get close to you when he found out that you were coming to Hogwarts. Of course at the time, we didn't know if you would replace the Dark Lord-"

"What?" Harry said sharply.

"C'mon, surely you realised that everyone on the Side of the Light was hailing you as the Saviour of the Wizarding World, while everyone on the side of the Dark was wondering how a mere baby defeated the most powerful Dark Wizard of all time. We thought that maybe you had some secret power that enabled you to defeat the Dark Lord, and would one day take his place."

Harry's jaw dropped. "You have got to be kidding!"

"I know that it sounds preposterous now, but believe me Potter, my father was determined that if you were to be more powerful than the Dark Lord as just a mere child, then he wanted to curry favour with you, cultivate your power, and possibly be the one to influence you and train you to take over the Wizarding World one day."

Harry snorted. "Your father is more of a wanker than I realised."

"I'm not disagreeing with you there."

Draco sighed. "Do you even realise how much trouble I got in, when my father found out how I not only failed to become your best mate and influence you to be sorted in Slytherin, but that I'd actually managed to push you further away, become best mates with a Weasley and a Mudblood and be sorted into bloody Gryffindor."

Harry jumped up angrily.

"Do not ever use that word again, especially about Hermione."

"Whoa. Calm down Potter. I'm just relating to you how my father viewed the whole situation."

"Just don't use that word again, alright? If you ever want us to be friends, or at least not enemies, just don't use that word again. That's not up for debate."

"I'm sorry okay. You just don't understand what it's like to be brought up the way I was."

"Sure I don't," Harry replied acerbically.

"Yeah, sorry about that," Draco said sheepishly. "I know that. I just—I guess that we are really more alike than both of us realised."

"Yeah well, I find that hard to believe Malfoy. You wear posh robes, spun with the finest fabrics from all over Europe, while I wear my cousin's hand-me-downs that are three sizes too big for me, you wear fancy polished boots, I wear trainers that are riddled with holes, and soak my feet when I step in a puddle, you wear fancy gold cufflinks on your ruffled shirt, made from the finest silk, I wear a ratty, stained tee-shirt that practically reaches my knees. You never have a hair out of place, my hair looks like a bird has made its home in it, you eat the highest quality caviar, and drink the finest wines, I eat scraps from the garbage if I eat at all, and I'm lucky to steal a drink from the garden hose. You live in a House that has a bathroom that is bigger than my bedroom. Oh right, that was because my bedroom was a fucking broom closet for eleven years!"

Harry's hand flew to his mouth.

Harry really didn't know why he was so mortified anyway. Malfoy already knew that he had been stuffed in a broom closet like a bloody mop; hell-the whole school knew that he was not really the Saviour of the Wizarding World now. No, Harry Potter wasn't the great hero that everyone thought he was. He was just poor little Harry Potter, weak and puny and defenceless against his brute of a Muggle uncle. Hell, the great Harry Potter was brutalised by a mere Muggle. How the hell was Harry supposed to save the Wizarding World, when he couldn't even save himself?

Draco knelt down before Harry, who sat hunched over on his bed. "Is that why you lost it in there Potter? Because you thought you were in your broom closet again?" Draco asked softly.

Harry clenched his fists. "Yes…are you happy now?"

"No, I'm not happy at all," Draco whispered, more to himself than to Harry.

"Now you know every one of my secrets. I'm not this big hero; I'm not as brave or as strong as everyone thinks I am. I can't live up to that reputation, and to tell you the truth Malfoy. I don't want to anymore. I just want to be a normal kid. I just want to be Harry."

Harry wiped his sleeve over his eyes. He was horribly embarrassed as the tears rolled down his cheeks. Of all the people that he would have chosen to bear all his secrets and fears to, Draco Malfoy would have been his last choice. Not even Ron and Hermione had been privy to the details of his home-life.

"I have to disagree with you there Potter."


"I disagree that you are not a hero."

"Have you been dipping into the Firewhiskey again? Of course I'm not a bloody hero. I'm just a pathetic carbon copy of a real hero. The poor Boy-Who-Lived who couldn't even defend himself against a Muggle. The Boy who is short and puny and wears rags, who lives in a cupboard and is treated like a House-Elf and punching bag by his relatives."

"Are you quite finished feeling sorry for yourself?"

"Fuck off Malfoy. I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I'm simply stating the truth."

Draco rolled his eyes. "No offence, but you wouldn't know the truth if it hit you in the eyes."

Draco ducked when Harry hurled a pillow through the air.

"It's true Potter. Don't you see? You are even more of a hero," he said disgustedly, because of all the crap that you've been through, because of your poor beginnings and small stature and it's not because of your name either."

"Cut the crap Malfoy. I don't know what you hope to gain by this. Oh, I get it. You hope that I'll save your ass from old Voldie himself, or your arse-licking, son-of-a-bitch father."

Draco laughed. "Oh, you think that I'm going to get all mad because you're insulting my father? I've got news for you. I don't give a crap about my father, or about the Dark Lord for that matter. Everything you say about my father is true. Yeah, maybe I love him because he's my father, but trust me, I have no illusions that he's a good man, and I can't claim that I didn't always believe his crap about Pureblood being the best, and Mud-, uh…Muggles being inferior, but I've come to see things very differently recently."

Harry peered at him through narrowed eyes. "I still can't say I trust you, and I'm not sure what your game is, but I'm glad at least that you're seeing your father for who he really is. Now, about Voldemort-"

"Don't say his name," Draco hissed.

"Why not? It's only a name, and you're giving him more power than he deserves."

Draco breathed in deeply. "Fine. Voldemort," he said slowly. "Satisfied?"


"Now, as I was saying, and listen carefully Potter, because if I'm telling you this, it's because it's true, and it's not easy for me to admit. Think about the way that my father is and what I've been brought up to believe about you. Despite all the hardships that you've endured, and despite the odds that have been stacked against you, you've prevailed against the Dark Lord. Doesn't that tell you something?"

Harry scooted up on the bed and lay back against the headboard. "Yeah, that I've been lucky."

"Luck?" Draco asked incredulously. "You think that it was luck that helped you defeat the Dark Lord, time and time again?"

"Oh, and what is your theory? That I have some special power that Voldemort doesn't have?|

"Do I have to spell it out for you? Are you a blithering idiot Potter? I actually thought that you had some brains in that overly-large head of yours."

"Go to hell Malfoy."

"Fine, you don't have to believe me, but the fact remains that no matter what dirty little secrets that you believe the world has discovered about you, no matter that everyone knows now what abusive Muggles your relatives are, or that you are human and get scared sometimes, it will only strengthen their respect for you, as—as it has me," he said quietly.

Harry froze. "You respect me?" he asked in disbelief.

"Yes, and you know why?"

"No. Enlighten me," Harry said dryly.

"Hell, this isn't easy for me. It goes against everything that I've been brought up to believe."

"It's not always easy to stand up for what you believe in," Harry prodded the boy.

"No, and you know my father. Trust me-what you think that you know about my father, pales in comparison to what he is really capable of."

"When I first came here, you had a black eye," Harry asked quietly. "You implied that your father was responsible."

"Like I said, we are not so very different."

"Trade you for me, and your uncle for my father, and our lives could be carbon-copies."

"That bastard," Harry exclaimed indignantly.

"The only difference between your uncle and my father is that your uncle uses his fists to hurt you, and my father's weapon of choice is his wand." Draco snarled. "God forbid that he should bloody his hands."

"I'm sorry," Harry said quietly.

"I don't want your pity Potter. I'm telling you all this so that you see that why you and are alike, it is also why we are so different."

"It doesn't sound like we're very different after all," Harry admitted grudgingly.

"Yes we are. Don't you see? Despite the horrible treatment by your relatives, despite what a shrimp you are-"

"Gee thanks," Harry mumbled. "At least I'm not a telephone pole on legs."

"A what?"

"A telephone. It's a gadget that you put in your ear, and you dial a number to reach-"

"Oh, you mean one of those telephony thingies that Severus uses sometimes."

"Yeah, a telephony thingy," Harry said acerbically. At Draco's look of confusion, he waved his hand. "Never mind. What a way to kill a joke."

"Anyway-" Draco continued, "-the point is, despite all the obstacles you've overcome in your life, despite the obstacles you face battling such a strong and powerful Dark Wizard, despite admittedly being scared shitless at times, you forge on headlong anyway. Of course, some would argue, Severus more specifically, that you exhibit typical Gryffindorish, idiotic and fool-hardy behaviour, but nevertheless, you are everything I'm not—brave and strong and you don't let adversity get in your way."

Draco went over to the window.

He looked out to the forest at the edge of the property on the right.

The sun was low now and pink and mauve tinged the darkening sky; dusk was approaching.

Draco got a knot in his stomach. Where was Severus? He should have been back by now. He tried not to think of what the consequences could be if his father, or the Dark Lord, discovered that Severus was not only encouraging Draco to turn against everything that the Dark Lord preached, and his father as well, but that he was protecting and sheltering the Vanguard of the Light—The-Boy-Who-Lived, Harry Potter himself.

"I ad—I admire the way that you fight for what you believe in, and the way that you stand up to the Dark Lord. I don't want to become a Death Eater like my father. I don't want to be a slave to the Dark Lord. I want to be my own person. I just don't know how to. When I told my father that I didn't want to serve the Dark Lord, and I refused to take the Dark Mark when I became of age, well he—well, that is how I got the black eye that you saw when you first came here."

"Malfoy—Draco, there are many different ways to show bravery. Hell, if you're serious about going against your father that in itself is a very brave thing to do."

"No, I'm not very brave. Not brave at all. Definitely not as brave as you."

"You've got to be kidding Malfoy. Your father is one scary Wizard, and for you to actually say no to him, takes loads of courage."

Harry began to chuckle. "Well, I see a pig flying just outside that window."


"I mean…when the day comes that Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter are actually having a civilised conversation, and not only are not insulting one another but trading encouraging, sappy sentiments, then I know that pigs are flying!"

"You're mental, you know that Potter?"

"So I've been told."

"You know," Draco said with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "I know where Severus keeps his liquor hidden, and I know a neat little spell for disabling the wards too."

"Won't you get into trouble for using underage magic though? And if Snape finds out, we'll both be in trouble."

Harry chuckled. "Might be worth it to piss ole Snape off a bit though."

"Are you crazy? It's never worth it to piss Severus off. Surely after four years at Hogwarts, you know that?"

Harry scowled. "Yeah, of course. What was I thinking? I definitely don't fancy the lecture or pickling rat spleens."

"Yeah, but I know how to do it without getting caught."

"Really? How? Cause I could sure use something stronger than this rat piss that you call tea."

Draco looked insulted. "Well, of course those who have little breeding lack the palette necessary to savour the finer foods and beverages in life," he said haughtily.

Harry jumped up off of the bed, using the mattress as a spring-board.

"C'mon Malfoy, let's go. I'm craving some adventure. I've just been too obedient since I've been here."

"You? You obedient, Potter?" Draco scoffed. "Somehow, the name Potter and obedient just don't belong in the same sentence."

"C'mon Malfoy," Harry cajoled. "Let's get us some Firewhiskey.

Draco rolled his eyes. "Fine Potter, but if we get caught, I'm blaming the whole thing on you."

Harry grinned. "That's a decent trade-off."

Draco shook his head. It was worth potentially having Severus ground them for the rest of the summer, just to see Potter smile.

"Wait a second Malfoy."

"What are you doing?" Draco asked, when he saw Potter crouching down under the bed, and stash something shiny into his trousers' pocket.

"It's a secret and if you ever tell a soul, I'll tell everyone at Hogwarts that you wear off-the-rack robes."

Draco gasped when he saw the silky, shiny material of Harry's invisibility cloak.

"An invisibility cloak?" he said in awe. "Where did you get this?" he said, jealously. "These are really rare."

"It was my dad's."

"So, this is how you got away with sneaking around the castle after curfew? Wait a minute-" Draco narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "-Is this how you snuck into Hogsmeade and threw mud at me last year? I knew that I saw your head floating in mid-air."

"I have no idea what you're talking about Malfoy."

Harry couldn't stop himself—he began chortling loudly. He turned red, he was laughing so loud.

"You should have seen your face Malfoy. I swear, you looked as white as a ghost." He slapped his hand on his leg. "Did you think that I was really a ghost?"

"It's not funny. You scared the crap out of me."

"And you think that's not funny?"

"Stuff it Potter."


"Are you sure that you know what you're doing Malfoy?"

Draco huffed. "Of course I do. I've done it a million times."

"And Snape never once noticed that his liquor tastes like Kool-aid?"

Draco scrunched up his pale eyebrows. "Kool-what?

"Kool-aid. Oh, never mind. It's a Muggle thing."

Harry tapped his foot impatiently as Draco waved his wand yet again and spewed yet another thousand word phrase in Latin, and finally Harry heard a click, and Draco triumphantly held up a large amber-coloured bottle of Firewhiskey.

"C'mon, let's go upstairs just in case Severus comes home," Draco said, as he whispered another spell that would lock the cabinet and ward it again. He hoped desperately that Severus wouldn't notice the shoddy job he'd done to make it appear that the cabinet door had not been tampered with.

Just as the boys were creeping up the stairs, and before they'd had a chance to slip the invisibility cloak over their heads, there was a loud crash behind them.

Both boys twirled around quickly, and their hearts dropped into their stomachs.

As the front door swung open, Severus fell forward and crashed to the floor in a pool of blood.