This story is for magicae, who purchased it on LiveJournal to raise money for Japan. Thank you so much for your generosity!

This story is compliant with HP canon as far as the end of OotP. This fic takes place in the summer following, before the beginning of HBP, and therefore will deviate sharply from canon at that point. It will have 3 PARTS — Part I is Draco, Part II is Charlie, and Part III is . . . well, we shall see about Part III.

Part I


Draco stared down with a horror that approached numbness as the man thrashed on the floor at his aunt's feet. The only thought his dumbstruck mind produced with any clarity was

I shouldn't be seeing this. I'm only sixteen.

The Dark Lord had not been coy about what he wanted. "I want information on Potter immediately. Where is he and how do I get to him?"

It was common knowledge that Harry Potter lived with Muggles during the summer, and Snape was able to supply the necessary details there: the Muggles were his mother's relatives, they were useless, but the home was devastatingly well-protected. (Of course it was—was Draco the only one who didn't underestimate Professor Dumbledore?)

As for where Potter was likely to be when he wasn't with the Muggles: that was the first time that Draco had met Lord Voldemort. His father had served for years, but Draco had never been involved until the incident at the Ministry had left Lucius desperate to curry favour and get back into his inner circle. He'd brought Draco to him like he was a gift. Draco had protested—loudly, plainly—that he hated Potter and didn't know anything useful. He'd protested until Father, who had never lifted a hand in violence to Draco, grabbed him under his arm and by the hair on his neck, and had marched him into the meeting with a hissed promise of worse to come if Draco didn't conduct himself properly as a Malfoy.

He'd already been stunned by Father's behaviour when he'd been forced into that room, but he'd been completely tongue-tied when those red eyes looked at him. The Dark Lord was (less than, more than, not) human. Being looked at by him was akin to finding yourself under the eyes of a dragon trying to decide how hungry it was. He looked at Draco as if he was contemplating all the ways he could cause him pain.

"Does the boy not speak, Lucius?" The murmur was soft and polite, but his eyes were as cold and empty and glittering as volcanic glass, and Draco suddenly knew why Father was terrified and desperate. He felt cold but he calmed himself down. He only needed to conduct himself as a Malfoy to get through this. It was a son's duty to his father.

He bent his head in a slight bow, tried to arrange his face into some semblance of composure, and took a deep and careful breath.

"I beg your pardon, my lord," he murmured, trying to soften his voice as the Dark Lord had done. "In your presence I thought I should wait for you to speak first."

They were old ways, unpracticed now for the most part, but Draco knew a few of the archaic rules. When you were with someone more powerful or from older blood, you did not speak until spoken to. Draco had never seen cause to follow that rule before now (no one was from older blood or money or not worth his time if they were). He had no idea how old the Dark Lord's bloodline might be (ancient, surely, a direct link to Slytherin himself), but Father's life was in those pale, bone-white hands.

The Dark Lord smiled and seemed pleased, although the sight of those thin pale lips pressing together was more horrible than anything else on his skeletal face. It almost broke Draco's composure, so he lowered his head again to hide his features. He had almost made a mistake and he had to calm his suddenly racing heart. There could be no mistakes—a Malfoy did not make mistakes (but they must, for he must have made some to be here now, where he did not want to be). He certainly could not make a mistake in this poisonous presence.

"Thank you, Draco," he said, and there was no sincerity in his voice. There was nothing in his voice. Draco wondered almost wildly if there was nothing in him, if his insides were as white and stark and unnatural as his appearance, as bleached of all signs of humanity.

"Do you know why you are here?"

A hint of uncertainty crept into him. Wasn't that obvious? "You had asked for information about Harry Potter, my lord."

There was something glittering in those eyes that were like red glass (just as transparent, just as lifeless) that made a tight knot of sickness begin to build in his belly. The hair on his neck was prickling.

"Do you think you can help me, Draco?"

There was only one right answer, surely, now that he had been brought into his presence—but that tight coil of nausea and the sweat on his forehead and the hair standing on end insisted that there was no right answer. Something had gone horribly wrong before he'd ever walked through the door.

"I hope I can, my lord."

His head jerked to one side and he stumbled, off-balance without knowing why. His breath had caught in his throat; he remembered to suck it in when he felt a stinging in his cheek. His face burned and began to throb as he straightened up again. He'd been struck, he realized with a sense of disbelief. The Dark Lord had hit him in the face. Draco wanted to pull his wand and curse him, he wanted to shout, he wanted to demand an apology . . .

"My lord?" he squeezed out. It was folly to fight back. It grated on him (someone had dared to strike him, Draco Malfoy) but he had to try to control himself.

"Then why did you not come to me sooner?" the Dark Lord hissed.

That coil was spreading, filling him with sickness, and he could taste the bile in his throat. There was something lurking behind the blank eyes, and that something was a terrible anger. Draco was in trouble. He hadn't known he was. Now it was rapidly approaching that moment of too late.

"I asked for information weeks ago. Tell me, Draco, why are you here only now?"

He didn't know what to say. His face jerked to the side again. Another blow. This was utterly humiliating.

"Perhaps you don't wish to serve me. Perhaps you don't fear me. Is that it?"

"No, my lord," he began (yes, that's it, of course that's it) but he received another strike that cut him off.

"You will," the Dark Lord vowed, eyes and face alight with something too happy for this violent situation. He swallowed down his sickness and tried valiantly to say something to stop this. He had a silver tongue that could lessen the consequence of any bad situation, he knew and everyone knew it (except when it came to Harry Potter, so he should have known better) so all he had to do was say something clever.

"I do, my lord," he said in a shaky voice. Subservience: this man (creature) wanted subservience. "I feared that what I know about him was not worth your time."

There. That would appeal to him, wouldn't it? He'd calm down, and then Father would step in and stop this. Father wouldn't just let someone hit him like this or humiliate him like this, because he had said so many times that a Malfoy was better than everyone else.

He was struck again.

"It is not for you to decide such things," the Dark Lord said, wrapping a cold bony hand around his jaw and making Draco look into his eyes. Draco's heart was beating so wildly and his stomach was twisting with such sickness that he was honestly terrified that he would throw up on this figure who was steadily destroying what Draco had thought was truth. "Is it?" he hissed, his terrible long nails digging into the skin of Draco's cheeks.

He closed his eyes and waited for Father. But Father didn't come. Father stood there looking ill and frightened, and Draco finally began to understand what it meant to have a master.

"If you have something to tell me, then speak."

This man was taking over everything. The Dark Lord was making Malfoy Manor into what he wanted it to be, just like he would eventually make the world. This place was not Draco's home anymore, filled with angry shouting and breaking glass when things went wrong, filled with subservience instead of pride, and whispers of fear running through the walls that made him lie awake at night as though fear was something he could actually hear.

Draco could not be who he was. He was supposed to accept these blows as what he deserved and do as he was asked. Father allowed these things: Father, whose words had always been about pride and decorum and blood and honour. And the hand around his face would not let him look away from it, even though he closed his eyes and tried to.

So he began to speak. All he had to give were a few pathetic scraps of information about the Weasley family and Hermione Granger. But he babbled those scraps out as if his life depended on them. (Didn't it? The Dark Lord killed. . .)

No one in that room knew it yet, but that that first encounter with the Dark Lord was already the beginning of the end. Draco himself had no idea that something was already growing beneath his sick dread of his future (it's foolish to listen to those tiny voices whispering in your head)—he was only concerned about surviving. Surviving this man and this era that was being ushered in. It would take all the strength he had, and then he would have to find more strength somewhere. Because after that first encounter, the Dark Lord wanted him punished for his pride, and he wanted him to learn what it meant to be a Death Eater.

They gave him to his Aunt Bellatrix.

The man's back arched uncontrollably—he would have rolled onto his side if his strong, scarred arms weren't spasming and rocking him back and forth. He did not scream. Aunt Bella had said she would make him scream and he'd said she wouldn't. They were both determined to be right. He'd bitten through his own lip and blood was flowing down his chin and his eyes (blue eyes) were hard and glittering as gems—

Just scream, Draco thought desperately. Give her what she wants. Please just scream.

At first, it had been simple enough. Aunt Bella was insane, but easy enough to placate. Draco only had to listen to her half-coherent pureblood ranting (if this was what the Muggle-lovers heard, then no wonder they didn't want to listen) and praise the Dark Lord until it had become a kind of ritual, a mantra. Until he barely heard the words either of them were saying, because the only thing that mattered was that the Dark Lord was (not) omniscient, was (never could be) omnipotent.

He never thought to ask Mother for help, to get him out of this twisted apprenticeship to her sister. Father could do nothing, so how could Mother help? Had she ever once spoken a happy word about Aunt Bella or given any indication that she could be controlled? Draco stopped thinking that anyone would help him. He had his silver tongue, and it was all he could rely on.

When the pain came, Draco wasn't surprised. It was his sadistic, broken aunt and of course there would be pain. In truth, he'd been more afraid before that, tensed and waiting for it to come at any moment. When she began, he didn't have walk around and even sleep with his shoulders hunched in anticipation anymore.

Not that it made it any easier to bear.

She'd said his Cruciatus wouldn't be any good if he didn't know what it felt like. That might even be true, but Draco heard what she didn't say—she hated Lucius and she liked pain, and torturing Draco was her idea of entertainment. (They were right to lock up people like her, the Death Eaters sometimes deserved what the other side did to them.) Two hours under her wand led to two days of being unable to get out of bed. It was not to teach him to cast Crucio no matter what she said, it was to teach him fear and humility and pain. He learned them. She liked screaming. She would pause for a few minutes if she liked the way you screamed. So he threw away whatever sense of shame he still had and screamed for her.

He couldn't even speak afterward and that panicked him like nothing else had in the horror his life had become. If he couldn't placate her (our Lord is great, his ways will save us, blahblahblah) how would he survive her tutelage?

That was the moment he'd wanted to go to his mother and beg for protection. He was terrified and there was nowhere else to go. Draco had never been the sort of person to ask for help. He would do it on his own unless he couldn't, and if he couldn't he'd beg forgiveness, not aid. (Woken up after a nightmare at six years old and had read to himself aloud rather than disturb his parents.) But now he wished there was something she could do. There wasn't. There wasn't anything. She was a prisoner of that unsuspected weakness of Father's just like he was. She was useless to him now—and hadn't she always been? She was powerless, even though she was smart and as lovely as a china doll. (And just as breakable.)

Draco had carefully hidden so much of himself away from his family, but he was afraid now, afraid that it would all come spilling out of him, falling onto his aunt's eager ears as he thrashed on the floor so he could learn about pain—

Maybe it was good that he lost his voice during the worst of it.

"Tell me what you know!" she was shouting at him.

"How many times do I have to tell you!" he was shouting back. "I don't know anything!"

"You're lying!" she shrieked hysterically. Draco almost felt sympathy for her. Almost. A colossal mistake like capturing the wrong person would lead to the Dark Lord's wrath. Draco had not yet felt the Dark Lord's wrath, but he could imagine it. It was only too easy. He'd seen what Harry Potter looked like after the encounters between the two of them and he'd seen the dead, cold face of Cedric Diggory.

"I don't live there, you daft bitch!" he cried out hoarsely. He hadn't been screaming, but the effort not to was costing him his voice. It was a lovely voice, too, low in timbre and with a hint of an accent he'd picked up from years living abroad. Now that the pain had stopped for a moment, he was laying quite still and panting for air, his broad chest rising and falling unevenly. The cords of muscle in his arms and the power in his wide shoulders did nothing for him now. Draco knew. Aunt Bella's wand was merciless and it didn't matter how strong you were.

Aunt Bella suddenly knelt down and straddled the man's waist, making sickness stab at Draco's stomach. It seemed to do the same thing to him, because his face twisted in disgust and fury and he tried to buck her off. But his muscles were quivering and weak, and she was leaning over him and brushing his face with her hair.

"Just tell me how to get inside," she said in a breathy voice. "Tell me how to get past your wards."

His lip twisted. "No."

Her hand, like a claw, slid up his freckled cheek. "Please?" Draco thought he would throw up.

"You honestly think this is going to work on me? You're not big on gathering intelligence beforehand, are you?"

She looked startled. The wand poking into his chest and the claw on his cheek were frozen.

"Even if I did like women, a little lap dance isn't going to make me forget you're a Death Eater and you've been torturing me," he snorted. "But since I prefer men, it's a moot point."

Aunt Bella looked so incredibly shocked for a moment that Draco got the insane urge to laugh. Then she turned her head and looked right at him, and he felt sickness return like a punch in the gut. Did she know?

Draco had always known he shouldn't be thinking of his playmates the way he did, and so he never said anything about it. Blaise and Theo were boys, and boys weren't supposed to wonder about kissing each other when they grew up. He thought about kissing a girl, but it would be like kissing Mummy, wouldn't it? He did that all the time. Kissing a boy would be different.

He had never found a reason or the proper time to break his silence, even after he started school. Even after meeting Harry Potter. It was true that he hated that boy and felt an intense amount of rivalry. But as they'd gotten older, some of his fury had become desperate in its rejection. He hated Potter's attitude and he hated his smug, entirely-too-sculpted-for-a-boy face, but . . . Potter spent a lot of time flying and running around getting into trouble. He had the kind of body that was rare on a schoolboy of fifteen, and Draco wanted that and so he hated Potter even more. Granted, when Draco's hormones were raging, he'd have taken damn near any boy who played Quid ditch (damn near any boy at all, some days)—but it made him angry to feel it so much for an enemy. He wanted control over his desires. If he couldn't have something then he didn't want to want it.

Who was there that he could have spoken to about what he felt? His friends barely deserved the title. Pansy was the only one who might have accepted him for who he was, but she was too thoughtless to be trusted to keep it to herself and too likely to be vengeful about his disinterest in her.

No, Draco was alone. He'd always been alone. It had taken him a long time to do so much as recognize his desires for what they were. He'd never had the chance to act on them. Despaired that he ever would. He was a Malfoy, and he had his duties to think of, after all.

He sometimes wondered if Mother knew. If perhaps she knew it instinctively because Draco was hers. There had been one particular time in which she'd been saying something about how he'd grow up and get married and have children of his own: her hand had fallen on his cheek, and her fingers were warmer than he had expected. Her smile had been soft and fragile and twisted when she said,

"I'm sorry."

"What are you sorry for?" he'd muttered.

"It's not what you want, but it's what you have to do."

"What are you talking about?" he'd asked scornfully, proud of his voice. His voice didn't tell anyone what was really happening. Didn't say that his heart had started pounding and his stomach had started twisting and sweat was forming on his hairline.

"Nothing," she'd answered, sliding her hand away and letting her smile go with it. "I love you, Draco."

She'd left him alone after that. But Draco had always wondered after that if she'd known about him all along.

"Come here, Draco."

"I, er, Aunt Bella, why, I, why would you—"

"I said come here. Have you forgotten the rules already? Crucio!"

Draco collapsed to the floor, feeling the fire under his skin and clamping his lips down on his pain. He wouldn't scream this time. He wouldn't. The pain was so awful because it never changed, never ebbed or flowed but remained a constant agony that made you forget time and space and self— He groaned, but he did not scream.

She released him after only a moment, and he stumbled to his feet and hurried quickly to her side. He shouldn't have needed the reminder, not after what she'd already done to him. She'd wrested screams for mercy from his lips only a couple of weeks ago. His job was not to ask questions, it was to obey. Obey so she didn't hurt him. So she didn't tell Father or the Dark Lord that he'd failed. So she didn't get permission to punish him further or, worse, to turn him over to that evil creature with the empty glass eyes.

"Well? Get the answers we seek."

Draco was still stuck on how she knew. He never would have thought Mother would betray him like this, but Bellatrix Lestrange was capable of hurting anyone. Perhaps even her own sister.

"Why would you ask me?" he asked, almost laughing, trying to pretend this was absurd instead of terrifying.

"Because you're a boy," she said, as though she thought him completely stupid. "Didn't you just hear him say he prefers that?"

"But Aunt Bella . . ." he trailed off, gesturing at the man on the floor whose face dared Draco to straddle him and see what happened. Was she stupid as well as mad? "I wouldn't even know . . ." "Oh, it's easy," she huffed. "Just pretend he's whatever little slut of a girl you're dating, and drive him mad for you. Men will say anything when they—"

"Aunt, please!" he burst out as he saw the man scowl. "I've never—er." (But she didn't know, she hadn't guessed the truth, he was still safe from the shame of Aunt Bella dragging him before his father and outing him, at least.)

"You didn't tell me you're a virgin," she said, sounding disgusted. "Aren't you sixteen?"

Those blue, blue eyes were looking increasingly less defiant and increasingly more annoyed. Draco wanted to crawl into a hole and die. This was a new sort of torture.

"I don't know if you've forgotten, but you're supposed to be torturing me for information," the man drawled. "Merlin's pants, but you're inept. Are you a new recruit?"

Aunt Bella shrieked and lifted her wand. "How dare you? Crucio!"

The man bit down on his already bloody lip. His muscles jerked beneath his skin, and Draco was caught in watching the slow slide of crimson across the freckles on his cheek. He was braver than he had any right to be and Draco knew that it wouldn't matter, in the end. She'd break him eventually. If she couldn't there would be someone else who could.

Would he die, here on the floor, defying Aunt Bella with his last breath?

As soon as Draco had the thought, he could not make it go away. He could see how the ruddy, healthy skin would go pale and waxy. The blue eyes would fade. The straining muscles would fall limp. And there would be a grave. It would say Charles Weasley and below that Braver than he had any right to be and below that would be dates that Draco didn't know. He should know that much, shouldn't he? There ought to be a rule: you couldn't murder someone if you didn't know how old they were.

"I'm not going to talk," the man panted, "so you might as just kill me now."

Draco jerked when he heard that defiance, wanting to stop those words somehow. But Aunt Bella just leaned over him with her dancing mad eyes.

"How do you know I won't?" He shrugged. Draco was surprised that he still had that much control left after what his body had been going through. "I'd rather die than tell you how to hurt my family. So it's up to you." He smirked at her. "If it's all the same, though, can you make sure my mother gets my body?" Draco's mind conjured up another image, this one of Molly Weasley. She would be sitting in a rocking chair when she heard the news, and she would be knitting one of those ghastly sweaters she was always sending to her kids. Someone would say "Charlie is dead" and she would hunch over her wool and sob. Draco pictured it all and fought to keep from throwing up or from screaming. He could even see now what would happen if he was the one who was dead. His own mother would be drawing a sketch from her bedroom window, and she would cry just like that. If it were ever Draco who died, Mother would shrivel up and sob just that way, because what else did she have left but him?

It had been only one day before they had captured Charles Weasley and entered this room. His mother's hand had fallen on his arm, and he'd been afraid when he looked into her eyes and saw the pain in them.

"Draco, my darling," Narcissa had whispered, afraid of being overheard. "This is killing you. I want you to leave."

"Leave?" he had repeated dumbly.

"I would rather die than see you become what they want you to be. You're still my baby . . . If you ever get the chance, then run, Draco. Do you understand?"

What was there to say but that he did? She let her hand fall from his arm, and he went on his way feeling more lost than ever.

The thought of Molly Weasley's tears had become too much for Draco to bear. She was a mother, too, and this was her baby with blood running down his chin. Why did mothers have to suffer for what the Dark Lord wanted? Why did it have to be them?

Weasley's eyes (beautiful, brilliant blue like the open sky) looked into his, and he said it quite soberly. "You'll make sure, won't you? Make sure my mother gets my body."

Draco didn't think. He couldn't think, or at least couldn't stop that long because Aunt Bellatrix would figure out what he meant to do any moment. The only reason she didn't immediately guess what Draco meant by dropping to his knees beside their prisoner: it was completely mad of him. It was unpredictable and it was guaranteed to hurt him somehow. She likely didn't know that Father had taught Draco to do something he was legally too young to perform.

Draco was doing it anyway.

He grabbed hold of Weasley's arm, and closed his eyes, and prayed in the simple hope that something was listening to his desperation.


Anyone was allowed to Apparate and Disapparate from Malfoy Manor freely, even their enemies. But they all knew better. The ward was sadistic and special and Draco didn't know whose idea it was. He only knew that it was the most cruel thing imaginable.

To Apparate from Malfoy Manor, you had to go past the ward.

The ward took from you whatever you thought most important.

Draco took hold of Charles Weasley's arm and rescued him for the sake of Molly Weasley, and Draco knew as he landed on the hard cobblestone street of Diagon Alley that he'd killed Narcissa with his actions.

He just wished he'd had someplace better to take them. That was the only thought that came to him as he rolled over onto his side on the cold stones to try to hide his face. He couldn't think about anything else just now. He wouldn't be welcome at Hogwarts and he had no other place he considered safe.

Weasley was sitting up, his arms trembling as he pushed himself, and looked around him in amazement.

"Why did you bring me here?" he asked.

Draco twitched, and said nothing.

"Is this . . . Did you just save me?"

He remained silent.

"They told me about the ward. Does this mean you took the punishment for both of us to leave?"

He hadn't truly thought of that. He hadn't even realized that by using Side-Along, he was protecting Weasley from the ward. But he supposed that was a good thing. Inevitably, Charlie would lose someone from his family as the thing that was most important to him, and that would defeat Draco's whole purpose.

"Why did you . . .?" Charlie trailed off. Draco could feel the man's eyes on his back.

What was there to say? The idea of telling this man that it made Draco sad to picture his dumpy mother crying over a pile of yarn— he could never say that. What else could he say? That no matter how you looked at it, Charles Weasley was incredibly attractive and it would be a shame for the world to lose him? No. No, Draco could not say that either. So he said nothing at all.

"Do you have anyplace to go?" Weasley asked him.

No. He had nothing. Less than nothing. He'd killed his mother. She was the only thing still important to him, so he knew he'd lost her when he'd gone past the wards. He didn't want to say any of these things to the handsome stranger at his back.

"All right. Just give me a minute," Weasley muttered, and Draco heard him taking deep breaths. In truth, Draco was surprised that the man could even manage to sit up. He'd lasted longer than Draco had and hadn't screamed once. He must be exhausted and every nerve must be causing him agony. "Okay. I think I can—"

He placed his hand on Draco's back, and Draco shuddered.


"Oh, Merlin, I did it," he heard him moan.

He'd closed his eyes when the world began to spin sickeningly around him and he didn't want to open them now. The cold stone beneath his cheek had been replaced by cool grass. The smell of owl shit and coal smoke had been replaced by something infinitely clean that Draco could only identify as fresh air. He heard a chicken clucking.

Footsteps pounded nearby. He still didn't want to look.

"Who's there?"

"What's happened?"


The feminine shriek sounded like the girl Weasley. Oh. Wonderful. The man had brought them to his family's home. Draco had begun to suspect he didn't know how to get past the wards or he'd have broken and told Aunt Bella. But he knew and he'd kept his silence. He was so maddeningly, recklessly strong.

It was too bad he'd brought Draco with him. Diagon Alley would have been safer for him than the Weasley's home.

"Charlie's here!"

"Charlie, are you all right?"

Then came the voice he knew very well. "Malfoy!" it cried out in shock, and he hunched his shoulders to prepare for the worst.

"Put your wand away, Harry," Weasley said in an exhausted voice. "He's just saved my life."

There was a stunned silence in which all Draco could hear was the chickens clucking. He finally just let himself pass out.

". . . okay? You could have been . . ."

". . . gotten so skinny . . . slept since term ended? . . . looks like hell . . ."

". . . should have seen . . . tortured him, too . . ."

". . . so glad you're safe . . ."

". . . bring him here?"

". . . can't go back now . . . leave him in Diagon Alley?"

". . . just rest now, love . . ."

Words fluttered about his head, trying to rouse him. He was just so tired. He ignored the buzzing words and drifted.

Panic bloomed in the moment just before waking. Something told him he was not in his own bed, nor his own clothes, and something was terribly wrong. He bolted up in a blind terror but remembered where he was about halfway to upright. He clutched an unfamiliar, loose, white shirt to his chest and gasped for breath. A rich smell permeated the air—yeasty, warm, spicy (as if it were home; not Draco's home, but a real home) and delicious. There was yellow sunlight leaking through plain white curtains at the window, illuminating the stacks of boxes that surrounded him, each covered with a light film of dust.

His wand was sitting atop one of the boxes and he snatched it up as if it would make him feel better. His fingers left trails in the dust and he wiped his hand on the bottom of the shirt he wore. It was too big, the hem brushing his naked thighs. He was still wearing his pants, but someone had taken his trousers off and he wildly tried to remember who had done it.

The last thing he remembered was lying down in the grass of the Weasley's yard and waiting for Harry Potter to hex him into oblivion. He seemed to recall not finding the strength to care about his fate at Potter's hands. Had he fallen asleep out there? He must be inside their house now.

Someone must have carried him inside. Undressed him and put him in a stranger's shirt and laid him down in this unfamiliar bed in someone's room. Charlie, his mind said, even though he knew that was stupid. The man hadn't even been able to stand on his own, much less carry Draco. And since when was Draco thinking of him as "Charlie," anyway? But who else would have done it? The rest of the family hated him; Charlie was the only one with any sort of incentive to help him. Potter had no doubt advocated leaving him in the yard to freeze.

Draco sat down weakly on the edge of the bed. He was disturbed by how quickly his mind had conjured an image of himself in Charlie's arms. He couldn't think that. So he tried to focus instead on what he would do now. He couldn't stay here, obviously, but where else could he go? (Nowhere, oblivion, nothing left to live for . . .) He wasn't sure if he dared go back to school in autumn—

He heard a toilet flush and a shuffling noise just outside the half-open door, making him clutch his wand tightly. He finally noticed the second bed with its rumpled sheets a mere breath before the scarred wooden door (and how the hell did one get scorch marks on the inside of a bedroom door?) creaked open.

Blue eyes. Freckles across the nose that danced out across the wide cheekbones. Shaggy red hair that curled around the ears and the nape of the neck. Muscles shifting under skin that was sun-bronzed and freckled and liberally dotted with shiny-pink burn scars.

It all looked so different when he was standing upright instead of writhing in pain.

"Oh, you're awake."

His voice was creaky in that just-woken way, but more than that it was rough with weariness and pain. He was clutching the wall for support.

He limped into the room, shuffling his feet gingerly and hunched like an old man. Draco knew how he was feeling. Every nerve was incredibly sensitive, so that even his clothing felt so rough as to be painful. His muscles were sore in places he hadn't known he had. And above all, he was tired. Very, very weak and very, very tired.

Draco didn't know what to say to this man, but he wasn't willing to sit here and stare at his slow, limping journey from doorway to bed. So he laid his wand on the pillow and got up and offered Charlie an arm for support. Together, they made their way to the bed and lowered him down. He groaned, but only a little.

"I guess we still haven't been properly introduced, have we? I'm Charlie Weasley." He retained his hold on Draco's arm, looking up at him very seriously. "Thank you."

Draco decided he would humour him with his name, but he had no idea what to say after that. Stuck on what came next, he didn't actually remember to say his name.

Charlie raised an eyebrow, but went on. "I wasn't going to last much longer, you know. You probably saved my whole family, doing what you did."

Draco shrugged irritably. They were not friends and this conversation was not something he could have with a stranger.

"Why did you?"

Again, how was he to answer that and still maintain any sense of dignity? He could hardly admit to either his aversion to Molly Weasley's tears or his attraction to her son. (And he ought to stop pretending he had any dignity left.)

"You don't talk much, do you?" Charlie asked with gentle humour.

Draco's temper flared up underneath the crippling weight of his despair, and he opened his mouth with a fiery retort. But nothing came out. He choked. Then he raised his hand and covered his mouth. What had just happened? He was already beginning to see, even though his mind raced wildly to deny it. He hadn't spoken since last night. Since they'd left the Manor. Since he'd . . . No! Nononononono!

He opened his mouth and tried again, but there was nothing. His throat pulsed with effort and made him choke again. Charlie's hand fell on his shoulder and Draco looked up to see a frown of concern that knit his auburn eyebrows nearly together.

"Is that— oh, Merlin, is that what the ward took from you?" he asked in a hushed voice.

Draco stopped breathing.

He didn't even notice it when Charlie guided him down to sit beside him.

This wasn't possible . . . Was it? It was happening to him, so clearly it must be possible. It had even suppressed his desire to speak and now he couldn't when he tried. He couldn't wrap his mind around what this was. (Damnation.) It had taken his voice. He— he would never, ever speak again. It would— oh, they would learn non-verbal spell casting this year, he had to learn that so this horrible curse couldn't take his magic, too. (No, not his magic, just him.)

"Hey," Charlie said, his voice commanding, shaking Draco by the shoulders. "Breathe!"

He'd forgotten how. His voice was gone, gone forever, but his mother was safe and oughtn't he be glad about that much— Charlie's hand was lightly hitting his cheek, his voice was concerned but indistinct to Draco's ears, because he was too busy trying to speak than to worry about breathing—

But wait. Something was happening.

Pressure on his lips. It was something soft and warm, but it was moving and strange and shocking and insistent on opening his mouth.

Draco gasped, yanking himself away. He greedily sucked in air and felt his face grow hot. Charlie had kissed him! He covered his lips with his hand and glared accusingly. What are you on about? he wanted to scream, and couldn't. His throat pulsed with the effort, and so did the blood in his face.

"Ah, sorry," Charlie said, but his grin was unrepentant. "You just, er, weren't breathing, so I panicked a bit . . . ."

Draco's hand crept out, away from his lips, and touched Charlie's. He didn't know why he did it. Was he truly this frightened, this desperate, to forget who he was and to reach for this? He didn't even know what he was reaching for. (But hadn't he always been, all his life, reaching for this very same something?) He didn't know what it was, but the beginnings of it were in a pair of pink lips set below eyes so blue it made his heart hurt to look at them.

Charlie pulled his head back, looking surprised. "Oh. I'm sorry. I— If I'd known you were actually interested, I wouldn't have kissed you like that."

Draco wondered if it was his hurt or his anger that showed on his face. He strained to speak again, but there was still nothing.

"No, I didn't mean it like that," Charlie said in dismay. "I only did it because I thought it would make you mad, and I wanted you to breathe. I don't normally just go kissing blokes on a whim."

But if they want you to? he cried out, and went unheard. He wanted that again, wanted to be shocked out of his own mind for just another moment . . . No. No, he needed to get some composure back and deal with this. A damned Weasley wasn't going to coax him through this. He was (weak, cowardly, scared) a Malfoy and he didn't need help from this man.

Draco nodded, and stood up. He went back to the other bed and picked up his wand, then stared at the open door. He didn't know where he was going. He didn't even know where his clothes were. And he didn't know how to get any help from anyone without being able to speak. Mother was safe, a china doll placed high on a shelf to be lonely and untouched and beautiful . . . Draco wished he could be grateful for that.

Charlie pushed himself to his feet with a groan and came over to him. "Where are you going?" he asked quietly.

Draco turned to him and said I don't know and nothing came out of his mouth. Charlie seemed to be able to read it on his lips because his face grew soft and he placed his hand on Draco's arm. Tears sprang up in Draco's eyes. He tried desperately to hold them back. He never cried, not real tears, and he wasn't about to start now. (Maybe he'd never cried because no one had ever touched him with such transparent compassion before.)

"Why don't we sit back down then?" With one hand on Draco's arm, he led him back to the bed he'd slept in. "You should get some rest. Unless I miss my guess, you've been having a rough time of it this summer, haven't you? Living with raving mad people can't be easy . . ."

Easy? Twenty points to Gryffindor for such a stunning display of understatement.

A bitter and helpless laugh bubbled out of him, but it was just a puff of air with no voice behind it, and that in turn set his tears loose. Charlie hovered in indecision, his face horrified. Draco hunched over and hid his face, unable to stop crying and past the point of caring what Charlie thought of it.

"Merlin. You must be terrified," Charlie whispered, as though he was talking to himself and not Draco.

He felt an arm slide over his back, its warmth and weight reassuring in a way that made him feel even more pathetic. He'd tossed pride to the wind already, hadn't he? So he leaned into Charlie's comforting embrace and cried. His tears were silent, too.