The Sugar Quill
Author: fungus_files  Story: Far from Pure  Chapter: Default
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Far from Pure - Part I

By fungus_files
(fungus_files@yahoo.com.au)

 

It was several weeks before they found the place mentioned in Oswald Winterberry's Who's Who in the Serpent's House. The weak dawn light etched out the scene in the clearing as they crept to a vantage point. One look at the collapsed timbers and overgrown foundations was enough to start sinking their hopes.

 

"I can't believe this!" Ron, frustrated and exhausted, rocked back on his heels. Hermione remained where she was, checking the dilapidated building for signs of life.


Harry quieted Ron with a light hand on his shoulder. "It could still be the place."


"The entry said St John-Smythe had the gauntlets. Ravenclaw's gauntlets, Harry. The St John-Smythe family I've heard about would not be in a place like this." Ron cracked the top of his water-bottle and drank deeply.


"The book said that family was the last known one to have it, and this was one of their properties. This place could be anyone's now, but Hermione's Tracing Charm still highlighted this area." Harry looked at the map and tapped it clear when he'd finished. "I'm going to check it out. You two'll keep watch?"


"Not alone, Harry. You can't go there alone." Hermione shook her head. "It looks deserted, but someone's there. There's smoke from that chimney at the back. They've tried to hide it."


The three of them watched in silence for a while. Harry was about to suggest they circle around when a door at the side fell open. A cloaked figure stepped out, carrying a bucket and heading towards the low-set well nearby. Heaving the water back towards the shack with apparent difficulty, the figure stopped a moment and wiped a hand to his brow. The hood fell back.


"Bloody hell!" Both Harry and Ron seemed to stop breathing.


"So, that's where he's been," Hermione whispered.


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


A few weeks ago, rumours were rife in a Wizarding world still shocked by the loss of a figure such as Albus Dumbledore. Rufus Scrimgeour and his Ministry used the fear as an excuse to ramp up their monitoring and surveillance. Complaining about "the extent of Aurors' powers these days" didn't stop people being secretly grateful that there was such an ostentatious show of policing.


Even with the increased patrolling, however, the number of deaths and casualties in both worlds grew as the Death Eaters became bolder. Voldemort's talent for fanning people's fears meant that his ranks were swelling with those who dared not defy. The Muggle Prime Minister had even started to call the Minister of Magic by his first name.


Against the increasing turmoil, the three friends were preparing to set off from the Burrow.


"At least they're too busy to notice what we're up to most of the time." Ron skimmed through the family kitchen, filling a backpack with some supplies.


"Your mother has sure bought up on First Aid potions since all this started." Hermione gathered a few of the stockpiled vials carefully, packing them into a padded satchel. "I don't think I've seen so much murtlap essence in one place!"


A rattling at the backdoor caught them by surprise and they only just managed to stash their bags before Remus and Molly came in.


"I didn't know you'd be going there, Remus. Does Tonks… oh, hello, dears!" Molly stopped short when she realised Ron and Hermione were sitting at the kitchen table.


"Cup of tea, Mum? Remus?" Ron drew his wand and started floating mugs down from the cupboard. Another couple of things they'd gotten used to since Hogwarts closed: making tea for the adults, and calling them by their first names.


"Lovely, Ron, that'd be lovely." Molly looked distracted as she walked through, shrugging off her coat.


"Where's Harry? I wanted to say goodbye." Remus took the chair opposite Hermione. His eyes were bloodshot and movements too careful. He hissed with pain as his leg bumped the table-edge.


"Anything we can do, Remus? I thought Tonks was making you the potion that-" Ron stopped.


"She is, while Horace is away at the moment, anyway." Remus was quiet for a long moment before a slow smile appeared. "I never thought I'd miss Severus quite this much."


Everyone's laughter had a slightly jagged edge.


Harry walked in from the garden, smoothing down his shirt and quickly taking in the gathering in the kitchen. "Remus. Mrs. Weasley."


"Harry, call me Molly. How many times must I tell you?"


"I can't do it, Mrs. Weasley." Harry smiled. "Force of habit."


"Glad you're here, Harry. I was hoping to catch you before I left again, to say goodbye." Remus sipped at his tea.


Harry knew better than to ask where Remus would be going. Considered as adult, albeit very junior, members of the Order now, they were very well versed in what types of information would be shared. Instead, he nodded and asked, "Any news?"


"Nothing substantial." All attention focused on Remus as he hesitated.


"But?" Harry prompted.


"There 'are always rumours, Harry. More incidents. Disappearances. We haven't heard from Seamus for a while now." Remus sighed.


" Bloody Seamus never did make it past O.W.L.s for punctuality. He'll turn up eventually, right?" Ron sought reassurance from those around him and met noncommittal gazes.


"Yesterday, I heard again that they'd found Draco's body," Remus continued. "This time it was in the Thames."


Molly gasped.


"Another stupid rumour, Molly," Remus rushed to reassure her. "He hasn't been sighted since, well—-"


"Since he tried to kill Dumbledore." Harry was leaning against the sink, arms crossed. He watched Remus. "And Snape?"


"Nothing." Remus looked apologetic.


Nothing you're going to tell me, thought Harry with familiar chagrin.


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


Tracking the Ravenclaw gauntlets after they'd found the entry in Winterberry's book had taxed their abilities to the limit. Most of the Order members knew of the Horcrux quests now. There was initial hostility initially because Dumbledore had entrusted such crucial information to a mere boy, someone who wasn't even a trained Auror. When Harry destroyed Slytherin's locket and yet Voldemort's influence still continued to spread, the muttering grew louder.


It was pure luck that Professor Flitwick had stopped by the Burrow after Bill and Fleur's wedding. Leaning heavily on her favoured student status with Flitwick, Hermione had gleaned enough about the intricacies of Tracing Charms to narrow their search. That was a while ago. Since then, they'd spent too much time on the road, finding nothing.


Until now.


They heaped their packs under a nearby bush.


"I'm going around the back. You guys two go round the other side." Harry was almost away before the others could stop him.


"Wait up, Harry," Hermione said, grabbing his forearm. "We're meant to be working together."


Ron nodded. "We're watching your back, remember?"


Harry paused a moment, mouth open, looking as if he wanted to argue the point; then  he half-smiled and waved them to follow.


They stole towards the building, wands drawn and faces wary. The front door appeared webbed over with decades of dust and ivy, obviously not the entry of choice. The side-door was slightly ajar and Harry heard someone moving around the darkened room inside. Ron chanced a peek through one of the broken panes nearby, hunching down almost straight away. He held up a single finger. They continued scouting and saw no one else in the building.


Back at the side entry, Harry mouthed a countdown and the three of them burst into the room. They fanned out around the startled man, Ron hitting him with a partial Body-Bind curse while Harry cast Silencio on him for good measure. The man fell gracelessly to the dirt floor, mouthing soundless obscenities. Hermione erHsaw him dart a glance at a nearby table and immediately crossed the room to scoop up his wand.


"That's pretty careless, Amycus," Harry commented, throwing open an adjoining door and having a quick look. "Where's your psycho sister?"


Ron looked out the back window. "Harry."


From the edge of the woods at the back of the shack, a shorter figure exited a garden shed. It looked a lot like Alecto.


Harry swore and immediately checked that Amycus hadn't rolled away.


They were waiting on either side of the door as Alecto came in. She soon joined her brother on the floor: silenced, her eyes furious, and her wand in Hermione's pocket.


"Wonder what's in the shed?" Harry muttered aloud, noting that Amycus' eyes widened with apprehension.


"You and Hermione check it out," Ron said, looping some old rope around the inert siblings. "I'll have a chat with my mates here. Probably a bit of a one-sided one."


The closer they got to the garden-shed, the more Harry and Hermione realised how exposed they were, crossing that unkempt back garden. The small building was in as dilapidated a shape as the rest of the property, with trailing creepers and splintery boards making up most of the walls. A rotting pile of hay slumped against one side. The shed door's latch boiled with rust, and the screws hardly seemed to be doing their job. The lock, however, was very new and almost ridiculous in its sturdiness.


"That's subtle if you're trying to hide something there," Hermione noted, before casting Alohomora. The lock remained shut. She tried a few other anti-impediment spells but only succeeded in turning the lock a deep green shade.


"Here, give me a go." Harry stepped back a few paces before ramming his shoulder into the door. The whole side of the shed shuddered but the door stayed shut. He rubbed at his sore arm, frowning.


They both heard the sharp click at the same time, and watched in shock as a pale face emerged from the space above the rotting hay.


"The door's not the door, geniuses."


Both their wands were at Draco's throat in a moment.


"Do you think I wouldn't have hexed you already if I had a wand handy?" He showed them his empty hands. "What the hell are you doing here anyway?"


Harry and Hermione kept their wands out as they pushed him back inside the shed. It was a dark, windowless space, with a lamp guttering atop a small desk. The walls were bare and stained with damp. The bed was spartan but looked clean.


"Where are the Bowtruckle twins?" Draco asked, crossing his arms and looking at Harry and Hermione in turn.


"They're being kept out of the picture for the moment," Harry said as he moved through the room, noting there were no exits except for where they had entered. Sounds felt uncomfortably muffled in that space.


"Ah, that's where Weasley is then. Guarding those morons." Draco kept looking at toward where they'd come in. "There's no one else out there?"


"How about you answer some of our questions, Malfoy?" Harry's voice hardened, and he was momentarily back in the Astronomy Tower, frozen and powerless. When he spoke again, it was with cold fury. "Where's Snape? Why are you here with those two?"


"I'm an expendable asset." Draco's expression barely changed as Harry's anger filled the air. "And I don't know where Professor Snape is."


"We'd better get away from here." Hermione looked anxious. "There may be others, and it'd be better for the Order to deal with Malfoy."


"I'm not leaving!" Draco's voice rose an octave.


"Don't be stupid. You're obviously being kept as some kind of prisoner here." Hermione scanned the area outside. "It seems clear. Let's go."


"I told you. I'm not leaving." Draco sat by the desk, one hand gripping its edge.


"Malfoy, you're coming with us. End of story." Harry looked around at the barely filled room. "You're hardly going to need to pack."


"Are you Gryffindors deaf and dumb? I said I'm not leaving." By the wavering lamplight, Draco's face was even sharper and more sharp and hollowed. His nervous demeanour didn't tally with the forced cockiness that coloured colouring his voice. "I can't."


"Why?" Hermione frowned. "You could leave here any time, couldn't you? But you don't."


"He has my mother." Draco's voice was barely audible.


They didn't need to ask who he was.


"If I disappear, they'll kill her. If I don't do what they say, they'll kill her. If I contact anyone other than one of them, they'll kill her." He glared at them and his mouth had a bitter twist. "I'm the one who's meant to be dead, anyway. After my failed mission."


"The mission succeeded, Malfoy." Harry's anger warred with the recurring image from that night of Draco's lowered wand. "Despite you, Professor Dumbledore's dead."


Even by the flimsy light in the room, they saw Draco flinch. He said nothing.


"What are they planning for you next?" Hermione asked.


"They don't trust me with that kind of information. All I know is that I wouldn't have this second chance if Professor Snape hadn't spoken for me." Draco's face stilled and went blank. "I won't know what they want until they send for me."


"So you're just going to sit here and wait till until they send you on another suicide mission? You're real Death Eater material, you are." Harry's disgust was palpable.


"With your blind loyalty, so are you," Draco retorted. He slipped by them and scanned the area outside.


"There's no one there. I just checked." Hermione kept her wand trained on him.


"You don't how fast he moves," Draco said. "You need to go. I can't be seen with you."


"Who moves fast?" Hermione and Harry spoke at the same time.


"I need you to leave. Get out."


"Harry! Hermione! Where are you?" Ron's voice carried across from the middle of the yard.


Harry quickly grabbed Ron and rushed him back into the shed, which was now getting rather cosy with four of them crammed inside.


"Oh my… god!" Ron stared at Draco in shock.


"What part of 'get out' meant 'bring a Weasley in'?" Draco once again stuck his head out of the shed, his manner even more jumpy.


"Who're you looking for, Malfoy?" Hermione tried to look over his shoulder.


"He comes every day. About this time." Draco suddenly swore and spun around. "He's here! You need to go NOW."


"Who? It can't be Voldemort?" Ron grabbed Hermione's shoulder and pulled her close.


"Don't be bloody stupid." Draco pulled the entry shut and locked it from the inside. "It's that mongrel werewolf."


With Fenrir's fetid breath remembered all too well remembered, Harry started thinking Malfoy might be right about getting out.


"He's not allowed in here. He knows that." Draco seemed to be saying it to reassure himself more than anyone else. "But he's going to know you're here, by scent."


"We could Apparate from here back to our stuff," Ron suggested, "and again to the, er, where we're staying." He looked uneasily at Draco.


"I don't care where you go, Weasley, and I'm just as keen as you are for them not to know you were in here. Go! He'll be finding quite a surprise up at the house, I'm sure."


"As long as he doesn't hear us all Apparating Disapparating from here," Hermione muttered as she concentrated for a moment and then was gone. Ron disappeared with a crack not long afterwards.


"He won't hear a thing that goes on in here," Draco said. "Can't you tell what this shed was used for?"


Harry looked at what he thought was creeping damp on the walls and noticed the bolts and chains embedded in the planking. He felt his skin prickling. "And you still choose to stay? We can get the Order in on this. They could probably help."


"I don't have much of a choice, Potter."


"We all have choices, Malfoy. Some are just harder to make than others."


A howl of rage cut through to the muffled space, getting closer fast.


"Go!" Draco's voice was harsh and urgent.


Just before Disapparating, Harry saw Draco tense with a familiar fear, and heard the snarling thumps at the door of the shed.


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


It was Kingsley Shacklebolt who dropped by Grimmauld Place with the news a week later.


They'd accidentally liberated Narcissa Malfoy. She was being kept at the same Death Eater premises to which a senior member of the Ministry had been kidnapped. She was imploring them to rescue Draco and bring him to her unharmed, promising information about Voldemort and his plans.


"The sooner we sort out what we're going to do about Draco Malfoy—" started Minerva McGonagall, still unfamiliar with sitting in Dumbledore's seat.


"The boy's gone! Dead!" Moody thumped the table. "Once she was taken by us, they'd have no leverage to make that pup do what they wanted. He'd be totally useless."


"Well, be that as it may," Minerva continued, fixing Moody with a glare over the top of her spectacles, "I'd rather we didn't make a habit of leaving people to terrible fates if we can prevent it."


"They would never tell him they'd lost her," Remus murmured.


The kitchen was packed with Order members. The meeting had already dragged on for several hours. The Malfoy issue was by no means a top priority.


Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat on a bench at the back. They were still smarting from the dressing down they got when they returned from the St John-Smythe property and conveyed what they'd found there.


"You'd think we brought Greyback to tea, the way they carried on," Ron had said at the time, none too quietly.


He'd earned himself a solid hour with his father in the sitting room. When Arthur strode out and straight upstairs, Harry and Hermione went in and found Ron hunched over by the fireplace. His eyes were tellingly red. All he said was, "He's not the only one to miss Charlie. We all do ."


"It's worth confirming one way or another, surely?" Arthur was saying now. "Draco could be quite useful—"


"Doubt if he knows much, even if he still is still alive. Too junior;, and failed to get into Voldemort's good books. At any rate, I doubt if Narcissa would tell us much of consequence that we couldn't already get with Veritaserum. With Lucius imprisoned all this time, I don't think Voldemort would've been keeping her in the loop." Moody's false eye swivelled and fixed on Harry. "We've got more important things to do. If the boy were to hear that his mother was safe, that's all he'd need to get away."


The meeting clattered on into the night, with solid decisions made about combatting the impending harpy invasion to the west, who would attend the pressing meetings with their international counterparts, the ubiquitous issues of recruitment, and nothing more about the Malfoys.


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


"You sure this is what Moody meant?" Ron sounded more than a little dubious. He knelt beside Harry, fixing his gaze warily on the St John-Smythe shack once more. "They'll have moved him away from here for sure."


"I would've thought so, too, but Hermione's Tracking spell showed that he's still here." Harry still couldn't quite believe that Hermione had slipped a Tracker tack onto Draco's cloak last time they were there. She'd invented the device after studying how the Marauder's Map worked. When she told them what she'd done, she'd shrugged and said, "It was just in case. If we never needed it, it wouldn't matter."


Harry joined Hermione in casting a few scouting charms, checking for traps and webs of surveillance spells. There were some low-level ones at the property's entrance that had been added since their last foray. No smoke drifted from the chimney. The place seemed deserted.


The shack itself was empty. The side-door door hung open and there was no one inside. The garden-shed looked almost as they'd left it, except for the huge scratch-marks and dents that scarred the planking in one place.


Going straight to the section of the shed above the rotting bale of hay, Harry pounded hard on the splintered surface.


"Malfoy! You in there? You okay?"


Nothing.


"It doesn't matter if we blast this thing, does it?" Ron had his wand poised at the wall. When Harry and Hermione shook their heads, he immediately shot a powerful but narrow spell at the base of the wall. The side caved in with a loud crash, sending up plumes of dust.


"Well, if Malfoy wasn't in danger before we arrived, he certainly is now," said Hermione as she coughed and waved her hands to clear the air around her.


The sunshine pierced the dim interior of the shed and its scarce contents looked even more pathetic.


As the dirt settled, they all saw him at the same time. Ron's first thought was amazement at how much blood a human being contained. Hermione clapped a hand to her mouth, eyes wide with horror. Harry was at Draco's side in an instant, checking for a pulse.


"We need a Healer – now!" he shouted.


By the time Ron Reapparated with Remus and one of the Order's top Healers, their old classmate Susan Bones, Harry had eased Draco's head onto a folded shirt. Hermione's basic knowledge of medical spells meant that Draco was, for the moment, pain-free. Susan immediately set to work on the injured man, her face taut with concentration and not just a little compassion.


The moment Remus saw Draco, he almost fell to his knees beside him. The vicious, ribbon-like slashes that marred Draco's pale skin could only have come from one source. They'd all seen them before on Bill Weasley. There was a particularly nasty bite on Draco's left shoulder, a crescent of inflamed and ugly flesh.


"It was a full moon last week," said Remus in an oddly neutral voice.


"Malfoy's been unconscious most of the time," Hermione said. "But he did say a couple of things at first when he recognised Harry."


"And they were?" Remus prompted, uncharacteristically brusque.


"He said, 'You win, Potter.'" Harry's voice was soft. "Then he asked if it was too late to make another choice."


"It's never too late for another choice," Remus said quietly, then fell silent. They watched the Healer work on some of the minor injuries but Draco still looked in shocking shape. Harry couldn't help noticing the silvery gleam of the old scar that sliced across Draco's chest.


"Will he be okay, Susan?" Harry crouched beside her.


"He'll live, if that's what you mean. Just." Susan sorted through the clutter of empty bottles and pouches at her side. Her hands worked fast. "But we need to get him to St Mungo's right now. He's stable enough to be Apparated, I think."


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


Part II


It was a week before Draco was allowed to leave the depressingly full wards of the hospital. As a precautionary measure, he and his mother were kept under guard at Grimmauld Place. Narcissa commented occasionally about childhood visits to the Black residence, even once telling Molly about playing Healer with Sirius.


"Why she'd tell me things like that, I don't know!" Molly had said, embarrassed at the surfeit of detail Narcissa had provided, and more melancholy about the thought of young Sirius than she'd cared to admit.


The Order wasn't worried that the Malfoys would stray back to the Dark Lord's side, far from it. Moody was more concerned that they'd return to Malfoy Manor, find themselves the target of numerous murder attempts, and try to come back, allowing Voldemort to trace Order headquarters. Moody was, after all, a master anticipator. He cast his own complicated series of tether-charms on both Malfoys;such that they could freely move around most of the rooms but could not cross the front or back thresholds of the house. If they tried it, they'd be trapped in the doorway like overgrown flies in a spider's web. They were also wandless, and Minerva had cast the dampening spells herself to ensure that they couldn't practise magic within the walls of Grimmauld Place. Ron kept making bets with Harry about when 'Ferret would blow his stack' about the situation, and losing because it still hadn't happened.


Harry found Draco in the gloomy Black library one afternoon. There were large tomes piled around him, obscuring his slight figure behind their ornate leather covers. The house had been very quiet when Harry had returned from the meeting in Dover, where the Sirens were proving to be more of a problem with Channel traffic than they'd anticipated. He was windswept and cold, his hair sticking up in tufts. He'd turned down tea with Ron and Hermione at the Burrow. Hanging up his overcoat, Harry had headed straight for the room with the warmest fireplace.


"Where's your mother?" Harry asked without preamble, already knowing what the answer was.


"Being watched by Spotty Stan upstairs." Draco didn't even look up from the page where he was scribbling copious notes. Stan Shunpike had joined the Order immediately after his release from custody. He retained an unnerving capacity to stare when Harry was in the room, but the Order found him very useful as a determined and vigilant guard for the Malfoys. It wasn't exactly a job for which members fought to volunteer.


Draco took every opportunity to point out to Stan that he was only one step removed from a Squib, what with only attending Hogwarts for a couple of years before dropping out. Anyone expecting a personality change for Draco after his near-death experience was disappointed; as Molly kept intoning, "A kneazle doesn't change its spots." The wounds inflicted by Greyback remained as angry welts that showed little sign of subsiding. The bite on Draco's shoulder also refused to heal, so much so that he had trouble using his arm to eat.


And write, if his regular wincing as he scribbled with the quill was anything to go by.


"What're you researching?" Harry dropped into a nicely warmed armchair by the fire, holding his hands toward the flames.


"What's it look like, Potter? You did learn to read in between world-saving adventures, didn't you?" Draco's words were combative from habit rather than malice. He never expressed his gratitude to them for saving his life, but they judged it reward enough that he kept to himself most of the time. His mother had nothing to do with the household in general, asking him to bring all meals to her room where she preferred to stay. Stan was most often to be found on a bench outside Narcissa's room, reading whatever was the latest in the Kennilworthy Whisp series of international Quidditch books. Last time, Ron had surprised Hermione as she pored over Bulgaria: Only Brawn and Beaters?; it was a week before they made up again.


Harry eyed the stamped text on the books' spines piled in front of Draco. They included Where-Wolf: A Concerned Wizard's Guide by Igor Klawmoresky, Trinity McGillicuddy's Lycanthropic Libations, and even Gilderoy Lockhart's Wanderings with Werewolves. There was a small, very worn book that Draco was studying at that moment. The pages were aged and their edges furled with repeated reference. He still hadn't looked up since Harry came in.


"Are you taking the Wolfsbane Potion?"


"When I can keep it down."


"Remus says it never stops tasting terrible, and he's been taking it before each new moon for a while now," said Harry conversationally.


"Thanks for that, Potter. I feel much better."


Harry had to laugh.


Draco looked up, his frown creasing the wounds on his face so he looked additionally pained. "What's so funny?"


"You, Malfoy. You're such a consistent bastard." Harry shook his head, still chuckling. He liked coming back to Grimmauld Place after an assignment, or resting between his frequent searches with Ron and Hermione. It was his home, even more so than the Burrow these days. After years of half-clues and allusions to the danger of being Harry Potter, he found satisfaction in finally knowing so much more. Even though precise details were elusive, he knew what he needed to do. Being at Order headquarters and considered, for the most part, being considered an adult, Harry felt in control for the first time in his life. It was intoxicating, and he thought he could afford to be gracious even to Malfoy.


"Harry? Is that you?" Stan's head bobbed around the corner of the library door. "I thought I heard voices."


"They're sometimes outside your head, are they, Shunpike?" Draco smirked.


"Just got back," Harry said, noticing Stan's wary manner. "Everything okay?"


Stan waved Harry to his side, flicked a narrowed glance at Draco, and shut the library door. "It's his mamum, Harry. I think she's gone a bit, you know." Stan twirled a finger next to his temple.


"How so, Stan? She still spending hours talking to her relatives on the walls?"


Stan nodded. "Oh, yeah, I'm learning things about Death Eaters' tea parties like you wouldn't believe."


Harry stifled a laugh. "So?"


Stan glanced towards the library door. "She keeps asking me about Mr Malfoy."


"Lucius?" Harry's exclamation was louder than he'd anticipated.


Stan hushed him, mildly panicked.


"Sorry." Harry dropped his voice. "Why's she asking you?"


"Well, I was in Azkaban at the same time, you know. For a while." Stan's normally open expression was bleak and still for a few moments. "Before Scrimgeour got that earful from Professor McGonagall after Dumbledore died and she took over."


Harry nodded encouragement.


"That one," Stan jerked his head to indicate upstairs, "wants to know everything about him. Whether he'd been talking to anyone, whether he was cold from being near a window, what he said, how he looks, whether they're treating him all right. 'Treating him all right' in Azkaban, Harry, can you imagine? Even without the Dementors there, it's hardly a trip to Blackpool now, is it?"


"Just don't talk about it, Stan, if it makes you feel bad." Harry didn't know what else to say. He'd hardly seen Narcissa since she was moved into the house. The only regular visitors she had were her tailor, who always seemed to be running about with bolts of material that were never good enough, and an elf from Pretentious Potions, who brought her personalised mixtures that were meant to soothe her nerves. Harry thought the household could well do with some of those potions, too, to cope with having Malfoys in their midst.


What Stan was telling him sounded sad, but hardly dangerous.


"No, it's not that I feel bad talking about it, Harry. It's just that, I don't know, I wonder why she wants to know. Why she's so obsessed all of a sudden."


Harry was about to respond when Draco yanked open the library door.


"Finished talking about us yet, Shunnedpike?" asked Draco in a resentful tone.


"Not yet, Malfoiled," retorted Stan with a sneer.


"Oh, good lord," Harry muttered.


They heard the front door slam.


"Stan? Things okay here?" Remus called.


"Yes, Professor, things're fine," Stan replied, moving into the entry hall after one last glare at Draco. Stan still insisted on calling the ex-Hogwarts staff by their titles.


"Listened at the door, did you?" Harry turned to the other man.


"Don't know what you're talking about." Draco stalked past Harry and disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


Remus found Harry in the library after dinner that night. It had been a big gathering. The kitchen was busy with many Order members shunting in and out again in the space of a few hours. Draco, as usual, had sat by himself near the sideboard before taking his mother's tray upstairs. He was always as far away from Moody as possible.


"Tonks gone again?" Harry asked, putting down Neville's letter about his current work with Professor Sprout in the Alps.


"She'll be back in a few days. She's looking forward to seeing Ginny again."


Harry's heart gave a double beat. Ginny chose to work in Edinburgh and, considering what close quarters they all had to work in at Grimmauld Place, it was just as well.


Remus was running a finger down Draco's stacked books. "He hasn't talked to me about any of this, you know."


"Doesn't surprise me. That'd qualify as asking for help."


"The next full moon is less than a week away."


"He said he's taking the Wolfsbane Potion." Harry watched Remus flick through Lockhart's book before tossing it aside with a short laugh.


They both looked up just as Draco froze in the library's doorway.


"I didn't realise you were in here. I'll come back later." He started backing away.


"Draco, come in. Please." Remus used his professor's voice.


Harry half-stood. "I should have a chat with Arthur before he leaves for Romania."


"No, Harry, there's no need for you to go." Remus helped himself to some scotch, made himself comfortable in a chair nearby, and gestured at Draco to take the remaining one. "We have no secrets, do we, Draco?"


Draco looked uncertainly at Remus, clutching the small, well-thumbed book to his chest. He finally decided to sit down.


"I see you're reading Ballentine D'Argent's book," Remus commented, sipping at his drink; as an aside to Harry, he said, "D'Argent was one of the greatest werewolf hunters who ever wrote a book."


"Better than Lockhart?" Harry couldn't help asking, smiling wryly.


Remus laughed. "Indeed. And we know that's quite an achievement. One has to read D'Argent with a large grain of salt, though, much like Lockhart's work. Any man who claims to have fought a pack of Cypriot werewolves single-handedly and survived–"


"He talks about a cure," Draco interrupted.


Remus looked at Draco with compassion.


"If there was a cure, do you think Remus would still be this way?" Harry asked, frowning.


"Well, no one's tried to see if the cure works obviously," Draco said. "Greyback's still around wreaking havoc."


"My parents did everything they could to find a cure. They knew full well what would lie ahead for me with this condition." Remus spoke with a sharpness that made Harry look at his old professor in surprise. Remus took a deep breath and continued in his normal, thoughtful tone, "You're talking about the slaying of the sire, I presume?"


"Yes! D'Argent says, here," Draco flicked to the section he wanted and started reading excitedly. "'In the summer of '69, I hunted the dread werewolves along the steamy coastal jungles of Indonesia. My striking physique, honed from weeks of machete-work, shone with the honest sweat-', I think I'll skip ahead a bit. 'Accompanying me on this journey was a nubile young woman who wore nothing but a string-', er, I think I'll skip this next bit, too. Ah, this is it: 'The villagers say that the lupine curse can be cured. It is a matter of the victim tracking the sire - the one who spread the taint - and eliminating him. This must be done with metal and during transformation. Ideally, the head will be separated from the rest of the body…blah, blah, hang on, here: 'Almost instantly, victims will be free of the curse and fit to rejoin common society.'" Draco put the book down and looked hopefully at Remus.


It was a long moment before Remus responded. "Rumours of such a cure have been around for a very long time. They are unproven and, worse still, attempts to carry out the cure are the cause of many victims' deaths."


"Anything's got to be better than living life as a mongrel freak," Draco muttered, looking away.


Remus laid a restraining hand on Harry's arm.


"I don't consider my life so easily disposable," Remus said, again with asperity. He looked at Draco for a moment before continuing in an even tone, "Did you read further in that section?"


"The part about the tribal fertility rites and how D'Argent had to bed-"


"Er, no." Remus half-smiled. "I meant the part about the victim having to be in the first year of cycles to effect a 'cure'."


Draco nodded, somewhat dismissively. "I know. Much too late for you, but not for me."


This time, Remus didn't bother restraining him and in an instant Harry had crossed the gap and was leaning threateningly over Draco.


"How can you talk to him like that, you selfish bastard! He helped save your useless hide. You were totally bollocksed back there; your mates had left you for dead, remember?"


"Harry, it's okay-" Remus started.


"It's not okay! After all he's done, the idiotic choices he's made-"


"I had no choice, Potter," Draco responded with similar heat.


"Wrong, Malfoy. I've told you before. Everyone has a choice, and we're all still living with the consequences of yours."


"Get off your high bloody horse, Potter," Draco hissed, shoving Harry away and standing up, his face flushed with anger. "What do you know about being given the 'choice' of keeping your parents alive with your actions? Nothing."


Remus had to throw himself between them as Harry made a grab for Draco's shirt. After an awkward round of swearing and jostling, Harry and Draco stopped, looking with mild surprise at the patient hand resting on each of their chests.


"Are we done, gentlemen?" Remus asked calmly.


They stalked back to their chairs.


"Harry, perhaps you should bid farewell to Arthur now," Remus said.


"But-"


Remus held up a hand. "It's okay. Draco and I have some things to discuss."


Draco was glaring, looking as if he'd much rather punch Harry in the face than have a discussion with Remus.


Harry forced himself to leave the room without another word.


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


"How could he say that to Remus?" Ron demanded.


"I know!" Harry said, relieved that he didn't need to justify losing his temper. The three of them were in Arthur's study at the Burrow the next day. Ron was taking care of some of his father's paperwork while he was away.


Hermione stayed significantly quiet.


"What, Hermione? You going to say that it was okay for Ferret to toss off at Remus like that?" Ron looked at her challengingly.


"No, of course it's not okay to be so insensitive, though Draco's hardly known for his consideration of others, so it's not surprising." Hermione rolled up the parchment she was working on and put away her quill.


Ron winced, as usual, at her use of their nemesis' first name. It had more effect on him than someone saying 'Voldemort' these days. She told Ron and Harry that she refused to expend energy on hating Draco and, indeed, she'd been treating him as she would anyone else.


Right now, Hermione looked thoughtful and seemed to be weighing her words before she spoke.


"I think Draco has a point."


She waited for the spluttering and outraged exclamations to subside. "Specifically, the slaying of the sire is a rumoured 'cure' that has never been disproven."


"But don't you think Remus would've done something about that if he thought there was a chance it could cure him?" Ron asked,


"I don't know, Ron," Harry said, thinking back over the conversation last night. "Remus did say that the cure is only effective if carried out within the first year. Remus was attacked when he was pretty young. How's an eight-year-old going to slay an adult werewolf?"


"True, but surely, if it worked, there'd be something written somewhere saying it was effective?" Ron persisted. "Wouldn't people who'd been freed of it be dancing around being happy?"


Hermione shook her head. "You've seen the discrimination against Remus over the years. Do you think people who've managed to get rid of this from their lives would note it for posterity? All the books I've read are written by trophy-hunters or charlatans like Lockhart."


"You used to fancy that git, Hermione, don't pretend you didn’t." Ron laughed until she pinned him with a look. He looked sheepish. "Er, not that others weren't taken in by him, too. Like Mum."


They were lost in their own thoughts for a moment.


"Malfoy is working with information from the D'Argent book that Remus says is a bit dodgy, but there was something about the way Remus was talking-" Harry broke off.


Ron and Hermione waited.


"Well, it's probably nothing, but Remus did seem a bit defensive when saying that his parents would've done everything they could when he was bitten. I only thought it was odd because he's usually so calm."


"Of course he'd be defensive about that," Hermione murmured, her expression soft. "Who wants to believe that there might've been a different way that's now closed to them?"


"Okay, hang on." Ron sat forward and turned to face Hermione properly. "You're saying that if Malfoy somehow managed to infiltrate Death Eater lines, find Greyback at the vulnerable time of transformation, smacks and beheads him with a silver shovel or something, that he may be cured of lycanthropy?"


"I wouldn't have put it quite that way, and I don't think he's got a hope of getting near Greyback, but yes, I wouldn't discount the theory."


"I don't believe it." Ron smacked a hand to his forehead. "Though the part about sending Malfoy off to Greyback has a certain appeal. What do you think, Harry?"


"I think all this is pure speculation." Harry rubbed his eyes tiredly. "There's no way Malfoy can get out of Grimmauld Place for a start. Anyway, we've got other things to talk about. I'm thinking we need to get back to the St John-Smythe place to have a proper look around, to figure out why that tracing spell took us there."


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


It was the morning after.


Draco woke with the realisation that he was sprawled, naked, across the cold floor of his room. He hauled himself to his hands and knees, swearing at how shaky his limbs felt. The slow-healing wounds from Greyback's attack stung sharply and the constant pain of his shoulder had blossomed tenfold. Wisps of terror from the night before threatened to crowd his mind: wracking, uncontrolled spasms, the disjointing agony, hearing himself scream—


He quickly deflected these thoughts, feeling nauseous.


"Bloody potion. Tastes disgusting and doesn't even work." His voice was hoarse and his throat felt raw. Draco crawled to the bed and collapsed, shocked at how close he felt to tears.


There was a quiet knock at the door. He didn't bother responding.


A few moments later, it came again. "Draco? Are you okay? Remus said to look in on you after sunrise."


At least it wasn't Spotty. Still. Granger before nine o'clock in the morning.


"If you don't open the door, I'm coming in anyway."


Making use of every phrase he'd ever learnt from the walls of the Slytherin bathrooms, he forced himself to pull on some clothes, staggered to the door, and opened it while trying his hardest not to sway.


"You look terrible." She had two flasks of… something on a tray, and she was trying not to stare at him. He checked to make sure he had dressed properly. "Here, this is meant to help."


He took it from her and sniffed it suspiciously. "Does it taste as good as that useless Wolfsbane Potion?"


"Useless? It seemed to work perfectly well, considering your alternative was to be chained in the cellar." Hermione's tone was sharp. "And you don't need to look at it like that. If we wanted to kill you, there are better ways."


His befuddled mind didn't have time to come up with a retort before she was gone. He heard her looking in on Remus down the hallway.


Casting a faint, haggard reflection in the glass, he stared out the window at the smoggy London surrounds before downing the draught. He had to admit that the potion did make him feel less jagged and sapped, even though it left a greasy, grassy aftertaste that made him gag. Draco was sure he could make it taste less vile.


Not that he'd be needing it again after he was cured.


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


They had found nothing; the shack had no trap- doors, no attic spaces, no magically-cloaked wall niches. Nothing. Harry already heard Ron's snores from the sofa, and saw that Hermione had slumped across the desk. He was so tired when they returned from their latest expedition that he collapsed in a chair and was soon joineding his friends in sleep.


A solid hand on his shoulder made him jump.


"Harry!"


"What is it?" Harry demanded, pulling his shoulder away from the vigorous shaking of Stan's hand.


"He's gone."


"Who's gone?" Hermione yawned and rubbed her eyes. "Remus left for his next assignment already?"


"Not Remus! Malfoy." Stan looked terrified. "I wasn't napping, I swear."


"He can't get out of here, Stan," Harry reassured him. "Moody's ridiculously complicated tether-spells mean both of them are stuck here."


Half an hour later, after a thorough search of the house, they had to agree that Draco wasn't there. They found Narcissa passed out in the bedroom, her usually perfect porcelain complexion was mottled and her figure bloated with inactive detention. Hermione leaned over the empty potion bottle beside the table, sniffing cautiously. It had an animated, snooty witch dancing on the label, tracing out the "Pretentious Potions" name with her wand.


Hermione's angry exclamation made Ron drop the papers he'd found on Narcissa's desk. "She's been drugged!"


Harry lightly shook Narcissa. There was no change in her deep, regular breathing.


"I guess she wouldn't be too thrilled about Ferret going off on a suicide mission so he had to make sure she didn't interfere." Ron picked up another of the potion bottles – a full one – from the dressing table. "What's in this stuff?" He unstoppered it and waved it in front of his nose. "That's odd."


Hermione took it from him and wafted it under her nose. "This smells just like—"


"Polyjuice potion," Ron finished.


"What? No, that's her, Ron; I haven't let her out of my sight since she came here." Stan was defensive and flushed with anxiety.


Harry frowned. "Stan's right. This has to be Narcissa. Moody had her in a holding room for hours, to make sure that it wasn't someone taking polyjuice."


"Actually, it's a lot like polyjuice but isn't it exactly," said Hermione, taking another sniff. "It's got a slightly sharper smell."


"Keep that handy; we'll have to show it to someone." Harry rubbed a finger to his scar, deep in thought. "Where could Malfoy have gotten out?"


"I'll bet Mrs Black knows," Hermione said.


"That hag? I'm not going near her." Ron shuddered.


"Hermione, does that Tracker tack still work?" Harry asked suddenly.


"If he's wearing the right cloak. I didn't see it in his room, actually, and he's only got one." She drew her wand and a sheet of mapping parchment from her pockets.


Hermione started the incantation and dipped the wand across the page. Immediately, a spidery series of lines appeared on the sheet and a small, moving spot drew their attention.


"Blimey, there he is!" Stan was excitedly turning his head this way and that to follow the spot. "But where is this? Where's he got to?"


"What's going on here?" Remus appeared in the doorway. "Where's who got to?"


"Anyone else with you, Remus?" Harry asked quickly.


"Moody and Minerva are downstairs. We've just returned from a visit to the Minister's office." Remus looked at their sombre faces. "Draco's gone, isn't he?"


"Did you know he'd get out?" Hermione asked, her voice anxious. She'd re-folded the parchment.


Remus said nothing, ushering all of them out of the room while Narcissa slept on.


"To the library. All of you." He sighed. "It's about time we had a proper meeting about this."


Harry, Stan, and Ron muttered amongst themselves as they made their way down the hall. Remus strode quickly towards the kitchen.


"Remus." Hermione followed him, getting the small bottle out of her pocket. "Do you know about this potion? It's Narcissa's draught 'for her nerves'; we think it's some kind of polyjuice."


"But it can't be! Moody—" Remus had stopped mid-stride.


"We know," Hermione said, then shrugged. "But there's something odd about it."


Remus nodded. "Get it to Horace straight away, Hermione, and make sure you pick up whatever Veritaserum he's got ready. We're going through our supplies so quickly these days. Get back as fast as you can. We'll wait for you in the library."


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


Part III


The meeting was quickly convened quickly oncewhen Hermione returned. Shortly after they started, Harry had to stop his jaw from dropping. : Remus told them he'd helped Draco escape the house.


"You did what, Remus?" Minerva's voice squeaked with disbelief.


"That Wolfsbane must be pickling your brain," Moody said, after his initial grunt of surprise. "You've helped the Death Eaters get what they want." Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked at each other when he said this, but Moody didn't expand.


"I don't believe Draco's siding with Voldemort any longer, not after what they did to him and his mother." Remus turned away from Moody's skeptical expression, staring instead into the fire. "He was intent on testing this cure; if it wasn't now, then it would've been some time in the next twelve months. You all know I'm doubtful about this theory of slaying the sire, but if there was the slightest chance that he might be rid of this curse—"


"He's so young, Remus. Young and untried, for all his machinations." Minerva looked distressed. "He can't take on a malicious veteran such as Greyback."


"Hasn't a chance!" Moody averred. "What were you thinking, man? And besides getting himself shredded, he's been privy to too much Order strategy and he knows where our people have been working—-"


"After working with me all this time, Alastor, do you think I didn't weigh the consequences of this act?" Remus' voice was angry and slightly brittle.


"I've worked with you long enough to know what a burden your condition is, Remus," said Moody in a low growl, looking at him defiantly. "Long enough to know how much a potential cure would mean to you."


"I don't think anyone knows how much that would mean to me," Remus said, whipping around to face Moody.


They locked glares. The room was silent but for the fire's occasional crackle.


"You were planning to go with him, weren't you?" Minerva's voice was soft.


"We're meeting in Knockturn Alley tomorrow," Remus finally said.


"Then we're coming with you, Professor," Stan said, standing to attention. "You'll need all the help you can get with those sorts."


"No, Stan, I don't want any of you endangering—-" Remus started.


"You can't go alone, Remus!" Harry came to stand beside Stan.


Ron and Hermione silently joined them.


Remus gave them all a small smile and shook his head. "This is my folly. It's too hazardous for you to join me."


"You're right, Remus. This is a fool's mission. Do you even know how to find Greyback? We've been trying to find him for months. Who's with him? How many? We know nothing about the target's context." Moody snorted with ill-concealed impatience. "I can't support this. It's too risky."


"Alastor's correct," Minerva said reluctantly. "There are so many unknowns. We can't recall anyone from the field at the moment and I—-"


"Draco says he knows where Greyback is." Remus leveled a determined gaze at both his peers. "No one else is required."


At that moment, Horace Slughorn appeared in the fireplace.


"Ah, Remus. Alastor. And Minerva! Very good. You're all here. Hello, Harry! Didn't see you in the back there." Horace looked slightly agitated but beamed at Harry nonetheless. He seemed oblivious to the tension in the room. "I went straight to work on that potion Hermione brought just before, and I've got to warn you that it's most suspicious."


"Is it Polyjuice?" Moody demanded.


"It's associated with Polyjuice. As far as I can tell, it's an anti-Polyjuice."


"A what?" Stan said. "That sounds daft."


"Who's that then?" Horace's face turned to look at Stan. "Oh, Shunpike. I should've known. Right, back to what I found: I'm saying 'as far as I know' because I've never seen this particular formula made before."


"What is it, Horace?" Minerva prompted.


"The liquid you gave me seems to be a type of counter-potion for the Incommutabilis spell."


"Incommutabilis?" Moody sat up and frowned. "That's not even a confirmed spell. We know that the Death Eaters have been experimenting on captured Muggles because we've found, er, some of the results, but it remains only a rumour that it can even be done."


"From what I've heard, it has moved beyond experimental phases," Horace said. "And what you gave me confirms it. Is Narcissa still out cold?"


"Last we checked, a short while ago," Remus said.


"Well, obviously, it's not her." Horace turned away then faced them again, looking as if he was reading from some of his notes. "The potion contains pomegranate juice, fluxweed, and —– most importantly —– powdered turquoise, which maintains regenerative properties. Consider this as confirmation that you don't know who you actually have upstairs!"


"Supposedly, Incommutabilis is caster-specific and brings about a permanent change – whereas Polyjuice is only temporary – and only the one who casts it has a chance of reversing it," Hermione said. "Does that mean Narcissa's potion helps with possible reversal?"


"Most probably!" Horace was delighted that Hermione had caught on so quickly, then his face fell. "Have you been reading my notes?"


"You asked me to bring them back and make a copy for you!" Hermione said, flushing at his accusation.


"Did I? Oh, yes. That's right; we had a parchment-rot scare recently." He beamed at them all before nodding goodnight and disappearing in a scatter of ashes.


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


"Remus can't go without some help behind him," Ron said. "It's dangerous, and I'm with Moody: I'd trust Ferret as far as I could throw him. Actually, scratch that; Malfoy'd be an easy throw."


"We could just wait till Remus is gone, then follow him," Hermione suggested. "We already know where Draco is."


"Why didn't you tell them about the Tracker tack we've got on Malfoy?" Harry asked Hermione, looking up from contemplating his cup of tea. They were sitting in the Grimmauld Place kitchen early the next morning, whispering about last night.


She looked uneasy. "It's something I worked on without approval. I was just trying something out and it worked."


"So? It's a brilliant idea." Ron pushed the last of bit of toast into his mouth. "Anyway, Harry, it's just as well they don't know about it right now or they'd know exactly what we're planning to do."


"With Moody's eye swivelling about more than usual, I'm thinking he might already know what we're planning," Harry said. "We'll have to be careful."


"They're rushing around as it is. He's meant to be off to Argentina today. They won't know." Ron drained his cup and flicked all the dishes into the sink.


They all cringed at the ensuing clatter.


"Sorry. Too keen." Ron grinned sheepishly, casting Reparo on a few of the items.


"You lot up already, then? I've been watching whoever-it-is upstairs. Still looks like Malfoy's mum. Still out cold." Stan slouched into the room, rubbing his eyes and wearing his slightly ragged striped pajamas. "What a to-do yesterday, eh? I don't think the Professor should go by himself. I could be a real help to him, y'know. Had experience on the Knight Bus getting louts off. We see some hairy things go down on the Knight Bus. You get thrown off the Bus only once, only the once, and you don't come back!"


Stan stifled a yawn, then helped himself to some toast and tea, licking leftover jam from his knife.


"I don't think taking on inner-circle Death Eaters would be much like turfing louts from the Knight Bus, mate," Ron commented, laughing.


"Eh?" Stan looked at Ron, a challenging glint in his eye. He sat down at the table and leaned forward on his elbows. "You making fun, Weasley?"


"He's trying to say that what Remus is setting out to do is very dangerous, Stan. That's all." Hermione nudged Ron until he nodded.


Stan squinted at Ron suspiciously.


"You on watch all day then, Stan?" Harry chimed in, hoping to change topics.


"Until I get that new bloke to take over this afternoon." Stan grinned. "I'm following you lot to help Professor Lupin."


"What makes you think we'd go against Remus' own wishes on that—-" Hermione started, flustered.


"Oh, back yourself down and unruffle those feathers, Hermione." Stan tapped his nose. "I know what you're up to. You're not as rude as Malfoy, but I know you all think I'm a bit slow." He stilled their protestations with an upheld hand. "I'd be the first to admit I'm no competition for the WUSSES*,1 but there's book-smarts and there's… other smarts; yeah, I've got those others."


The three friends didn't know what to say.


"Tell you what." Stan sat back in his chair and eyed them all speculatively. "If I go with you this afternoon, then none of the Profs find out where you've gone. Simple deal, really."


"You blackmailing us, Stan?" Harry was so surprised he couldn't help smiling.


"Call it what you like, Harry." Stan grinned slyly and held out his hand. "Shake on it?"


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


That afternoon, they waited till the house was once again clear of Order members in transit. The roaming dot that was Malfoy had become stationary in a very familiar part of their world.


Everyone was hunkered over Hermione's parchment in anticipation, their faces almost touching.


"I swear it looks as if Ferret's at Hogwarts." Ron frowned.


"He's at the Shrieking Shack, to be precise." Hermione spoke the coordinates out loud so Ron could copy them down. She held her wand steady on the parchment. "Seems an odd place to go."


"He could be debriefing with Remus?" Harry suggested. "Not many people would know how to get to that place."


"What we all doing just gabbing about it? Let's find out, why don't we?" With one grand sweep of his wand, Stan Mass-Apparated them straight away.


"—-unpike, you bloody fool!" Ron was yelleding as they all reappeared, facing each other a second or so later in the familiar, gloomy mustiness of the Shack.


"How did you do that?" Hermione was both aghast and excited. "Mass-Apparition is really dangerous and difficult! You'd need at least a Warlock Level Four Permit before you'd—-"


"Er, let's just say we sometimes needed defensive moves to protect us from Ernie's driving." Stan seemed none too keen to spell out his lack of a Warlock Level Four Permit.


"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by this," Remus' dry voice interrupted.


"What are you mob doing here? Don't you ever go anywhere by yourselves?" Draco sounded irritated as he glared at the new arrivals.


"Shut up, Malfoy. We're not here for you. We're here to help Remus." Ron stepped forward.


"Yeah? Well, nice try, Weasley, but we don't need any of you."


"You'd like to think so, Ferret, but—-"


"Please." Remus' single, impatient word silenced them all. "I think our time might be better spent not bickering."


"Are we heading off to find Greyback, then?" Stan asked.


Remus shook his head, gesturing to Draco. "Fill them in."


"We've already got Greyback," Draco said.


"What?" everyone but Remus shouted, immediately whipping out their wands and surveying the room with panicked eyes.


"Put those away, you tossers," Draco said, sniffing in disdain. "He's not here. He's my mother back at Grimmauld Place."


"Your mum's that barmy werewolf?" Stan snorted with laughter before looking shrewdly at Draco. "That's why she was asking me about your dad! They're going to try something to get him out of Azkaban!"


"You're not a totally lost cause, Shunpike," Draco conceded. "I thought she was acting odd. I just wrote it off to what she'd just been through, but after you told Potter about her asking after my dad like that, well, it's no secret that she's washed her hands of him—"


"You were eavesdropping that day!" Harry said.


"Well, well, Potter,  Shunpike's got the drop on you in this conversation." After an admonishing look from Remus, Draco shrugged and continued, "I milked Greyback for information for a while before I left, and found out where they were keeping my mother. I even asked him how to get in and out without a showdown. She wasn't in a very heavily guarded place; they didn't think that we'd ever be able to tell that Greyback wasn't the real thing. From the sounds of it, Voldemort cast that spell on him and he was set up to be 'found' by your lot and taken to Grimmauld Place. It took a few dosed sessions for him to admit that this assignment was his forced reparation for mauling yours truly."


"That explains the Veritaserum running out all the time," said Hermione, looking at Remus. She frowned. "But as a stalwart Death Eater, wouldn't Greyback know how to withstand questioning?"


"Greyback would have resisted it totally, especially given my interrogation skills, but, as my mother, he couldn't." Draco laughed bitterly.


"So, where is your mother?" Harry asked.


"Narcissa's in Edinburgh with Ginny and Tonks," Remus answered, glancing at Draco. "She wasn't in the best of shape when we found her."


"And Greyback will pay for that when I go back," Draco said, a slightly feral glint in his eyes.


"Remus?" Hermione looked at the older man. "You're going to let him return and execute Greyback in cold blood?"


"Wasn't that what we were setting out to help with anyway?" asked Stan in confusion.


Remus stayed silent.


"Well, I don't know about you, but I was setting out to help Remus survive attacking a mob of Death Eaters, not to help Draco murder someone," Hermione said carefully.


"We can always count on you to be sanctimonious, Granger," Draco muttered. "I wonder how charitable you'd be if you were in my situation, you Mudblood princess."


"Watch it, Malfoy!" Ron warned, advancing on Draco with his wand drawn.


Draco laughed. "Nothing as predictable as a Weasley." He snatched Ron's wand and Disapparated with a sharp crack a moment later.


"He's gone to kill Greyback!" Stan exclaimed.


"He won't, Stan," Remus said quietly. "Unless Greyback's transformed, it's pointless."


"Did he transform last time, during the last full moon?" Harry asked. "Can he transform if he's actually Narcissa?"


No one could answer that one.


"So, he may not have a chance to see if the curse can be lifted." Harry saw Remus' grim expression. "Neither of you will ever know."


"When Draco told me who it was back at Grimmauld Place, I knew it was probably over. He left to find his mother immediately, and to see to it that she was safe. Greyback wasn't going anywhere with all of Moody's spells and restrictions," Remus said, leaning against the doorjamb and looking weary. He thought for a moment before speaking again. "The only way it may work is if we get Voldemort to reverse the spell and, somehow, I doubt he'd oblige us."


"Shouldn't we get back there and stop him doing something drastic to Greyback anyway?" Ron asked.


Remus shook his head. "No rush. When I tampered with Moody's wards, Draco was only allowed one exit and no entries. He'll be held for us by one of the doorways."


"Righto, then." Stan held his wand aloft. "We all okay to zip back?"


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


The first thing Hermione did when they arrived back in Grimmauld Place was cast Silencio on Draco, who was swearing with much vigour and volume, caught as he was in Moody's doorway spell.


"Wow. I haven't heard some of those before," Ron said with reluctant admiration, earning himself an exasperated look from Hermione. He retrieved his wand from Draco's immobilised hand.


"Who's on watch upstairs?" Remus asked.


"New boy from Falmouth. Name's Ned," Stan called over his shoulder, already taking the stairs two at a time. They heard him talking to Ned, and opening the door to Narcissa's room. His yelp of surprise brought the rest of them to the first floor bedroom in no time.


Pacing about in the room was something that no longer sported the porcelain features of Narcissa Malfoy. It still wore her dress but bulged out of it in odd, unpleasant ways. Its feet were bare and it had tufts of wiry hair scattered across its toes as well as yellowed, thick toenails. It was the head, though, that brought a collective, horrified gasp from the group: it was misshapen, seemingly frozen mid-transformation. Narcissa's fine, pale hair lay amidst Greyback's matted grey clumps. The face was a grotesque mix of perfectly arched eyebrows and patches of whiskers springing from mottled, dirty skin.


The first thing Remus did was reinforce Ned's hastily cast caging spell so that Greyback couldn't leave the area immediately around the bed.


Seeing them, Greyback rushed to the boundary of the spell.


"Where's that Blood-traitor brat?" he snarled, flexing his menacing nails.


"Last I heard, he was downstairs telling you what you could do to your mother," said Remus in a mild tone, moving dangerously close to Greyback's agitated prowling.


"Er, Professor, I'd step back a smidge. Ned said that he's tried to have a few swipes at him." Stan flicked his eyes nervously between Remus and Fenrir. Ned was watching the entire scene with fascinated revulsion, staying well outside the room.


"It's okay, Stan. I need to test something." Remus' eyes glinted with resolution as he stepped even closer, moving so that he was inside the spell's boundaries. Fenrir's mouth stretched into a monstrous grin and he rushed at Remus without hesitation-


"Remus!" Harry yelled, leaping forward.


"No, Harry!" Remus flicked his wand, preventing Harry from interfering.


Fenrir's arm was drawn back, his claw-like fingers outspread and ready for a ferocious downstroke.


"Come on, old chap," Remus cajoled. "Get on with it."


The attack never came. Fenrir's face was almost comical with frustration when he realised that Remus didn't fear him. He dropped his arm with a grunt.


"Something I'd read about but hadn't had a chance to put to trial until now. Infiltrating his pack was hard enough and I couldn't risk that mission, even for this." Remus' smile was chilling and he deliberately stayed within slashing distance. "The sire can't harm his family, can he, Greyback?"


"That's only ever been an obscure theory, Remus!" Hermione's voice was sharp with anxiety. "I only read about it in a couple of texts, neither of which were that dependable. How could you—"


"Ah, yes, you mean the published works by D'Argent and Mohammed. There was also a section from Hamish McSporran's unpublished papers, several smaller instances in the Lake Ypacarai scrolls, not to mention three — admittedly unconfirmed — experiments by Professor Dor-Gee on the Xi'an pack. But enough critique for now." Remus gestured to Stan and Harry. "Bring Draco up here. Warn him about this, would you?" He nodded towards Fenrir. "I'll release Draco from the binding spell in a minute."


"It's much too late to search for liberation from your condition now, Lupin." Fenrir's breath was hot against Remus' face. "That's what this is about, isn't it? If only your parents had realised there was a cure; they could've tried harder to save you from this life you so despise."


A look of pained understanding flashed across Remus' face but he stayed silent.


When they returned, Draco was so shocked by the sight of what was in the room that he was speechless even after Hermione lifted her Silencio spell.


"I see the wounds aren't healing well, Draco. Your mother would be so distressed." Fenrir's laugh was rasping and unpleasant as he eyed Draco maliciously.


"Bastard!" Draco tried in vain to shake off both Harry and Stan. "I'll get you for what your lackeys did to her."


"Get on with it then, pup!" Fenrir laughed again when Draco lunged but couldn't free himself.


"Why aren't you still looking like Narcissa?" Hermione asked Fenrir, her curiosity overcoming her distaste. She saw his eyes flicker to a number of empty Pretentious Potion bottles on the floor. "You overdosed on the anti-Polyjuice?"


"Didn't know how long I was out cold when that bugger dosed me, did I? If I don't take enough of that stuff, I won't have a hope of having this reversed." He gestured with disgust at his malformed body. "I'd be stuck looking like that bloody ice-princess."


"Nice job, mate. That's a great improvement," Ron said.


Because Draco had stopped struggling, Stan relaxed his grip a bit and regretted it immediately. Draco twisted out of his grasp, pulling hard away from Harry. He dashed across the room and was within the spell-bound area in moments.


"No, Draco!" Remus tried to push the other man out of harm's way, but Fenrir was faster, sweeping in and slashing Draco across an already-scarred cheek. The stripes bloomed with blood. Moments later, Fenrir fell to the ground stiff as a board. He'd been hit with a beautifully precise Body-Bind curse.


Everyone stared at Stan, who tucked his wand away somewhat ostentatiously. "You keep forgetting I worked on the Knight Bus. Fare-evaders, you know."


"He hurt you." Remus knelt beside Draco, who held part of his robe against his freshly injured face. "That couldn't happen unless-"


"Greyback wasn't the one to attack Draco in the first place," Harry said.


"Stan, wind back the spell a bit so he can talk," said Remus.


Fenrir started spitting out words the moment Stan toned down the spell. "Of course it wasn't me that actually bit him. You don't stick around as long as I have without learning a few things. I might've slashed him some, but that was recreational." His leer was still ugly, hindered as it was by Stan's curse.


"Who was it then? Who bit me?" Draco's voice was tight with desperation.


"Your father would be so ashamed of you," Fenrir mocked Draco. "The Malfoy name brought to this."


Draco fished a small vial from his pocket.


"Is that Veritaserum?" Ron demanded.


"Points, Weasley." Draco was about to force-feed the liquid to Fenrir when the other man sniggered. Draco hesitated.


"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have stopped you. Please, go ahead." Fenrir opened his mouth obligingly.


"It won't work, Draco," Remus observed, frowning. "He's too much back to himself."


"Damn it!" Draco said, his voice unsteady. Blood steadily dripped from his cheek as he moved back. He shut his eyes in frustration.


Remus checked the bedside table, gathering all the anti-Polyjuice bottles he could find. "Let's see if this helps." He threw one of the potions against the wall. It shattered and left a smear of white, smoky liquid.


Fenrir growled with anger when he realised Remus' ploy.


"Draco asked you a question, Greyback."


"The Dark Lord will come to free me." Fenrir's nervous eyes betrayed his words. "And your motives are far from pure, Lupin, though I don't know why you bother. It's too late for you; you should just enjoy it. The power, the taste."


Two bottles smashed into the wall.


"Why do you think I choose children? They have no hope of lifting the curse."


A few more potion bottles shattered. "Last one, Greyback," Remus said, his voice flat.


Fenrir turned a feral grin on Remus and said nothing.


"Let's see how long you last without your draughts." Remus dropped the last bottle with studied nonchalance. "Then Draco will have his answer."


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


It was four months before the anti-Polyjuice wore off enough for Veritaserum to affect Fenrir again. In that time, Draco distracted himself from the cycle of the moon by helping Horace with potions work, proving himself a useful — if perpetually snide — member of the Order. He did, indeed, improve on the Wolfsbane Potion: it now had a light peppermint flavour, as well as assorted analgesics and invigorators to aid in the after-effects of transformation. His mother recovered well in Edinburgh, and he'd already visited her twice, each time guarded by Harry and Ron.


The Pretentious Potions elf still delivered the draughts, and Horace had them fully documented within a month. He made his first successful batch about a fortnight later, and had intoned that it would be such a leap if he could just test out its efficacy. A single snort of derision from Minerva put paid to that idea.


Draco's eyes shone with triumph the day he found out that Fenrir was so severely weakened, haggard and sick from the ongoing effects of Incommutabilis and incarceration in Azkaban, that he'd probably give up the name of the sire.


Before using their special Floo-pass to Azkaban, Remus found Draco packing for what looked like a journey of a few weeks.


"It'll only take an hour or so." Remus flicked through the paperwork they'd have to present to the Warden.


"I want to be on the trail as soon as I can," Draco said, carefully packing the precious vial of Horace's specially brewed Veritaserum Forte alongside some flasks of Wolfsbane Potion. "Full moon's in a week."


"You can't go alone." Remus' face was serious. "You'll be killed by the rest of the pack. Just because the sire can't touch you doesn't mean your siblings won't. Stan will be accompanying us, too."


"I've already saved your skin once, Malfoy. Don't you forget that." Stan breezed into the room as if on cue, and grinned. "You can write me a cheque when it's all over. I wouldn't mind getting a nice place by the water."


"You and Shunpike?" Draco frowned, looking from one to the other. "I didn't think you'd be interested in pursuing the sire now that you know it's not Greyback-"


"Lucky for you, I'm not as selfish as you believe," Remus said dryly. Draco had to look away from the other man's steady gaze.


"I'll be waiting when you get back, Professor. Ron and Harry will be back by then, too. Harry was guarding someone's transfer to Azkaban so you might even see him there," Stan said, folding himself into a nearby sofa and hooking his legs over one of its arms. "I can Mass-Apparate us to where we need to go; save us some time."


"Sorry, Stan." Remus smiled. "Your Mass-Apparating days are over for the moment. The Ministry's had a heads-up about your recent efforts and they're keeping an eye on your spell-casting for the next few months."


"So that's what that owl was about!" Stan guffawed. "I saw the Ministry seal on that parchment and tossed it into the stove. Thought it was another broom infringement notice; I've got a few of those already."


Remus frowned briefly at Stan before continuing, "You could pack some supplies for us while you're waiting. About a week's worth should do it, and we'll leave soon after getting back from the prison." Remus glanced at Draco. "Does that sound workable?"


Draco shrugged, looking slightly resentful. "Don't talk to me as if you're offering me a choice."


Remus sighed. "Let's get going."


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


When they stepped out of the grate in the Warden's office, the bleak chill of the prison was immediately palpable.


The Warden himself was waiting at his desk. His craggy features, topped by a shock of reddish-grey hair, were unwelcoming.


"Warden Prewett?" Remus stepped forward with a proffered hand.


"You must be Lupin." Reeve Prewett eyed Remus with a frown, ignoring his hand. "And you must be Malfoy." He ground out Draco's name with practised malice.


Remus saw Draco's face close with immediate wariness.


"We're here to see the prisoner Fenrir Greyback, as per Permission Form 2990, signed by the Minister himself." Remus pushed the paperwork in front of Prewett, using his professorial voice and hoping to speed up proceedings with procedural formality.


"Oh, aye, I have the form in duplicate from the Ministry." Reeve didn't bother looking at what Remus showed him. He'd crossed his arms and leaned back against his desk, staring at Draco with disconcerting intensity.


"We're on a tight schedule, Prewett; showing us through now would be appropriate." Remus' temper was up, but his voice betrayed only a slight edge.


"This is to help you, is it?" Reeve addressed Draco.


"Possibly." Draco's voice was terse, clipped with irritation and impatience.


"How about that." Reeve didn't move. "What makes you think I'd want to help you, you murdering bastard?"


"The Minister has approved this visit, Prewett. If you have any problems with it, take it through the proper channels. Right now, show us through before I—"


"Before you what, Lupin?" Reeve seemed unflustered, quirking a brow at Remus. "What powerful friends does a werewolf have these days?"


Both Draco and Remus were shocked into silence.


"You obviously don't know how things work around here. Azkaban's under my jurisdiction and I say who sees whom. You've got all the right stamps and signatures, of course." Reeve gestured at the form Remus held. "But it's a pity you didn't know that Greyback's slated for Decommissioning today."


Reeve's grin was bitter. Decommissioning was the last stage for prisoners at Azkaban. It was the equivalent of the Dementors' kiss and was introduced specifically for Death Eaters during the War. It was otherwise known as forced interrogation with no limits, usually ending with the subject in a comatose or vacant state, if they were lucky.


"That can't be right! We secured permission days ago to see him." Draco could hear the strain in Remus' voice as he tried to reason with the Warden. "We only want a few minutes."


"Molly always told me good things about you, Lupin, even if you were one of those monsters. Having you here, trying to help a Death Eater?" Reeve shook his head. "I figure my aunt's gone a bit soft in the head."


"You're Molly's nephew?" The Warden's surname clicked into place; Molly's maiden name was Prewett.


"Once removed, or some such." Reeve took his time looking at the fob-watch at his belt. "I'll be back in a moment." He left the room without a backward glance, the heavy clunk of a lock echoing behind him.


"We have to talk to Greyback, Lupin. It's my only chance!" Draco's voice was taut. "Otherwise, I'll never know, never be able to find who did this to me and I'll—" He stopped short.


"You'll be like me," Remus finished for him, feeling incapable of offering any reassurance.


It was a long ten minutes before they heard the clatter of a key at the door.


"Yes, just this way, sir." Reeve's voice was almost unrecognisable in its forced deference. "They haven't been waiting too long. No, sir."


The door swung open and the Warden stepped in, standing back with a sickly smile. Harry swept in after him, a quick look at Remus and Draco apparently telling him what he needed to know.


"Shall we get on with it, then?" Harry's voice was sharp and authoritative. He nodded at the others. "Warden Prewett met me on my way up here. He's been assured that Draco's time with Greyback is necessary and will be observed."


Reeve's face was pale and sweaty with suppressed panic. "Mr Potter, sir, Greyback's been taken to Decommissioning since early this afternoon. He may be, er, unvisitable as it is."


"What are we standing here for then, man?" Harry shouted at him. "Take us there, now!"


Reeve led them down the hallway at a near run.


"Thank God you're here, Harry," Remus said as they sped after the Warden, who was several paces ahead. "He wasn't going to let a mere Death Eater and a werewolf have their way."


"I've had to deal with this man before." Harry was brandishing his wand. "He's used to doing what he likes and doling out his own justice. They don't exactly get loads of people wanting to work in Azkaban. I got a bit of leverage after I found him, er, performing unauthorised cullings of Azkaban's staff. I reported it to Scrimgeour, who did nothing, and Prewett assumed I'd kept his dirty little secret."


"But Scrimgeour signed the form-" Draco started. He was only a step behind them.


"With full knowledge that you'd then have to get past Prewett." Harry shook his head. "I'm just sorry I didn't get here earlier. Trying to pick up my charge from Dublin today was hell."


They all raced into a room at the end of the long corridor. Reeve was already in there, somewhat frantically instructing the two interrogators to revive their prisoner.


Fenrir was unconscious, his distorted features slack and his body ravaged by treatment in Azkaban from recent hours as well as previous months. The air smelt bad: stale and heavy with desperation.


After trying all strengths of Ennervate and associated revivification spells, the interrogators shrugged and put down their wands. "Sorry. He's gone. We've been working on him all day," the older one said, not looking very sorry at all. "We got some useful stuff about DE strategy around the West Coast."


"All day? I thought you said he was sent down early afternoon?" Harry turned accusing eyes on Reeve.


"Thereabouts. He's been slated for Decommissioning for a long time." Reeve drew himself up with a sniff. "I did what was asked. Not my fault if it's too late for a chat."


"No, that can't be." Draco had pushed forward and grabbed Greyback before anyone could stop him. He shook the limp body in disbelief, eyes hard with unshed, angry tears. "This can't be it."


"Looks like he's only good for the Pit now." Reeve picked at one of his nails, a small smile at his lips.


"The what?" Remus asked, appalled.


"The Pit. It's where the Decommissioned Death Eaters are left to die." Harry's voice was harsh. "I'll be reporting this to the Order and the Ministry, Prewett."


"Be my guest, Mr Potter," Reeve said, deference now abandoned. "There's a War on, in case you haven't noticed. We're full up in Azkaban, and we've got better things to do than coddle Malfoys."


At that moment, Draco looked at Remus. The younger man's devastation found such an echo in the gaze of his old professor that he had to look away. The prospect of endless cycles of the moon, and years of discrimination and hostility because of this taint, made Draco feel nauseous.


Reeve Prewett saw them to his office without another word.


They left the desolate, sapping prison as soon as they could.


ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo


"All right, Draco?" Remus' quiet voice startled him; he thought he had the kitchen to himself that morning.


"I thought you were away on assignment." Draco busied himself with fixing a drink, hoping Remus wasn't going to try and to counsel him. It was a few months after their thwarted trip to Azkaban and Draco had it had been a difficult, angry time for Draco. Horace had banned him from assisting in the potions lab, fearful that Draco's frustration would adversely affect the delicate brews. Minerva had put him to work in the Order's library, keeping him out of everyone's way with various research tasks.


"Got back last night with Tonks. Off again later this afternoon."


Draco only nodded, not wanting to engage.


"Hermione and Harry tell me that you've been even more withdrawn than usual."


"I don't have tea and scones with them, if that's what you mean."


"I'm exhausted, Draco, so I'll speak plainly." Remus sighed, the large shadows under his eyes darker than usual. "Acceptance will be some time coming; I know it was for my parents. It was all I ever really knew so I can't say that it took me a long time to get used to the idea. I can't say that finding out there is a cure hasn't gutted me. In a way, it's worse that there was something that could've been done that's now beyond my reach." He quirked a smile. "I'm sorry it's taken me so long to seek you out for a chat. The War and all."


"Don't apologise." Draco finally sat at the table, watching Remus with a defeated expression. "I've been actively avoiding you since Azkaban."


"I know."


Draco pushed some crumbs around the surface of the table. "I think it's much worse than being vilified as a Malfoy, or persecuted for having associated with Death Eaters, and those are things I already put up with every day." He hesitated. "Working in the library is a good way not to talk to people in this house. I've had a lot of time to think about things."


"Minerva and I thought it might be a good interim plan, while you're still getting used to the situation."


Draco nodded and managed half a smile.


They sat in companionable silence until they could hear the rest of Grimmauld Place waking up.


"If you don't mind me asking, did Tonks always know you were… you know." Draco looked uncomfortable.


"A werewolf?" Remus laughed, his face momentarily softened with ease. "Oh, yes. That Tonks did." In the short conversation that followed, Remus tried to convey to the other man what it'd be like to live with society's enduring and angry fears, and how rewarding it was to work for the Order, to feel like he had purpose. At a break in their discussion, he looked at Draco with concern. "Do you still think you'd rather be dead?"


Draco didn't say anything, and had to look away.


"Ah." Remus sounded very sad. "That, too, may pass."


"May?" Draco asked in surprise.


"I won't lie to you. The feeling comes and goes," Remus said quietly. "Always."


"Even for you now?"


Before Remus could answer, the brooding air in the kitchen was broken by a hearty laugh as Tonks strode in, followed closely by Harry, who was insisting with a grin that the mermaids he knew did not do things like that.


"Right now? It's utterly unthinkable." Remus grinned as Tonks dropped into his lap.


"What's unthinkable?" she asked, leaning against his cheek and glancing at Draco. "Are you sending Draco to do some work in the garden?"


"That is unthinkable." Harry snorted. "The plants would never recover."


Draco met Remus' frank gaze. Apparently reaching a decision, he turned to Harry.


"If Longbottom can do it, Potter, how hard can it be?"


"C'mon, Malfoy, you're telling me you can tell a Snake-vine from a Gnarl-ivy?"


Draco's laugh was genuine. "Who am I fooling? I pride myself on not ever having to know the difference between them. Now, if you were asking me about the best cloak-maker in Diagon Alley, or the whereabouts of Ravenclaw's gauntlets, that's another thing…"


"Ravenclaw's—, have you known all this time!" Harry's voice rose several octaves.


"Leverage, Potter. One never knows when it'll be useful."


"You—, you—" Harry couldn't get the words out.


"You're welcome. Let me know when you manage to re-acquaint yourself with the English language, Potter, and we can get on with things." Draco smirked as he pushed back from the table and left the room.


- END -

 

 


*  Wizards United in Super-Smart Endeavours Society

//
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