Title: Origins of Myth
Author: Arsenic
Rating: NC-17 (Slash)
Fandom/Pairing: HP, RW/DM, HG/SS, HP/OFC
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is owned by its creator JK Rowling, the publishing houses of Scholastic and Bloomsbury, and Warner Brothers Studios. This is not meant to infringe upon their rights as owners. Summary: Draco gets lost. Ron finds him.

Author's Notes/Warnings: This was meant to be a semi-short h/c story to get things out of my system. This is what happened instead. Sorry. I know almost nothing about Lanzhou except that it does not actually have a University in it, although Gansu, the province in which it is housed, does. Also, I have never been to China, as well as several of the places in America that our hero visits, so I apologize if my descriptions are horrifically skewed. This story contains several scenes that are non-con in nature both implicit and explicit, het and slash. Please don't read if this makes you uncomfortable, sparks issues, anything along those lines. Thanks.


It is the Mudblood who first figures me out, corners me outside the prefects' bathrooms and asks, "All right, Malfoy?"

So maybe she doesn't corner me. Maybe she asks it out in the open. Maybe I sneer, "What's it matter to you, Mudblood?"

Maybe she answers back, "It should matter to someone, shouldn't it?"

As regally as possible, I walk to the entrance for boys. I disappear behind it and hide there for quite some time.


She doesn't give up on me. Like her crusade with the bloody house elves, I am one more thing to be saved, whether I appreciate it or not. Just like them, I decidedly do not. I think, anyway.

I think until she catches me out after hours, both of us wandering when we shouldn’t be and she smiles and says, "C'mon, there's something I want to show you."

I follow her without thinking about it. She grabs my hand and drags me ever upwards, whispering warnings of trick tiles and illusory stair steps. I don't pull my hand away. It is only after we reach our destination that I realize I have never done that for anyone.

She stands, slightly breathless, in front of a non-moving painting of Persephone. There are only a few in the castle, and it is anyone's guess as to how they got there. "It's my favorite. I just recently found it."

Greek mythology is one of the few Muggle traditions of which every pureblood is expected to have a basic knowledge. Mainly due to the fact that one of Rowena Ravenclaw's ancestors found the stories fascinating and recorded them, reinterpreting events through Wizarding eyes. "I would have figured you to be more the Athena type." There is mockery in my voice, but I'm speaking the truth.

Granger's voice is different when she explains, calmer somehow than I'm used to, "She gains power from her travels between all that is Death and all that is Life. She understands the balance of Dark and Light. That nothing is all one nor completely the other."

"Is that what you think, you filthy, barely-domesticated Mudblood bitch?" I ask, enraged that she should feel at liberty to make such presumptions about who I am. The anger in me is so great that I forget we are pretending that she is speaking of someone else, forget that I am supposed to play along with her little game of analytical speaking. Forget everything. Forget that my anger is greater than my fear.

"Tell me I'm wrong, Draco," she challenges me.

I let the moment in which I could respond pass. She makes sure I make it back to the dungeons without getting caught.


I scrabble to believe that nothing has changed. My father sends his owl, as thoroughbred as the man himself, with a message: "Your mother is trying to decide what to serve at the Yule Feast. I reminded her roast pheasant was a favorite of yours."

I translate, "Important Persons will be at the Manor come the hols. Don't embarrass me or your mother." He's long since stopped having to add the "or else," even in Malfoy Code.

Vincent eyes the parchment that I've tossed aside. "Pheasant? Sounds good."

Delicately, I cut into my fried egg and make the obligatory sound of agreement. Nothing at all sounds good, with the possible exception of Granger's laughter, floating freely across the Hall.


It is her laughter that I hear when I defy Father the first time, sneaking a Muggle girl safely out of one his revels. She has brown hair and looks nothing like the girl that I have started to think of as My Friend.

It is the hug she stole, catching me unawares, nearly causing me to fall, that I feel when I sabotage the wands belonging to MacNair and one of the Lestranges before they head out on a raid with my Father.

It is her words, "Hey, you're my friend," casual and sweet and true that ring inside my head when I take it upon myself to go against Him, attempting to sever the link between Him and Potter. It is those words that I hold onto as I am caught, as the pain of Crucio roils underneath my skin, inside my bones, through my nerves. As he snaps the wand that connects me to everything important, and points his own wand at me, muttering words that I have never heard. It does not take me long to understand though, as my magic drains out and I scream, curling into a ball, trying to lock just the tiniest bit inside myself.

Father kisses me as he folds my hand over the portkey, kisses me and says, "Goodbye, my failure."

I replace the words, the kiss, with, "All right, Malfoy?" It isn't, not at all, but at least I know why.


I hold the Portkey for two weeks after it drops me off wherever I've been sent. I know to be sent back is to die, I know it, but I can't stop hoping for a miracle.

It takes me less than an hour to figure out what my largest problem is going to be -- baring the loss of my magic, any type of funds and the world as I know it. I'm ignoring all that for the moment. My imminent problem is that I haven't a clue as to what anyone is saying. I'm relatively sure it's Chinese, but I won’t rule out the possibility of Japanese, or Korean or Vietnamese for that matter. I've never been to this part of the world. Father considered it uncivilized.

Wherever I am, it is cold. I do not have my robes on, as the enchantment I was performing to hopefully break the bond without killing Potter (or Voldemort, that would have been up to Potter, but it would have meant he could do it without dying himself, as Granger and I both suspected was necessary), took a considerable amount of magical energy. A body heats itself quickly under those types of circumstances. It is early March, but I am obviously far enough North for that to still be considered winter. Mongolia?

I order my thoughts. Clothing and food are necessary. So is shelter. I have no money, Wizarding or Muggle and I cannot speak the language. Thinking isn't getting me anywhere.

I move down the street, body still quivering in the aftermath of the Crucio and the disorientation of the portkey. A sign in the window of one of the restaurants glows without any type of fire that I recognize. The fireless beacon is in the shape of a bowl and there is steam coming out of it. I do not need to read the characters to understand that type of advertisement. I step in. Even if they will not feed me, it will be a moment out of the cold.

That is all it is.


It is not just my English that makes everyone's eyes narrow suspiciously, I am aware. It is my hair and my odd clothing and the way I hold my hand, cut when I fell after being deposited by the Portkey, and rapidly becoming infected. It is the scratchiness of my voice announcing my desperation.

It is everything that causes The Boy to approach me. Everything that leads him to say in accented and overly perfect English, "Are you British?"

It has been four days since someone has spoken words that I can understand to me. "Yes. Yes. Where am I?"

He tilts his head, confused, but answers, "Lanzhou."

It doesn't matter, not at all, the word means nothing to me, but having it, knowing the word for where I am makes me feel better. "I'm Draco."

"Pretty name," he says, and does not give me his own. "Are you hungry Draco?"

It is something of a miracle that I am still standing, given my level of hunger. All I do is nod.

"Do you have money?"

It is a foolish question, and I sense that we both know it, sense that it is a preliminary to something else. "No."

"Then what can you give me for my food?"

I am at a loss. I am not wearing any jewels, as I had taken to flaunting Father's style of showing off our wealth, and my clothes are hardly worth anything, except as the shielding they have provided me against the wind. "I have nothing," I say, and expect to find myself foraging the dustbins once again, possibly throwing everything I find up, as I did two days before.

"Not even yourself?" The Boy, who must be all of three or four years my senior, blinks languidly.

Not even- Oh. I stiffen, my pride warring with my survival instinct. The latter wins out just as The Boy is turning to leave. "Wait!" I bark. "Wait." The repetition is softer, more resigned. "Food, and someplace to stay for the night."

The Boy sneers, "You are not that beautiful."

It smarts. It shouldn't, not on top of everything else, but it does. "No," I lick my lips. They are chapped and swollen and even the touch of my tongue stings viciously. "But I am that different."

I see the flash of his eyes and know I have hit the right argument. He wants me for my silver hair, my blue eyes and my long, English limbs, beauty be damned.

"You will do anything I ask." It is a command and a bargaining point all at once.

I parry, "For that, I will leave with clothes more suitable to this weather."

He is silent for a bit before repeating, "Anything."

I follow him as he walks away.


I get the food before. I won’t be much good to him without it and he knows it. His place is warm and the bed is soft and it would be heaven except that he is there.

He enjoys humiliating me, making me crawl in awkward positions, dressing me in women's lingerie, spanking me over his lap.

He is my first and it is all I can do not to scream as he takes me from behind. I am wet with his preparation and still it burnsburnsburns through me, robbing me of everything but the pain. I am reminded of the Crucio and it is only because of this memory, because of the fact that this is nothing compared to that, that I can stay quiet.

He is as good as his word and gives me clothes in the morning. I find out only too soon that he is a University student, as he sends his friends around to find me. I hold out until the hunger once again becomes too much, the need to sleep somewhere that is not an alley.

There are three of them the second time and I demand money along with the food and shelter. They speak only a bit of English and the bargaining process is harder, but by the middle of the night I have been fed and am on my hands and knees, being taken from both ends as the third one watches.

It takes the better part of a year for my pride to vanish completely. I begin to take clients nearly every night. The language comes to me at a painfully slow clip, but I strive to learn, if only to be able to watch out for myself. I make enough to rent myself a room. It is small and takes me weeks to scrub clean of its previous inhabitant's filth, but it is shelter and it is mine.

I never take customers there. If they want somewhere that is not an alley for our tryst, they are forced to either rent a room or take me back to their place. Most are just men looking for a quick suck, but there are those who get off on my abasement or pain and I refuse to bring that into the only place I have that can be called home.

When I have learned the language well enough, I try again for a job, something menial -- as I have figured out that my truncated Hogwarts education means nothing here -- but enough to keep up with rent. I find soon enough that there is a stigma to being what I am, and that I am notorious. The White Devil Bitch. It sounds more sinister in Chinese.

So I keep doing what I do, struggling to learn the ways of Muggle living for a much longer time than it takes me to learn the language. Struggling to ignore the sickening emptiness where my magic once resided. Struggling, out of habit, to care that I wake the next morning, and the next.

I exist this way for a little over four years. I exist this way until I am found.


I first seek Liao out because the locals call her a Witch. I quickly discover that she is not and nearly leave her shop before she beckons, "Devil!"

If I have already been given the moniker at this point, I do not know it, don't even understand the word itself, just that she is calling me. I stop and turn to her, but don’t say anything. I only have a few sentences in Chinese as of yet and nothing that I feel will serve me in this instance.

She approaches me slowly. Liao is graying, perhaps in her late sixties, but has the look of a woman who was once beyond stunning. She keeps herself tidy, clothes clean, hair pulled back into a strict bun, held in place with ornate chopsticks, and walks with a pronounced limp. When she reaches me, her eyes sweep up and down my person. Cautiously, she reaches her hand out to take mine. It is the hand with the cut. The infection is now a mess of sick green and fever red and I cannot use the hand. It refuses to respond to much more than the simplest of commands.

She makes a noise and motions for me to follow her as she limps away to one of many rows of neatly ordered shelves. They all contain jars of one herb or another, fastidiously labeled, and, as I learn later, alphabetized. Snape himself would have been shamed by her organization, whether or not he was able to get over his pureblood arrogance long enough to admit it.

She plucks a jar from its resting spot and moves on, to the corner of the shop, where there is a sink alongside a countertop with several mortar and pestle sets, some of them in use, some empty. She runs the water for a bit before placing my hand underneath it. I gasp. The water is hot and it stings as it pours forcefully over the cut, pushing away at dead skin, loose scabbing and fluids leaking from the areas that haven't scabbed.

She turns off the water and immediately pours rubbing alcohol in its place. Tears build behind my eyes, making them ache, but I stay still. She pats the area dry with a soft flannel and scoops a bit of paste from the jar she took off her shelf. She packs the paste over the scratch and wraps my hand in several lengths of cotton bandaging. Once she has finished, she lets go of my hand and steps back, cleaning up.

I ask, "How am I to pay you?" recognizing the futility of it all.

She frowns at me, but shakes her head and clucks as though she understands. She stands on her tiptoes to kiss my forehead and then turns me around, shooing me out of the shop. Outside on her stoop, I put my hand to my face. The feel of her lips is similar to that of Granger's hugs.


I have come from Liao's the day I am found. I go to her when customers have taken things too far and I am left bleeding or burnt or -- once -- with several broken fingers. I have scars that I would not have if I were to be treated by a Healer, but thanks to her, all of my body parts still function correctly.

Ever since I learned the language she has allowed me to help her out when I come by, mix draughts and pastes, label jars, clean hard to reach areas or spider webs and other homes for vermin. If I am badly hurt, she will let me stay the evening, feeding me for one meal and allowing me the use of her floor and several blankets. She saved my life once this way, when I came under the influence of pneumonia, my room not being heated. She kept me on her floor, near the fire, feeding me specially brewed teas and soups for nearly two weeks until I had recovered.

She did this, despite being nearly as poor as I. The stigma of Witch is nearly as strong as that of White Devil Bitch, and it is only those who still remember a time before modern Muggle medicine that come to her, their numbers thinning with every year. I, for one, trust her bottled herbs and brewed poultices more than I could ever trust the tiny white and colored capsules sold in the town's drug shop, purporting to stop headaches and pains and colds and all types of ailments.

I have not stayed at her place the day he finds me. I have just gone for a bit of pain-relieving paste. I have serviced a regular the night before, one with a fondness for his leather belt and the sound it makes against my skin. He rarely breaks the skin, but it is uncomfortable to work for a few days following and Liao's paste is my only source of relief.

I do not have a corner, as I learned early on that staying in one place is asking for one of two things: getting beat up by the gangs of native prostitutes, or placing myself in the direct path of greedy pimps. Instead, I move, never in the same part of town from one night to the next. It also helps in evading the law. Not that they ever arrest me. They just use me for free. I'm not sure which one I prefer.

I choose a spot near the University that evening. The students are less likely to beat me in the aftermath, in a fit of repressive angst. If they are violent, it is about their kinks, not their issues. It is a safer type of violence.

I don't recognize him when he approaches me, it is dark and I am exhausted, hoping to find someone who will not mind if I sleep for a bit while they use me. He is Caucasian, though, and that wakes me up, just the tiniest bit. He is looking at me with open curiosity, so I offer, without much thought to originality, "Looking for some company?"

"I don't speak Chinese," he says. His accent is English, sloppier than mine used to be without the affectation of having spoken another language entirely for nearly four years. I feel a trill of fear. The only people who would know where that Port key was keyed for were Father and Voldemort. I remind myself that England supports a fairly large population and scoff at my own paranoia.

I offer a second time, "I thought maybe you were looking for a way to spend a few hours."

"Oh," he steps back a few inches and something inside me twinges with vague recognition. "No, it's not…you look like someone I used to know."

The panic nearly makes me dizzy as it roars back before I can suppress it once more, reminding myself that if Father or Voldemort were to send anyone, they would most likely know where I lived and come for me there. Also, I doubt they would play games. They would take what they wanted -- me, my life, whatever -- and leave. "I get that a lot," I lie.

"I'm sure," the not-stranger snorts. "You look so much like everyone else around here. Look, lemme buy you a drink. You're the first bloke I've met 'round these parts who doesn’t have an accent that makes English almost as hard to understand as Chinese."

The offer is appealing. It's been awhile since there's been anyone with whom I could speak my first language. It's getting late, though, and if I'm going to eat tomorrow and make rent by the end of the week, I need at least one client this evening, two would be even better. "I'm sorry, I…" I'm trying to figure out how to explain without straight out admitting to being a flat broke whore when he solves the problem for me.

"How much for the night?"

I don't even hesitate. If he's willing to pay, he can do whatever he wants with my time. "Pounds or yuan?"

"Oh, um…yuan?" He sounds uncertain.

The tickle of recognition builds behind my stomach. I ignore it and name my price.

He is silent for a moment. "Tell me what that is in pounds."

I comply.

He does some type of calculation on his fingers. "Isn't that kind of cheap?"

I shrug and feel discouraged at the lack of insult the question sparks in me. "People around here aren't rich. I ask for what they'll pay." It's the truth. I tried going higher and starved for a week. I can sometimes get a meal in addition to payment, but that's about the extent of it.

"All right," he answers softly. "And you'll have a drink with me for that? On me, I mean. The drinks are on me."

"There's a student hang-out down the road," I tell him by way of 'yes'. He lets me lead.


It is dark inside the hangout, but not nearly so dark as it was on the street. Streetlights are ill-kept up in the area, as the government siphons little money here. It isn't a large tourist attraction nor a major source of income in the country and therefore, not much worth the central government's time or funds.

The first thing I notice is that his hair is red, not brown as I had thought. It is a darker red than I remember, but still, red, and what was a trickle a moment before explodes into a flood of recognition, heavy and too hot inside my chest.

"Weasley," the word falls out of my mouth before I can catch it. Despite the fact that he could only have been told I was here by two people, I doubt that he is one of Them. Nonetheless, I grab his left arm and push his sleeve back, only beginning to breathe again when I see the clean skin of his forearm.

He pulls his arm away. "It is you then. We thought you were dead." He sounds like he may have enjoyed thinking this.

"I am," I say, oddly glad to give him what he wants, and walk out the door.

He follows me. I should have expected it. Gryffindors have no sense of when to give up. "Malfoy!"

I turn. I can't help it. Nobody has called me that in over four years but some instincts cannot be eradicated. "I am no threat to you or anyone you care about, Weasley," I sneer. "Leave me be. It's late, and I need to make some cash tonight. Even Malfoys have to eat." I resume my retreat.

"Hermione looked everywhere for you."

I stop walking but do not turn. "Don't tell her."

"You complete and utter prat! She's spent years tracing every clue that every Death Eater or wannabe dropped in their bloody trials-"

"Weasley, please," and I am panicking now, more surely even than the night I woke up in this place, "please, find a way to convince her I'm dead, let her grieve-"

"You selfish git," he insults me over my continued pleading. I don't even see him draw his wand before I hear a smattering of Latin. It's the last thing I hear for awhile.


I wake up warm. Liao's, then. Which is funny, I could have sworn-

I open my eyes and my memory comes back with my sight. I know exactly where I am and while it’s not at the top of my list of places that I don't want to be, it might take third or fourth place.

I close my eyes again and pray that there are no Waking Alarm Charms on the room. I need to think logistics. Snape Manor consists of six above-floor-level stories. The third one is completely dedicated to the house elves. It contains the kitchen, laundry areas and all of their living quarters. The first is an area meant completely for entertaining, the second contains guest quarters, the fourth is where the Snapes are meant to habitate. The fifth is mostly workrooms and the sixth houses an Aviary. Below the earth are two levels of dungeons.

Judging by the comfort level of the bed I'm laying in, and the rich sweep of mahogany that my eyes caught in their brief moment of use, I'd put myself as being on the second floor. If I remember correctly, this floor is not nearly so heavily warded as the dungeons and the workrooms. It is, however, the third most likely to be crawling with house elves, right after the third and fourth floors, and I wouldn't put it past whoever's keeping me here to have placed extra wards toward that goal.

I clamp down on my panic by trying to make sense of the whole thing. Weasley brought me here, and Weasley's don't go bad. Well, there was the one…Percy? But mostly that was just naiveté, if Father was to be believed. Not Ron, though. I may have thought he was the biggest prat ever to live, but Granger had faith in him, and when she put her faith in someone, she was rarely wrong.

I run through my memories before waking up to try and come up with something. It hits me on my second time through. Trials. Weasley had yelled something about trials.

Was the War over? Had Potter done what he needed to do? I'm suddenly glad to be laying down. Even in the dark behind my eyelids, the world seems to have lost its equilibrium. I'm still fighting the vertigo when I hear the door creak open, followed by a tentative, "Draco?"

I open one eye, the one that can't be seen from the door, and look at her. She's more stunning than I remember. Her hair falls all the way past her waist and the weight of it seems to have calmed it a bit, making it less bushy. She's lost weight -- not that she had a ton to begin with -- and the look in her eyes is even sharper, more alert than when we last met, hiding from friend and foe under the un-watching eyes of Persephone. I open my other eye, shift up a bit and say softly, unwilling to completely believe she's here, "Granger?"

"Draco!" At my response, she practically flings herself forward, sprinting the length to the bed and scrambling on top of it to crush me tight to her. From her activities, one would never guess that she was no longer the sixteen year-old girl I'd left to fight demons much larger than either me or her. "We thought…"

She's shaking and even though I'm out of practice and was never much trained in the art of platonic physical comfort to begin with, I hug her to me, squeezing her as tightly as my arms will allow. When the shaking subsides to where it's just occasional tremors, I venture, "Granger, I-"

"If you're not going to call me Hermione, than at least use my legal last name." She pulls back from me with the most mischievous smile I've ever seen on her face. And I've seen a few.

I look to her finger. Sure enough, two rings encircle it. The wedding band is traditional and plain, but the engagement ring sports a neatly cut Centaurian Sapphire. The Wizarding world had its own Pantheon of gods and goddesses at one time and the Centaurs were said to be the divine Seers. In exchange for a service done, one of the Centaurs was given a place in the sky, as a constellation. However, The Centaur, as the constellation is ever-so-originally called, looks to be missing a star. Some say that the star shines so bright as to be completely iridescent and so we are unable to see it from earth. That is what a Centaurian Sapphire looks like, a star with the color of the night sky, so blue, it is nearly black. They are extremely rare, beautiful and prized beyond all measure. It is a clue, but I cannot discern to what. I give up and start easy.

"Weasley?" I venture, knowing instinctively that she's not going to tell me without making me work for it.

Not-Granger laughs. "No! I'm most definitely not Ron's type. Nor any of the other six, for that matter."

I frown. Maybe, if she found some way to work the enchantment without me- "Potter?" I try again.

"Dating a girl I positively adore who is not myself. You're never going to guess," she taunts.

The sapphire suggests someone rich or someone with unusual connections. "Longbottom?" I try, doubtful.

The glee in her eyes dampens a bit and I want to swallow the words. "Neville's dead, Draco. He took down Bellatrix Lestrange, but Voldemort got to him before the end."

I did not know Longbottom well, nor did I particularly care to, but she loved him and for that I say, "I'm sorry."

A voice that sounds amused, concerned and annoyed all at once comes from the doorway. "Going to tell him, or should I?"

It is a voice I know without having to look up, and suddenly the sapphire makes perfect sense. "Hermione Snape," I say, looking into her eyes. Her husband steps into the room.


For what feels like several minutes, it takes every ounce of my concentration just to breathe through the sheer, numbing fear. I finally manage, "He's-"

"He's not," she counters and holds her hand out to a man who once treated her no better than I. "He's not a Death Eater, Draco. He never was." She corrects herself, "Well, not in a time when we were alive, anyhow."

He has reached the bed and taken her hand.

The gesture is throwing but I know better than to believe in it. We didn’t wear the masks when among Ourselves. "Grang- Herm-" I stop. "Persephone."

They both frown. She asks, "What's that got to do with anything?"

"That's what I'll call you." It's unimportant, given everything else happening at this moment, but I can't call her Snape, and she's made it clear she won't answer to Granger. Hermione feels like a liberty taken. I have long since realized that Persephone, who is neither goddess of the underworld nor goddess of the living world, and at the same time is both, is one and the same as Granger. The Muggle-born with more capability than Merlin himself.

"Draco." This from Snape, whose expression I do not recognize. "I was working for Dumbledore. When you didn’t return to Hogwarts after Easter I tried everything to get Lucius to tell me where you were. It was easier finding out Voldemort's plans to destroy Potter than to get even a smidgen of information in regards to you."

This is probably true, I realize with a sick twist of my stomach. "Father hated me more than he hated Potter."

Now that the first volley of panic has passed, I try and piece things together. "You were both looking for me."

Grang- Persephone nods. "Albus threw us together to work on it."

It still isn’t making sense. "You hated each other."

"Severus had a part to play," she disagrees, speaking before he can. I want to know what he has opened his mouth for, but he shuts it quickly. "And I," sheepish shrug, "have a hard time hating anyone."

I am not the person to argue the truth of that statement. I focus in on Snape. He is wearing casual attire. I don't think I've ever imagined him owning casual attire. His trousers are gray and the jumper is black, but the neck is loose, not clamoring up to his chin. There are no layers. His hair is shorter, not much so, but enough to make it look like someone is around to remind him that it’s time for a trim. He looks…healthy. Maybe even happy.

The way she made me feel when nobody else even had a clue anything was wrong.

That fact, more than anything, is what allows me to understand. "All right. True. Fair enough."

"Draco," Persephone hesitates, her gaze locking with Snape's. "One of the reasons we couldn't find you is that your father somehow found a way to block your signature-"

"He didn't find a way to block it." I disabuse her of this notion immediately. Every Wizarding child is born with a signature unique to him or her, given off by the energy inherently created with his or her magic. It is how Hogwarts knows where to send the letters. The birth of a Wizarding child is instantaneously noted by the Oracles, which are not really Oracles at all, at least not in the Foresight sense. They are Witches and Wizards born with the ability to Sense other's signatures. Their gifts are highly valued and they are paid well by Ministry's around the world merely to sit around and inform others at the moment when children with magical abilities are born. "I don't… They took my magic."

I close my eyes. I haven't ever said the words before, haven't allowed myself to think how easy it would be to Charm blankets warm, or transfigure a crate into a bed or Apparate. Dark Magic is full of irreversible Spells, and the Eradicate Spell is among them. It does not just drain a person's magic, it scours their system of it. I may not have recognized the words at the time, but there is very little I don't know about Dark Magic and the effects of the Eradicate are unmistakable. "I suppose I should be thankful it wasn't a Locking Charm."

To be able to remember the feeling and never get at it again is one thing. To constantly be able to feel the magic and never be able to reach it would most likely have driven me insane. I don't contemplate the moment of mercy that lead Father and Voldemort to forgo a Lock.

Persephone's voice is strained. "You're a stick, come eat with us. We have to fatten you up."

I take the reprieve. "The dining rooms still on the first floor?"

"Yes," she confirms, "but they're prettier."

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that out about everything at Snape Manor.


Dinner is a small, casual affair. It's jarring for me, seeing as the last time I ate here there were seven rather solemn Death Eaters planning the next stage of Voldemort's ascent to power and, well, me.

Persephone is chatting with a house elf wearing what looks like the remnant of a quilt. The house elf is squeaking with what sounds like excitement. I'd be hard pressed to believe it's fear. The elf scurries off and Persephone comes back to where I'm standing, my legs having gone traitorous and refusing to function properly. She takes my arm. "Vizja is the head kitchen elf. She remembers you."

Maybe it was fear. "As what? The Tiny Death Eater?"

She has lead me to a seat and pushes me down into it. "No. The Devil's Son."

Evidently, no matter what, that moniker follows me everywhere. "Ah."

She takes the seat next to me, one right of the head, where Snape is already sitting. Across from me is a girl I don't recognize. She's got dirty blond hair partitioned into several messy braids, green glasses with rectangle frames that cover tiny brown eyes, more freckles than all the Weasley's put together and her body bears the athletic look of a Quidditch Keeper. She is tiny and has to nearly crawl on top of the table to offer her hand, "Hey, I'm Nell Kudri."

I clasp the hand. Every one of her fingernails is painted a different color. Most of them don't match. "Draco Malfoy."

Her grip gets firmer, but other than that nothing changes. Behind her, Potter has come up and is pulling her back into her chair by way of tugging on two of the braids. She slides back, letting go of my hand, and grins up at him. "Hullo, trouble."

He flicks her forehead. "Malfoy."

I swallow. "Potter."

He sits down in the empty seat between Nell and Snape. Snape doesn't even blink.

Vijza is just serving the soup when I hear a distant cracking noise and Weasley saunters into the room, apologizing, "Sorry, I'm late, the whole Malfoy thing, quite a bit of paperwork-" He looks up from mussing Nell's much-abused braids and sees me. "Oh. If you’re going to curse me, could you get it out of the way please? I'm starved."

Good that someone is, because I now officially have no appetite. I stand up and motion to my bowl, "I haven't begun. It's all yours."

I make sure to walk past the large doorways and a bit into the hall before breaking into a run. I find the stairway that I came down and climb it, keep climbing it past the second floor, third, fourth, fifth, until finally there are no more stairs. I fall onto my knees at the top and force my breathing to slow.

She has changed the Aviary. I know it is her because it is the most colorful place I have ever seen and Snape's idea of a rainbow is adding a little navy blue amongst different shades of black. The trees are a blend of wild species that she has transplanted into this controlled environment and magically spliced breeds that she most likely has discovered on her own. Many of the birds I remember are still around, the owls sleeping lazily on branches, the raven calling out from his nest. There are others, though. Hummingbirds buzz around several flowering trees and there is a falcon answering the raven. I am willing to bet there are more, hiding where I cannot see them. Smart little things.

His voice startles me and I whip around to where he is standing at the top of the stairs, looking not one inch out of breath, "I'm sorry, all right? I didn't know. I thought they had taken your wand."

I curl my fingernails into my palm so tightly that they cut at the skin. "Even in Lanzhou, there are ways of getting a wand."

"I thought maybe you didn’t want one. You said you were dead-"

"I AM dead, Weasley!" I don't remember the last time I yelled, it frightens even me, but I don't back down. The falcon flies across the Aviary, startled. "I have to think to construct simple sentences in English, I can't levitate a feather, I've spent the last four years letting other people bugger me so that I wouldn't starve! What do you call death?"

His eyes flash and it is as if nothing has changed. Despite myself, I am turned on by his fury, his utter hatred of me. His passion has always excited me, regardless of what emotion it corresponded to. I would have preferred a wholly different type of passion, but if wishes were galleons… It does not hurt that he has grown into himself. His lankiness has filled out into a well-muscled slimness, his hair darkened just enough to seem silky and his features have sharpened ever so slightly into an older version of boyish good looks.

"Being dead is what Charlie and my father are! And Neville and Hagrid and Sirius and Luna and Padma and Sprout and Cedric and Susan and-"

I put my hands up, "Okay, okay."

He stops. There are tears on his cheeks and he wipes at them furiously. I don’t think any less of him.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know. Honestly."

He runs a hand through his hair and sits down at the base of one of the trees. A parakeet flutters to his shoulder. He pets it absentmindedly. "Charlie brought dragons to our side. Not as many as they had, of course, but several. He was on one when it was attacked by another. There wasn't really…we put a headstone on an empty grave. So mum would have somewhere to go. Right next to dad's. He died trying to keep Harry safe until the final battle. After you…disappeared, Hermione told us what you had been trying to do. Of course, we couldn't replicate it, it had to be done by one of Voldemort's followers, but she thought she could find a variation. She did, but it involved several factors, not the least of which was the final battle taking place on a certain date, which meant we had to lure Voldemort into it, make him think it was his idea. This involved, among other things, sending Harry out as bait a few times. With heavy guarding. Everyone was supposed to come back from these missions, of course. Supposed doesn't always work out like it should, though."

No, I am well acquainted with that truth. "Was…was Potter still with Lovegood?"

Weasley nodded dully, "Mad in love with the little flit. Pretty much left the Wizarding community afterward. Everyone throwing false sympathy at him, congratulating him on saving us all again and then trying to get him to hook up with their daughters. He was going mad."

I sink to where Weasley is sitting and tentatively try to pet the now-neglected parakeet. It allows me. "Snape loves Per-Hermione?"

"More than I knew one person could love another," he sounds defeated. I think I understand. He pleads, "Come back downstairs. They're infuriated with me. Snape's going to use my gonads for a potion."

That would be a shame. I almost blush at the thought, but I've been whoring myself for four years. The time for modesty is well past. "Why?"

Weasley sighs. "Because when he chooses to love, he loves hard."

"He doesn't love me," I protest. I think I know Snape better than Weasley. I think.

"You didn't see him trying to find you," is all I get from Weasley. It's enough.

"And if I don’t mind the idea of you without your entire reproductive system?"

Weasley narrows his eyes momentarily. Whatever he is thinking is not what he says. "You're skin and bones, Malfoy. It's disgusting."

The insult, however mundane, is comforting. I follow him down six flights of stairs, watching the parakeet, who has refused to budge from her spot.


Nell offers to help the house elves clear the dishes and I think, "Oh. Muggle." It doesn't surprise me as much as it probably should, Famous Harry Potter -- the words still sound like invectives in my head, but his face is never connected with the insult -- dating a girl who when she looks at him adoringly, sees more than just the scar.

She's odd, but then, so was Lovegood. In fact, next to that particular choice of Potter's, this one is downright normal.

Weasley is amused by her, although not in a condescending way. So far as I can tell, she's given as good as she's gotten in regards to the Twins, and that's earned her some status among the Redheaded Tribe.

At some point while I was in China, Snape has learned how to smile without making it look like he wants to kill the next person unlucky enough to walk past him. He smiles at his wife a lot. I make myself call her that, trying to get used to the idea. It's not as hard as I would have thought, not with the two of them arguing over the dinner menu and her hurling Muggle insults at him fondly.

Everybody keeps pushing food at me. I even catch Nell doing it once, although she is sneakier than the others, perhaps feeling less right to participate in the Fatten Draco Up For The Slaughter Campaign.

When I feel I can leave the table without being insulting to Persephone, I do so, wandering two rooms over, where I remember there being a fireplace. It is still there, though the room has been thoroughly cleaned and several windows open it up in ways I hadn't imagined possible. I stare at the fireplace longingly and try to think of a way to get it going without climbing two floors of stairs to seek out a house elf. Despite my long, stunned sleep of most of today, I am drained.

The fire blazes into existence and I jump back, frightened. Persephone is at my side the moment I land, "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you. You looked like you could use some warming up."

Always. I ask, with complete impertinence, annoyed at being caught off-guard and at the general loss of footing that this day has been characterized by, "Do you love him? Like, really love him? Not just in the way that you do all living things flora and fauna included?"

She, who has every right to be offended, laughs. "I'd hardly say that. I'm actually not very fond of Blast-Ended Skrewts. Flobberworms are a bit of a non-entity as well, really. And I take Centaurs and Giants on a case by case basis."


"I'm not a goddess, Draco. I don’t know what being stranded somewhere without anybody, sans a common language, and devoid of powers you'd known since childhood did to your perception of me, but you can't worship me."

"It's not like that," I protest. "You're…you exist in between worlds and you derive power from both of them. Besides, those are good memories for me, sitting underneath that painting. Answer my question."

"Yes, I love him. I love that he presses on when he feels there is no hope and that he never acknowledges that I am his equal except in the way he actually deigns to argue with me. I love that he never takes me for granted and I love the person I am when I'm around him. I wouldn't have married for anything less, Draco."

In light of that, it seems foolish that I even would have thought she might. My mind, too full to stay in one place for long, switches its focus, "What does Weasley do that he was in Lanzhou?"

"Handles Muggle-Wizarding relations for several departments in the Ministry." Her voice couldn't carry more pride. "The one that landed him in your backyard was the Department of As-Of-Yet-Undeveloped Advancements in Potions. There's a Muggle herbalist who has made several fascinating strides in medical brewing and Ron was sent to sound her out in regards to possibly working with some of St. Mungo's people."

"Did he mention the name of the herbalist?" I ask not-so-casually.

"Liao Ng?" Persephone narrows her eyes in concentration. "Mm, I think that's it."

"Will she be compensated for her time?" I don't trust the Ministry, not even a part that Weasley works for. Government is constructed to be bought piece by piece. Father had told me that when I was young and spent the rest of my formative years proving it to me.

"You know her."

"She's my friend. She was my only friend." I rub at my eyes. She pulls my hands away and I tell her, "They call her a witch."

I can see that Persephone, who grew up in middle class London only has the slightest idea of what this portends, Muggle or no. "You should talk to Ron."

I say, without meaning to, "I can't. He makes me want to touch people again."

She doesn't acknowledge the slip, just inches closer and hugs me to her until I relax into the death grip.


I owe Liao.

Owe her enough to bundle up my issues, push them into the vast expenditures of gray matter that a Wizard is provided with and yet never utilizes, and talk to Weasley.

He has an actual office at the Ministry, not just a corner or a cubicle. It is small, but his importance is obvious in the sheer number of memos that float impatiently next to my ears, waiting for me to open his door and allow them entrance. I knock, and upon receiving a, "Yes, hello," do as they are expecting.

He swats at them as they make a beeline for the desk in front of him, ignoring them to look up at me. "Oh, um. Sit down."

I do. "You're interested in a woman named Liao Ng."

Weasley is casually unfolding one of the memos. "Her work, more specifically. One of the Healers in St. Mungo's has experience in the Muggle Herbal Arts. She claims that this woman is one of a dying breed and has knowledge that could be immensely useful to Magical Healing if recorded and used in future research."

"What would she get out of it?"

Weasley's hands still. "Tell me why you care."

"The small matter of a life-debt," I tell him casually and watch his reaction. Blood-traitors or no, the Weasleys are pureblood, they understand the significance of Old Magic.

Nonetheless, his answer is nothing other than a non-committal, "Mm," followed by, "You speak Chinese."

"I spoke nothing else for four years."

"And you know Healer Ng."

The title soothes me somewhat as to his intentions toward her. "I did odd jobs for her, traded my time for her goods."

"And they worked? You were healed by whatever she gave you?"

"I'm not a Wizard, Weasley," I remind him.

"You're not a Muggle, either," he argues, and I hate him for throwing it in my face. Neither this nor that, and not a drop of power gained from the situation. "No Eradicate in the world could change basic physiology."

"They worked," I grit out.

"Could you convince her to take an apprentice?"

"What kind of apprentice? With what hours? Where would she be working out of? What would her compensation be?"

Weasley smiles and it is neither taunting nor kind. It is appraising. "Compensation would be the salary of a starting Healer at Mungo's, paid in yuan. She would be working out of her place, the apprentice would either Apparate back and forth or agree to live in Lanzhou for the time necessary to learn what she knows. The hours would be determined by her and the apprentice, well, a Healer, but she'll get to choose. Someone she likes."

"Salary of a senior Mediwitch," I state firmly. There actually isn't that much difference in the amounts, and she would never know the difference, but it is the principle. Liao is no neophyte and should not be classed as one in anything.

Evidently, Weasley understands the reasoning, because he nods, "Fine."

"Why can't you get her to agree?"

There is a slight reddening in Weasley's cheeks. "She doesn't trust my Chinese. Translation Charms have never been my strength and they're not something that I generally need. Most Muggle liaising is done within the Isles."

The corner of my mouth twitches. "She'll trust mine. She taught me most of it."


Liao allows me inside even though it is after she has closed her doors to customers for the day. "Are you hurt?"

In ways you can't fix. "No, I'm fine."

"I've been hearing things." She hands me a broom and I take it, beginning to sweep where I stand. "They say two Devils fought in the street and that the one who has haunted this place for so long lost and was taken away by the other one."

I wonder idly how many Obliviates it took to make that all they were saying. "I…"

"The person you were before you came here is catching up to you?"

I take the reprieve for what it is. "Something like that."

"Does the other Devil have red hair and bad Chinese?"

I go where she wants me to, "He sent me, Liao. I told him you would trust my words."

She moves to stand in front of me, placing her hands on the broom and stopping me mid-sweep. "What does he want with this?" She taps one long finger against her skull.

"Ways to Heal," I simplify everything.

"No, no. No doctor comes looking to a witch." The words are delivered with the driest understanding of Muggle folly.

"He represents a medical collective. They use…alternative medicine to treat their patients. It is small and unrecognized by most of the world and they prefer it that way."

"I know what hiding signifies." She raises her eyebrow at me and I fantasize for just a moment about introducing her to Snape.

"We all have our secrets."

She considers this.

"It is well paying," I confide. "Well enough for you to fix the roof and not have to worry about supplies."

She twists her head to look at her jars, some of them empty, waiting in their correct spot to be filled again. Some of them have stayed that way for over two years. "I have a condition."

I smile. "I would expect nothing less."

"You will be the apprentice."

My eyes burn. "They'll never accept those terms. I am not a part of the institution."

"You or nobody, Devil," it is said fondly, as fondly as Persephone's once-again familiar Draco. She kisses my forehead and disappears into the back of the shop. I leave when I have finished sweeping.


Weasley doesn't laugh when I tell him of her response. Nor does he rule it out immediately. Rather, he asks, "Were you actually good at Potions? Or was Snape currying favor with your family?"

To my surprise, it is me who laughs. "You're kidding."

Weasley obviously doesn't get the joke as he eyes me weirdly and drawls, "Nooo."

"If Snape was currying favor, it wasn't through me. Father pretty much preferred that I remained unseen and unheard in every aspect of his life." Up until two days before, I had always thought that my work in Potions was good enough that Snape's favoritism was basically relief and the lack of desire to pick on his own House.

"Then you were good at them?" Weasley persists.

"I…I liked them. I know you and your gang always thought it was the most trying subject on earth, but, well, I found them kind of cool. All those ingredients from different places and the fact that it was sometimes easy to zone out while grinding or stirring and the precision of everything. Do this, this and this and you will get this. Very definite." I shrug. "It was nice to have someone tell me I did something well, too." Even if I had considered to be due to factors mostly outside of my abilities. "It doesn’t matter now," I point out, "Most of the Potions that even first years make require some amount of magic, even if it's just enough for the Potion to react to the magical energy being exuded from the maker."

Weasley practically ignores the last statement, "But you liked the process. And it's not like you wouldn't be able to document it. I mean, Healer Ng is a Muggle, Malfoy. The people at St. Mungo's want her creations so as to be able to expand and improve upon them magically. They're not expecting her to provide Magical input. I don't see why her wanting you as the apprentice should be an issue at all, really." He goes on, "I'm going to have to soothe some egos, but that's part of my job description anyway. The real question is, do you want to be part of this?"

Being a prostitute has taught me many things. My favorite is: never make a decision before all the facts are known. "What are my other options? I never finished at Hogwarts, I have no magic and absolutely no Muggle education."

Weasley isn’t as daunted by these facts as I am. "No, but you're bilingual and, quite honestly, at a moments notice, the Snapes, both War Heroes, are willing to make quite some fuss about the things you did for Our Side. It wouldn’t take that much work to find you something you were happy doing that doesn't require Magic. The other option is for us to falsify your Muggle papers -- we have some people who do that type of stuff for those of us who have to shuttle back and forth -- and find you a job you're happy with on the other side."

He goes silent, but the look in his eyes suggests he has not actually finished. "What is it?"

"There's a third option."

I tilt my head, "Oh?"

"The Malfoy funds and estates were forfeit to the Ministry when your parents were both found among the Death Eater dead and those they had willed everything too were either dead as well, or waiting to be tried. However, the Snapes were granted several requests at the end of the war in reward for services performed and the only thing Snape asked for was that he be left guardian of the Estate, on the chance that he should find you."

I blink at Weasley. "Ah," it is a slow exclamation of breath, rather than an actual word. "In other words, I can spend my days living off my family's riches."

"In other words," Weasley parrots, obviously unimpressed with the idea.

I set up a visual in my head, walking through the long hallways of the Manor, into the room that I claimed as my own for a little over sixteen years. I find that I can barely remember what it looks like, most of the decorations having been decided on by Mother when I was but an idea. In contrast, all I have to do is think Liao and my mind spits out images of warmth and learning and even a little bit of laughter. "Talk to your people at St. Mungo's. See if they're up for letting me in on this project of theirs."

I manage not to preen at the sharp approval in Weasley's expression.


"Ron says he told you about Malfoy Manor," Persephone confides at dinner that night. I am still a guest at Snape Manor for the moment.

I meet Snape's eyes easily, as he is watching me, waiting for my reaction. "Thank you," is all I give him. He goes back to his food, but not before I catch a hint of something that looks like pleasure. "I suppose I should move back in."

Vizja makes a sound of disapproval and I jump. I hadn't realized she was in the room. Persephone snickers, "My thoughts exactly, Vi."

Snape takes pity on me. "The house elves at Malfoy Manor were spread out to other Manors or Hogwarts, depending on their wishes. A few of them actually accepted clothing and have created something of a collective up at the school. The place has pretty much been left to rot. You can move back in, of course, but it needs some serious maintenance."

"Not to mention it being rather large for you to be wandering about it by yourself, nothing living around for company," Persephone adds.

Vizja makes another noise, this one of agreement. She takes the empty bread plate and leaves, heading back to the kitchen.

An odd feeling of relief creeps through me at the thought that I will not have to go back there. That I will not have to explain why I don't want to go back there.

"There is also the tiny matter of my wife having ulterior motives for keeping you from your previous place of habitation," Snape lets this information drop, spying on his wife, who has the good grace to blush. It is piteously obvious that this is what he was after.

"I'm not quite the heartless wench that Severus would have you believe," Persephone states with a regal straightening of her shoulders. "I just think the Manor could be put to better use than housing one person, who, quite honestly, wouldn't beat out a house elf in stones at the moment."

"No doubt," I tell her wryly, and pointedly take another bite of the fish. It tastes excellent, everything that I've been served since returning has, and I find myself wondering if this is how they expect me to pay them back. Somehow, I can't see Snape letting me touch him or his wife, even in payment for services rendered. "Tell me about your idea."

"Seeing as how you've only been here a few days," she begins, "and much of your time has been spent up at the Ministry, between Ron and all the bureaucrats, I haven't had a chance to tell you what I do."

I had been wondering. I knew she left for Hogwarts every morning with Snape, but that didn't tell me much. Considering the death toll I had cut Weasley off in the middle of, she could have taken over for any of several Professors.

"Dumbledore added a new course to the curriculum at my urging," she says, as though this is a small accomplishment, the changing of a system of education that has been the same since the founding of the school. "Trends in Ancient and Current Wizarding History. The title is a bit misleading, actually, as it deals quite a bit in trends that exist in the Muggle world, their relative importance to ours. It's not really so much a change, as a recognition that Binns' classes aren't of much use anymore."

About time. Of course, Dumbledore would never tell the old ghost that. Clever of Persephone to find a way to rectify the situation, but then, I could hardly have expected less. "What does this have to do with my…house?"

"Well, teaching the children for the last three years has allowed me to understand two things: visual aids are a rather important part of understanding concepts, and everybody loves field trips."

Visions of hapless first and second years traipsing through Malfoy halls, being abused by ancient Malfoy portraits swirl in my head. "I don’t get it."

"As an aside to my teaching duties, I have been working as an archivist on all things pertinent to the first and second risings of Voldemort. Newspaper articles, pictures, items that belonged to those who played a crucial role in his rise and downfall, anything that I can get my hands on, really. The archives are growing quite large, have been for about a year. The Ministry, which is currently housing them in their more general purpose archives, has been riding me to find an alternative place to house them, but is unwilling to offer any type of funds or solution to aid my problem."

"You want to make Malfoy Manor a Voldemort Museum." The irony flavors the fish that I am still working my way through.

"Anti-Voldemort Museum, and yes, that's the gist." Her expression gives nothing away and I get the feeling that if I refuse, she'll sigh politely and go about finding something else.

"You've had control of the Manor this entire time, why haven't you just done this already?"

It is Snape who answers, "Because we hadn't given up on you."

I would have given her the Manor anyway, it means nothing to me and the poetic justice of the entire situation in regards to Father makes me sickeningly giddy. That declaration on his part makes me elucidate, "It's yours to do whatever. Knock out walls, rearrange staircases, throw out portraits, I don't care. I'll sign it over as soon as you can arrange for it."

"You'll be staying here until we find a solution that works out better for you, in that case," Snape orders.

I'm not going to admit it, but I don't mind obeying.


Weasley is better at his job than I would have guessed, because he shows up at Snape Manor in the middle of the day and is led by Grimbly, the head elf for the first floor, up to the Aviary, where I am hiding out.

I've climbed a tree, something I learned from Pansy when we were kids. She was my cousin, third or fourth or something and we were always hanging out when we were younger. She was a tomboy for the longest time, although she would have garroted me for bringing it up once we got to Hogwarts. I didn't blame her -- her mother had beaten the tendency out of her so fiercely I'm not sure Pansy understood the line between what her mother thought and what she thought.

I let him know I'm up there by asking, "What happened to Parkinson?"

His eyes search through the branches for a few seconds to find me. "Pansy? Or Derek?"

Derek, Pansy's much older brother, had already left school by the time both of us started. Him and Father always got along famously. "Both."

"Pansy's dead. Derek's in Azkaban."

She undoubtedly deserved her death, much as she undoubtedly would have deserved imprisonment had she lived, but of the two, I'm glad it's the former. I don't like thinking of her somewhere where she could never run again. I switch subjects, all too aware that his gaze holds more understanding than I could wish for. "So, am I in?"

He grins, "You're in. In fact, since Mungo's was going to pay someone for their time with her anyway, they're giving you a pittance. I mean, it's not like you need it, but still, it's a sign of good will on their part."

I climb down the tree until I can jump, falling several feet, my stomach twisting at the sharp feel of air rushing past me. I land with a jolt and take a minute to catch my breath. "When do I start?"

"Is tomorrow good for you? They're anxious to get things underway."

I think of all the empty jars that Liao so diligently keeps free of dust and mildew. "That'll be fine, I just have one thing to do this afternoon. Are my funds readily accessible to me at Gringotts?"

"Snape kept them that way," Weasley confirms.

"Where is he? At the school?"

"Yes, but he's probably done teaching for the day. He took on an assistant, do you remember Cyder Solingsen? Fifth year Ravenclaw when we started, ridiculously smart, almost impossible to hold a conversation with, really. Anyway, Cyder's been teaching all the younger classes for a couple of years now. It's rumored that Snape's working to a researching retirement, but Hermione's had yet to comment that it was true and until I hear word one, I'll remain doubtful."

I remember Solingsen. The darling of half the teachers in the school, rivaled only by Persephone. He was quieter though, nearly a specter, really, and I remember him as being more into Astrology than anything else. Won several honors for projects he had completed in his sixth and seventh years. Part of me wonders what caused the change. Another part of me, still larger than any other, warns me to concentrate on myself. I catch Weasley's eyes. "Um. I need a favor. Please."

I haven't asked for favors in four years. I've come to Liao for them. I've swept her floors and cleaned her jars and crushed her ingredients for them. I've allowed people to throw my legs over their shoulders and pinch my nipples until they were numb and spit into my mouth for them, but I haven't asked.

"Sure, if I can."

Oddly, I appreciate that he sets limits. "Can you Apparate me to the gates? I'll walk up to the school by myself, I just need to be dropped off."

"Right, sure. Eh, I'll walk up with you. There's some people I need to chat with anyway and Dumbledore sends me evil singing telegrams for days when I'm in the vicinity of the school and don't stop to say hi."

It strikes me that one of the only smart things Voldemort ever did was to fear Albus Dumbledore.

I follow Weasley through the house to the one spot where the wards can be purposely weakened to allow for Apparition. He holds me to him, hand resting lightly on my back and when we pop into existence in front of grandiose gates, he pulls it away, neither expecting nor pursuing anything more.

I miss the cool steadiness of his spread fingers.


Solingsen is teaching when I get there. He is helping a second year brew a potion, holding her wrist as she stirs, twice counter-clockwise then reverse and three more times around. A Sticking Potion.

I shove the information away. It doesn't do me any good.

I clear my throat, calling his attention to me only after the potion has congealed, a dusky bluish tinge creeping over its surface. He looks up and there is a flash of surprise in his eyes before it is quickly concealed. "Can I help you?"

"Is Professor Snape available?"

Solingsen shifts from one foot to the other. I wonder how he has survived Snape's casual disdain long enough to remain his assistant. "He's in his lab, but, uh, he'll probably want to be interrupted for you. Lemme see what I can do. Can you keep a lookout? It's Semper Sap, hard to blow up, but, well," he drifts off and leaves the room before I can protest.

I am all too aware of the nearly twenty pairs of twelve-year old eyes concentrated solely on me. They seem to be expecting something. Snape would have snapped at them for wasting time and Solingsen probably would have tried seeing who needed help. I settle for something in between. "Do you all know the uses for a Semper Sap?"

A boy who looks too small to be twelve with curly hair larger than himself and smooth cocoa skin raises his hand and positively squirms with the need to answer. I point at him, not seeing much choice, as everyone else is avoiding my eyes. "Yes?"

"It's used in the making of Spellotape!"

"Ten points to Hufflepuff, Mr. Banyon. Now settle yourself and prove to me that your intelligence extends beyond the ability to spit back encyclopedic amounts of facts."

Twenty-some faces pale as one and Solingsen brushes past me, on his way to soothe and help those who need it. Behind me, Snape makes a sound of disgust, followed by, "Come."

I turn to leave the room with him. He spares one backward glance for his classroom but keeps moving. "Solingsen coddles them."

"I thought he was Sinistra's whiz kid," I comment.

"Is, actually. Bloody waste, him holding Potions students hands. Saves me time, but he should be at the Ministry. They offered him assistant head of Planetary Occurrences straight out of Hogwarts."

I frown. "Cold feet?"

Snape shakes his head sharply. "No, he actually took the job for a year before Voldemort raided the Ministry and took all the Muggle Borns captive. I had kept my cover until then, but Albus and I agreed that things were coming to a head anyway, so I went in as a Death Eater and brought them out as a traitor and Solingsen hasn't left me alone since."

"He's softened you," I venture, well aware that I am perfectly within hexing range. "Ten points for an easily learned fact."

He merely snarls, reaching his hands out to undo the wards on his office by touch. "Banyon's orphaned. He responds well to just about any type of adult encouragement and Albus has made it clear that this is to be used cautiously."

I hold on to my previous opinion, but allow the matter to drop. I step into the office behind him and hear the door shut. "I'm starting with the Muggle Healer tomorrow. I want to pick her up some supplies, but I need money from my vault and since I'm going to be shopping in Muggle stores I need to know where I can get it converted. Father didn’t consider that an important enough financial transaction to teach me."

"What do you need?"

"Dried Nightshade, Marjoram and Labdanum Oil, to start with," I name off things that are hard to get in Northern China and so therefore more expensive and nearly impossible for Liao to keep on her shelves. "Some Yarrow," I add as an afterthought. It is one of her favorite herbs, but she ends up settling for the more mundane and less pricey chamomile nine times out of ten.

"Your money can actually be converted at Gringotts, I'll show you the procedure, but if it's all the same to you, all of what you just mentioned and whatever else you probably need can be found in Diagon."

"All right." I take a deep breath, inhaling slowly so that he won't hear me. "I can't get to London by myself, let alone get into Diagon."

"No, of course not," he looks as though he's surprised I feel the need to mention it. "I was just going to jot off a note to Albus. We can floo from here, I'm hooked up with a grate at one of my most regular suppliers."

His casual attitude is soothing to my nerves and I am able to wait patiently as he dips a quill into ink and scribbles a few lines across a loose piece of parchment. Quickly, he sends it through the same fireplace which we shall soon go and turns to me. "Ready?"

As I'll ever be.


I've forgotten the level of disorientation floo travel causes. It is worse than a Port key, a sensation I've tried to forget many a time, only to fail. I stay upright when thrown out of the grate as Father taught me to do from childhood, but the contents of my stomach, meager though they may be, charter a circus.

The nausea calms down soon enough and I walk behind Snape, through a surprisingly open and well-windowed store. The vials and bottles all around look to be a cluttered mess but I have already discerned a type of organization. Snape would not go somewhere that made him wait to find a bit of asphodel or rose extract.

We are out in the main part of the Alley before I even have time to think -- most likely a planned move on his part. He begins weaving through the crowd immediately and I have no choice but to hustle, attempting out of habit to look as though I am strolling.

We reach Gringotts quickly. Not quickly enough for me not to notice the stares being thrown my way, but quickly. Snape and I approach one of the withdrawal counters. A goblin peers over at us and I say, perhaps too sharply, "I'm Draco Malfoy, I've come to make a withdrawal."

The goblin's expression gives away nothing. Goblins keep themselves very well informed, though, particularly in the case of those who bank at Gringotts, so I know this one has got to be curious. He holds out his hand. "Key, please."

I hand over the heavy wrought-iron, gold-plated key that Snape has recently handed back to me. The goblin takes it and makes his way around to where we are, motioning for us to follow. We do, down to the carts. Snape gets in first. I step in and seat myself, waiting for the quick tug of motion that I so loved as a kid.

It is as fast as I remember it being and every bit as exhilarating. The stale wind of the tunnels cuts over and around me and I don't think of how much I miss flying. Not at all. If I thought of that, I wouldn't open my eyes again when we reached the vault. I wouldn't leave these tunnels. I wouldn't…well, I don't think about it, is all.

We reach the vault and Snape consults with me as to how much I will need. I take out just a bit more, for cushioning. The value of this particular vault -- the Malfoys have several, only a few of which are at the London Gringotts -- has increased from what I remember. "Did you consolidate vaults?"

Snape shakes his head. "No, Hermione worked out some investment plans that would make you wealthier than you already were when you got back. It was her way of keeping faith."

I swallow. "How much wealthier?"

He motions for me to get back in the cart. "Ten percent, or so."

I can't for the life of me imagine what I need all that money for, but Persephone is getting the largest birthday present she's never imagined getting. Ten percent. Bloody hell. The cart starts again and my thoughts are lost in the loud tumble of wind cracking past my ears.

Back at the top, I thank our goblin guide and step out into the street, once again affecting nonchalance, pretending that eyes aren't narrowing in my direction and that nobody whispers when the pair of us pass by. It is a relief like I have rarely known to step back into the cluttered potions shop, to hear the greeting, "Professor Snape, I thought the grate looked a bit used, welcome."

He responds with some sort of aborted pleasantry -- he must really respect the owner of this place -- and tells me, "List what you need. Everything."

I let my mind wander to a smaller, neater shop far north of where we are and start listing from memory certain labels of empty bottles. Translation comes easier than it did even two days ago and all I have to do is scroll through the Chinese alphabet, each letter providing a new set of necessary supplies.


We leave with two bags each, packed to the brim with oils and extracts and powders and dried herbs. He asks, "How are you getting all of this there?"

"I'm assuming that Mungo's and the Ministry set up some type of system wherein I could transport supplies. It would be unreasonable to apprentice someone to the Healer and then not have any way for them to take necessary items back and forth. A Portkey, probably."

He sniffs, disdainful. "Probably. That won't do. Several of these can't be handled with such indelicacy."

I already know this, and was planning on bringing it up if the Ministry had in fact provided a Portkey for just such an occurrence. "What do you suggest?"

"That we take these now."

"Apparate?" I try not to sound incredulous. I fail. "Look, I was pretty new at Apparating when it became a moot point, but if I remember correctly at all, a trip of this magnitude can only be done if broken down appropriately."

"I broke it down when you mentioned that you might be working there," he informs me, as though this is something he does for everyone he comes in contact with.

It seems like the perfect moment to ask why, but I am not a Gryffindor. I wriggle out at the last second, asking instead, "Ever been to China?"

He smiles at me. It is one of the many smiles I have seen him grant Persephone. It's heady and makes it a little easier to understand her choice. "Beijing, for a Potions Conference once."

Trust him to answer a rhetorical question. I move in slightly closer, to allow him access so that he can carry me along for the Apparition. He hands me one of his bags and I take it so that he can hold onto me in some way. He drapes his arm over my shoulder and lightly curls his fingers around the back of my neck. The kindness in the gesture nearly overwhelms me but I stay in one place, not wanting to mess with his concentration.

It takes four stops and the sensation of popping in and out of existence rapidly is not particularly comfortable. I am ridiculously glad to see Liao's dilapidated door what can be no more than a minute later. His fingers leave my neck and I hand him back his second bag. With a touch of difficulty, I open the door and walk in, him following behind.

Liao is at the counter by the sink, mixing something. She weaves through the shelves to where we are as we make our way to her. She fixes Snape with an assessing look over my shoulder and asks me, "Is this the Devil who took you away?"

Snape huffs softly and I realize he must have done a Translation Charm at some point. "No, this is Severus Snape, a Professor at the school I attended." I turn slightly so that I am between them, facing both, "Professor Severus Snape, Healer Liao Ng."

Snape bows slightly to Liao and she returns the gesture. I heft one of my bags. "We brought things. If I'm to be your apprentice, I insist that my lessons be taught with all the necessary ingredients."

Eagerly, but with the easy grace that never leaves her, Liao takes one of the bags from me and peers inside. She limps slowly toward the beginning of the alphabetized jars and sets the bag down. "If you could put the rest here?"

We both do so. "I'll be here tomorrow in the morning. I can help you put them away then."

She nods and looks again at Snape. "You're his friend?"

Snape draws himself up to his full height, evidently intent on doing his best What Right Have You To Question Me act. Something goes wrong, though, because all he says is, "I like to think of myself that way."

"Did you lose him?" The question is sharp, to be handled with care.

Snape's expression changes ever so slightly but it is enough for me to see something of which I am not sure I want visual evidence. He looks as though he has swallowed her question and is bleeding in his attempts to digest it. "Yes."

Liao must see the same thing I do, because some of the judgment leaves her eyes. "And what will you do with him, now that you have found him?"

It is the man I know, the Professor I recognize that answers with a question, "What did you do with him when you found him?"

To my surprise, Liao breaks her gaze to look at me. "Not enough."

After a moment wherein I wonder if it is my turn to say something, Snape suggests, "Perhaps between both of us, it will be enough."

Liao smiles minutely at me, so small I wonder if anyone else would even be able to identify it that way. "I hope so."

Looking between the two of them, their obsidian eyes matching each other's, their proud postures, their ambiguous expressions, I -- who have never known what it means to be shielded, protected -- start to think it might be.


I have a recurring nightmare. Not all the time. Just when the weather turns viciously cold or I'm hurt or I haven't eaten in awhile. Just when I least need it.

I am surprised to wake up from it, scrabbling off the bed, trying my hardest to get away, in the middle of the large, deliciously warm feather bed that I have been the sole inhabitant of for almost a week. I slump into the abundance of pillows at the head and wait for my heartbeat to calm down.

In the nightmare, Lucius and Voldemort acquire my…services. I think I could handle the dream if they were to act like I would expect them to with a whore, to employ torture after torture and laugh in the wake of my pain. Instead, they become another type of customer, one I hated almost as much as the pain fiends. They are concerned and compassionate and seem to see me as a human being.

When my heart has stopped beating audibly, I walk to the bathroom and throw everything I have recently eaten up. I follow this with a cool shower, a luxury I have never had before in the aftermath of the nightmare. It is pleasantly calming, as is wrapping myself in one of the large towels, kept warm by a lingering Charm placed on it by a house elf.

I put on new pajamas, ones that haven't been soaked in the by-products of my fear and leave my room, finding my way down the hall and to the stairway easily in the dark. Spending hours on darkened street corners and living in a building with no electricity has given me superb night vision.

The kitchen is bright, lit by several torches throughout and aided by the blazing oven fires. I blink at the sudden change, shutting my eyes until the glow has penetrated my lids. I open them cautiously and wait for my pupils to adjust to the change.

In front of me, Persephone and Weasley are sitting on stools too small for either of them. They are both looking at me, obviously waiting for me to notice. Persephone smiles, "Can't sleep?"

I shake my head and walk to sit on the stool that she has patted rather imperiously. Vizja plants a tea tray with extra biscuits next to me and pins me with a look that threatens death if she returns to anything but an empty tray.

I say to Weasley, "Don’t you have your own flat?" The question is more amusement than rudeness on my part, although I doubt I sound of either one at the moment.

"It's house-elf free and I can't cook to save my life. Literally. Hermione here found me starving on my living room floor and invited me to dinner one night and they haven't been able to get rid of me since. Besides, I couldn't sleep either, and Harry's actually studying for his finals this year, the git."

It explains why he eats here more often than not. I wonder where he goes on the nights when he isn't here. I then mentally smack myself for wondering. "Studying?"

"Harry's getting a degree in social and political thought at a Muggle University," Persephone supplies. "He has no clue of what he plans to do with it, so don't ask. He just goes off on this long rant about Voldemort determining his life and wanting to see who he is and a whole bunch of other things that I doubt he even understands himself. He's happy though, and really, some of his rant rings true, so we're supporting him in this as best we can."

"Is that where he met his girlfriend?"

Weasley laughs at this, nodding enthusiastically. "He had a flatmate second year who invited her back to their place hoping for a snog and she ended up asking Harry out by the end of the night."

Persephone fills me in on the goods. "She's an older woman. A master's candidate in the art history department. She wants to start an art museum meant to introduce children to Great Art," she pronounces the last heavily, obviously imitating Nell.

I take a sip of my tea. Weasley tells me what I want to know, "She doesn’t…well, she probably doesn't get who he is, most Muggles don't, but she doesn't make it an issue, either. Not even when she's around other Wizards."

There is something like remorse in his voice. I do my best not to wonder at it.

Persephone stands up and bends completely over to peck Weasley and me on our cheeks. "I'm going back to bed, where I shall wake my husband and demand that he fulfill his marital duty to me."

There is a wicked glint in her eye that I understand a second later when Weasley shouts, "My virgin ears!"

She bounces out of the kitchen, laughing. He shakes his head ruefully. "She doesn't even really plan on it, you know. He gets little enough sleep as it is and she would never think of waking him. She just does it to give me the willies."

The best advice I have for him is, "If you didn't let her know it got to you, she'd probably stop."

"Hermione?" he asks, flabbergasted. "I don't know who it is that you know, but the girl I've been best friends with since we were eleven never stops anything. Besides," he laments, "she knows how to read me all too well."

"It's a talent," I agree. "She could read me back when I couldn't read myself." I don't know why I give him this information. It seems reckless of me.

"Were you…what I mean is, er, were you in love with her? Is that why you…helped?"

"Tried to help," I correct absentmindedly.

"Helped," he states more firmly. "Just because one of your exploits went wrong…um, terribly, horrifically wrong, doesn’t mean that the other stuff you did before then wasn't useful."

I must look surprised because he assures me, "Yeah, we know about that other stuff. Hermione told us. I'm willing to bet she doesn't even know all of it, just the stuff she helped out with. And she says you're smart, so you probably came up with some of it on your own."

He shakes his head once, "Don't change the subject."

I have to slowly rewind the conversation mentally to realize what he's talking about. "Oh. Um. Persephone," the rest of them have gotten used to the nickname. She won't allow anyone but me to use it, "she's not really… I'm into men."

"Oh. Is that why you, uh-"

I catch on, "No. I actually serviced both. It was a matter of money, not pleasure. It's just that more Chinese men have the freedom and the funds to hire a whore than Chinese women."

He blushes. "I shouldn't have asked that. It wasn't any of my business."

To even the score a bit, I ask, "What about you? Were you heartbroken when she married?"

He laughs a little. "Everyone thinks that 'cause we bicker like a married couple we always meant to actually take steps toward that lifestyle. Honestly, I'm not good enough for her, she'd be bored stiff with me as a husband and I'd probably be frustrated. I was quite happy for her, once I got over the fact that her last name was going to be Snape."

There is something not being said, but I am too tired to figure out what it is. I polish off the last biscuit on my tray and stand. "Thank you for staying with me." It is not what I meant to say, but I mean it. I've never been fond of being alone.

He says, "I was heartbroken when Harry fell for Luna," by way of "you're welcome."

"Ah." The pieces fall together and I feel stupid for not catching on earlier.

"I was never good enough for him. Not because he was Harry Potter but because I insisted on seeing him as nothing else for so long. Long after I knew better." He is looking anywhere but at me as he makes this confession.

"I know," I tell him after a long silence. I do, too, although I have never admitted it to anyone before. I risked my life for a girl who was willing to love me and a boy whom I loved without the slightest chance of reciprocation. I have never in my life been good enough for the things I truly want. Potter was no exception.


Oddly, I smile. It is a shy smile, one that feels unfamiliar on my lips, "Oh."

He matches my smile and I turn to go back to bed, keeping that last visual with me as I cut through the dark.


Liao is dictating the ingredients of a salve meant to reduce the effects of topical poisons on a person's skin when the door to her shop opens. The store is still open to those who have need of its services and there are always a few customers throughout the day.

Most customers who brave the stigma of coming into Liao's place are older women, but there are some younger women who have heard rumors that she can help with menstrual pain in ways that the pharmacists can't and young men who come to her for contraceptive help and a few other oddities. The woman who walks in is one of them. She is middle-aged and quite obviously wealthy, at least for these parts. She wears her wealth the way Lucius used to his.

She beckons to Liao who walks unhurriedly with her uneven gait to where the woman is standing. The woman speaks in quiet tones of whatever is ailing her. Liao nods and moves to gather what she deems necessary.

The woman's eyes descend on me.

I recognize her, of course I do. Most of the men blend together, there having been so many of them, but as I explained to Weasley, the women were rare, and I remember them. Even if I did not, she would be among the ones that I did.

She is older than me, late thirties, maybe forty. She is well-known in Lanzhou as a philanthropist. One whose means to give come from a much older husband who died only years into their marriage. She has never since remarried.

She picked me up off the street in the car that she drives, a small, European import. I went because the car promised to be warmer than the street and because she promised three times what I normally receive for a night without my even bargaining for it.

There isn't exactly what could be called a wealthy section of Lanzhou, but the larger houses are all out of the town proper, closer to the mountains. The town's physician and a few of the top administrators at the University and The Widow all live in that area. When we reach it, her house is warm and she feeds me well and when I have finished she says, "Strip, I want to see what I have paid for."

My Chinese isn't terribly good yet, but I get the point, and I take off my clothes, putting them all in a pile so that I will be able to find everything easily if she throws me out for one reason or another. She eyes me critically, and motions with one finger for me to turn around. "You'll do," she pronounces, and I wish I hadn't understood.

She turns on her heel and walks away. In the absence of any other instruction, I follow. She is wearing an Eastern variant on the Western-style women's business suit and when we reach the bedroom, she divests herself of her pumps, the nylons covering her legs, and her panties, leaving the rest. She sits on the edge of the bed and pulls the knee-length skirt up her thighs, spreading her legs. She looks up at me, expectant.

I get down on my knees in front of her, flinching when she grabs the back of my neck and forces my face into her crotch. I equate what I know about men to the situation and apply my tongue, hoping my knowledge is adequate.

It's not.

I lick and suck and bathe the area for what feels like hours, all the while fighting the overwhelming urge to throw up and she stays still and silent above me, her hand unwavering against my neck, forcing me to twist my face to the side and gasp for air whenever the need to breathe becomes urgent. Finally, she grips my hair and throws me to the ground. I stay there, unmoving, panicked and unable to remember how to apologize in Chinese.

She stands, and, by use of my hair again, drags me to my feet. I bite my tongue to hold back a whimper. It tastes like her. She grabs my balls and squeezes until I am screaming, struggling once again not to vomit. Over my screams, she tells me, "If I cannot get off on your tongue, I will get off on your pain."

Mostly, what I understand is "pain".

She is the first woman I am ever with. The second one is patient, working with me, telling me what she likes, teaching me how to please her. The third actually wishes that I penetrate her. The fourth and the fifth are undemanding, and I sense that they are paying me more for my existence in their world for a few hours than the services I provide.

When I eat the others, all I can taste is her.

I meet her eyes, setting the pen down. She smirks, "However does the Witch pay you, Devil Whore?"

"With her kindness, Diseased Bitch." The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them and all I can do is hope that I haven't lost Liao a customer. No matter the type, she can't afford to lose the business.

"You dare," she says coldly, her nostrils flaring ever so slightly. "You speak recklessly, yet if I were to throw enough money your way, you would be on my floor, screaming to everything you hold true, merely because I wish it."

Two weeks ago, she would probably have been right. It is not without this knowledge that I pull out every inch of false bravado I have ever accumulated and smile. "Not if you were the last woman on earth."

I am lucky, and Liao comes back with several jars. The Widow pays her and leaves, but not without a calculated look of disdain for me first. When the door closes behind her, I go to pick up the pen again, only to find my fingers shaking too badly to accomplish even this small task.

Liao's weight settles next to me on the bench. "You must believe in the words you use, Clever Devil."

"Even if they're not true?"

She lays one hand over mine. The tremors slowly leak from it. She turns my hand over and brings the palm to her mouth where she places a small, secret kiss. "Especially then. How else will you change your truths to the way you want them to be?"

I close my hand into a fist, locking the feeling of her love inside.


Saturday morning, when I am content to do nothing more strenuous than lay in bed and be wholly, wonderfully warm, Persephone pounces. "Get up, we have things to do."

"We do?" I may be living on her property, but I'm only giving in if I get to put up a fight.

She plays along. "I need your help."

Which isn't fair of her, even just a little. The first time I ever allowed her to hug me was the time she told me she needed a favor. "Cheater."

She pulls me up from the pillows with almost no exertion. "Shower. Vizja made porridge with cinnamon and raisins. That's something to get out of bed for, yes?"

How she knows that I liked porridge before I was regularly deprived of food is beyond me. I desperately hope she doesn't realize that I like it even more now, its thick warmth comforting beyond measure. I slide off the bed and head to the bathroom. "What are we doing that I'm so needed?"

She is gone by the time I finish the question. I do not for a second suppose that her disappearance is accidental. The shower is hot, though, so hot it becomes difficult to breathe through the steam and by the time I am done with it, I have forgiven her the interruption of my laziness.

I finish the bowl of porridge. I sense that Vizja has given me less so that I can feel proud of myself -- my appetite has been severely diminished by way of privation -- but I give into the sense of accomplishment anyway. Persephone asks, "Ready?" and I know better than to say yes, but I follow her to the Apparition spot and hold on as we travel by dint of her power alone.

We reappear in a spot once so heavily warded against Apparition that I stand still for several moments on end, waiting for the incipient curse or hex or monster to impact dully against my skin. When it doesn't I observe wryly, "Home, sweet home."

Persephone doesn’t smile. "It took Bill and Harry and Ron and Severus and I over two months to de-ward the place. Even then, we stumbled upon nasty ones for almost a year. We're pretty sure we got the last of them."

"The hidden passageway from the master bedroom to the downstairs study-"

"Got it." She turns a slight shade of green. I don’t ask.

"The sun roofs in the terrarium-"

"Almost did away with Ron. I was furious at him for not being more careful."

"The elf-access tunnel from the topiary to the kitchens?"

"Severus knew of it, we set Bill on it. He figured it out and then adapted it for Gringotts. Pretty much made him their golden boy."

"He's human."

She grins. "They're overlooking it as a minor flaw."

I walk along the corridor slightly, trying to jog memories of this place and its secrets. "I think those are all the obscure ones that Father told me about. No guarantee that there aren't more though. He'd probably have found it an amusing test to see if I could get myself out of one I'd accidentally tripped."

Persephone is at my side. "That's pretty much what I wanted to know. We're decently sure we've caught all of them. Want me to show you what I'm doing with it?"

She sounds so excited that to refuse would be pure cruelty on my part. "Please."

We start in the main entrance. It bears all the marks of a space that is being altered by magic. "I know you said we could knock out walls," she explains, "but I wanted to leave the basic structure of the house intact, as I feel it is a rather significant part of Wizarding history in and of itself."

"Dark Wizarding history," I interject.

"Every history has two sides, Draco. Most have more." She shows me where she is putting in more lighting sconces, placing windows to allow for a more open feel, refurbishing curtains and paint and mahogany surfaces. She has put the portraits that she feels bear some historical significance in what will become a portrait gallery, sending the rest off to be archived in the space that will be freed when she moves the War Archives into the house.

The portraits are not happy to see me.

Persephone sticks her tongue out at them, and leads me to the room I once slept in and called my own. "I was thinking about putting a tribute to the spies in here, if you were agreeable."

"It's your museum, 'Seph," I choke out.

"You and Severus and Remus," she tells me quietly. Remus Lupin had managed to convince not only Voldemort, but Peter Pettigrew, the man who had once been his best friend, that he would do anything to retrieve Sirius Black from death, even serve the Dark.

I stare at her. "You can’t put me in a room with The Martyr and His Disgruntled Saintliness." I have learned from the back issues of the Daily Prophet that Persephone brings home to sort through and consider for display that Snape's being awarded an Order of Merlin, first class, has given him something of a "misunderstood do-gooder" status in the Wizarding world. Lupin's story was made public by Potter after Voldemort's death, Lupin himself having been killed in one of his final missions.

"I can and will do whatever I want," she responds, unfazed. "You already gave me permission to do so."

"Persephone, please, I don't- I don’t want people knowing."

She frowns. "Whyever not?"

I press a fist tightly to my stomach. "I played a few pranks. Inhibited a few raids. When it really mattered, I failed and I'm no longer part of this world as punishment for my failure. That's not heroic."

She pulls me to her, grasping my chin lightly in her hand. "Draco, love. Nothing is heroic about war. Ask Severus. He hates that people think he was a hero. All he knows is that he killed and tortured and made wrong decisions. But he did what he had to when it needed to be done and some other people worked with him and in the end, because of everyone, we won. You were part of us. You're still part of us."

It's hard to speak, and I tell myself it is because of her fingers on my jaw. "I still don’t think you should do this."

She leans her forehead up against mine. "I know. Which is why I'm going to."


Snape is waiting a few feet away from where the Portkey always drops me inside the Manor one evening when I get back from Liao's. I work odd, fragmented hours to compensate for the time difference but at Persephone's request, I'm always home for dinner. I glance at the ornate clock over the mantle. "I'm not late, am I?"

"No, but my wife is already where we're supposed to be going," he responds cryptically.

"Where's that?" Every once in awhile, forgoing Slytherin subtlety for Hufflepuff simplicity works on him.

Now is evidently not one of those times, as he just shakes his head. "She'd kill me if I told."

That's reasoning I can respect. Through everything, I have never quite forgotten the feel of her hand connecting harshly with my cheek in third year. "So take me."

He holds something out to me. I peer closely at it. It's a small statue of Hermes. I take it in my fingers and immediately feel the Port key's inexorable tug.

Wherever we are when we arrive, the first thing I notice is that it's warm. When I remember to take a breath, the smell of dust and distant salt and things in bloom nearly overwhelms me. My bearings settle into place and I notice that I am on an entry step, a door in front of me. Looking at Snape for verification, I knock. Persephone throws back the door, making no pretense that she hasn't been waiting. She drags me inside. "Normally, of course, that will take you straight from the Manor, inside the house, but I wanted you to get the whole experience!"

She takes me on a whirlwind tour, the living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom suite, guest bedroom, master bath, back patio and it is only when she is leaning against the railing on the patio, her curls being backlit by the bright noon sun, explaining about the different Port keys that I start to understand. "Wait. Wait." I hold up a hand to stop the onslaught of information. "You bought this house for me?"

Some of her bubbling enthusiasm drains away in the wake of uncertainty. "We did," she nods to Snape, standing behind me in the doorway. "We thought that since I had commandeered your old house, well, I mean it's not that we don't love having you live with us, you're completely welcome to stay forever. We just thought you might want some space of your own."

I try to decide how I feel about having space to myself. I can't come to any split decisions and so I focus on practical manners. From the midday glow of the sun, I can tell we're not on the Continent. "Where are we?"

"California, south of Los Angeles." She fumbles in her pocket for a moment and then unfolds a piece of paper on the deck table. I lean over it. She points on the map to where we are.

Wizarding maps, like their portraits, are somewhat interactive. Following this silent, code-ridden piece of paper is making my head hurt. I point at the squiggly lines throughout the entire area. "What do those mean?"

She shows me the key and then straightens up to make a sweeping gesture at the fantastic view from my back porch. "Mountains."

The map tells me that I am a ways from the Ocean, but close enough to correlate it with the salt smell that drifts about the air. "Why here?"

She straightens up, "That's what I was trying to tell you."

I notice Snape hiding a smile out of the corner of my eye. "All right, I'm listening now."

"We got you a car, and Nell's offered to teach you how to drive, if you're up for it. Ron's already done some footwork with the Ministry over here about getting you Muggle papers so that nobody will bother you. With the car everything is a couple of hours drive, but you can get into a city that supports both a large English speaking population and a Chinese speaking population. There are three Port keys in the other room. One is the Hermes, that will get you back to our place. The Athena will take you to Healer Ng's and the Pantheon one will take you to the nearest Wizarding city in San Francisco. It houses a Wizarding bank and pretty much everything you can find in Diagon. If you find you need to go anywhere else where the car simply won’t do, just talk to us about it and we'll add to the collection. Also, it’s warm year round here, and we thought you would like that."

I will admit, that part sounds like paradise. However, "It's not that I don't appreciate the gesture, it's…magnificent," and it is, it's open and filled with light and touches of color: nothing like either of the homes I've known in my life time, "but I…well, I can't cook for myself." A kitchen wasn't one of the amenities my room in Lanzhou came with, and I have never otherwise been in a position to learn.

Behind me, Snape laughs, low and not exactly mocking, but he is thinking something other than, "That's why we found you a couple of house elves."

Either the elves have enchanted the house so that they know when they're being spoken of, or one of the Snapes has surreptitiously summoned them, but suddenly, two of the youngest house elves I've ever seen in my life are standing next to me. They're wearing identical paisley aprons to match their identical smiles.

Persephone does the formal introductions, "Draco, this is Addy and Maddy, identical twins and former Hogwarts' elves."

What Snape told me about the collective of freed elves comes back to me. I stick my hand out, for lack of a better idea. "Nice to meet you."

They both shake my hand enthusiastically, clucking at my still less-than-hardy stature, and disappear back into the house. Persephone tells me, "They have the weekends off, although Addy really loves to cook, so that probably doesn’t mean much. And their salary is ten galleons a week."

I nod. "I assume the Wizarding bank you spoke of can handle direct transfers?"

"Of course." She extends her right arm into the air and whistles softly and one of the largest sparrows I've ever seen comes to rest on her wrist. "Put your arm up," she commands.

I obey, and the sparrow flies to me, settling on my wrist, his talons carefully resting above my skin rather than in it. Cautiously, I reach my other hand up to pet its wing. It stays still, allowing the familiarity.

Persephone speaks softly, "I call him Prometheus. We recovered him from one of the MacNair estates after the war. He had nearly starved to death. He has agreed with me that you need watching over."

I lift my wrist a bit and Prometheus takes off. He circles lazily in the air before disappearing, his intentions clear: I'll return.

I shift so that I can see past Snape, inside the house. There is a fireplace in the living room, directly inside and I vaguely remember there being one in the master bedroom. Common sense tells me that nobody in their right mind would put two fireplaces in a house built in an area this warm. "You redid the house."

Persephone blushes. "A little bit, here and there. I wanted you to feel us here." She pauses. "Are you going to take it?"

Like her friendship, and the exhibit in her museum, it is more than I deserve. I cannot deny, however, the slightly apprehentious look on Snape's face or the hopeful one on hers. "It's too much," I say.

It is Snape who manages the rebuttle, "It isn't near to enough."

I compromise. "You'll come to dinner here, as well?"

Persephone laughs, "Before you know it, you're going to be running a regular 24 hour diner, especially considering the time difference. Just you wait. Ron is trying to get Nell to let him in on the driving lessons. You'll be seeing all of us so much you'll have to bar the doors and find a warding expert."

"I'll take my chances," I reply, feeling wonderfully unthreatened by the thought of this onslaught. I add as an afterthought, "And the house."


I return to find Weasley at my place all the time. The first time it brings me up short and I stand where the Portkey has deposited me, staring. "Is there something wrong? Did my last report to Mungo's go through?"

He shakes his head. "Hermione didn't ward the place against Harry or Nell or I, just in case. I didn't think you'd mind a visit. Normally, I would just bother Harry or Hermione, but being the only single person in the room gets old sometimes. I thought you might be lonely enough for my company to suffice."

I set the statuette of Athena down. "It's the middle of the night for you."

He moves over to make room on the sofa he's sitting on. "I can't always sleep."

I sit down. Having nothing else to say, I offer, "Hungry?"

"I wouldn't turn food down," he replies rather predictably.

I get up to find one of the house elves, but Maddy is already there, winking conspiratorially at Weasley. She sets down a tray with two bowls of soup, and some type of sandwich, juice glasses off to the side. I thank her. She winks at Weasley again and disappears. "Are you wooing my house elves?"

Weasley coughs on the sip of juice he has just taken. He recovers with, "Never the female ones."

I lift one of the bowls onto my knees and spoon out a bit of soup. It's some kind of puree, smooth and just a little bit sweet and splendidly hot. "How long've you been here?"

"Maybe an hour. Prometheus and I chatted a bit, I stole the book you're reading, fell asleep two paragraphs in, got woken up by Maddy, chatted her up, then you showed."

"The book is in Chinese," I point out. It's something a teacher of Liao's, now long dead, wrote. She loaned it to me.

"I know, I told you my Translation Charms were poor."

I finish off the soup and have to wait to start on the sandwich. "Wanna see the car?"

He nearly jumps off the couch. "Is it cool?"

I shrug. "I dunno. Nell and Potter picked it out."

"I'm not hard to impress," he admits.

One of Father's biggest complaints about Arthur Weasley -- and there were quite a few -- was the man's embarrassing enthusiasm over all things Muggle. I have to wonder for just a second whether it is the dormant but alive rebelliousness in me against Father that makes me see the attribute in this Weasley as sweet.

I see nothing particularly special about the car. It is tiny, so tiny that it actually says "Mini" on the back. It's painted bright red. I sense this was actually Nell's decision, but that Potter went along with it out of amusement. Weasley loves the color.

He circles the car several times, clapping his hands in excitement and telling me things about his first car, the one that he and Potter crashed into the Whomping Willow. Something tugs at the back of my mind, "Don’t you already know how to drive? I mean, if you don't, how'd you drive that car?"

"Dad modified the car. Like the ones at the Ministry. They're reworked so that all you really have to do is steer. The car itself takes care of the rest of the work. That's probably why it was able to run around the forest by itself. No Muggle car would do that."

I let him squeal over the car for a bit longer before we head back up. I work at the sandwich, managing half of it before I give up. He finishes the other half and Addy starts to scold him before I interfere on his behalf. I sense she is more indignant about her twin's burgeoning crush than my dinner being encroached upon.

He cracks a yawn shortly after the Addy incident and begs off.

He's back two nights later, and it is only after he leaves that I find a book on my bed. The book is in Chinese but Weasley has left a note on top in English, "Snape says you'll enjoy this. His Translation Charms are better than mine."

His pattern of appearances is random. He is always there on the nights when they all eat over. He comes for the car lessons with Nell. He pops over in the dead of the English night, when everyone else is sleeping or doing things best not interrupted.

Maddy falls head over heels in love. I pretend not to understand.


"No scribbling today," Liao stops me as I begin to pull out my dictating supplies.

I give her a look meant to exude harmless curiosity.

"Come show me what you have learned from me."

I walk over to where she has laid out several ingredients. I run through possibilities in my head, but the combination of herbs means nothing to me. "Tell me what you want." I don't beg, not with her, but it is close. I have come to fear not knowing what people want of me.

"What is the base of my compound for hives and other irritants?"

"Dried lavender, ground, and a touch of almond seed oil."

"Active ingredient?" She presses.

"Aloe extract mixed with a leaf of eucalyptus," I recite.

"There's been an outbreak," she informs me. "Some kind of insect or plant, I'm not entirely sure, but I've seen more cases of poison induced rashes in the last week than the last ten years. That salve doesn't work. Neither does the one for drawing out spider poison, the one for minor poisons that have been ingested, nor the one for poison ivy."

"Who's come to you with the problem?"

"Mostly farmers, although there have been a few of the students who live on the outskirts of town."

I suck in a breath. The farmers live completely outside of the town. It is a considerable journey to Liao's, usually one that has to be accomplished on foot. They are both respectful of her and incredibly fearful and, for the most part, will avoid seeing her if at all possible. "It's not just a rash, is it?"

"It starts out that way. Followed by vomiting and sweats and weakness. A few of them have died. I've been working on ingestives for the other problems, I thought if you could concentrate on this it would give me more time."

"Have they tried the hospital?" I don’t trust Muggle doctors, but Muggles themselves seem to be getting along fine with their care, so it seems logical that they would try.

She looks at me oddly. "They can't afford the hospital."

I never tried going, so had no idea it was expensive. St. Mungo's works on a sliding scale. I rub at my eyes and try to concentrate. A sickness that starts with a rash and ends with possible death. The suggestion, of course, is that it is working its way into the body through the skin level, although it is possible, if that is the case, that they are breathing it in as well.

One of Snape's poisons -- Father had quite often bragged of the genius of my Head of House -- is applied by being rubbed on the skin. It's clear and odorless and within seconds, the person who has come into contact with it won’t feel it. It works it's way through the skin and underneath where it mixes in with the victim's blood. It then begins to turn the blood into a caustic agent, until the person dies from his own blood eating its way out of his body.

One of the many brilliant aspects of the poison is that the antidote is a simple Purifying Potion, shot directly into the bloodstream. It has to be applied somewhat early in the proceedings, as eventually the contamination of the bloodstream will be too thorough to be fixed, but if caught on time, it is a simple enough poison to counteract.

"I need you to dictate," I tell her, holding up my hand as she starts to deny my request, "just a few things. I think I may have an idea of how to fix this, but I need your knowledge."

"Some of the dead are children, Devil. We do not have time to waste."

I tap the end of the pen and sit poised, ready for her to speak. "Dictate the process of your Internal Cleansing brew."

She narrows her eyes, but a speck of hope manages to fit inside the slits. She speaks in a rhythm, chopping yarrow root as she goes.


There's a party at my house when I finally return nearly a week later. I've been sleeping on Liao's floor again, when I bother to sleep at all. Together, we have managed to concoct a Muggle version of the Purifying Potion, one that can be taken orally. The first four versions prove useless, but by the time I leave, those patients taking the fifth are all showing signs of improvement.

I wait for my head to stop spinning from a combination of the Portkey and sleep deprivation before asking, "Why didn't I get an invite?"

It's not the right thing to say. I'm the only person in the room who doesn't look murderous. Since nobody seems to trust themselves to say something without killing me, it is Addy who bursts out, "Mr. Draco must not disappear!"

I blink at this. "I sent Prometheus with a message." Granted, I only did this because he came and found me, but still, it wasn't like they hadn't known where I was.

"Only after I sent him to find you," Persephone seethes. "You’d been missing two days! The last time you went missing, it took us four years, three months, a week, and four days to find you! You can’t just do that, you can't just go where you want and pretend nobody cares if you come home or not!"

I stand there, lost for what to say. Anything I can tell her seems bound to make one of us feel worse. It is Snape who finally takes pity on me. I am decently sure this is because he is the only one brave enough to risk turning her wrath on him. "You need to eat."

I nod, even though eating is something I have only done sporadically while working madly to construct the new healing agent and my appetite is nearly non-existent. I follow him to the table in the dining room and sit down. Potter and Nell sit at the opposite end of the table, leaving the seats next to me to be filled by the Snapes and Weasley. Addy and Maddy come in to the room seconds later, both carrying trays. The trays are filled with all different types of foods and I dredge up a smile for both of them, "Thank you."

I have just started in on the food, cautiously taking small bites, getting my stomach used to the idea of eating again, when Snape places his face in his hands. Persephone leans into him, whispering softly in his ear, but she is shaking. I stop eating before I throw up. "I'm sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you, honestly. I didn't even…I didn’t realize how long I was there. There's a large farming population in Ghansu, outside of the actual Lanzhou border, and the farmers are being poisoned. Liao thinks it's something they're putting on their crops. Whatever it is, it's making them sick, some of them unto death. We were trying to create a cure."

Snape looks up from his hands. "Did you?"

"We think so. The progression of the sickness, it reminded me of something…" I pause, "something Father once told me about. There's a magical antidote for it, so I just adapted that to Muggle ways of thinking. Liao had to direct most of the actual mixing, as she is much more familiar with all the ingredients than I am of yet, but the idea proved to be solid."

I can’t tell if he knows how I reached my conclusions or not, but he smiles at me, small and proud. I repeat, "I really am sorry. I didn't think. I'm not used…" I trail off weakly.

"To having to answer to someone?" Weasley attempts to finish for me.

"To having someone care if he answers," Persephone corrects.

I chew rather more than is necessary on a mouthful of buttery mashed potatoes. She sighs and warns me, "You do this again and the Bouncing Ferret Incident will seem like a fond memory."

I swallow the potatoes. "No more."

She stands up and walks over, managing even with her somewhat slight build to tower over me. "Promise me."

Meekly, I submit. "I promise never to disappear for more than a day without sending some kind of notification of where I am."

She drags me onto my feet and pulls me into a hug and I squeeze back, trying to will away the shakiness that still plagues her frame. "I'm sorry, 'Seph, honestly, I am."

Suddenly, there are another pair of arms around me, and I start, instinctively feeling caged. I look up to see who is holding me. It's Snape and I stop feeling so much like chattel. I think that I should pull away, should want to pull away, but his arms are steady in a way that hers aren't and his hold on me feels like I always thought a father's should. I stay where I am, still as the furniture, not giving either of them any reason to let go.


I find Weasley sleeping on my couch when I wake from what I am hoping was sixteen hours of sleep, rather than forty. I go into the bathroom and check my watch, a present from Persephone. It can tell me the current time anywhere I am, along with day of the week, date, and the temperature. It also has games on it. I spent several evenings with my wrist in Weasley's hands before I gave up and just took it off whenever he came over.

Reassured that I haven't slept an entire day away, I step into the shower and submit to a thorough scouring by copious amounts of scalding hot water. I dress and wander out toward the kitchen. I spare a longing glance at my Athena Portkey, but Liao has threatened to find another apprentice if I return within a two day period. She is confident that if anything goes wrong, she understands the concept well enough to work on it herself, and she's probably right.

All the same, we have been working with the same patients all week and I am itching to know how some of them are doing. It has become apparent that I have a soft spot for children. This surprises me, as I have always assumed I hated children. It seemed like the logical thing for a Malfoy to do, after all.

Children, though, if caught at the right age, are too young to have been told all the things that make them form hateful opinions. At this point in my life, I find it a refreshing change.

Addy is in the kitchen. Everything smells of oven-inspired heat and baked goods, and before I even think about what I'm doing, I lean down to kiss her. She stares at me, wide-eyed for a few seconds before smiling. "Addy made muffins, Mr. Draco."

"Sounds scrumptious," I linger over the sibilant sounds. Addy finds alliteration amusing. "Where's your sister?"

"Hogwarts. Visiting Addy and Maddy's mum." She pops a muffin out of the tray and hands it to me on a plate.

I take a bite and make a deeply satisfied noise. "Everything all right?"

Addy shifts from one foot to the other. I take another bite and think the whole thing through. Addy and Maddy are both babies. House elves age more rapidly than Wizards develop-mental wise, but even so they couldn't have been more than two or so when the war ended and their parents were freed, making them six or seven at this point. In Wizarding years, that would place them at about eighteen; generally, the earliest a house elf is separated from his or her parents is at seven, and that's considered ridiculously young. "How old are you?"

Addy is obviously not expecting the question, as she answers without thinking, "Six, Mr. Draco. Maddy and Addy turns seven in August."

"And your parents let you leave Hogwarts?" I ask, somewhat incredulous.

Addy is practically hopping from foot to foot at this point. I sigh, "Neverm-"

"Professors Dumbledore and Granger-Snape asked us, the elves, Mr. Draco, if we would leave the school for you. For Mr. Draco Malfoy. But all the elves are knowing of you is what Dobby is telling, and…you is not a very nice person when Dobby is knowing you, Mr. Draco."

"Spoiled, cruel child is more like it, Addy."

"So none wants to go and help you out. Not even the slave-elves, though they not say anything. They not volunteer either. Professors Dumbledore and Granger-Snape never makes them do things they not volunteering for."

"Why the two of you, then?"

"One time, when Addy was three, Addy was helping her mum with the cleaning. Addy and Addy's family were owned by cruel Wizards, Mr. Draco. We was afraid of Wizards when we came to Hogwarts. Professor Granger-Snape came home early to find Addy and Addy's mum in her rooms. She made tea by herself and offered Addy some. It is because of her that Addy is not afraid of Wizards no more."

"Then you did this as a favor for her?"

Addy nods resolutely. "Maddy comes because Maddy does not want me to leave her. I is not really wanting to leave Maddy, so I is glad she is coming with Addy."

I finish off the last of the muffin and make a production of licking my fingers. "I'm glad it was the two of you. You should go say hi to your mum, though."

"Addy is going. Addy is wanting to be here when Mr. Draco gets up."

I cross to the cooling rack and steal another muffin. "I'm up, get yourself to the school."

With a CRACK, she's gone. I walk to the living room where the noise of Addy Disapparating has evidently woken Weasley. He is scrubbing a hand over his face. I sit in one of the big sofa chairs adjacent to the couch and wait for him to notice me.

He does shortly thereafter. "'Morning. Sleep well?"

"Very much like the dead," I report. "You could use the extra bed, you know. It's probably more comfortable than the couch."

He sits up. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Is this like a…do you guys have me on a watch? I promised I wouldn't disappear again, and besides, I'm on enforced down time."

He looks away from me, in the direction of the door as he admits, "I've just been staying here, waiting for you to get back. It got to be something of habit. I tried to go back to my place, but it felt weird and I kept having these freaky dreams about you disappearing again, except it wasn't really, because we knew where you were, but we couldn't get to you… I just came here to get a little sleep."

I'm tired of feeling like I don't understand anything anymore, so I bite out, "Why do you even care? You didn't like me, Weasley."

"That's an understatement." He brings his gaze back around, catching mine. "I despised you. I believed that if nothing else was true in this world it was the fact that Draco Malfoy was the bastion of all things evil. Then you disappeared and Hermione, Hermione of all people, someone who had more reason to hate you even than I, started looking for you. It messed with my head something incredible and for awhile I took that as reason to hate you even more."

He stops to take a breath and I offer, "But you didn't?"

"I…we won. We won and it didn't feel like it, it only felt like people were dead and Harry was cracking and nothing was as it should be, so I thought, maybe Hermione's got the right idea. Because it seemed like negative energy that I didn't have to continue hating. I was just too tired to do it."

The passage in my throat that allows for air to pass through seems unaccountably tight. I know that place, that point where hate is just another emotion that takes too much concentration. At first, when people would feed me a little, or throw me some cash and figure that allowed them the right of touching me, hurting me, invading me, all I could feel was hatred. Hatred toward them, toward Father, toward Voldemort, toward myself. In worse moments, hatred toward Persephone, for waking me up, starting everything.

I watched, though, how Liao let the curses that clients -- people who came to her needing something -- would mutter at her, roll past her ears, heard but unnoticed. Watched her build happiness through a refusal to hate or recognize hatred. And like Weasley, I began, out of weariness, to practice what Persephone and Liao taught by example.

He is talking when I come out of my reverie. "Then I found you in a place you shouldn't have been doing things no human should do. I didn't even bring you back for you, though, I mean, it was just all Hermione. But you stayed and you weren't Lucius Malfoy's bratty spawn and I…got used to you, I guess."

It's incongruous, but I sense that I'm smiling. "Got used to me?"

He shrugs, "I'm a creature of habit. Put anything in my direct range for long enough, I prefer to keep it there. Even the younger Creevey, down in Dad's old department, and he drives me mad with memos."

"And that's why you've been sleeping on my couch for a week?"

He has the decency to blush, but all he says is, "It's a comfortable couch."

I eye the apparatus as though to comment, not that comfortable, but let it go.


Persephone sends me a message by way of Prometheus, "Hooked your fireplaces into the Hogwarts system. Come visit." There is a small bag of floo powder tied to the sparrow's leg. I untie it and allow him to hop on my shoulder, climbing over my head and down my arm as is his ritual.

He nips at one of my fingers. I offer it up, hardly too proud to beg. "You think I should go?"

He is too busy devouring my index finger to answer. I leave him to it for a bit longer before standing, ushering him off his perching spot. I open the bag of powder and pour a bit into my hand. I cross to the fireplace and hesitate only once I'm inside. "Hogwarts," I say, without dropping the powder, a test to make sure it will come out clearly. Floo travel terrifies me as it never did when I was a child. The fear that I will get stuck somewhere I am not supposed to be, unable to contact the others again has settled deep inside my chest and cannot be eradicated. I drop the powder and yell "Hogwarts!" all in one ungainly maneuver. The world spins past.

I step unstably out of the fireplace that I land in, looking around desperately to make sure I have the correct destination. There is desk in front of me and I grab at the nearest personal item, a photo frame. It's a Wizarding photo, and Persephone grins out at me, pointing at Snape as if to get my agreement on how very handsome he is looking.

In truth, he is looking unusually well-groomed and I realize that I am looking at a wedding picture. Persephone has peppered Snape Manor with photographs of her and her husband, on vacation, at conferences, at the school, with other friends, but it is not until now that I have seen one of her and him in wedding robes. She is resplendent in deep blue, her hair pinned up and twined around several late-blooming lilies. He is in his normative black, but his robes are a combination of satin and velvet, the utter height of class. While she is busy looking at me, laughing and generally expressing her delight with the world at that moment, he sneaks a smile at her behavior.

Even after the time I have spent with them I expect the smile to be just a little mocking, holding the tiniest bit of superiority. Instead what I see is a type of worship I had been foolish enough to think myself the only one familiar with. Worship that sees truth and yet loves for that truth, rather than despite it. It is breathtaking, and I suddenly understand the catch in her voice every single time she says his name. I cannot imagine someone loving me like that. I'm not sure I knew love like that existed. Weasley's words that first night back in the Aviary return to me and I want to tell him that he was right, that he gets it.

It makes me wonder what else he gets.

I jump at her voice, "I was pretty, don't you think?" The question is wistful and proud and infused with good memories.

"Gorgeous," I tell her. "You're gorgeous." I don't want to quibble over tenses, so I bring up something that I have only just noticed, something that should have been immediately apparent. "Snape fixed his teeth."

She takes the frame from my hands and sets it back on the desk, "I think that was how I knew he loved me."

"You can't just say something like that and not tell the rest of the story," I admonish her.

She settles herself, one leg up on the desk. It is completely unladylike, so much the bookworm-with-two-boys-as-best-friends that I remember her as. "I wanted him to meet my parents. This was…maybe a year after we'd first- Well, all right, I suppose I have to go back further than that." She waves her wand and a chair pulls itself beside me. I sit obediently.

"We started working together to find you, but it was a partnership that worked. When I wasn't around Harry, Severus didn't feel the need to vent his frustration half so much and in fact preferred silence, which was fantastic by me. When we realized that we weren't getting much of anywhere finding you but that we could find solutions to other problems rather rapidly we began functioning as Albus's think tank. Which meant more talking to each other, but mostly in a rather utilitarian sense. We created the spell that allowed Harry his freedom from the bond with Voldemort and helped structure the final battle. We also took place in it."

She stops, fingering the wedding photo. "I was hit with some kind of amplified Crucio in the middle of it all. Probably would've gone the way of Frank and Alice Longbottom except that Severus got to me, did a Dampening Spell."

She is silent and I digest what has not been laid out. Dampening Spells generally require that the caster siphon some of the force of the Spell that he is Dampening onto himself.

"We were able to concentrate enough with the spell split to defeat the caster. Severus cast a Death Curse so that I wouldn’t have to and then disappeared, back into the fray. I came to him, later, after the battle, when the wounded had been packed off to St. Mungo's and the dead to any family they had left and everyone else to wherever they could find shelter, I came to thank him for that."

She laughs softly at a joke I have not heard. "He was such a prat. I came so close to letting him get away with it, too. Then, mostly to shut him up, I decided to go with a shock tactic and challenged, 'would you like to tell me more about my extreme incompetence in the face of danger over dinner?'"

A visual of the expression that must have crossed his face pops up without warning and I nearly shout with laughter.

"Yes," she agrees, her face a bit pink, more with pleasure than embarrassment. "I told him that I would take his silence as assent and that he could meet me at the Gates after my commencement ceremony, celebrate with me, as it were. It came as quite a surprise that he actually showed."

Probably as much to him as to her.

"He did though, and he was perfectly civil throughout the whole of the meal and at the end of the evening he said, 'You were quite brave. I should not have intimated otherwise,' and I did the smartest thing I've ever done in my life -- I fell in love with the man."

"I probably would've as well," I admit.

She grins. "I had to ask for dates for nearly a year, the stubborn git. So, I came up with this plan, this test, if you will. I told him I wanted him to meet my parents, but the thing is, my parents are both Dentists -- Muggle teeth doctors -- and they would positively faint if I brought home a boy with imperfect teeth. Balding, disfigured, werewolf, these things they could've handled, but bad teeth would've been the death knell. I told Severus that, really with only a bit more tact and the next week he showed up at my door, criminally perfect teeth in mouth and a bouquet of pansies in hand for my mum. I don't even know how he found out they're her favorite. I'm not entirely sure I want to know."

"Probably safer not to."

She nods, biting her lower lip. "For the longest time after that I was afraid he thought he had to change for me, when in truth, I would've taken him, parental approval or no."

"Did you…does he know now?"

"He took me on a vacation to Jamaica, ostensibly to introduce me to the Wizarding community there -- he has connections that still boggle my mind when I get to thinking about them. He proposed the last night we were there, not on the beach or anything, just in bed, I was almost asleep. He asked, 'do you remember when you first wanted to be with me?' and I told him that night after commencement and he said, 'I would like very much if you would consent to marrying me,' and I told him he was no kind of romantic and agreed rather readily."

It rings with a type of perfection I am not sure I understand, but I can recognize, all the same. "You're beautiful together."

She picks up the photo and strokes PictureSnape's cheek. He blushes. "We are."


I am chatting with Healer Rose Aylan, the St. Mungo's employee who discovered Liao and requested further research into her methods, when Weasley's presence is uncovered by the wards on her office.

Rose is an odd mixture of Madame Pomfrey, Molly Weasley and Liao all in one. She is the sternest taskmaster I've ever met, more so even than Snape. If my reports come a minute late her owl is resting on my shoulder, waiting impatiently. She demands that all notes be recopied because writing from dictation often engenders sloppiness. She makes a habit of meeting with me at least once a week to pick my brain on details that she feels were left out of my increasingly thorough reports.

Once we are done with the business portion of our meetings, though, she softens and I am allowed to see what I sense is an estimation of her rather renowned bedside manner. At thirty-nine, Rose Aylan is the youngest Head of Treatment Development and Expansion that St. Mungo's has ever seen fit to appoint. She did not sleep her way into the position.

The entrance to her office is warded to warn her who approaches. In a moment of weakness -- I suspect she is somewhat fond of me -- she once explained that it allowed her to know which of her personas was expected when she allowed her visitor inside. The surface of Rose's desk is a murky gray and black, reminiscent of a pensieve. When someone comes to see her, their name appears in silver on the surface. Seeing Weasley's name appear, she waits until I have finished what I am saying and asks, "Mr. Weasley from the Ministry is here. Would it bother you if I admitted him?"

I consider the phrasing of the question for a second, forced to wonder what she knows and what she merely suspects. "Of course, it's your office."

Weasley enters and greets Rose with a sincere smile and an outstretched hand. Standing to the side of him, I note the confident straightness of his shoulders. It is hard reconciling him with the boy I once knew, the boy who allowed my jabs to pound into his posture, curling his shoulders and hunching his back.

He admits to Rose with a semblance of boyish charm, "I'm actually here for Draco. Hermione says you're joining us for dinner?"

The last is aimed at me. "I was heading out." I am never late for dinner at the Manor. Snape's sense of decorum and my own ingrained habits of being a guest combine to make tardiness seem the eighth deadly sin.

"I thought you might like a ride," Weasley offers, his mouth quirking in what is probably meant to be a roguish smile. Being a whore has taught me the survival skill of how to read people, though, their words and -- far more importantly -- their bodies. Weasley is nervous.

Even after all this time among people who consider brooms instruments of menial tasks, I know what "a ride" denotes to Weasley. I have not flown since before I was sent away, the last time being during a Quidditch practice at Hogwarts. I was having an off day. Between the stress of defying Father and just general every day life worries, I was using the practice to let go, enjoy the air for what it was, rather than concern myself with catching the snitch. Besides, our upcoming match had been against Gryffindor and while I was no slouch as a Seeker, Potter was better, and anyone with half a brain knew it.

He is offering me a chance to experience what I once loved more than anything else this world had to give me. Something I will never again do without assistance. Something I have purposely ignored because of the realization of loss it carries with it. His not-quite-smile is faltering by the time I answer, "All right."

"Oh, okay then."

We say our goodbyes to Rose and ascend the levels of St. Mungo's until we are at ground level. Weasley's broom is chained up in the front. It looks to be a fairly recent model of the Nimbus. I am willing to bet it was the first thing he ever bought with his paycheck.

He mounts and looks at me expectantly. I climb on behind him, locking my arms around his torso. Our ascent is smooth and even and I can hardly breathe for the sheer joy of it. The sensation is so pure that there is no space for sadness, just me and a freedom I have long been denied. Oddly, I don’t mind Weasley's being with me.

"You're good," I say aloud, even though I doubt he will hear me over the wind.

"If that's your way of making amends for the whole 'Weasley is our King' debacle, you're going to have to work a whole lot harder than that," he yells back.

The note of teasing in his voice is nearly melodious, mixed with the rapid winds.

The ride is not nearly long enough. We land safely and easily on the vast lawns of Snape Manor. I do not dismount, nor do I free his midsection from my grip. He stays still: "I thought…I thought you might miss that."

"More than even I knew," I admit. I will not say thank you, as it seems demeaning in the face of what he has given me.

"You know you can just ask me, right?"

I suspect that Weasley is speaking metaphorically and no, I hadn't known. I tell him, "Maybe at my place. In the mountains."

"I was hoping you'd suggest that."

Reluctantly, I release my hold on him and climb off the broom. A few more seconds and we're going to be late for dinner.


The way Weasley drops by before work one morning, early for him, late for me, and stammers, "I was thinking. Er, well, a co-worker had these tickets for the upcoming Romania-France match, but he couldn't go and, I haven't really been following either team -- except to know that France whupped the Cannons last month -- but they're good seats and I was wondering if perhaps, you'd, y'know, join me?" is inexplicably cute.

Addy, who is sharing a post-midnight cup of tea with me, laughs into her cup. I would follow her cue, but I'm feeling less than suave myself. "Does Alliandre Lereur still play for the French?"

Weasley nods dispiritedly, "Brilliant Chaser that one. Puddlemere tried to buy her out but they couldn't afford it."

Derek Parkinson was the first person to ever let me sneak a ride on his broom. I fell off, of course, everyone excepting Potter does, but it was glorious all the same. Derek had been in love with Lereur, France's brand new Chaser: barely out of school at that time and starring in the late-night fantasies of every red-blooded wizard. I was merely impressed by her ability to seemingly ignore inertia. "I'd love to go, when is it?"

He looks unaccountably surprised. "Week from now, whistle blows at seven p.m. on the French National Pitch."

"You picking me up, or leaving a Portkey?"

He hesitates, blushing. "I was considering picking you up a bit early. There's a restaurant Nell told me about -- she spent half a year of her undergrad in Paris -- anyway, she raves about it, I thought you might be willing to catch dinner with me beforehand."

How very Gryffindor. The game he could have passed off as a friend thing. Dinner makes it a date, though, and we both know it. Despite myself, I'm completely charmed. "So you'll pick me up an hour and fifteen minutes before the game?"

He practically gushes relief, "Brilliant. I'll uh…well, I'll probably see you before then. I gotta run."

I look at my watch, pressing the button that allows me to see what time it is in London. He's already late for work. I glance over at Addy. She's watching me. I stand, "I'm going to the school, wanna join?"

"No, Mr. Draco. I is not wanting Maddy to wake up alone."

"I should start watching my food," I tell her contemplatively. "I think Maddy had Weasley pegged for herself."

Addy pins me with a disapproving look, but she makes shooing motions at me with her hands and I can tell she's just waiting for me to leave so that she can burst into giggles. I give her my most wholly unrepentant grin and walk to the living room, flooing out from the nearest fireplace.

I floo into Hermione's fireplace, as that's where mine leads to, but she is not who I'm looking for and I let myself out of her office to head down three flights until I am in the dungeons. I hear my quarry snapping at students from down the hall and remember that Solingsen mostly teaches in the afternoons.

Not wanting to disturb the class, I loiter outside until his lecture is done with and the students are moving about to pick out necessary ingredients. As far as I can gather they're sixth years, but it's late in the year and I never got that far in the curriculum, so perhaps they are sevenths. They are old enough that supervision is not so active a project as it is with the younger children.

On the other hand, they are also Gryffindors and Slytherins.

I decide to take my chances and walk in, heading straight to his desk. He doesn’t look thoroughly unpleased to see me, and I take this as welcome. When I am close enough that he can whisper if he wants to, he nods, "Draco. Shouldn't you be asleep?"

I wave away his concern, "I woke up with a headache, couldn't fall back asleep." Actually, the tea I was drinking, comprised of a strong peppermint base, would probably have sent me back to that state by this time, were my mind not rushing with other considerations. "Weasley came to see me."

"And what was the fool going to do had you been asleep?"

"Most likely finagle breakfast out of Maddy if she was awake and leave me a note." He does this semi-regularly.

Snape sighs. "What did the Sixth Wonder of the Weasley World have to say that has you interrupting my classroom in your nightclothes?"

I look down and wince. "Do you ever think, 'huh, the girl I'm married to is someone I once mocked without thought or care to the psychological damage I was causing?'" It comes out smoother than I would have expected, more cutting, and it occurs to me that I have been waiting to ask this for a while.

Snape's eyes narrow and he answers me slowly. "No. But I quite often think, I couldn't live without this woman who I once deliberately tried to destroy at every possible juncture."

"But you saved her life-"

He cuts me off. "When I came to Hogwarts I was like her on the inside. Knowledge was everything, books were holy and the words 'library' and 'sanctuary' were synonymous. And I hated her for reminding me of that boy, that foolish, naïve, stupid child. And for the fact that she had found people to accept it, even if they were less than encouraging at times. Every cut I made at her, every small cruelty was planned, calculated and executed with a painfully clear knowledge of exactly what I was doing. And there are worse things than killing someone, Draco."

He doesn't need to tell me this. "What do you do? When you think those things?"

He avoids my eyes. "I kiss her. I tell her she's beautiful. I ask her how the archiving is coming along."

"It was a bit of the same, with Weasley," I offer. "Potter practically spat on me, but him and Weasley were closer than mated mandrakes from the second they met. And his parents may have gotten mad at him, but they never stopped loving him just because he did things they didn't approve of."

"I would be correct in assuming, then, that he finally arranged for himself to receive a pair of testicles and informed you of his designs?"

"Asked me out is more like it, and you're one to talk. Persephone says she had to ask you out for a year before she got any valid reciprocation on that count."

He swishes past me so that his cloak billows out, making quite a show of the movement. He walks to where a student has been trying to catch his eye without actually interrupting and assists with only one or two insults to her intelligence and the propagation of her line. Then again, the student is a Slytherin.

He returns with the comment, "There is wisdom in assessing a situation before rushing headlong into it."

"And nobody ever accused you of being Gryffindor," I comment solemnly.

He glares. "You agreed to accompany Weasley on this joint outing he has planned?"

I nod.

"And you…are looking forward to this?"

With a combination of nerves and excitement that makes me want to vomit over everything in sight, but nonetheless, "Yes."

He purses his lips. "Don’t forget the child you were, Draco. There are lessons to be learned from him. Don’t forget that you're no longer that child, either. Weasleys have a long history of not doing anything but exactly what they want and I well know that this one is no different on that account. I don't understand Hermione, what she was thinking when she took that ring from me and put it on her finger, but whatever she sees, I strive to be that and more. And against all the laws of nature, I sense that she does as well."

I wrinkle my nose. "You’re telling me to try my best."

"If you insist on being plebian, then yes."

It's scary and reassuring all at once that he doesn’t have better advice. It suggests that my pitiful attempts so far may have been enough. "I'm going to date a Weasley," I point out.

He smirks at the complete lack of concern in my voice. "Want to stay and test the potions?"

"My friendship only extends so far."


Weasley picks me up on time and doesn't cop a feel while Apparating us and waits until we've both received our dinners to eat. In short, he is the perfect gentleman.

I let him ramble about work, about the prejudices he has to try and unravel day in and day out, about the impossible demands that get placed upon him as neither side that he liaises for understands the other. Despite his whinging, there is an underlying tone of pride and enjoyment in his voice. It sounds eerily similar to when Persephone is talking about the museum's progress or Snape is telling me about the potions he's brewing.

He picks up the bill and I protest, "Weasley, at least let me pay my half."

"I asked," he says, counting on his fingers to calculate the tip and shelling out francs. "And it kind of really freaks me out that you still call me Weasley."

This brings me up short. "It's your last name."

"Really?" he asks, doing a fair imitation of incredulity.

I start to snap, but really, I'm just lucky he's not Snape considering the obtuseness of that response. "I just meant that I don’t get why it bothers you."

"Because there are seven other people currently alive with the same last name who have quite a few of my features. It makes me feel like you're not sure who you're actually talking to. It’s like we're back in school and I'm just one of the tribe to you. I doubt you even knew my name back then."

"You'd be wrong," I say softly. "Your name was and is Ronald Galahad Weasley, named for one of your mum's brothers who was killed in the first of Voldemort's risings and a knight from the round table founded by the king your father was in turn named for. It is a well-chosen name."

He blinks several times. "How d'you know all that?"

"I knew your first name when we were in school. The middle name and the origins were provided by the exhibit that Persephone is putting together on members of the Order and other heroes of the second rising." I add, "Minus The Boy For Whom The World Turns, of course. He gets his own exhibit."

Weasley flinches. "He deserves it. He nearly didn’t make it through the last battle. For awhile I think we all silently believed it would've been better if he hadn't. The spell, the one that broke the tie, it really screwed with his head."

"I'm out of practice, I know, but it was a joke, Weasley," I explain. "I don’t begrudge Potter his fame, not anymore."

"Ron. My name is Ron. I would like for you to call me Ron."

"And if I don't?"

He taps his fingers, considering. "I'll leave you here."

"Ah," I reply, and even though I know he is kidding, a tremor of pure terror makes its way down my spine. "But you see, I can speak French and my Caucasian heritage is less of a barrier."

He must hear the slight waver that I can't seem to keep out of my voice because his face takes on a pale green hue. "I would never leave you here, Draco. There isn't anything you could do to make me- Just. Nothing. All right?"

I nod slowly at the vehemence in his voice. "All right, Ron."

Slowly, a smile spreads across his face. "So. Who are you backing in tonight's game?"

"When in Rome," I answer easily.

He calls me, "Slytherin."

It sounds like an oddly acceptable pet name.


Ron is a creative dater. He sneaks us into a lecture on Muggle Chemistry at Oxford one week and takes me on a guided tour of the top-secret backroom at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes the next. He manages to arrange for passes into the Ministry's astronomy department and we spend nearly a whole night watching the planets move with an array of the finest telescopes in the Wizarding universe. He practices driving with me and takes me to a Muggle movie with lots of explosions and not much in the way of plot.

On our seventh or eighth date he takes me to a beach. He drags me out into the water, teaching me how to body surf, something I gather he has learned only by watching others from afar. I swallow enough water to rename myself The Draco Ocean and yet somehow manage to thoroughly enjoy myself.

We are lying on our towels, pleasantly exhausted, when he mutters, "Mind if I stay at your place tonight?"

Since my mock-disappearance and the casual invite that followed it, Ron has regularly commandeered the guest room at my house. Given this, the request brings me up short. "Why would I?"

He rolls over onto his stomach and lays so that he is facing me. "Dunno. I just thought now that we're, dating, I guess, you might want some space. I figured I had best ask."

The sun is wearing me out and I'm a bit dehydrated from my overwhelming salt-water intake, but I know that explanation doesn’t make sense. "Are we really talking about you staying in my guest room?"

"No." He closes his eyes. "I don't think we are."

"Ron," I start, but I don’t want to be having this conversation here, so I suggest, "Let's go home. Take us back to my place, okay?"

We pack up the towels in silence and walk into the men's bathroom, making sure it is empty before he Apparates us back into my living room. I take his towel from him and throw it in the dirty laundry hamper in the linens closet. "I'm gonna take a shower. You're welcome to use the one in the guest room."

I take a much longer shower than necessary, scrubbing uselessly at scars that have long since cemented themselves into the landscape of my skin. I emerge to find him on the couch, staring with fierce concentration at nothing. "I didn't mean to freak out."

He looks at me, his eyes taking in the clothing that covers every square inch of my skin excluding my face. "I didn’t mean to freak you out."

I sit on the opposite end of the couch from him. "Why…how can you even want to touch me?"

He frowns. "Is this a trick question?"

He seems honestly confused, so I explain, as patiently as I possibly can, "You know what I was. What I did."

"So?" He draws the word out, stressing his lack of concern.

It occurs to me that his understanding of the world could differ significantly from mine. I don’t know much about Molly Weasley, but she doesn't seem the type to have taught her kids all of the things that go on in the streets off to the side of Knockturn. "Ron. I let people fuck me. Men, women, it didn't matter. Nor did what they wanted matter. For the right amount of money, you could take a horsewhip to me or shove bottles up my ass, put needles in my dick-" I make myself stop, as he has turned a pale shade of green and I don’t want Addy and Maddy having to teach me how to clean carpeting. "Just, there wasn't anything I wouldn't do for the right amount of money and more often than not, the right amount was just enough for me to eat and make rent. I didn't have the benefit of an available Healer so in some places I'm more scar tissue than skin. It's pretty disgusting." I don’t clarify exactly what the "it" refers to.

He swallows. "I know what a prostitute does, Draco."

I bend my knees and tuck them into a pretzel position, giving myself access to pick at the fraying hem of the right leg. "Is that… I mean, I don't care if it is, but is that a turn on?"

"That you've been hurt?"

Maybe I do care, just a bit, because the unbelieving tone in his voice is unexpectedly soothing. "That I can make it incredibly good for you?"

He doesn't answer immediately and I take this to be the answer until he stutters, "Maybe…all right, this is selfish, okay? But maybe I have this fantasy that I'm the one to make it good for you. That's a turn on. That I could be the one, out of so many."

I'm not sure what to say to that. "Oh."

"Draco, when I asked to come back here, I mean, I asked to get you used to the idea, but I didn’t mean…not like that. Not yet. I just… I just want to hold you. Maybe watch some TV with you, or something, while holding you. I mean, if that's okay."

In response, I inch closer to him until I am snuggly resting inside his arms. The scent of the ylang ylang soap that Liao gave me several bars of as a housewarming gift drifts up from his skin. He shifts slightly, arranging himself comfortably. My back is resting against his chest, his arms clasped under mine, gently pulling at my stomach. I am nearly on his lap.

"Comfortable?" he murmurs.

I do not like being held from the back. Very few customers want to see the face of the person they're fucking and prefer to drive into him (or her) from the back. Prostitution is a denigrating experience even when the only thing being paid for is a hand job, but I found the anonymity of being taken from behind, the unhidden disregard for me as a living being to be among the most dehumanizing experiences. I wriggle to my side and he loosens his arms, allowing me to move as I wish. I throw my legs over his and curl up against his shoulder. He kisses the top of my head. "Better?"

His arms tighten ever so slightly in a rather proprietary way. I would object except for that fact that I feel insanely valued. "The remote's on top of the telly."

He Summons it and then allows me to pick the channel.


The car stalls for the third time during my Sunday afternoon driving lesson and Nell reaches over, turning the key to the off position. She pulls the key out and squeezes it in her palm, obviously battling exasperation. I don't blame her, either. Months of weekly lessons and I still can't make it to the local market without expert supervision.

When she has calmed down enough to drop they key into her lap and flex her fingers, she asks, "Do you even want to learn? Because, honestly, I have papers to write if this isn't really where your heart's at."

I give her my most penitent look. She shakes her head, "No, I don't want you to feel guilty, I want you to answer me."

I'm not sure why she needs me too, but, "Of course I want to learn this. I'm not keen on the idea of allowing other's timing to dictate my own for the rest of my life."

"Then why aren't you?" She presses. "I mean, I don't know you, not well, anyway, but you've been around a fair bit for half a year now, and I know you're not stupid. So what is it about driving that simply confounds you?"

It's a fair question. I am formulating an answer when she guesses, "Is it a Muggle thing?"

I stare at her in obvious bewilderment.

"I know that's what you call us, people who can’t do magic. Harry tells me you could but he won't tell me what happened, he says that's your thing."

An oddly touching gesture from someone who has no real reason to hold loyalty to me. "My Father took my magic from me. I don’t understand what you think this has to do with my lack of driving savvy."

She goes slightly pale. "Nevermind, serves me right for thinking I know anything about psychology."

I should let it go, I know, but knowing the wiser path has never guaranteed that I would take it. "Tell me what you were thinking."

She blushes and looks away from me. "It's stupid, really. I just thought that maybe you…well, I mean, knowing how to drive, it's a Muggle thing, right?"

"There are Wizards who drive," I correct, "but mostly, yeah, it would probably be considered that way."

"So, I figured that you might feel that by learning to, it was taking you farther and farther away from who you were."

She looks so uncomfortable that I take pity and tell her, "It makes sense."

She tucks her knees up to her chest. "But it's not why you're having problems, is it?"

I rub at my eyes, feeling inexplicably tired. "I used to do things like that at first. I didn't want to learn Chinese, because I kept hoping if I needed them enough, my Translation Charms would return. I was…really counterproductive in a lot of ways. But I. Um."

"Yes?" She prompts.

"After a few times of people…using me. After that, I kind of figured out that my magic wasn't coming back. Ever. I couldn't activate Healing Charms or Protection Charms or anything that I needed and I knew."

"I sort of know how that feels." She pauses, but I don’t say anything. "My mum was diagnosed with a rare type of heart disease when I was fifteen. She died when I was nineteen. The doctors…there was this point where they just told us that there was nothing they could do and that it was only a matter of time. That's the worst, living without hope."

Despite myself, the fact that I have been trained to be aware of and not cross other people's boundaries, I ask, "What did you do?"

She laughs at herself, but it is not fond laughter. "I ran away. Left my Da to deal with an older brother who drank too much and spent the better part of the academic year in France."

"Did it work?"

"Only because I'm a lucky prat," she admits. "Da put Quinn, my brother, in a hospital to get him dried up and they started attending counseling together. I joined the sessions when I got back. I discovered art in France, until then I was a physical studies major, planning on coaching girl's football in lower schools. I got home and reapplied myself and allowed myself to mourn with my family and yeah, things worked out. Then I met Harry, which was just dumb luck, but I'm not giving him up. Not for all the tea in China."

I can’t help responding, "You wouldn’t like it anyway. It's different than what we drink here."

"Are you naturally this tangential or are you just trying to skirt out on telling me what's up with you, now that you've gotten the scoop on me?" She inquires with a surprisingly regal lifting of her chin.

"I'm afraid to get lost," I blurt out without allowing myself to consider the consequences. As it turns out, it's for the best, since she looks as though she's been hit by a bludger. I explain, "It's a phobia, mostly, getting lost. I have it all the time, even when I'm walking places I've been a million times before, or navigating my way through Snape Manor, and I spent half my formative years there."

"They would find you. We would find you."

"I know. I mean," I gesture inarticulately, "in my head I know. But I spent a lot of time not being found and it's hard to explain to myself sometimes that it's not gonna happen again. There's something wrong with me and I can’t seem to understand what should be a pretty simple concept."

She stares at me for a bit before nodding. She gives me back the key. "Wanna try taking us back to your place?"

"Already?" The lesson had started less than an hour earlier.

"We're gonna try another kind of lesson altogether," she announces, "see if it doesn't help things."

I fire up the ignition. "Oh?"

"Watch out Draco Malfoy, you're going to become the best Muggle map reader the Wizarding world or elsewhere has ever known."


The trip comes about for two reasons: the first being that I want to show my new skills off to somebody, the second being that I'm still not confident to do anything so big on my own.

He's already at my place when I get home from Liao's the evening I plan on asking. He's in the guest bedroom, and I linger at the door for a bit, trying to determine whether he's actually asleep or not. He plays dead sometimes, I haven't determined why. "Ron?" I try softly.

He opens his eyes. I can see him in the dark, but I doubt he can see me. "Finally decided to come home, huh?"

It's not that late, either in America or China, but in Britain it's way past my bedtime. "Could only put it off for so long."

He murmurs, "C'mere," and flops a hand out in invitation.

I crawl up onto the bed and snuggle in next to him, he is on top of the covers, as the house is warm by most people's standards. He has never once complained about this idiosyncrasy of mine. He doesn't put his arm over me or trap me in any way, allowing me to determine the barriers of our physical contact. "You wanna go on a road trip with me?" I had a whole preamble planned, but Liao and I have spent most of the day counting and inventorying and my brain is unwilling to deal with anything it considers superfluous at this point.

"Road trip?" He mumbles, appropriate levels of befuddlement clouding his tone.

"It's a Muggle thing. Nell gave me the idea. Well, really, this movie that her and Potter were watching on my DVD player because they say they're too poor to get one themselves, when I know perfectly well that Potter is rolling in it."

"He has romantic ideas about being a poor Uni student. Hermione and I'm relatively sure he'll grow out of it."

"Whatever, the point is, they were watching this movie and a whole bunch of kids decided to drive a bus across the country, take a road trip. I mean, we'd just be doing it in my little box-on-wheels, but we could go anywhere we wanted, stop anywhere we please. I can read Muggle maps, any of them, give me a map, I'll tell you where we are and where we can go from there. I thought it sounded fun. Maybe just for a week, or something. Liao'll let me go, she keeps telling me I need to have more fun anyway, which I find rich coming from her. Do you think you could get the time off?"

"Oh yeah, I have loads of vacation time due to me." He runs a hand over my hip bone, settling it lightly there, so lightly that if I want him to move it, all I have to do is shift and it will fall away. "Where do you want to take me?"

"I don’t know," I admit. "I mean, other than living in this place, I've never been anywhere in America. There's this big…they call it an amusement park, it's only about two hours drive from here. I want to see that. Montana has a hot springs park and National Glacier Park, according to its map, those both sound like fun. New Orleans is pretty far, it'd take us more than a week with the stops to get there, but they have something called a French Quarter, with music and liquor and general good times. I thought we'd go over the maps together, let you pick a couple of spots. Nell's been teaching me to use the computer to learn things, so we can look up anything we need to know."

"We're just gonna go all these places in your car?" He sounds like he wants to project doubt, but all he can conjure is excitement.

"It takes a while," I warn him. "Car travel isn't like the kind of travel you know. And we can't just jump around other cars or buildings when we want to, we're doing this like Muggles."

If anything, it just makes him more excited. I can practically feel his heart speed up. "So when we see places we want to stop, we just do? It'll be like flooing in slow motion, a million different grates open to you."

I hadn't thought of it that way. It's a bit clever. "Well, probably more scenic. Nell says that lots of parts of America are really pretty. She visited with her mum and da when she and her brother were younger."

"Lucky bint," he says fondly. "When are we leaving?"

"I haven't talked to Liao or Rose yet. I don’t fancy being skinned alive upon my return."

He chuckles. "All right. Well, just tell me. I'll talk to the head of my overseeing department in the morning, warn him that I'm probably going to be taking some time. When you get the dates to me I'll just send a memo and pack out."

"Somebody's ready to get away," I observe.

"Somebody's ready to spend some time alone with you," he returns. "Away even from the prying eyes of house elves with infatuations."

It should make me nervous, the thought of being alone with him for a week, possibly more. Instead the way he says it wraps itself around me pleasantly. "I'm going to fall asleep if I don't move."

"Fall asleep, I won’t kick you off the bed."

How solicitous, it being my bed, technically. "I should eat first."

He sighs. "Come up with the one thing I can't argue with. C'mon." He pushes me up into a sitting position, "Up you go."

Ever so gently, he kicks me off the bed.


Ron finds me in Persephone's study, pilfering one of her books. "I was sent to call you to the table."

"No you weren't."

"All right, I volunteered, happy?" He obviously takes my grin to be assent of that fact. "I wanted to tell you that I asked for time off."

My heart pounds and I can't decide what I want him to tell me next. If he can't go, I can tell myself I am brave without ever having to prove it, if he can, I sense that I might just surprise both of us.

"I have months of vacation time coming to me. I've barely stopped to breathe since the War, with the Ministry needing as much overhaul as it has and everything and well, the time just adds up. I told them I'd need three weeks. Think we can do everything in that amount of time?"

I think of my carefully drawn lines, my handwritten equations relating to mileage (since we would be taking American roads) and time tables. "I'll make sure of it."

He bounces on his feet a bit, his giddiness betrayed on his face. "So…which one of us is going to tell the Dread Couple Snape?"

"You are the Gryffindor," I point out.

"Which only makes it more likely that Snape will kill me. Then where will you be? Endless road and no companion to distract you while you drive along."

"Be careful whose eyes you dangle a bit of peace and quiet in front of, Weasley."

"Why do you think I chose that threat, Malfoy?" His mouth quirks up affectionately and I love how my last name doesn’t sound like the rare and contagious disease that the Wizarding world has come to see it as.

"I'll tell them." We both relent at the same time.

"I'll tell them," I repeat. "It was my idea, and it's my safety and return that they're going to need convincing of."

"I'll just be there to throw some diversionary hexes if necessary."

"Against those two?" I raise my eyebrows.

Something quick and just a little bit frightening flashes in his eyes. "You'd be surprised."

I don’t comment, following him down to the dining room instead. Oddly, I believe him.

I wait to tell Persephone and Snape until after the entrée, while we are waiting for dessert. It is a strategic move on my part, so that she will have time to ask questions but he will not have much time to fume or think about which poison he's going to slip into my after dinner drink. "Ron and I are going to take a road trip."

Predictably, Snape fires back, "A what?"

Persephone looks as though I have sprouted an extra set of ears for a few seconds before gathering her wits. "What a brilliant idea. Where are you going?"

While I wasn't expecting her to immediately reject the idea, I haven't planned for such easy acceptance either. "Uh," I trip on my tongue, "lots of places. States."

"You're taking Prometheus with you, of course," she states, as though this was long ago decided and she's merely reminding someone libel to forget these things.

It is a good idea, now that she mentions it. "Of course."

"And you'll give us a map of all the locations you're headed to and the routes you're taking and the telephone numbers where you can be reached."

I hadn't thought of all that, but if it makes her happy, "Anything you want, you'll have."

The desserts arrive and Persephone tucks into hers. "Fantastic. You'll have the best time. Mum and Dad used to take me on mini-road trips when I was a little girl. I was almost sad when I became old enough to really go places with them."

Despite his wife's evident lack of worry, Snape's eyes are still unreadable, as sure a sign as any these days that he has his doubts. I offer, "Ron won't let anything happen to me."

He gives Ron a look of casual disdain. Ron politely returns it, raising his disdain with a bit of mockery. When Snape looks away however, he nods once at me and sets about the delicate task of devouring his pots de chocolat.


Persephone works with Addy and Maddy on all the necessary accoutrements of road trips and by the time we start out on our chosen Monday morning, the Mini is positively decked out for traveling in style. It almost feels anticlimactic that Disneyland is just over two hours away.

Between the two of us, a multitude of garishly colored signs and several helpful Muggles, we manage to figure out parking and find our way into the park. At which point, I open the map we have been handed at admissions and gape. "Ron."

He peers over my shoulder. "Huh?"

"This is huge." I look up, sure enough, the park extends as far as I can see in every direction.

"Oh! Pirates. We have to go see the pirates!" Ron is pointing to an illustrated icon on the map that is labeled, sure enough, Pirates of the Caribbean.

"What's a pirate?" I trace a line with my finger to our destination, looking around me to make sure I've figured out where we are correctly. I start walking, practically leaving Ron behind, as he is paying more attention to the large boat docked in front of us.

He catches up to me quickly. "They're sea thieves, they used to rob from merchants when water was the quickest way to get things from continent to continent. I read about them in one of my comics and then Hermione made me read a real book about them, since I thought they were cool."

I am about to ask if he enjoyed the "real book" when I get distracted by a character I have seen on one of the Saturday morning cartoons that Ron always absconds with my couch to watch. The character, however, far from being drawn and two dimensional, safely bound inside the glass screen of my television, is larger than me, and walking past. "That bear," I point him out to Ron, "the one who likes honey."

The bear stops as a child runs up to him, nearly into him. He pats the child on the head and then stands up straight as a couple that I can only assume are the children's parents snap a picture.

"Pooh!" My boyfriend is squealing. I'm almost tempted to ditch him, after all, I'm the one with the map. I would if I weren't every bit as excited about the walking cartoon character as he is.

Pooh evidently hears the squeal as he turns in our direction. Ron is twiddling with the camera that Nell and Potter bought us as a send off present. Nell showed me how to aim it and wait for the picture I wanted to show up on the screen before clicking the button on top. I take the camera from Ron, and nudge him toward the bear, who is still waiting patiently.

The bear hugs Ron the way he did the little kid and I snap the picture. Ron bounds back to me, "You want one?"

I shake my head, but when he offers a few minutes later upon running into the large blue genie from the movie Nell loaned us one weekend, I relent and allow myself to be hugged. It is stiflingly warm and deliciously innocent. Ron shows me the picture he has taken when I step away and I barely recognize myself. He whispers, "You're gorgeous."

I've heard it before, heard it and blocked it out and put it somewhere where it couldn’t hurt me, but with him it's different. Because I'm not gorgeous in the picture. My hair is out of place and the heat is evident in my flushed skin and my smile is far too happy to be attractive. So I push at his arm and roll my eyes, but I don't make him take it back.

We finally reach the ride three picture stops later, two of them places that have signs advertising "photo opportunity." As neither Ron nor I claims to be an authority on when pictures should be taken while inside a Muggle theme park, these hints seem good enough.

There's a line at the ride, long and winding back several feet from the entrance of the ride. The sign on the wall indicates that there is a forty-five minute wait to get in. Ron hesitates, "We can do something else."

"You in a hurry?" I ask.

He laughs and takes my hand, dragging me to the back of the line. We watch characters go by, fairy tale princesses and odd looking dogs and quite a few mice that all look the same except for having different outfits. We ogle the children who are dressed up and those who aren't, but start dancing every time a tune from a nearby ride pipes up. The adults are nearly as much fun, arguing over what rides to take, eating rapidly melting ice cones, carrying around large stuffed animals.

I'm almost disappointed when we finally step into the large boat. The feeling lasts for all of ten seconds until the boat slides gently inside the actual ride. Music is everywhere and there are whole scenes being played out, only not by humans nor by use of a television. I can barely decide which way to look, terrified of missing something. Beside me, Ron is laughing and pointing at everything.

The sudden dip at the end takes me by surprise. My stomach is in my throat, but I'm laughing so hard I can hardly see, and Ron has to help me out of the boat. "Let's go again," I suggest.

Ron shakes his head, "No way, there's so many other rides!"

I grumble, but when he picks out another ride I lead the way dutifully. This one starts with us being tightly harnessed inside a car much smaller than the boat of the previous ride. There is a sharp incline that we travel up slowly until all the cars, hooked together in a way that reminds me of a toy snake I once had, reach the pinnacle, and then begin to plunge back down. I am scared for several seconds before the feeling of the wind screaming past me hits, and the fearlessness that I have always known in the air settles in my chest. We loop and swirl and dive and I yell, caught in the momentum of the other passenger's yells, but I love it. I'm shaking from excitement when we climb out, and it takes a few seconds for me to remember how to walk.

Ron laughs at me, "You okay?"

"Didn’t you love it?" I ask, wondering how he can be so calm. He understands the addiction to flight every bit as much as I do.

He wipes my hair back from my face, gently unsnarling a tangle. "Think you could settle down enough to eat?"

We find a place that sells food and make ourselves share a pizza before gorging on the largest pretzels we've ever seen and ice cream sandwiches. Afterward, we have to take a quick detour to the bathrooms to clean off our faces and hands, as we are sticking to each other whenever we reach out to touch the other.

The afternoon brings more whirling, dizziness-inducing rides which I learn are called roller coasters. We fly ships that look like small replicas of what Durmstrang once arrived at Hogwarts in through the air, higher and higher at the press of a bar. We each drive a small car with no wheels that we're encouraged to crash into the other cars. We demolish each other several times in the course of this activity. We sit in tea cups that spin until both of us are giggling and nauseated, unable to walk straight for quite some time. We glide through a water ride with the same sorts of dolls that graced the Pirates ride, only these are dressed up in clothes that Ron explains correspond to different Muggles all around the world. I recognize the Chinese ones.

We stay in the park until well after dark and watch the fireworks. They aren't the same as Wizarding fireworks, not as personified, but they are large and bright and loud. They end in a symphony of color and I don't look away from the sky until Ron whispers from behind me, "Hey."

I turn to smile at him. "You have a good time?"

"The best," he admits. "C'mon, there's one more thing I wanna do."

"The park is closing," I tell him. They've been announcing it since before the big parade with millions of different lights, so many that if all the Wizards in England were to get together, they couldn't conjure enough Lumos spells to mimic the effect.

"I know, I can do it on the way out."

We stroll down Main Street, careful not to step on children, until he pulls me into a store. He takes me over to a mountain of stuffed animals and says, "Pick."

Every character we've seen roaming around today and more is in the pile. I think for several moments before choosing what looks to be a lion cub. "Reminds me of you," I say in a way that is meant to be teasing, but he all he does is blush and it ruins the intent.

We wait in line so that he can buy it. On our way to the car he explains, "I think you should get used to sleeping with something that just wants to cuddle."

Even though the name tag on the lion says his name is Simba, I rename him Gawain. He fits perfectly in the circle of my arms.


Ron is awake when the phone rings, meant to wake both of us up. He speaks louder than necessary into the speaker to thank a voice that sounds…not right. He pokes at my shoulder until I open my eyes. "I think I just talked to a comptador!"

"Computer?" I offer. Persephone has suggested I get one. She says it will help recopying the dictated notes for Rose. Nell has let me play on hers in order to try it out. It seems like an even bigger betrayal to who I once was than driving across country in a car, though, and I don't think I'm ready to take that step yet.

"Yes, that," he agrees. "It sounded like a girl."

Which is just weird. "I'm gonna take a shower."

"All right. There's free breakfast downstairs, it says it on the door. I'm going to get some, you want something?"

Addy, Maddy and I, though we once fought nobly against the temptation, have given into the allure of American food. "If there's Fruit Loops, grab me a bowl with milk. Oh, and an orange juice, please."

"What's a looped fruit?"

"Those sugary circle things that you're always stealing from my pantry." I roll out of bed and give him my best stern and disapproving look.

He grins unrepentantly. "I'll bring back two bowls, then."

He is as good as his word and when I emerge from the bathroom, scrubbed squeaky clean with hair combed and parted into place, he orders, "Eat up, they're getting soggy."

We're on the road before most of the traffic, which is the way I have planned it. Even this early, the horizon burns with a too hot orange that I find eerie. The rest of the sky, though, is an oddly clean gray and despite everything, I'm entranced by the beauty of it. We drive north along I-15.

Ron fiddles with the radio, almost never able to settle on one channel for more than ten minutes. He laughs at early morning DJ's, dances to music with words that make me glad there isn't anyone older than us in the car, sings incorrectly along to anything he has heard even a few seconds of before.

I stop when Ron starts to complain of hunger, sensing that he will only get whinier. He practically flies out of the car at the first place we see a sign for, a twenty-four hour diner that serves more grease than food and has waitresses in pink dresses with white aprons who never let our coffee cups go dry.

Ron raids the convenience store while I fill up with gas. We're already back on the road when he holds up one of his purchases, reading off the side. "Pi-ck-sie Stick. Want one?"

"What is it?" Liao has a soft spot for certain Chinese candies, sugared fruits and sticky rice, but other than that, the world of Muggle treats is something of an unexplored territory for me.

"Dunno." Cautiously, he rips the tip of the paper away and peers, one-eyed into the tube. "Um, powder?"

"Sounds delicious."

In typical Gryffindor fashion, he throws caution to the wind and tips the tube upwards, spilling the powder into his throat. Seconds later he is coughing neon blue powder everywhere. I keep one hand firmly on the wheel while reaching over to hit him firmly on the back. Several times. When he is breathing again, I inquire, "All right?"

He licks his lips. "It's sugar."

"Plain sugar?" This seems unlikely to me. "You were almost killed by a tube of plain sugar?"

"Mm," he reconsiders. "It's tangy sugar. I think you're supposed to eat it a little at a time."

Like most things, my brain counters, but I keep quiet. "Give me one. Open, preferably."

He complies and I open my mouth, pouring a little of the sugar onto the tip of my tongue, keeping eyes on the road all the time. I close my mouth and the sugar melts pouring sharply into my throat. "Actually, that's kind of good."

Good enough that by the time we pull into Vegas, the sun crawling away to go visit the other side of the planet and the lights of the Strip popping into existence, we're both shaking from sugar highs, giggling at every sign on the highway, funny or not.

Despite our sucrose-driven mental incapacitation, we manage to find the hotel where we have reservations. It is too big and too glitzy and gorgeous in its utter lack of class. Between this and Disneyland, it has occurred to me that Father's refusal to visit anywhere "less civilized" than the continent prevented him from having a lot of fun. Not that I can imagine him appreciating it.

Ron, on the other hand, is flirting with women with boxes of flat circular discs hanging from their necks, standing in heels that make me worry for their safety. He is racing from one exotic animal to the next in the lobby, reading all the signs, spying on people who can plainly see him and reporting back to me everything that they are doing.

His lips are blue-green from the candy and the box girls obviously think he's the cutest thing they've ever laid eyes on and he's as brilliant as any of the decorations in this fantastically chintzy place. I wait for him to tell me about the four girls in the casino, drunk and winning. "I'm glad you're here. With me."

He kisses my cheek before dancing away to encourage people throwing tiny white cubes with black dots. I wonder if there's an imprint of blue where his lips touched.


After we have dropped our stuff in our room, we spend the night casino hopping, from one hotel to the next. We spend half our time goggling at the elaborate theme decorations of each hotel: the lions at the MGM Grand, the old city streets of New York, New York (where I insist that we ride the roller coaster), the water ways of the Venetian.

We learn the simpler games being played in the casinos by watching until we are ready to take part and don’t bother with the more complicated ones, observing and cheering those who are playing them instead.

Finally, at nearly four, we find ourselves one of the numerous 24-hour eateries and indulge in a very early breakfast. Ron's pancakes show up so buried in strawberries that we aren't entirely sure that the pancakes are even there until some careful excavation on his part reveals them. Not very hungry, I sip at a cup of hot chocolate and concentrate on situating my sunny-side up eggs perfectly atop my toast.

"You don’t eat very much," he comments mid-chew. I wish I found it as disgusting as I probably should.

"I'm not really hungry. It's kind of an odd time to be eating."

"I meant in general," he says, even though it's obvious that I know and am avoiding the issue. It is mind-boggling that his persistence can be so infuriating and sweet all at once.

"Well, we can't all have the metabolism of a Cornish Pixie on Destabilizing Serum."

He scoffs. "You could stand to gain a bit of weight, Draco."

I'm well aware of this. So well aware that I'm almost hurt by his mentioning it. Except that he doesn't really seem to mind how I look without that extra layer. "I got pretty used to meals coming irregularly for four years. Most of the time, even if I had enough to eat I would hoard, just in case I got sick or something happened where I couldn't work. And now, I dunno, my stomach never seems to want to take in very much at any given time. I'm nearly always hungry, it's just that it doesn't take very much to sate the hunger."

"It's bloody frustrating being boyfriends with a ginormous prat who can't even tell me when he's hungry so that I can make sure he has a snack, y'know."

Incongruously, I smile at him. It's the first time anyone has called me their boyfriend and for a few seconds I'm back in fourth year, feeling the way I would have given the chance to take someone far more masculine than Pansy to the Yule Ball and parade them around on my arm. "I'll try and say something from now on."

"We'll bring snacks in the car. You wouldn't believe what they had in that store by the restaurant. Muggle's have a genius with snacks, they do."

For his sake, I polish off the eggs and toast. It takes me longer than him, but he waits patiently and we head back to the hotel together, having to stop several times and ask directions. In the murky light of oncoming day, the twinkle of the Strip's lights are confusing, at times making everything look the same.

We no sooner are in the room than we fall into our perspective beds. I am busy envying his ability to divest himself of clothing and slip underneath his covers with a single word while I clumsily pluck at the ribbons keeping my tennis shoes laced and on my feet. Before I know what has happened Ron is muttering again and the cool, heavily air-conditioned atmosphere of the room is brushing over my bare skin. "Thanks," I tell him.

"Go to sleep, you don't want me to have to drive, do you?"

Nell and I quickly discovered, while trying to teach Ron to drive alongside me, that he has the concentration powers of a nervous first year when handling anything Muggle in origin. Normally, this isn't a problem, as there isn't much he can do to harm himself with a remote control or a microwave (especially one that has been kid-proofed), but putting him behind the wheel of a car is just irresponsible. Especially when he's on a road wherein other cars will inevitably pass by.

I take his threat seriously and fall asleep.


We have planned two days for the drive through Idaho and Utah, but it ends up being several hours longer than even my conservative estimate, since Ron and I both feel the odd compulsion to stop at nearly every independent farmer's shack on the way. It is mid-July and their harvest is in full swing. Sweet peas, tomatoes, apples, peppers, if it grows in the area and doesn't have to be cooked to be eaten, we find it on our way through Idaho after we have made our way through the desert and mountains that make up most of Utah. Those only provided a different type of distraction, since I couldn't make myself pass up the look out spots that peppered the drive.

It is at the end of two very long driving days that we collapse in a tiny motel room outside Missoula, Montana. The next morning we sleep in just a little before driving the two hours it takes to get to our destination. It's a windy drive, one that has my issues about getting lost frayed to their very core, and I'm glad that Ron is keeping up a running commentary on just how big the trees outside his window are.

Despite my worries, we make it to the parking lot with no problems and begin the fifteen minute hike necessary to actually gain entrance into the main hot spring. We pay at the gate, already feeling the heat drift toward us, along with the sulfur smell of which the brochure warns. We step inside and Ron makes an awkward squeaking noise to which I reply. "Oh, hm. Yeah, sorry, I should have told you."

That there would be naked men everywhere. The whole clothing optional thing was in the brochure too, but I sincerely doubt that I will be able to wear my skin in front of others, particularly others whom I don't know, ever again.

Ron swallows, "You mean I could've had you naked in a hot spring and I missed my chance?"

He is joking, I can hear the humor plain in his voice, and I shrug, "Well, you know what they say about reading."

"You have to learn the alphabet to do it?"

I try to give him a reprimanding look, "You learn things."

My look is obviously unimpressive, as Ron just moves forward, finding a spot for us to settle into the spring. I stop him. "There's…if we hike just a bit more up the mountain there's a smaller one, more secluded."

Ron follows me as I keep to the worn path made by other's footsteps. We reach the spring in less than ten minutes, and I am glad to have taken the time. It isn't even half the size of the main one, but there are only two other people in it and Ron and I are able to settle comfortably into the naturally heated water, letting our legs and arms float as they so please.

The heat of the water is divine and I don't even flinch when Ron pulls me over to him, so that I am sitting atop him, facing to the side so that my head can rest on his shoulder. "Mm," I mutter with no pretense of coherent meaning.

"Mm," he agrees.

"You're always warm," I tell him.

"Ancient Weasley Heating Spell, used to woo our lovers for centuries. I could tell you how it works, but I would have to marry you and perform an equally secret binding spell that has kept the technique in our family for so long."

He relates all this so smoothly and immediately that it takes me a moment to figure it out and laugh. "Shut your gob."

"Oh," he says, sounding disappointed, "I was going to kiss you."

"I don't know that backwoods Montana is the best place for that." I have learned more than I ever want to know about Muggle homophobia in China and I am relatively sure that what I know applies to most areas of the world.

He sighs, but concedes my point. I wonder if Potter or Persephone has warned him of possible dangers. "Someday soon," he warns.

One good thing about Gryffindors: they keep their promises.


We make the drive up to the glacier park after Ron finally manages to drag me away from the nearly solid heat that the springs provide. It is late by the time we get there, and we make it just in time to rent one of the cabins provided for overnight visitors. It is rustic at best, but there are lamps that provide light, two beds, a sink and a toilet, both with running water. Compared to where I lived for the better part of three and a half years, it's a palace.

We both fall asleep nearly immediately, me exhausted from the two winding, off-the-beaten path drives we have completed, him from trying to keep me calm throughout both of them. He has done an admirable job, considering that the radio stations up here don't play a lot that either of us consider worth listening to and there are practically no road signs to read and laugh at.

Instead, he has spent the day telling me things about himself. The way that he doesn't get most of the art that Nell likes, but he doesn't want to tell her that. The truth that in fact, his broomstick was the second thing he bought once he could afford such things -- the first was a week long vacation for his mum and Ginny. That he wants to learn the Muggle game called Pool because he saw it on a television show one night while he was waiting for me to come home and thought it looked cool.

Concentrating on the road, I give him less of myself, but something, because his confidences seem too overwhelming a gift not to give at least a little in return. So I give him my biggest secret, "I miss feeling whole."

He looks at me, away from the scenery that has kept him spellbound for hours. "The magic? Is that…it feels like you aren't whole?"

"That's the only way to talk about it." I discovered early on that even crying about it couldn't fully express or expunge the grief of that particular loss. So I stopped.

"I think you're." He bites his lip. "I think you're something more than whole, I guess. It's hard to explain. Like, I know they took that from you and that we can't give it back and I probably have anger issues about that that Hermione thinks I need to get under control, but I just…when I'm with you I never feel like anything is missing. From me or from you."

"Mostly I wish I had been born this way," is my non-answer to his admission. "Because then I wouldn't have to remember what it felt like. The just…fundamental warmth of it."

"Is that why you're always cold?"

I've never considered this, as before this moment, I haven’t put any of these feelings into verbally communicative forms. "Maybe a little. It's mental, obviously, but there's other things. Lanzhou was cold and I spent a lot of my time on the street. Customers who were only paying for a suck weren't gonna take me somewhere warm when all they had to do was unzip in an alleyway."

"It's odd," he sounds like he's thinking out loud, "you always feel warm to the touch."

Bizarre factor notwithstanding, this is probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. I fall asleep to the sound of the words jaunting about in my head. It feels a little like doing a spell.


We spend the morning in open-mouthed amazement at what, on the most basic level, are large blocks of ice. They remind me of Nell's art, the stuff that Ron doesn't get and I doubt I truly do either, but I see things in it, regardless of whether it's what I'm supposed to see or otherwise. The ice is a pristine shade of blue and we are told by the guides that it is actually moving far too slowly for us to see, shifting in on itself.

I feel a kinship with the ice, its movements slowed down by cold, slowed to where only it recognizes that there is movement at all. It and a crack team of Muggle researchers, obviously. It makes me wonder how many times Persephone has put her skills to use on me while I remained oblivious.

People are gawking at the glaciers like people will gawk at me, my portrait hanging alongside Snape's and Lupin's. I doubt PortraitMe will be so stoic and graceful about such an event as the glacier is being.

We leave the park in the early afternoon and Ron insists that we stop to get lunch before seriously heading out onto the road. He doesn't nag at me when I don't eat much, just makes me finish my coffee and orders a little bit of the fruit salad to go.

The landscape changes from the mountains and canyons of Montana to the wide expanses of Wyoming's plains. Prometheus is diving and circling lazily overhead, socializing with other large birds that soar into view from time to time. Ron interrupts the nearly autopilot zone I have reached by asking, "Did you know it was going to be pretty like this?"

It's an odd time to ask it, with the foothills rolling around us and nothing much to distract one's self except trees of all sorts, but I think I get it. There is silence without death along this road, freedom without consuming debt. "I thought it would be something I wanted to share."

"Snape would've let Persephone come, if you'd wanted." There is a waver in his voice, but it is not connected with his surety on the topic. "You can’t imagine the things he would do for you. Or for her."

"I think I'm starting to figure it out." Persephone has hinted that they have been speaking of children. I don't have to guess who is acceding to whose wishes in that situation. "There are a lot of things I owe her," I continue, in answer to his statement, "she's…shown me things, and I will one day find a way to return those favors. But this wasn't about that."

"What is this about?"

I watch the road ahead carefully. "Me not getting lost."

"You…you didn't bloody well get lost!"

I jump at the vehemence in his voice.

"You're Hansel and Gretel is what you are."

I frown. "Hansel and Gretel?"

"Muggle thing, called a fairy tale, I'm not sure why, but Persephone gave me a book of them when I first got my job, told me they explained a lot about why Muggles think the way they do. Hansel and Gretel are a little boy and a little girl, sister and brother. The stepmother doesn't want them so she sends them out into the woods to die, but they are found by a witch who wants to eat them, so she lures them into her house with the promise of food. The children are very resourceful and manage to kill the witch and escape and then find their way back home where their stepmother is dead, but their father has missed them terribly and is still hoping for their safe return."

"I didn't find my way home."

"No, but you survived long enough to get home."

"Are the children…are they tainted by this witch?" With tales like that, it's no wonder Muggles used to try and burn us.

"You're not tainted," he spits in a whisper that I can tell is meant to keep him from yelling. "You're tired and hurt and wronged, but you aren't tainted. You don't…d'you remember right before second year, when your dad and my dad came to blows in the middle of the Flourish & Blotts?"

I can't help smiling. It was the first time I'd ever seen someone stand up to Father. "'Course I do."

"My dad told yours that they had different ideas of what it meant to disgrace the name of wizard."

"I still thought Father was right," I warn Ron. "I didn't love him, but I worshipped him, and I was far too young to know the difference."

"I know. You were tainted then. You stank of everything that the Malfoy family had represented for decades. You know why I believed you had changed, when Hermione told us that, right after you disappeared? Because Lupin wasn't surprised. He just said, 'yes, his smell changed.' You can't lie to a werewolf, not about things like that."

"Just because you exchange one type of filth for another doesn’t mean you're clean," I try.

"Their filth, the people who put their hands on you and gave into the mistaken idea that you were theirs, that kind couldn't touch you. Because you weren't theirs. Maybe for a few hours, or the night, but at the end you gathered your soul up and took it with you and left them behind."

"I don't-"

"Don’t even," his words are carefully spaced, his teeth clenched, "suggest that you are without a soul. Your magic had nothing to do with your soul, or if it did, it was a coincidental connection. People without souls don’t worry about whether their house elves' feelings will be hurt or open their house to people who once laughed when bad things happened to them."

"I made bad things happen to you and then laughed," I point out.

"No, you didn't. Some kid I knew at school with meaner eyes and a cockier stance did. He died somewhere along the way, another casualty of War."

"I don’t mourn him."

"Neither do I."

The brutal truth of it should hurt, but it doesn't. It just feels real. I go back to where we started, "Did you know how pretty it would be when you agreed to come?"

He settles back into his seat, taking the peace offering for what it is. "Perks aside, I really only came for one piece of scenery, and I knew that would be with me wherever I went. So I suppose I did."

The compliment sparks inside me, right through to my toes. In thanks, I mutter, "I wanted, well, back at Hogwarts I thought. I mean, Potter was like, the ideal, right? For everyone, I think. But you were…desire itself."

He is obviously not expecting this. "You were looking?"

"You weren't?" I challenge.

"Not at you," he counters, completely flustered by the sheer idea.

I figure I deserve that. Still, "Oh. Well, I was. You were…something I could never have."

"Unattainable is not something I have oft been called," he quips.

"You just admitted you never looked, " I remind him.

"Because you were always humiliating me. I'm not a masochist, Draco."

Right. Good to know. "Emotionally I think I might have been."

"Being a teenager sucks," he says with a depth of understanding that makes me believe Potter wasn't his only weakness.

"If I'd known how much hotter you were going to get, I probably would have waited to try out the masochistic tendencies."

"Am I ruining your mojo by being attainable?"

"Possibly. It's hard to sulk when one senses there might be a happy ending looming somewhere."

He laughs. "Ah well, you're sexier when you smile anyway."

I scoff. "No Malfoy has been considered more sexy when happy in hundreds of generations."

"Someone must've really broken the mold while they were making you, huh?"

I think about it for a second and break into a grin. "Evidently."


We stop overnight in Denver. He lets me pay for dinner but then takes me to the movies and treats on a large popcorn and a Muggle treat we have both discovered a near dangerous addiction for called M&Ms. I like the crunch they make, the sharp little spikes of candy that shatter so easily under my teeth. He likes making patterns with the colors.

I am scrounging at the bottom of the popcorn bag with greasy fingers when he catches my wrist and brings it slowly to his mouth, as though waiting for my permission. My eyes are focused on the screen in front of me, hundreds of times larger than the screen on my television at home. Ron, Persephone, Nell and Potter all explained the idea of movies before I ever went to one with Ron, but I am still taken aback by the sheer size of the images every time I sit down to view one.

I don't pull my wrist away.

His tongue darts out, lapping over the spot where my pulse beats and I wonder if he can feel its unusual speed, if he even knows how I feel well enough to recognize the difference. He bites gently at the skin that just barely stretches over my wrist bone and I whimper. Not out of pain. He kisses it all better anyway.

His tongue touches the inside of my palm, lapping ever so quickly at the layer of butter covering my entire hand. He smacks his lips quietly and I laugh, thankful that it is not an entirely inappropriate spot in the movie to do so.

He changes tactics and nibbles the tip of my thumb, slowly swallowing more and more of it so as not to startle me. Father broke me of the habit of sucking the thumb Ron holds captive by breaking the thumb and not allowing it to be set for over a day. I was four at the time and my bones were still forming, so the thumb is angled just the tiniest bit oddly. Ron doesn't seem to mind and, to my surprise, the gentle warmth of his mouth isn’t scary or overwhelming.

Ron slides his tongue over the back of the thumb, causing me to gasp quietly at the tickling sensation. He moves onto my pointer finger, evidently determined to capture every last drop of butter that I have horded onto my hand.

Heat builds ever so slightly in my groin, not a demanding heat but a pleasant one, one that I can barely remember, wouldn't remember at all except that Ron has awoken it a few times since my return. It almost never leads anywhere, since sex became my business my body seemingly ceased to understand that it could be anything else, but here, in the dark theater wherein I can see everything, and he is looking at me, watching what he can see of me in the light reflected from a story about a boy and a girl in love, it doesn't feel like anything that could be paid for, even if we wanted it that way. The realization spurs the heat and I have the insane desire to unzip my pants right here, touch myself and feel an erection gained without the aid of Liao's herbs and the avid use of my own imagination.

I don't.

He finishes in his own time, ministering to the pinky far longer than any digit of that size could possibly find necessary. When he is done he settles my hand carefully back in my lap, away from the obvious bulge in my pants. He thanks me in a voice so low I have to strain to hear him over the film's score, "I enjoyed that," he says.

I turn to tell him the same, more, something that will get him to understand what he has just done, but he is watching the heroine kiss the hero, standing on her tiptoes to reach his mouth, grasping desperately at his shoulders. I just turn my head back to the screen, watching to make sure the boy and the girl get their happy ending.


The drive along I-70 is disorienting in its variety, mountains changing into plains so flat it seems a sure thing that we should be able to see into the next state. The endless amber of summertime Kansas has just become comforting when we move into the metropolis of the city, once-industrial and now faintly anachronistic. Nearly four hours of Missouri's farm land and we arrive in St. Louis. It's late, so we check into the hotel and head up to our room.

Our hotel is on the river, the city's website insisted that was the best way to go. Outside our window, the endless lights of the city are reflecting off the River's surface, less focused and harsh as they rise off the water. "Hey, c'mere."

Ron comes away from where he is trying to find his pajamas -- he is a hopeless packer, even with magic -- to stand beside me. "Yes?"

I position him in front of the window and stand behind him, my arms wrapped loosely over his stomach. My chin is tilted up, resting on the edge of his shoulder. "What do you see?"

"The way Muggles think." He responds hesitantly, as though afraid I will tell him it's the wrong answer. "What do you see?"

"Lights in the darkness."

He nods. "You can see in the dark, can't you?"

"Mostly." I explain, "Light is something that people who can afford it have."

"We always had it," his voice is hard to hear.

"I didn't know what poor was when we were at school," it's an apology. A weak one, but one nonetheless. "I knew you had everything I wanted and none of it had to do with money and I knew I had everything you wanted and all of it had to do with money."

"Surprisingly accurate."

"I used to hate the dark. Even after I began to be able to see in it. I hated the time it gave me, because really, when it's dark, there's nothing to do but think. And when you have that much time to think, you can only control your thoughts for so long. Sooner or later your mind gets its way and burrows into the issues you've long buried, far away from where they can sneak up on you and bite."

"I can leave the light on, at night. I can sleep anywhere, anytime. A little bit of light isn't gonna hurt. Or I can freeze a Lumos, so there's just a little light."

His sincerity makes my teeth hurt. "I don’t mind it anymore. The only thing that threatens me in the dark is myself and…it seems safer to know what kind of threat I possess."

"Better the enemy you know?"

"Something like that," I agree. I let go and rummage through his suitcase, producing the lost pair of pajamas. I throw them at him.

He catches them easily without even looking back, his instincts impossibly highly tuned. I am careful never to sneak up on him. He looks down at his hand. "Oh, hey, thanks."

"You're welcome," I snigger, finding my own nightclothes, neatly tucked into the pocket I set them in that morning.

He walks to the door and flips off the light. It is still somewhat bright in the room, the city's lamps and signs and traffic signals flooding in through the window. "I don’t think I would have the strength to stay in the dark by myself like that."

"You're." I try to come up with something else than what comes to mind, anything else, but in the end I follow my instincts, "a Gryffindor."

"So is Hermione," he points out, "although she's far more suited to Ravenclaw, even despite her streak of gleeful rule breaking. And Percy, who would have fit Slytherin to a tee. And Harry, who, well, Harry is everything and nothing, really."

The Boy Who Lived. Tragically real and overwhelmingly human. I begin to see his point. "It wasn't just your blood, Ron. You have the loyalty of a Hufflepuff, true, but the quick thinking and the sheer disregard for your own safety of a Gryffindor. You're incredibly strong, where it counts, I mean, you survived. You stayed here and survived and didn't give up. Even afterward, when so many people had and you didn't have anybody to lean on."

"I leaned on-"

"Potter and Persephone, as much as you could, but they were already leaning elsewhere, and not much in the way of pillars."

"We kept each other upright," he argues.

Which is probably partly true, so I let him win this round. I walk to close the drapes. The darkness is startling in its contrast. I walk to where he is standing still, trying to acclimate and remember where to go. I take his hand, leading him to his bed. I sit beside him for a few minutes and then switch over to my bed. I grab at my pillow where I've settled my bedtime companion and hold him out to Ron, "Wanna borrow Gawain?"

Ron's fingers brush mine as they close over the cub. "Is he afraid of the dark, too?"

The cubs eyes, glassy and dark, are facing me. I remember a young boy with hair too bright and robes that didn't quite fit him and enough bravery to take on the world. Even me. "Yeah, a little bit."

He snuggles down with Gawain. I settle under the covers. My bed feels empty.


We find our way to the arch early the next morning, partly out of the need to be on the road by noon and partly to see if we can avoid a line. We wait for a bit, but are on one of the cars, squeaking slowly up the infrastructure before we have time to get impatient. The car is small, we barely fit in it together.

He puts his hands on my knees as we go up. I press slightly into his touch.

At the top, we climb out carefully. The viewing area is oddly constructed, as it must arch as much as the rest of the structure. We find a window that someone isn’t already pressing their face to and stand side by side, holding hands. The river is flowing gently downstream, lapping up against barges and old-time steamboats, docked for show. Around it, the city stretches out, not so different from any other city.

The wind rocks the structure ever so slightly. It's an odd sensation, one that I'm not sure I like. I tighten my fingers around Ron's. He looks down at our hands, "You ready?"

I tug on his hand by way of response and he follows me to the cars that will take us down. They go as slowly as the ones going up which I find odd, given the laws of gravity. We make it to the ground, though, and find our way to my car, and maneuver ourselves onto 55 South, heading toward Louisiana.

He tells me stories along the way. He tells me about the time Snape gave Potter a dreamless sleep potion with a hair dyeing component in it. Potter had finally appealed to Persephone after a week of trying every known potion to rid himself of green hair with a silver streak, á la skunk. Evidently, Snape had invented the component, which was why there was no readily available antidote.

I guess, "So Potter learned how to brew his own dreamless?"

"Oh yeah. Which I think was what Snape was after the whole time."

"Probably," I concede. "He's gonna be a terror as a father. Really, I pity the children their eventual psychoses. Not," I admit, "that I'm one to talk. He's gotta be better than Father."

"You think they'll have children?"

This takes me aback. "You don't?" I've never considered this option.

"Well, I mean, he doesn't much like them, as far as I can tell."

It strikes me as odd that Ron can understand things about me when we've really only known each other for less than a year and yet Snape, who he's fought alongside, remains an utter enigma to him. Particularly seeing as how I've begun to feel at ease reading the slightest signals from Snape -- a quirked lip, a tapped finger, his different silences. "He doesn’t do well with crowds, be it adult or children. He is not well-suited to teaching as a profession, but that doesn't mean he dislikes children."

"I guess." Ron is quite obviously not taking my word.

"Besides which, it doesn’t matter. She wants children, and if she said that she wanted to do experiments in Cruciatus using him as the test subject, he'd probably ask when and where."

"I'll give you that," Ron shakes his head, whether in wonderment or disgust I can't quite tell. "Wrapped around her finger he is."

"I think." I pause to consider what I'm about to confide. "I think that they'll love their children, and that that's really all children need."

"If your father would've loved you, you'd have ended up a Death Eater and I probably would've been forced to kill you."

"Possible," I say slowly. "But I don’t think so. I think if Father had been capable of love he wouldn't have been capable of the other things he did. Of serving Voldemort."

He opens his mouth, but instead of responding changes the subject. "Do you want children?"

I laugh. "I don’t know. I mean, maybe, I suppose. Maybe if I ever get myself straightened out. I can’t imagine anyone would trust me to have children. I have absolutely no model to base healthy child-rearing on."

"You know how to love," he tells me.

"You're so sure?"

"I'm so sure." The words are fired back without pause or consideration. "Draco. I'm sure."

"That's what's keeping you around?" I don’t mind if it is, but it is a little worrying. I don’t trust him enough for his surety to override mine just yet.

"It's more complicated than that."

I laugh. It isn't funny, but at the same time, isn't everything? "Fair enough."

"And because I know how to love," he slips in while I am still chuckling. "Because I'm falling in love with you," and that is said in the clear, as I've already been shocked into paying attention.

"Oh." Shit.

"Just keep driving," he instructs.

I keep both hands on the wheel.


New Orleans smells of heat and cheap liquor. It's past midnight when we pull into the parking lot of the bed and breakfast we have reservations for, but the streets are still alive, lit and filled with people and bottles. Somehow, it fits.

Ron and I set our stuff in the room. We've barely straightened up when he suggests, "Let me buy you a drink."

I could suspect that he wants me drunk and pliable. I could remind him that he's owed me one since that night in Lanzhou. I could say, no, I'm tired. I stand up, "The good stuff?"

He grins, "I hope you know the difference."

It's the first time in quite awhile that I'm glad for having always listened to Father. When I want to be, I can be the Western Hemisphere's most finely cultivated sybarite.

We find a bar with too much smoke and a three-person band strumming out some slow-slow jazz. There's a couple dancing in between tables, the woman leaning heavily against a man only inches taller than her. Ron finds us a corner booth, scooting in and shoving the wine list my way. I pick one long before a somewhat harried looking waiter scuttles toward us, apologizing for the wait and looking annoyed that we've bothered him all at once. I ask a few cellar-related questions before ordering a bottle and his expression softens, either impressed by my knowledge or aware that we mean decent tip money.

The wine arrives quicker than I would have expected given the wait for service in the first place, and I suspect it is the tip he's after.

I pour a glass for each of us and knock Ron's hand away from the flute of the glasses. "Let it breathe."

"Dogs and plants need to breath, Draco, not wines."

I consider asking him if he was raised by wolves, but Molly Weasley has been sending me care packages since the first time Ron and I went on a date, and I can't bring myself to impugn her, even indirectly. "It was a plant at one time."

This reasoning seems to work for him, as he leaves the glass alone. I put my hand on his shoulder casually, tapping out the rhythm of the song being played. Tap, 1,2,3,4, tap, and so forth. When the song ends, I delicately take his glass between my fingers and hold it to his lips. He opens obediently, swallowing as I tip the rim of the glass back slightly. I straighten it, pulling it away. "So?"

He licks his lower lip. "It tastes good," he shrugs, "What do you want to know?"

I shake my head fondly and take a sip out of my own glass. Fruity and smooth, as I had hoped.

It takes a glass and a half for me to do what I want, what I think he wants, what I know he deserves. He is not drinking as quickly as I am, more interested in the crowd and the musician's instruments and the décor of the place, but when I lean forward, flicking my tongue over his lips in lieu of requesting admission he tastes familiar. Fruity and smooth.

He grants permission with a small gasp. I take it, swiping my tongue gently against his, pulling back, giving him time to make the next move. He tilts his head and fits his lips more securely against mine.

His lips are perfect. I've never much thought about lips before. Kissing, when I did it, was something I was getting paid for, another part of the job, a more or less innocuous part. Unless the john's breath stank, or he bit my tongue, or slobbered in my mouth, I could zone out during a making out session. I appreciated kissing for the escape it allowed me, if not much else.

His breath carries hints of grapes and sugar, though, and his lips are resting softly against mine. He is still, letting me take the lead. I wish, briefly, that I hadn't tuned out so many of those sessions, that I had paid enough attention to know what will please him right now. I hesitate for so long that he senses it and drags his lips lightly along my cheekbone to my ear, where he whispers, "Anything, baby. Just show me what you want."

"I…" I'm not used to that. I'm not even sure I understand it. What I want has always been irrelevant. I blank out these thoughts and try to take everything one step at a time. What do I want?

I reach up and untie the floppy, loose bow that he uses to keep his hair from whipping about. I run my fingers through the loosened hair gently, not wanting to catch any snarls and hurt him. He twists his face and plants a kiss on the inside of my arm. I cup the base of his skull in my palm and pull him toward me with only enough force to signal in which direction I wish him to move. He comes willingly.

I kiss the corner of his mouth, reveling in the fullness of his lips, their warmth. Enjoying myself, I plant tiny kisses all along his lips until I am at the opposite corner of where I started. His, "Draco," sounds like a demand.

I listen, parting his lips with mine, drawing his tongue into my territory, savoring the feel of it against my own. He is panting now and the heat is almost too much to bear, our body temperatures spiking in arousal, mixing with the late evening heat of Dixie Land. I want to take it in to me, hoard it for myself.

He lets me play, set the pace, until he can stand it no more and tugs insistently on my hips, bringing me closer into him. His teeth are suddenly part of the action, scraping my tongue just enough to heighten sensation. He kisses the way he lives, with utter delight and enthusiasm. It should make everything sloppy and unappealing and maybe it would if it wasn't him. Maybe it would if he wasn't brave enough to say things I was taught Malfoys don’t say. Maybe it would if I didn't want to say those things back. Maybe.

But I doubt it.

The waiter catches us when he comes around to see if we need another bottle. I spring away from Ron at his, "Is everything- oh. Sorry." but Ron holds my hips, meeting the waiter's eyes, fiercely confident and not a bit ashamed.

I settle enough to stay still. The waiter isn’t stammering or looking away and it hits me that we're probably not the first couple he's caught this way. A voice I don't recognize orders a bottle of the same vintage to go.

As the waiter walks away, I realize the voice is mine.


We go on a walking tour of the French Quarter in the morning, when the heat hasn't reached its zenith and breathing doesn't yet take too much effort. Our guide is a female college student who has quite obviously taken in too much coffee for her own good. That, and the fact that she evidently has an encyclopedic memory for random trivia make the tour a memorable experience.

Ron wants to try Creole food so we check out a restaurant that the lady at the front desk of the B&B recommended. Two bites in and we know why every table in the place sports a pitcher of ice water. Even so, we both end up eating too much and are forced to sit there, holding in groans until the worst of our desire to throw up has passed. When it has, Ron's chipper, "Ice cream?" almost sends me running to the bathroom.

I make him wait an hour before we hit the old-fashioned parlour two doors down. It only makes the simplest of flavors, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, coffee, but the basic ingredients are all fresh and the frozen treat is made on the premises daily. I have to step away from Ron, as even a foot from him, my desire to know what creamy strawberry cold tastes like on his tongue is overpowering. He sniggers knowingly.

I stick my somewhat numb tongue at him.

He just smiles appreciatively. Bastard. Sexy, sweet bastard.

We pack up and head out by mid-afternoon, beginning to make our way westward again. Our next destination is too far to make it by nightfall, so we stop when my eyes are too tired to keep up with the ever darkening road. I have been jotting notes to Persephone at every few stops, waiting for her quickly scribbled replies upon Prometheus's return. He comes to the window as Ron and I are dressing for bed and I let him in.

He hops onto my right shoulder, his favorite resting spot, and pecks gently at my cheek by way of "hello." I ruffle the feathers on his back. "Hey."

I reach up to untie the message. "I read a book on glaciers once," it reads. My shock knows no limit. "Fascinating. I want to see the ones in the Arctic." The girl does nothing by halves, I'll giver her that. "Glad you enjoyed, Persephone."

A little more surprising is the post note, written in precise hand: "Take care of yourself. Snape."

It’s the first thing he's communicated to me since I left. I'm not entirely sure that he was ever mad, but I feel forgiven. It's getting to be a strangely familiar feeling.

Despite the hour, I take my time writing back. Ron is a perfect traveling companion and quite often a surprisingly accomplished conversationalist, but Persephone is as much a best friend as I've ever had, and that's exactly what I need at the moment.


Denver is beautiful. It's almost like being inside a mountain. A really big one with a city built up in it, but still, a mountain. We didn't spend much time there, just stayed to rest after Montana and the drive down. We went to a movie. Ron bought me popcorn.

I like the river running through St. Louis. It's different than the Thames. Just as touristy, but a little less modern in some ways. Muggles are very fast moving, but the river has its own pace. Ron and I saw it from up in the arch, the one in all those pictures we saw on the computer. The arch moves with the wind.

New Orleans is interesting. It's even more atmospheric than you would guess from the pictures.

Your best friend has gotten it in his head to be fond of me. I am not sure that I can dissuade him. Have been acting rather contrary to that interest, in fact. I thought you might have some advice.

Check in on Rose and Liao for me, please. Draco

P.S. Am eating all of my vegetables and getting enough sleep. Promise.

I fold the paper up and tie it to Prometheus's leg, offering, "Wanna stay tonight?"

He speaks to me in a spattering of unintelligible bird sounds before flying around the room, trying to find the right spot. The spot, as it turns out, is on my headboard. I get into bed, pulling the covers over me. Ron has thrown his off, having slept through my letter writing and the conversation with Prometheus.

His back is to me, broad and eerily white in the darkness. There are marks that I can't see from this distance, small mementos of curses not well-enough dodged. I clutch my fingers tightly around Gawain, resisting the temptation to join him, understand those marks by more than sight.

Contrary, indeed.


The river that runs through San Antonio is merchandised ruthlessly, flanked by shops and restaurants, surrounded by signs and advertisements. Despite this, I am charmed by it, perhaps even more so than the one in St. Louis.

By late afternoon the Riverwalk is less crowded, the heat being too intense for most people to bother. Ron and I make our way along it, me enjoying the heat, him enjoying the architecture of rocks and plants, designed to give the place a sense of being nature-driven while at the same time allowing it to be completely controlled by man.

We stop at a coffee shop sandwiched in between two dress boutiques. I treat us to strawberry sodas. I have discovered a love of all things red in Ron, starting with my car, passing through raspberries and continuing with the gingham dress that Nell wears whenever the weather is warm enough to permit.

Ron buys himself the tackiest shirt I have ever seen, loudly proclaiming, "San Antonio is for Lovers".

I roll my eyes at him. "Is that a hint?"

"A hint is when I press you up against the door of this place and have my sweet way with you. This," he puts the shirt up against his chest, "is innuendo."

We have dinner at a Mexican restaurant that smells strongly of fresh tomatoes and more faintly of cinnamon. One look at the menu and I lean over, "Um, this make any sense to you?"

It doesn't, so we end up asking our waiter for suggestions. He evidently knows what he's talking about, because we can't stop eating. We agree to the sopapillas for dessert even knowing we should have stopped before finishing our dinners.

They're light and crisp and so slightly cinnamon sweet in our mouths that it seems worth the stomach ache that comes in their wake.

Back in the hotel room, Ron searches for somewhere to stuff his new shirt while I get to know the view. We are not directly on the river, but we're close, and high enough up that I can see the reflected lights, seemingly floating downstream.

I turn away and crawl into the bed that Ron has clearly chosen, as his pajamas and dirty clothes are strewn all over its surface. He gives up on finding somewhere for the shirt and mutters a shrinking spell. He always does magic quietly around me, as though embarrassed that he still can. I'm not entirely sure if I think it sweet or annoying.

He finds me in his bed and blinks. "Oh, all right. I'll just take this other one."

"Ron." I pin him with a look that most assuredly would have been followed by an insult when we were in school.


"This is a hint."

"Oh." His cheeks flush slightly, from nerves or excitement, I'm not quite sure. Quickly, as though I might change my mind, he pulls himself into his pajama pants and lifts up the covers, depositing himself on the edge of the bed.

I pull him in closer. "I won't have you falling off." I snuggle my head into his neck, and throw an arm over his bare torso.

Slowly, waiting for me to make a noise or a movement of rejection, he drapes his arm over my shoulders. When I stay still, he tightens the hold, just tight enough for it to feel like protection. I fall asleep to the twin comforts of his heat and his heartbeat.


The Gulf of Mexico stays with us, sometimes blue and sometimes not, as we make our way back, continually following the setting sun. We hole up for a night in El Paso, changing our reservation so that we can have a king-size bed and hold each other all night without losing Ron or me to the floor several times, as was the result of the double-sharing experiment.

We are late getting out of there, as Ron takes the event of us brushing our teeth side-by-side as an opportunity to instigate a thorough round of morning snogging. Thankfully, we both brush our teeth before we shower.

Given the need, and the time, I let him coax me inside the shower with him. He doesn't ask to wash me, nor I him, just passes the soap when he is done with it and makes sure that the water is hot enough for me. I lie and tell him it is. I know how to compromise.

I'm fiddling with the car's air conditioning vents, trying to aim everything his way when he diverts my attention, "I'm not really ready to go back."

I shove the vent harder than I intended, but it stops blowing on me, so I take my hand away. "I miss people. And Addy threatened to redecorate if I didn't come home soon enough."

"That wasn't exactly what I meant." He puts his hand to his forehead and rubs.

I'm not following. "We can do this again, there's a million places we haven't gone yet. And when we've finished America, though that seems rather far off, we can borrow Nell's auto and do Europe."

"Nell's auto is a death trap, she says so herself."

"So I'll buy her a new car and give it to her ever-so-slightly used." I have a feeling I'm no closer to understanding than I was when this started.

"It's…I didn't plan. I didn’t plan on the fact that I would get used to being around you all the time. That I would want to know your opinion on everything. I forgot how I used to feel that way with Harry, that summers were impossible while he wasn't around. I mean, it was different then, because, well, Harry-"

Snape's words about remembering who I was wrap themselves around my throat and squeeze. "You're not that boy anymore."

"No, which is why I know how real this is. Draco, just because I haven’t slept around a lot doesn't mean I haven't been interested in people. I dated one of the guys up in the Magical Creatures department, and crushed on a graduated Hufflepuff who came back at Dumbledore's request to help the Order, and fooled around with Lee Jordan. I haven't cared about anyone's opinion -- I mean, aside from family and friends close enough to be family -- since Harry. Since the war. I'm really pretty good at taking care of myself and at knowing myself. But you throw that."

I am reading the signs above the highway, small one-gas-station-town exits being announced willy nilly, to try and straighten my thoughts. It isn't working.

"It's not bad. I'm not co-dependent. If you said, 'I need some time away from you and your odd habits' I would say, 'all right' and go away. I'd miss you, but I'd do it. I just would prefer not to. You make things more fun. I'm never…I say things around you that I don’t say around anyone else and you never laugh at the wrong times."

"I don’t laugh much at all." Something he has been trying his hardest to remedy.


"I don’t want you to be far away, either." I'm breathing harder than I was after that first kiss.

"I told you," he repeats himself by way of emphasis, "I told you, that time on the broom, I told you all you had to do was ask."

If I started asking, I'm not sure I would ever stop. "I can’t always… Don’t you get that you're going to have to do most of the work here?"

He laughs at that. "We need a hint system."

Some of my frustration drains away, "A hint system?"

"Like, I don’t know, if you want me to make the first move, blink twice."

"There's a lot of room for things to go wrong with that system," I point out. "I mean, what happens when my eyes are dry?"

"We'll find a system unaffected by mountain-area weather patterns. We're smart, between the two of us, I bet we could do it."

Good that one of us has confidence in both of us. "Maybe you should just do what you want to do when you want to do it."

"Maybe not," he replies, clearly horrified by the thought.

"I can say no," I clarify. "Actually, I think I might be good at it with you."


I smirk at his exaggerated petulance. "I meant that I trust you to listen."

He blushes. "Oh. I like listening to you."

"That's really all the signal we need, then, isn't it?"

"No?" he asks.

"No," I verify.

He chants the word happily until I flip on the radio in order to hear someone who isn’t tone deaf sing.


As Persephone knows the time I am planning on returning, I am not surprised to hear her voice coming from the dining room upon unlocking my back door and stepping into my house for the first time in nearly three weeks. I am surprised by all the voices I don't know.

Behind me, Ron makes a sound suspiciously close to a squeak before articulating, "Mum!" and running toward the voices.

I follow a bit more slowly, pretending my speed has nothing to do with apprehension. I hang out of sight for a moment, even as I hear Molly Weasley exclaim over her son and Persephone ask, "Where's the tour guide?"

Taking a deep breath, I step into the room, immediately aware that every Weasley still alive is eyeing me. The twins are wearing matching jumpers with optical illusions that make my eyes hurt. Beyond that, they are exactly as I remember them, identical and strongly reminiscent of sharp happiness.

Bill is tanned and rugged, but the look is ruined by the small child dangling from his side, kept there by one nicely-muscled arm. The child -- Ron's told me her name but I can't remember -- is clinging tightly to her father's neck as though terrified. Bill, in what has to count as cosmic irony, survived the war and married Professor Sinistra's younger sister, whom he'd barely known in school but fell in love with while they were working in the Order together. His wife and he had the child a year before she was killed in the line of Duty, working as an Auror.

Ginny, who I just remember as a rather lithe but sometimes boyish little girl, has grown into a quiet beauty, nothing startling, but not particularly easy to overlook either. According to Ron she is the silent partner of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, the one who handles the books and the advertisements and all the details that make the operation a true success. She is doing the best out of all of them at pretending that I haven't entered the room, carrying on a rather raunchy conversation with Snape, who looks disgusted at himself for actually being engaged.

Molly is standing in between Nell and Potter, holding Ron to her so forcefully I'm afraid he'll suffocate. Potter evidently senses the danger as well, as he asks to borrow Ron for a moment. Persephone makes her way to me and gathers me up in a hug that probably feels a lot like Molly's did, only without the layers of padding. Funny to have once been transformed into a ferret for insulting something that I now find rather comforting.

Persephone whispers, "Keep on being contrary," and lets go.

I nod politely, if a bit sharply, at Snape. He nods back, the hint of a smile on his face. I quirk my own lips and turn away. Wouldn't want him overdoing it.

Ron has struggled free of the twins, who stole him away from Potter. He takes my hand so as to lead me over to Molly. "Mum, this is Draco Malfoy, my boyfriend."

Molly meets my eyes without saying a word. I blink first, but it doesn't seem to bother her. After a bit, she nods, looking astoundingly like Snape. "Hello, Draco."


"Mum," she corrects. "If it isn’t a bother."

I shake my head slightly, "'Course not."

She smiles at me then, the skin around her eyes crinkling and her teeth quaintly crooked. She pulls me to her and I go without bothering to resist, marveling at how similar her hugs are to Ron's and how completely different, all at once. Ginny breaks the hug, announcing, "Maddy's going to riot if we don't sit down."

The minute we're all seated I see why, as Addy and Maddy have put together a bigger meal than I can remember ever gracing the tables at Hogwarts. I almost choke on the pudding I've just swallowed when Nymphadora Tonks and Etien Lestrange tumble out of my fireplace.

Tonks grins at me like we aren't long-estranged family who were supposedly fighting on opposite sides of a war, "Sorry we're late!" and sits on George's lap, as though there aren't extra seats to be had. I should've found the empty seats odd, probably would've if I hadn't been so busy trying to make a good impression. If Ron wasn't so thrilled to see his family I would probably be taking him aside to explain about good and bad vetting times. Only, I get the feeling that their presence is more about the fact that they haven't seen him in over three weeks and less about the fact that he spent those three weeks with me. Which makes me…happy. The feeling is so simple, I almost miss it.

Etien comes around to my side of the table, standing behind my seat until I rise to face him. He sticks out his hand. Etien is my second cousin. He's two years older than me. We used to play as children, but he was sent to Beauxbatons and we didn't see much of each other after that. I had heard rumors that some of Madame Maxine's protégés had helped out in the Order, but Etien never came to mind. He had been so family oriented when I knew him. So pureblood. Then again, so had I.

I shake his hand. He whispers, "A bit overwhelming at first, isn't it?"

"Is that an attempt at understatement?"

He hugs me to him quickly, so quickly that I feel a bit dizzy when he lets go and crosses the table again to sit next to Ginny. I sit down and begin eating again. More slowly this time, in case anyone else that I'm unaware of has access to my floo.

Ron puts his hand on my knee underneath the table, Potter laughs at something Snape has said, Persephone passes me the potatoes, which she knows are my favorite thing on the table. For the first time since I've moved into the house, I think that the mat on the front stoop that declares this place home might be on to something.


Bill finds his daughter -- whose name I have deduced is Linora, mostly from listening to other family members call her that all evening -- asleep with one half her body draped over Ron, the other half over me. Her skin is ridiculously soft and I can't keep from stroking up and down her legs. Earlier, she was almost frightening, climbing determinedly up onto the couch and looking at me with eyes as serious as those of her grandmother. I must have passed the test though, because she laid her head down on Ron's lap and propped her feet up in mine and promptly passed out.

Bill pops his head into the living room, when he is ready to leave calling, "Lin?"

Ron speaks up, "She's out, Bill. You have to come get her."

Bill walks over, bending down to tousle her hair and drag her up into his arms. He tousles my hair in a faint echo of his actions the second before, "She likes you."

With that, he leaves. Tonks, having transplanted herself and George from the dining room to the living room while not losing her place on top of him, confides, "Linora's his sneakoscope."

That explains how I passed his test. "Does she work?"

"Almost as well as Fawkes," Etien says.

I don't doubt that is who told Dumbledore that Etien could be trusted. The bird obviously knows its stuff, as I would never have allowed him to take part, and yet I'm sure his infiltration was incredibly important. I will have to ask Persephone.

"I'm going to cajole some hot chocolate out of Addy, anybody want anything?" I get varying degrees of 'are you insane' written across each of their faces. It's rather warm outside. "No? All right." I leave Ron to catch up with his siblings.

Nell, Potter and Persephone are still at the table, talking about road bumps the Ministry is putting in the way of certain decisions Persephone has made in regards to the museum. I detour long enough to squeeze her shoulders and continue on my way to the kitchen.

Addy and Maddy are loading up the dishwasher that Persephone introduced me to the idea of and I talked them into accepting. It is their new best friend. Molly is watching, half interested, half suspicious. The conversation between her and Snape falters when I walk into the room. "I just came for a hot chocolate, you can carry on in a moment."

Snape's eyes flicker with the tiniest bit of embarrassment. "Liao and Rose are both anxious to have you back."

When I sent that note, I expected Persephone to take care of speaking to them. It makes sense, though. It would give him an excuse to speak to people outside of Persephone who claim variations on his type of expertise and knowledge. That is probably rare. "I'm looking forward to seeing both of them."

I find myself a cup and begin to heat water in the tiny, automatic teapot Ron bought me as a housewarming gift. Two months after I had moved in. It's my favorite kitchen appliance.

Molly frowns. "I thought you wanted hot chocolate."

I open up the drawer nearest where I stow the teapot and pull out the appropriate packet from among dozens. "Muggles make it instantly."

She makes a sound with her tongue and takes the packet away from me, shoving it back in the drawer. Addy, who agrees with Molly on this issue and fights me about it regularly, supplies a pot and pitcher of milk. I mentally wave a white flag, sitting on a stool and watching as Molly stirs the heating milk, waiting to add the cocoa. Snape smiles fondly at Molly's back, warning me with his eyes that I'm not to tell her.

I think she knows.

When she's finished, she hands me the cup. I press it in between my hands until the burn is too intense to sustain my grip. "Thanks."

"Thank you for bringing him back safely," she murmurs.

"If anything," I counter, "it was the other way around."

"I didn't mean from the trip." She sweeps out of the kitchen before I have time to figure her words out.

Snape helps. "Fred and Ron, they've both been a bit reticent on the subject of companionship since the end of the war."

"Ron went after me," I argue, a little turned around. He knows this. "He was the one-"

"Because you brought him back," Snape interrupts.

I don’t remember doing anything, but Snape is not one to give accolades where undue. "We must've made that trip together, with nobody watching the road."

Snape reaches out and takes a sip of the hot chocolate before I can stop him or say, "sure, please." He grimaces. "You always liked things too sweet."

He wanders off to listen to his wife rant about bureaucracy. I finish my drink.


Ginny and Etien are the last to leave, Ginny kissing my cheek and proposing, "Double date, all right? We'll trade dirty secrets about the boys while they aren't paying attention."

Lightly, I kiss her back. "Just tell me when."

Etien clasps my hand once again before ducking into the fireplace, Ginny a step behind him. It is silent for a long moment after they are both gone. I realize Ron is waiting for something from me. "I suppose," I bite my lip, letting it slip free slowly, "that once you've accepted a Lestrange into the family, a Malfoy is only a tiny step further toward the dark."

He's having none of it. "If I married you and gave you my last name would you get over this inferiority complex of yours?"

"We could try it and see."

He goes still. I start to say, "I was just kidding," but he intercepts my words with, "One of these days."

"There's quite a few steps we'd be skipping," I mutter when I feel that I can speak at all.

"C'mere," he crooks the fingers of his right hand at me a bit imperiously, utterly confident.

It's all I can do not to crawl to him. He is leaning, nearly sitting, against the back of my couch and he pulls me into the spread of his legs. I tug at his earlobe gently with my teeth. "You wanted something?"

Without answering, he twists us so that I am up against the couch. He places both my hands on either side of me, flush against the top of the couch, bracing me. "I wanna do something," he asks, for it is a question, however well disguised.

I would allow him anything, but I sense that isn't what he wants of me. "What?"

He opens my mouth with his and sucks on my tongue, a fairly good imitation of what I suspect he is after. He pulls back. "All right?"

I unhook the button on my jeans. He slides to his knees and does the rest of the work, pulling the jeans and my shorts just low enough that he has access. As an added bonus, it confines my movement. I'm pretty sure he knows this.

I had clients who liked to blow me. Not many, but enough to know what it feels like. Enough to know from more than just having done it that the act of fellatio is one of worship. Nobody sticks something in their mouth if they don’t plan on enjoying it. At least not without getting paid.

Even so, his mouth is different. His is careful with his teeth and sure with his tongue and his fingers hold at my waist but never pinch or claw. He teases but doesn't torture. He swallows but doesn't worry about being neat or thorough. When he's done, he doesn't back away to take care of himself, stare at me with suspicion or pelt hateful epitaphs at me.

He rises up to his feet, rubs against me and asks, "Do you mind?"

I nod, because I do. He backs off. That's different.

"Let me," I offer, unsnapping the clasp on his trousers. He doesn’t have the couch to hold him up, so I bring him down to the floor with me, gently laying him on his back. I pull his pants just as low as he pulled mine and go to work. Only it’s not work. I find that he's ticklish on the skin of his abdomen as he squirms and giggles at my touch, so I pet him some more before dipping down, taking him all in one go, laughing as much as I can at his scream of surprise.

There is an element of control necessary in all magic. It thrums through the person casting the spell like a musical note played too loudly. There is an equal loss of control, a quick feeling of sliding down a long shute, unsure of where one will land. Until now, I have never equated the give and take of power within sex to those feelings. At this moment, though, I can compare them to nothing else.

His, "holy shit, Draco," is surprisingly hot. I've heard it before, not like that, but the sentiment is known to me. I'm quite good at this. For the first time in my life, it seems like something of which I should be proud.

I swallow as he screams and pants some more, crawling up him and licking my lips in self-satisfaction. He breathes, "wow."

"Bed?" I suggest. "Before we can't move?"

"It's too late for me," he laments. "Leave me, I'll only slow you down."

He does, too. It's a nice change of pace.


I present the gift to Liao first thing, because she's looking at me with such abject pleasure at my return that I have no other response. "Huckleberry tea, a natural product of Montana's wild huckleberry growth," I read to her from the box. She can't read English.

"Heathen tea," she returns, but takes the box readily enough.

I tell her to, "Try it," even though I know she will. "It's good."

She makes her way to the front of the store and reverses the open sign to its closed position.

"Why are we closed?" I want to know.

"Because business is good enough that we can be." She walks toward the back, past the shop and into her rooms. "And I want to have tea with you."

Business has been a bit more steady since the incident with Farmer's Sickness, as the locals have taken to calling what, after reading a few of Persephone's books, I have to believe was pesticide poisoning. I get two cups out as she is heating the water. I push her into a chair, "I'll get it when it boils."

True to my word, I pour the water and spoon a bit of the tea leaves into her strainer. I let her steep with it first. She finishes, handing it to me, "You look exhausted."

"Not in a bad way," I acknowledge her truth.

"There is only one good way to be exhausted," she states.

I burn my tongue by drinking too quickly. "Well."

She smiles over the rim of her teacup. "Severus thinks of you as his son, so it cannot be him."

"He lets you call him Severus?"

She shakes her head. "With that one, it's not so much a matter of allowance as doing something until he comes to accept."

Given his and Persephone's courtship, I take this as a highly perceptive way of understanding Snape. "No, it's not him."

"Not the Healer, either," she muses. "Not your type." She is speaking of Rose, whom she has met several times and plots endlessly with toward the goal of my well-being. Cooperative efforts aside, I sense she thinks of Rose as a daughter in a rather non-condescending way.

"No," I agree.

"Hint," she demands.

"He trusts my words," I give her, hoping she will hear the twist on one of the first things I ever told her about him.

"The Red Devil?"

Enjoying the look of subtle surprise on her face, I nod, "Indeed."

She recovers quickly. "Is he red everywhere?"

Luckily, I have gotten used to this streak of licentiousness in Liao and am therefore prepared to come back, "All the parts that count."

She digests this before reaching out, holding my chin between her fingers so that I cannot look away. "He respects you?"

"Sometimes more than I do myself."

She is not impressed. "Hardly difficult."

True. Fair. "He loves me." I whisper it, despite my intentions to just say it, short and factual.

That gets her attention. "With his words as well as his actions?"

"With everything."

"And you, Devil?" She cajoles. "What do you love him with?"

I look directly into her eyes, something I have avoided doing even caught in her grip. "This." I don’t blink. "This."


It is the blood traitor who figures me out at last, cornering me against the wall of my own bedroom and asking, "All right, Draco?"

So maybe he doesn’t corner me. Maybe he kisses me until I'm leaning against the wall for support of my own volition. Maybe I steal a kiss of my own and mutter, "Long day. You?"

Maybe he slips his hand just beneath the waist of my jeans, mumbling, "I missed you."

Without any thought to grace I arch up, pressing my pelvic bone insistently against his palm. I bring my hand around to the small of his back, just a bit under the hem of his shirt, connecting us. The connection isn't broken for quite some time.

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