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This chapter, like the last one, contains character death and may require tissues. Warning also for some nasty images in early portions. Thank you.

Fred leaned out of cover in the small alley to fire a spell that sent two masked figures tumbling end over end down the street. "Just like de-gnoming the garden!" he called cheerily. "Except Death Eaters don't holler 'Gerroff me!'"

"Are you saying we need an extra-large jarvey?" Danielle shielded the little group against spellfire from across the street. "Or maybe a supersized kneazle?"

"We could always feed Crookshanks Skele-Gro," suggested Ron, pitching his voice high and letting it slide down the scale. "Meow…meow…MEOW!"

The final sound, delivered in a booming bass, triggered a round of laughter, while Percy took over the Shield Charm from Danielle. As it faded, Fred looked around, his expression puzzled, as though someone had called his name in a voice no one else could hear. He opened his mouth, perhaps meaning to ask a question.

Then his eyes widened in shock and a rending, disbelieving sorrow, and he crumpled where he stood, just as the scream rose over Hogsmeade.

Percy was running before he was fully aware what he was doing. "Stay with him!" he shouted over his shoulder to Ron and Danielle. "Don't leave him alone!"

Alone.

The word beat into his brain as he dodged Death Eater spells, though there were fewer of them on the streets than there had been. Too, those who were still there seemed to be running either towards something to his right, or away from something in front of him…

He skidded to a halt around the corner from Madam Puddifoot's. The cry of grief he'd been following, as he'd already known on a level too deep for conscious thought, was centered here, on this street. From this, the Death Eaters had fled, those lucky enough to be able to do so.

I have to do this alone. No one else would be safe.

Casting a strong shield around himself and drawing a deep breath, Percy stepped around the corner.

A snarl, barely human, racked his ears as a splatter of crimson potion bounced off his shield. "Stay back," hissed the slender person crouched in the entranceway of the tea shop, her short blonde hair matted against her head with sweat, her teeth bared in a grimace which ought to have looked ridiculous and was instead terrifying. "Stay back!"

"Crystal." Percy kept his gaze focused on the contorted face, away from the motionless figure sprawled on the ground beside her with its shock of hair as red as his own, away from the nameless substance covering the street in front of her. Away from the remnants of black and white cloth floating on the surface of that substance. "Crystal, it's Percy. You know me." Sparing one instant to hope his mother would have no more reasons to mourn tonight, he dropped his shield. "You helped me once, when I was frightened and confused. When I didn't know what to do." He took a single step forward, holding out his hand. "Let me help you now."

Crystal quivered once in place. Then, slowly, she lowered her potion piece until its muzzle was pointed at the stoop beneath her feet, her knees and shoulders both beginning to shake.

Percy whisked a walkway into existence with one sweep of his wand and was by Crystal's side before she could fall, drawing her against him, holding her to offer what comfort he could, though his own breath shuddered in his chest as he looked down at what he hadn't wanted to acknowledge he already knew.

Wand still gripped tightly in his right hand, an expression of fierce determination frozen on his face, George lay silent and still at Percy's feet.

A soft sound from the shop brought Percy's head around. A middle-aged witch was peering out the door, her eyes wide. "Are they gone?" she whispered. "I wanted to help, but great Merlin, these girls, they're frightened nearly out of their minds—I had to keep them calm, if they'd started screaming or even tried to run away—"

"It's all right," said Percy, drawing on his every bit of Ministry experience in telling believable lies. "You did what was best. Did you see what happened?"

"They were…" The witch fluttered one hand. "They were astonishing. So quick, so sure. The young man, he took down at least three of them before…" She glanced from George's body to Percy, noting the resemblance. "I'm so sorry. Is he—"

"My brother." The words seemed to tear at Percy's throat as he spoke them. He noted with mild, distant surprise that they emerged sounding vaguely normal. "And after he…fell?"

"The young lady started to scream." The witch gave Crystal a sidelong look which mingled fear and respect. "She changed something on…that," a darting finger indicated the potion piece still dangling from Crystal's hand, "and began to spray whatever was inside it all around. And then…" Her mouth worked a few times, but nothing came out. She settled for waving her hand in the direction of the street.

"I see." Percy turned to survey the viscous puddles left behind by the red cartridge of Crystal's potion piece. Clearly they had once been precisely delineated, each the remains of a single human body, but even the few moments between the end of Crystal's rampage and his own arrival had been enough to let them flow together at the edges until it was hard to tell where one ended and another began. Still, the divisions between the swathes of black topped with white were clear enough.

George Weasley and Crystal Huley, between them, had accounted for seven Death Eaters.

The witch had turned back towards the tea shop's interior, calling an answer to a question in a wavering little-girl voice. The street was, for the moment, deserted.

Percy made up his mind.

The Death Eaters were frightened by the screaming of the young lady, he thought clearly, drawing his wand. And by the ferocity with which she and her companion had already defended this place. They snatched up their fallen ones and ran away like the cowards they are.

Lining up his wand with the witch's head, he whispered a single word.

The witch jerked slightly, then turned to him with a small, dreamy smile. "Do you think it's over now?" she inquired. "It's gone so quiet."

"Yes," Percy said, directing the word mostly at the blonde head still buried against the shoulder of his robes. "Yes, I do think it's over."

Turning so as to block the witch's view of the street, he swept his wand in a careful circle. Evanesco, he intoned mentally, and released a silent breath as the gruesome scene disappeared.

The less direct evidence the Death Eaters, and certain parties in the Ministry, could obtain about the true capabilities of a potion piece in trained hands, the better.

Besides, nothing was more frightening than a mystery.

His momentary smile at the Death Eaters' discomfiture with their lack of knowledge about their companions' fates disappeared as he looked again at the body lying beside his feet.

George was protecting others, he tried to remind himself, fighting for what he believed in. This is the way he would have wanted it.

Someday, he thought, that knowledge might help. A little.

"May I use your Floo?" he asked quietly.


Harry shut the door on one of the small cubicles Dumbledore had charmed for Horcrux storage with a grateful sigh. The spells he'd used to hold off the usual discomfort he felt around the receptacles of Voldemort's soul-shards had been eroding badly within the last few minutes.

"Thanks for carrying it this last bit of the way," he said over his shoulder to Hermione.

"Don't mention it." Hermione's voice was chill. "Which is going to be our problem, isn't it?"

"What?" Harry turned to look at his sister. "I don't understand."

"We can't mention it, Harry." A circular motion of Hermione's fingers around her mouth signified the Tongue-Tying Jinx. "Where we were, or what we were doing tonight. Which means we can't explain it. Not to anyone who doesn't already know."

"But everyone who needs to know already does," Harry began, though a trickle of worry at the back of his mind told him this might not be accurate.

"Do they?" Hermione glanced towards the fireplace of the Head's office, towards the carved sidepiece through which Harry had once escaped from Dolores Umbridge. "What about the Pack-parents?"

The Pack-parents.

Harry shut his eyes as trickle increased to flood. He'd rather have been back out in the streets of Hogsmeade, facing Death Eaters, than look at Padfoot, at Letha, at Danger and Moony, and explain to them as best he could where he and his siblings had been tonight, and where Draco was right now.

At least, if I were dueling, I'd have a chance of bringing everyone home with me afterwards…

"They know we don't lie about the war," he said into the darkness. "And we weren't just out there for the hell of it, we had something we had to do, and Dumbledore will back us up on that. They won't blame us for this."

I hope.

Even as the thought formed in his mind, his pendants heated against his chest, as though the news he bore had run before him through the silent connections of deep magic—and why hasn't it?

"I'd thought he would have told them not to activate for him," Hermione said distractedly, little jingles of chain and medallions punctuating her words. "He made his choice, there isn't anything we can—" She broke off with a little gasp. "He did, he must have, this isn't—Harry, oh, Harry, it's Ron! Ron and Ginny! Something's happened, something's wrong—"

Harry was three steps closer to the fireplace before his eyes had fully focused. "Thank you, Helga," he said under his breath, and flung himself into the slide as soon as he could squeeze through the opening.

Given the situation currently obtaining in Hogsmeade, he could think of exactly seven reasons why Ron and Ginny might be badly upset.

Why does everything have to happen tonight?


Danger looked around sharply as the door to the Den's bathroom popped open. One of the knots in her chest untied in a rush as Harry shot through, steam rising from his robes, and another released as Hermione followed, breathing hard, eyes already reddened—

A third knot pulled painfully tight. No other form, no sound or scent of a third person, had come with her cubs into their refuge.

Calm, Remus murmured, more to himself than to Danger, we need to stay calm. Shouting at one another solves nothing.

Maybe not, but it would be damn cathartic, Danger retorted, and felt her husband's brief, humorless laugh reverberate through their bond. Harry was by her side now, and nodded his head formally to her before laying his hand on Ginny's shoulder.

Ginny rounded on Harry with a throaty hiss like Lynx in battle rage, but relaxed as soon as she saw who it was. "Did you…" she began.

"Mission accomplished." Harry drew her towards him, and she went unresisting. "Who is it?" he asked, making the question a general one by the angle of his head.

"George Weasley has died," said Remus, his voice carefully set to neutral. Meghan, still sitting in the circle of Neville's arms, sniffled at the reiteration of the news, and Hermione, standing in the doorway to the bathroom, let out a single shuddering sigh but made no other outward sign. "Mission, Harry?"

Harry's shoulders squared themselves, though he still held Ginny cradled against him. Danger swallowed against the import of his scent, a mingling of pain and bittersweet triumph. "Sir," he said, the single syllable evoking a young soldier reporting to his commander. "One month ago today, information was received…" He sighed. "We found out where something was," he said, abandoning the formal style. "Something Voldemort would kill to keep from being found. We—" A jerk of his hand indicated himself, Hermione, and the tangible emptiness where Draco should have stood. "—were the only ones who could get it from where it was hidden, and tonight was the only time we could do it."

"I see." Remus nodded, returning cool for cool. "And was this an official mission, or something you decided to do on your own?"

Though Harry's color rose and his scent spiked with fury, his voice maintained its steadiness. "It was official. Assigned to us by the head of the Order of the Phoenix."

"Very well," Remus said aloud. Internally, his thoughts whirled with an anger matching Harry's. Who does Albus think he is—they may be his students but they're our cubs, damn it—he had no right to send them out without consulting us first—

Didn't he? Danger called up an image from memory. Harry, still pale from the disastrous ending of the third Triwizard task, stood before Dumbledore with his Pride flanking him, wand and dagger laid flat on his palms, held out to the Headmaster in a silent offering of fealty. We understood what he was doing, and we had our chance to stop him then, stop all of them. We didn't.

Remus's only mental response was a wordless growl. "You said your mission was accomplished," he said to Harry, looking pointedly from him to Hermione. "Define your terms, please."

"We got what we went for." Harry's tight hold of Ginny was, Danger realized, as much to comfort himself as her. Luna was standing beside them now, a faint frown on her face as she regarded Hermione. "But one of our team members…" A small smile came to his lips, sad but unmistakably true. "He put the rules in the right order. One and two, then three."

"I beg your pardon?" Remus said aloud, echoing the question silently to Danger, who responded with the mental equivalent of a shrug. "Which rules are these?"

Neville coughed once, drawing everyone's attention. "It was my mum's first lesson with the DA," he said, holding up fingers to count them off. "Number one, keep your friends alive, number two, get what you came for, and number three." He looked from Hermione to Harry before returning his gaze to Remus. "Don't die."

"He might not have had to go," said Hermione, speaking for the first time in a hoarse whisper. Danger winced at the sound of her sister's voice, and at the pain which filled her scent. "It's possible we could have made it back safely without what he did. But we can't be sure—we can't be sure—"

"Yes, you can."

Pride and Pack-parents turned to look at Luna. She was gazing intently at Hermione, her eyes unfocused. "You did right to accept his sacrifice," she said softly. "He did right to make it. There is a spell on you. A locator spell. Placed by someone who wants to make you his. Who wants to own you. And he was coming to do exactly that tonight."

"A spell? On me?" Hermione's voice squeaked into its upper register. "But who would—"

"Malfoy." Harry ground the word out between his teeth. "I thought he was a little too quick."

"Just a moment, please," said Remus, holding up a hand. "Luna, let me be sure I have this correct. Lucius Malfoy had a spell placed on Hermione that would tell him where she was?"

"On both twins." Luna tilted her head slowly from side to side. "As long as nothing stronger interfered. While they were here at Hogwarts, or at Headquarters, the spell was blocked by the wards and charms that keep us safe, and in any in-between times they were always with other people who could help protect them. But when they arrived in Hogsmeade tonight with Harry, coming back from their mission…"

"We heard him," Hermione breathed, her arms wrapped around herself as though she might fly apart if she let go. "We heard him in the street in front of Fred and George's shop, dueling with Draco. I thought it was just luck—bad luck, good luck, who knows? But it wasn't luck at all. He knew we were there."

"And with him being that close already, they'd have caught us if we'd tried to make a run for it all together." Harry's eyes were bleak. "Have I mentioned lately how much I hate being right?"

"Harry." Danger astounded herself by pronouncing her Pack-son's name in a calm and reasonable tone. "What, exactly, were you right about tonight? What happened?"

Harry was taking a breath to answer this when Remus's pocket chimed.


Sirius let out a low whistle as he unmasked one of a pair of bodies which lay entangled on an otherwise empty street, Aletha standing behind him to provide light and keep watch for any lingering ambushers. "Great Merlin, it's Rabastan Lestrange! What's he doing out here? I'd have sworn he thought sweat was poisonous!"

"He was more loyal to his Master than he was to his own comfort," Aletha pointed out. "Not by much, but he was. And he always preferred working alongside family when he could…"

"You think?" Sirius swiftly yanked off the other mask. "Well, well. So my dear cousin Bella's a widow." Tossing down the soiled white cloth onto the body of Rodolphus Lestrange, he got to his feet. "Three guesses how long she'll grieve. And the first two don't count."

"Grieve? She'll probably throw a party." Aletha glanced towards another part of the village. "Someone else is going to be grieving today," she said softly. "Quite a lot of people." She sighed. "Including us."

"Yeah." Sirius swiped at his eyes with his off hand, thoughts of the Weasley twins invading his mind unasked. "Dammit, Letha, what's wrong with them?" he exploded, snapping his wand down towards the crumpled bodies to make his reference clear. "How do you get from 'we want to keep our bloodlines pure'—which makes a little bit of sense, I guess, if you're thinking in terms of not letting things get watered down, even if the strongest magic does keep showing up in Muggleborns, not that they'll ever admit that—but how do you go from there to 'kill everyone who doesn't agree with us'?"

"By not being too picky about whom you recruit." Aletha's voice was flat. "Or about their methods, once you have them." Her hand groped out to one side, and Sirius met it with his own and drew her into a half-hug. She sighed again and leaned against him, and even through his anger and sorrow he managed a smile for this most precious gift of his lifetime.

Well. Except certain small people. A tall, red-haired figure rounded the corner, and Sirius had to reconsider as his first tentative identification of Percy morphed into Ron. Who aren't so very small anymore…

"Are those—" Ron squinted as he got closer, frowning. "Are those the Lestranges?"

"They were." Aletha squeezed Sirius's hand once, then disengaged to sweep her wand in two graceful curves, laying out the bodies in more decorous lines and walking around them to peer at them, free hand on her hip. "Rodolphus isn't marked," she said after a moment. "That probably means the Killing Curse, or some other spell strong enough that his heart was affected. But Rabastan seems to have had his skull bashed in. It's not quite a blunt instrument, there was an angle on whatever hit him, or more likely, whatever he hit—if I had to guess, I'd say it was something like—"

"Corner of a building?" Ron circled the two bodies, giving them a wide berth, and extended his arm, flexing his wrist to bring his wand into his hand. "Like that one?"

Sirius bent to inspect the indicated area. "Given the nasty smears on it, probably," he said, summoning his Auror's detachment, sliding his disgusted shudder into the back of his mind for later. "Have to have been a hell of a powerful hit that sent him into it, though…"

Three seconds too late, the implications of Ron's immediate knowledge sank in.

"Were you defending someone?" Aletha asked, looking levelly at Ron. "Or was it a running fight?"

"Percy." Ron stared at the wand in his hand, then released it, letting it slide back into its holster up his sleeve. "It was Percy, they had him down, two on one…"

Sirius got carefully to his feet, using the time to find the words he wanted and put them in the proper order. His godson's closest friend and soon-to-be brother-in-law deserved the best help Sirius could possibly give.

Even though I know it won't be enough, because it never is.

"You stood up tonight," he said, pulling Ron's attention to him. "You didn't run away, or try to hide, or make up reasons why it wasn't your problem. You stood up and you fought back. And sometimes, a lot of times, that means things happen that take bites out of your heart." His own ghosts, ever watchful, hovered in the back of his mind. "But not doing it takes bigger ones."

"You won't feel like that, today," Aletha added. "You may not feel like it tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that. Because for all you did, there was still loss. And that hurts, and it's going to go on hurting." Sirius could hear experience in her tone, and hoped Ron could as well. "But the only way they win this night is if you let it knock you down and keep you there."

Ron made a pithily profane suggestion about that particular outcome, making Sirius grin and Aletha laugh once. "I'm sure I ought to swat you for that, since your mother isn't here to do it," she said. "But as it happens, I think that's one of the best responses you can have."

"Thanks." Ron looked down at the two bodies. "I'm not sorry," he said after a long moment. "It shook me up, and I felt sort of sick for a while, but I'm not sorry I did it." He looked around at the Blacks uncertainly. "Should I be?"

"That one, you'll have to decide for yourself," said Aletha after a pause during which Sirius manfully repressed several profane responses of his own. "Are you assigned anywhere you need to get back to? Or…"

"Mum's here." Ron looked away again. "But she's got Fleur and Tonks with her, I'd just be in the way. She saw me, she hugged me, she knows I'm alive, so…" He shrugged. "I wanted to keep busy. Help with things."

Not have to sit still and listen to people cry and go over it again and again in my head, Sirius translated. Not have to wonder if I could have changed things if I'd been there too.

"We could use some help clearing this sector," he said casually. "You were through here earlier, you might be able to tell if anything's out of place."

"I wasn't looking all that hard." Ron managed a small smile. "But I can try."

"That'll do just fine." Aletha drew her wand, and motioned for Ron to do the same. Sirius had his out already.

Several uneventful streets later, on the outskirts of the village, they found more evidence of the Death Eaters' passing.

"Shit," Sirius hissed under his breath at the sight of the slender female body in Hogwarts robes, crumpled on its side with one arm outflung and the long hair fallen across the face—the long red hair, as revealed by his hovering light— "Shit, not this, not now—"

"It's not Ginny," Aletha said quickly, forestalling Sirius's rush forward. "She's back at the castle with the other younger ones, Remus confirmed that when he got there. It's someone else."

Sirius exhaled a long sigh of guilty relief. The young witch lying in front of him was still someone's daughter, perhaps someone's sister or fiancée, and whoever they were, they had all his sympathies, but he hoped he could be forgiven for being grateful it wasn't his friends' only daughter, the sister of the boy standing next to him, the girl his godson planned to marry in a few short hours.

But knowing who she isn't doesn't get us any further on finding out who she is.

"Any other gingers in the DA?" he asked Ron. "Older ones, girls?"

"Couple. But I think I know her." Ron edged a few steps to the right, frowning. "She's lying on something," he muttered. "Looks familiar…"

"Who is she, Ron?" Aletha asked patiently.

"Oh. Sorry." Ron shook his head. "Her name's Amanda. Our year, Ravenclaw. She's Muggleborn, her mum got taken with Percy last summer." He glanced back at them. "And we think she might be something to do with Alex's daughter, and with that weird room down by Sanctuary. The one that's sort of like a tomb."

Sirius resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands.

Why are we always the last to hear about everything?

"Muggleborn," Aletha said on the end of a sigh. "God, her poor parents."

"She's got a brother, too," Ron added. "Slytherin. Meghan's year, I think."

"Let's not get ahead of things." Sirius pulled himself back to the moment. "Ron, you're sure that's who she is?"

"Pretty sure. Can't see her face too well, though." Ron grimaced, as though his next words tasted bad, but got them out nonetheless. "She's been dead a little while. She's…her body's cooling down. It's harder for me to see."

"Will it help if her hair is out of the way?" Aletha asked gently.

"Should." Ron shut his eyes and swallowed, but held his ground.

"Sirius?" Aletha slid her wand back and forth between her fingers. "Can I move her, lay her out a little more neatly? I don't think there's much doubt how she died."

"No, there's not." Sirius added a silent malediction on all Death Eaters, doubling it for their leader. "Go ahead."

Aletha's most delicate swish-and-flick levitated the body several inches, turning it until the tangled coppery hair tumbled away from the pale, peaceful face.

Two metallic gleams sparked on the ground thus exposed, one a slim tangle of gold, the other silver and sleekly dangerous.

Sirius swore viciously and yanked his Zippo clear of his pocket. "Remus Lupin," he demanded the instant the green flame appeared, and barely waited for Remus's acknowledgment before snapping out the question most on his mind.

"Moony, where the hell are the cubs?"

Three seconds of silence ensued. Aletha set Amanda Smythe's body on the ground once more, clear of the items she had surely recognized as quickly as Sirius had, and lowered her hands to her side, her face settling into the mask-like lines of utter calm Sirius knew meant his wife in her deepest distress. Ron's breathing had gone shaky, his knuckles were white around two handfuls of his robes, his lips were working as though he were trying not to be sick—

Or not to say a certain few names, maybe? Because once you say it, once you admit it, that's the same as letting it be true…

"Harry and Hermione are here with us," Remus said at last. "Sirius, where are you?"

"Outside Hogsmeade." Sirius weathered his momentary rush of thankfulness by reminding himself, harshly, that there was one name still unspoken, and the silver blade lying on the ground, now that he looked again, could belong only to that person. "There's a girl here, one of the DA. She's dead. And she was lying on top of Draco's pendants, and his dagger. So anytime you want to give me a hint what might be going on here, that'd be just dandy."

A moment of muffled colloquy, beyond the ability of the Zippo flame to pick up. "Stay there," Remus said clearly. "We'll come to you."

"No, wait," Sirius began, but the flame had already flickered and gone out. He swore again, snapping the Zippo shut and returning it to his pocket. "Alphas," he muttered in disgust. "Think they know everything."

Ron was pacing back and forth in short, jerky circuits, cursing under his breath in tones Sirius knew well. You can't be gone. I won't let you be gone. I wasn't finished fighting with you yet…

He could have told the younger wizard that was no guarantee, but refrained.

A surprisingly short time later, a low yowl brought three heads around as a tiny, fast-moving shape materialized out of the night. Hermione burst out of Neenie's form without breaking stride and caught Ron in a fierce, shuddering hug. "I'm so sorry," Sirius heard her whisper. "I wish we could have warned you."

Pearl the doe clattered to a halt and retransformed practically in Aletha's arms, her demiguise passenger sliding to the ground beside her to do the same. Harry and Danger shot upwards from their sleek wolf-selves, and Moony the lion rose onto his back paws to shrink into humanity. Starwing, silent in flight, soared past her Pridemates and landed beside Amanda's body, bending herself forward in what was clearly a respectful bow before twisting into Luna, seated neatly on the ground with her legs tucked in.

"Ginny's with your parents," Remus said in time to forestall the question Ron had been about to ask. "Draco…" Sirius saw the instant of anguish pass over his friend's features. "I believe the proper term is 'missing in action'." His eyes rested on the Pack-pendants. "Though those may be able to tell us more."

Kissing Ron on the cheek, Hermione released him and knelt, sliding her fingers under the pendants gently, then lifting them to cradle them to her chest. Her other hand went out and grasped the dagger, closing around the grip so professionally that Sirius had to force down a rush of memories of endless training sessions, devoted to making sure his cubs would be able to defend themselves and their comrades in the heat of battle.

Except now one of them didn't. What was Draco even doing out here? He knows better than to come running out to a fight like that, or he bloody well ought to…

Hermione weighed the dagger in her hand for a moment before turning it in her fingers and offering the green-stoned hilt to Luna. Without a word, Luna accepted, holding Draco's dagger in that same light, competent grasp. Then she slid it into her pocket and got to her feet.

"We need to see what he saw," she said, nodding towards the pendants. "To know what went on here." She looked down once more at Amanda's body. "How she died, and why."

The hell with her, what about him? Sirius wanted to shout it aloud to the sky, wanted to shake the answers out of whoever might know them. What happened to Draco? What's he doing that he would abandon his pendants and his dagger? He can't have been killed, we'd have known it—even if he wasn't wearing his pendants, they respond to death—unless someone tells them not to, I suppose, but Draco wouldn't do that—

His thoughts circled and wound in on each other, tangling and crossing, but always returning to the same unanswerable question.

Where is he right now?


Draco stumbled forward through a doorway, propelled by a shove to the center of his back. An unlit fireplace to one side of him, a cobweb-covered bed on the other, registered only dimly to his senses. His focus was on keeping his feet, getting back on balance, keeping his face impassive and cool despite the terror and grief fighting for place in his head and the burning pain centered in his left forearm.

He might be caught in the middle of his worst and longest-standing nightmare, but that was no reason to fall apart.

"I trust you'll find your accommodations…comfortable," said Lucius from the corridor, as Draco turned to face him. The lined, minimally scarred face so like Draco's own wore a faint and possessive smirk. "The place has been sadly neglected of late, through no fault of my own, but this room seems sound enough. If somewhat dirty." His wand darted out to Draco's right and left, clearing away the thick layer of dust and detritus, then lighting the lamps mounted on the paneled walls. "There, that should do for the night." His smile broadened. "Sleep well, my son. In the morning, your new life begins. Though…" He glanced at Draco's arm. "In some regards, has it not already?"

The door, with its flaking paint showing a pair of intertwined snakes, shut firmly between father and son.

Draco sank onto the edge of the bed, fighting to get his breathing under control. Breath was the beginning, the foundational step, everything started with a breath—

Letha taught me that. His hand went automatically to the spot where his pendants should have hung, but there was nothing there. When I was just a baby, when I'd first come to the Pack, when I wanted to learn how to sing, she taught me about controlling my breath, and I didn't understand until much later how her music lessons laid the groundwork for Padfoot and Moony to teach us how to fight—

The memories rose up and threatened to swamp him, twelve years of joy and laughter and love, of work and play and learning and pranking, of Pack and Pride and everything they meant to him.

Everything I can't ever have again. His arm throbbed once, winning a hiss from him. Everything he made sure I can't go back to. Because even if I managed to escape from here, wherever here may be, and find my way home or get a message off—

He could remember being newly thirteen years old and climbing out the window of the Devon Den, convinced that his Pack would be safer if he were far away. That time, he'd been wrong. Tonight, he was tangibly, painfully right.

"Didn't waste any time, did you, Father?" he whispered, staring at the door. "You and your Master. You couldn't risk having me slip away from you again. Or be rescued."

The fear of that sat cold and jagged in his chest, jabbing at him with every breath. The Pack was strong, smart, and determined, and Lucius had reason to know full well their most probable response to one of their cubs being taken.

Is he counting on that? Planning for it? And will they think of it in time? Draco pulled his legs up under him, shaking. Or will they only be thinking of me, of bringing me home?

The word brought an almost sickening rush of longing to his throat. He forced it back in favor of more thinking. The shabby, decaying house through which Lucius had hauled him had the look of a newly-occupied outpost for the Dark side of the war, so its wards and shields might not be up to full strength yet.

Which could be part of his calculations. Deliberately leaving me somewhere they can find me. His mind supplied a vivid image of Moony throwing open the door, Danger bursting in past him, both faces filled with relief and love. Will I be able to warn them in time? Will they even believe me? Not that they'd have a choice, not once I pulled my sleeve back…

"Enough," he said aloud, shoving himself upright. "That's enough." A long, slow, cleansing breath, drawn through the nose, let out through softly pursed lips. "My body's here, and will be for a month. My mind doesn't have to be. Neither does my soul."

And once that month's over… He smiled coolly to himself. The blue jewel had taken the specifics of his plan with Luna from his mind, but he could remember the most important part of it.

"He won't hurt anyone else I love." The words emerged in the tone of a vow, as sacred as the ones Harry and Ginny would be speaking in a few hours atop the Astronomy Tower at Hogwarts. "Not ever again."

So, that being settled, why don't we get on to more important things. Walking in a slow spiral outwards from the corner of the bed, Draco took another look at his surroundings. Such as, why does this room feel so damn familiar? It doesn't look a thing like either of the Dens, or like anything at Hogwarts—I suppose I could be remembering the Notts' place, but I doubt it—

His foot landed on something small and squashy.

He looked down.

Four little socks, knotted into the semblance of a ball, lay innocently on the polished wood of the floor.

"You don't know catch?" A little girl's incredulous voice echoed through the corridors of his mind. "We'll show you…"

"Neenie," Draco breathed, kneeling down where he stood to gather up the tiny relic. "Harry."

He tried as hard as he could to hold in his tears, but he was only sixteen.

"I want to go back to the Den," he whispered thickly, holding tightly to his first and last link with the Pack who had become so deeply his, and he theirs. "I want…"

His voice choked off. Weeping without a sound, bent over his close-clasped hands, he finished the sentence in the silence of his mind.

I want to go home.

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Author Notes:

You can't say I didn't warn you. More as soon as I can get it done.

Yes, Lucius really did have a locator spell on Draco and Hermione. See Chapter 24 of Facing Danger.

A quick note on the subject of the Weasley twins: Opinions differ as to whether I am, in the final analysis, being more evil than JKR was in canon, or less. I tend towards the less, myself, but your mileage, as always, may vary. Thank you.

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