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As always, that which you recognize from the books belongs to the inimitable JK Rowling

A lazy summer breeze passed through the lush orchards surrounding the Greengrass Estate. The soft hooting of an owl was the only sound that rose above the gentle rustling of the leaves. The trees surrounding the imposing manor house cast a blanket of shadows that concealed its foundations, but torchlight illuminated the tall windows from within. The contrast made the old stone facade look unnaturally dark against the starlit sky. As he hurried up the stone path toward the front gates, Draco searched for any shadows passing the windows that might indicate which rooms were occupied. There was no time to mount a room to room search. Every passing second could be the one Astoria didn’t have.

Inside his aching ribs, his heart beat with a singularity of purpose unlike any he had ever felt. He hated Flint and Gamp, hated them for what they’d tried to do to his family, but vengeance was a secondary matter. Throughout the war, he’d fervently, methodically carried out the Dark Lord’s orders, but that was done out of fear. Draco no longer felt fear, not for his own life, anyway. He was going to find Astoria and keep her safe. Safe from Flint and Gamp, safe from the foolish conceits of her parents... just safe. He had no plan for what to do after; after wasn’t important. She would be safe. That was what mattered. He couldn’t spare the time to worry about the rest. Any moment could be her last.

As he approached the heavy, painted gates, a cherub cast into the ironwork turned and started speaking in a high, squeaky voice. Something about wanting to know his business with the House of Greengrass. Draco paid it no mind. His business was with Flint and Gamp. Turning to the wall beside the gate, he pointed his wand. Reducto. The old stonework exploded inward, opening a hole that he quickly stepped through.

They now knew that he was coming, but he couldn’t be bothered to care. If they didn’t expect somebody to try to stop them, they were fools. And nothing was going to stop him from finding Astoria and taking her out of harm’s way. Not a talking gate, not her arrogant father and certainly not some misguided tosser who hadn’t learned a thing from the living hell the Dark Lord had inflicted on the world. They were all obstacles on a path that Draco could finally see clearly. He felt like kicking himself for letting doubt and anger cloud his judgment for so long. Of course he wanted to take Astoria away from all of this. He’d been a fool to think that hiding the truth from her made her any safer. Tonight, he would set everything right, starting with his old housemates and their delusional schemes.

The front door of the manor burst open as Draco drew near and Flint stormed out, searching for the source of the noise. When he spotted Draco, Flint didn’t waste a moment hurling a spell at him. Draco slashed his wand across his chest, turning the sizzling blast of red light aside. He rapidly closed the distance between himself and Flint, parrying some curses and dodging others.

“What are you doing here, Malfoy? We’ll kill you!”

The threat fell on deaf ears. Flint’s words didn’t matter to Draco. What did matter was the opportunity created as Flint wasted his breath on words that weren’t incantations. The curse rolled off of Draco’s tongue without an instant of hesitation. Fear and doubt belonged to a past that he had moved beyond. A past where Astoria was not in mortal danger.


Flint cried out in pain and fell to the ground. As he stalked past, Draco glanced down at his fallen adversary, noting the growing crimson stripe across the front of Flint’s shirt. In a war, small acts of mercy had a way of coming back to haunt you. An enemy who was merely stunned could be revived. Don’t take foolish chances, Draco. Finish the job. His Aunt Bella's words echoed in his mind and for once Draco didn't even flinch. She might have been mad, but she was seldom wrong when it came to hurting people.

The rapid cadence of Draco’s boots against the stone path echoed softly off of the front of the manor house as he hurried toward the door. He could make out voices from inside the house and he paused on the stoop to catch his breath and listen. The barely audible sounds turned out be be shouting, muffled by the thick stone walls and wooden doors that separated him from their source. Draco forced another gulp of oxygen into his lungs. There was no way to know what to expect, but he would face whatever trials lay ahead in order to save Astoria. When he heard the distinctive crack of spellfire, he took a step back and blew the door open with a curse.

Draco stepped through the ruined door and into the entrance hall of the old manor house. Shouts of alarm were coming from the far end of the hall. It led to a large room the Greengrasses used for entertaining; Draco remembered that much from the wedding. As he jogged ahead, he recalled the layout. Long, open, sparsely furnished... it didn’t offer a great deal of cover. He had to make the most of the element of surprise.

Goyle appeared at the far end of the hallway and cast a hex at Draco but it was poorly aimed and he easily dodged it. He allowed the fat wizard to send two more spells in his direction, closing the distance between them and waiting for Goyle to make a mistake. When Goyle drew back his wand to cast something stronger, Draco attacked. The knockback jinx caught Goyle in the shoulder, flinging his wand arm backward, and the bludgeoning hex caught him full in the chest. Goyle’s limp body flew through the air, landing on the far side of the room with a resounding thud.

Draco raised his wand arm into an offensive position and stepped into the room. What he found stopped him dead in his tracks. At least half a dozen wands were pointed at him from all around the room. Gamp was joined by not only Zabini and a pallid-looking Nott, but also their old housemates Warrington and Urquhart and several of Gamp’s cousins. Draco’s eyes flicked to the far corner of the room where Astoria was staring at him in shock. She and her mother were crouched next to the unconscious form of Horatio Greengrass, who was bleeding from a nasty cut on his forehead. Daphne was standing halfway between her family and her new husband, looking distraught.

Gamp fixed Draco with a cruel smirk and twirled his wand between his fingers.

“Well I’ll be damned. I reckoned you’d be in London by now, Malfoy, grabbin’ your ankles and coughing for the Aurors to keep you and your barmy old man out of prison. I guess I ought to thank you. You saved me the trouble of hunting your cowardly arse down.”

Draco tried to keep a stoic expression as he tilted his wand into a more neutral position. The situation looked grim. It was obvious from Mr. Greengrass’s injuries that Gamp and his fellows had no qualms about hurting Astoria and her family. He needed to keep them talking for long enough to get close to her. Maybe they could make a run for the edge of the manor’s wards.

“I was rethinking your offer, Gamp. You’re right, we could make a good team. Why don’t you all put your wands away and we’ll talk.”

The dry, mirthless chuckle emanating from Gamp’s throat left little doubt how much trouble Draco was in. Every wand in the room was still pointed directly toward him.

“The time for talking is over, Malfoy. I’ve heard all I ever want to hear from the likes of you.”

Draco felt a cold bead of sweat running down the side of his face as Gamp took a step toward him and pointed his wand directly at the center of Draco’s chest.

“You’re a lying, cowardly piece of shite, Malfoy. You and your whole bloody family. And as much as I’d love to draw this out and let you suffer a bit, I can’t waste any more time on you. Avada...


Astoria’s furious cry rang out across the room as she leapt up from her father’s side and rushed at Gamp. Daphne managed to shake off her emotional turmoil just enough to grab Astoria before she came within range of Gamp’s clinched fist. As Daphne struggled to hold on, Gamp’s scowl turned even more dangerous.

“You didn’t learn much from what happened to your old man, did you missy? Get back over there and shut up!”

Daphne appeared to be getting more upset by the second as she desperately clung to Astoria’s shoulders. A choked sob escaped her lips and she started to plead with her husband.

“Jeremy, I don’t know what’s happened but you need to stop this. Please! You’re going to hurt somebody!”

With a disinterested flick of his wand, Gamp sent Daphne flying across the room into the wall. Astoria was dragged along until Daphne lost her grip and she ended up sprawled on the floor. Draco felt a wave of anger roll through him and he started to lunge at Gamp before half a dozen wands came to bear on his head. A vicious smirk settled on Gamp’s lips as he pointed his own wand back toward the center of Draco’s chest. For the second time in a minute, it appeared that he was about to draw his last breath. Just as Gamp’s lips parted to speak the incantation, Draco heard a voice that he instantly recognized. It sent an icy shiver down his spine.

“Not yet, Gamp. I have a few questions for ickle Malfoy here.”

A dark figure in a black, hooded cloak emerged from the doorway that led to the patio. The man’s face was obscured from the torchlight, but Draco didn’t need to see it. He’d heard the harsh, nasal voice many times before. He had to suppress the urge to duck, since the voice often used to precede a hex flying in his direction. Without taking his eyes off of Gamp, Draco spoke as calmly as he could.

“It’s been a long time, Avery.”

The hooded figure snorted with laughter as he stepped farther into the room.

“You remember me. I’m bloody touched. Tell me, how’s your old man?”

Draco had no idea what Avery was playing at but as long as the former Death Eater remained interested in their conversation, he’d continue to live.

“He’s been better. Azkaban didn’t really agree with him.”

Avery laughed again, this time a deep, full laugh that echoed around the room.

“Azkaban don’t agree with nobody. But a ponce like Lucius? It’s a wonder he made it out alive.”

Gamp let out a frustrated snarl and threw his hands in the air.

“Are you mad, Avery? We don’t have time for bloody tea. Let’s kill this lying bastard and get to Azkaban before the Aurors get their shite together to stop us!”

Draco knew what was about to happen before it happened. Long before the war, Draco’s father had warned him about Avery. The man had a nasty temper and he was prone to excessive violence. Combined with a bad drinking problem and a limited intellect, those traits made Avery dangerously unstable. Although he lacked Bellatrix’s rigid self-discipline and raw magical talent, the Dark Lord valued the fear that his volatile, brutish nature created. So it was no surprise to Draco when Avery suddenly turned and blasted Gamp off of his feet with a curse.

Avery casually strolled over to where Gamp was lying on his back, ignoring the unsettled glances that fell on him from all around the room. He placed his boot in the middle of Gamp’s chest, eliciting a sharp moan, and then spoke loudly.

“You’ll wait until I’m bloody well ready, Gamp. I spent the last year hiding out in barns and caves, waiting for the rest of you so-called purebloods to grow some bollocks and fight back against the blood traitors and muggle-lovers. Show some bloody respect for your elders!”

If Draco hadn’t been held at wandpoint, he would have taken great joy in telling Zabini, I told you so. Already, he could feel a subtle shift in the pecking order inside the room. Avery had put Gamp in his place, leaving little doubt who was really making the decisions. It pained Draco slightly that Flint couldn’t be there to share in the disappointment. The moment of contemplation quickly came to an end as Avery turned his full attention back to Draco. Lowering his hood, Avery revealed a horrible-looking patchwork of poorly-healed curse scars on one side of his head. His flinty eyes locked onto Draco, but his tone remained oddly conversational.

“Tell me about this artifact the Dark Lord left you to mind for him.”

The question caught Draco by surprise and he was barely able to keep it from showing on his face. Gamp had obviously passed Draco’s lie about searching for a stolen dark artifact along to Avery. He couldn’t fathom why Gamp would have said anything. The first thing you learned as a Death Eater was to never share information without getting something of value in return, particularly if that information related to the Dark Lord’s secrets. Avery, on the other hand, understood exactly how the game was played. He’d be expecting Draco to deny that the object existed and, since it actually did not exist, Draco couldn’t see a better alternative.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Avery.”

“Is that so?”

Avery stared at Draco with keen interest, apparently trying to read something from his reaction. After a pregnant moment passed, Avery started to pace while he talked.

“Gamp here told me all about your little scheme, what it was you were lookin’ for inside the Ministry. He thought you were lyin’ about it, but me, I knew better. The Master had ways of beatin’ death. Experiments, he called ‘em. He tol’ us about ‘em when he got his powers back. I heard he left one with the Lestranges. Bella went spare when she found out Potter broke into Gringotts. Whatever it is the Master gave you, Malfoy, I want it.”

In spite of his considerable desire to go on living, Draco couldn’t quite contain his horror.

“You want to bring him back?”

Avery’s eyes darkened noticeably, so Draco crossed his arms in front of his chest, trying to feign patience. The former Death Eater stopped his pacing and stared directly at Draco.

“The last time our Master disappeared, nobody tried to find him. He was furious when he came back, an’ he took most of that out on me. Thirteen years, Malfoy. That was his price for lettin’ him down. As I reckon things, I still owe him nine more. D’you know what’ll happen if we let him down again?”

Draco had no idea how to respond, so he merely kept his silence. The idea that the Dark Lord could possibly return was beyond terrifying. Avery seemed to take Draco’s lack of a response as affirmation. He drew closer to Draco and lowered his voice conspiratorially.

“Give me whatever he gave you, Malfoy. When he comes back, I’ll even tell him how you kept it safe til you could get it to me. We’ll be rewarded beyond all his other servants.”

Draco felt an odd combination of hope and mortal terror. The fact that he had made up this dark artifact out of thin air didn’t mean that he couldn’t twist the situation to his advantage. He nodded his head toward Astoria and her family.

“Let them all go. Then I’ll tell you where it is.”

For a brief moment, Draco allowed himself to look at Astoria. She was sitting on the floor, cradling Daphne’s head in her lap. The look in her eyes was pleading, and she shook her head ever so slightly. Draco found that he had to turn away. He couldn’t bear to see the sadness in her eyes. He was doing the right thing. That was what mattered.

Avery laughed coldly, drawing Draco’s attention back to the matter at hand.

“Don’ think so, Malfoy. I like your little girlfriend right where she is. Puts you in a more agreeable mood, I think.”

“She’s not-”

Avery silenced Draco with one menacing twitch of his wand. The former Death Eater tensed up for a moment, as though he was struggling to maintain control. His head twitched violently, and when he opened his eyes, the madness that burned behind them was chilling.

“There you go tryin’ to lie to me again, Malfoy. You think I didn’t see the look on her face when Gamp almost cursed you? The way you was just starin’ at her? You can barely stop yourself from runnin’ over there.”

Avery strolled over to where Astoria was sitting and tapped the top of her head with the tip of his wand. She cringed and pulled her unconscious sister closer, trying in vain to conceal her fear. It took every last ounce of Draco’s self control not to throw a curse at the former Death Eater.

“First you show up here all by your lonesome and then you let something like that slip out? You got soft since the war, Malfoy.”

Draco clenched and unclenched his fists, trying to think clearly. He hated how easily Avery had managed to get to him. Avery was right, Draco’s instincts weren’t as sharp as they’d been when he lived in constant fear of death. He had to stay calm if they were going to have any chance of surviving.

Behind Avery, Gamp had managed to pull himself to his feet. The stocky wizard still looked dazed, but anger simmered behind his glassy eyes. When he stared at Avery, Draco thought he could detect a level of hatred previously reserved for muggle-borns and the Ministry. This revolution was going to be short-lived, indeed. Draco did his best to ignore Gamp and address Avery as though he was the only person of importance in the room. That was certain to make Gamp even angrier.

“I’m not telling you anything until you let her go, Avery. After that, I’ll give you everything the Dark Lord placed in my care. I’ll swear to it if you like.”

Draco felt rather pleased with himself. Even if Avery made him swear the Unbreakable Vow, it didn’t matter. The Dark Lord had never given him anything. The sense of satisfaction quickly passed, however, as Avery shook his head and a dismissive sneer settled on his angular face.

“You’re just like your father, Malfoy. Always thinkin’ you’re the one in charge. Well this time you got nothin’ to bargain with. Spill your guts before she gets hurt real bad.”

Draco’s disappointment quickly gave way to raw, black rage. Whether he was more angry at Avery or at himself, he wasn’t quite sure. Astoria was in mortal danger, and somehow he kept finding ways to make it worse. When Avery learned that Draco didn’t really have any of the Dark Lord’s effects, he’d kill her for sure. There was only one alternative that came to Draco’s mind. He needed to draw Avery’s anger solely upon himself.

“This is between you and me, Avery. If you hurt her, I swear I’ll kill you.”

Avery’s cheek twitched with agitation as he took two measured steps toward Draco. He didn’t appear worried, but Draco took a mote of satisfaction from the fact that he wasn’t laughing, either.

“You threatened to kill me once before, during the war.”

Draco nodded slowly. Now that he thought about it, the number of hexes Avery directed at his back had dwindled sharply after that particular confrontation. It didn’t hurt that Bellatrix had made it clear to Avery exactly how she felt about attacks on members of her family.

Avery pressed the tip of his wand into the palm of his hand and slowly twisted the handle, never breaking eye contact.

“Didn’ amount to much, though, did it? I’m still alive. And you will tell me what I wan’ to know, you miserable little coward. CRUCIO!

Without warning, Avery spun on his heel and struck Astoria with the torture curse. As her scream of agony filled the cavernous room, something snapped inside Draco’s head. He barely heard Astoria’s mother scream or the crack of the spell that silenced her. Emotional walls holding back three years worth of anger, despair and bitterness crumbled and everything that Draco had bottled up inside since the day his father was sent to Azkaban exploded outward. Avery barely managed to block the first blast of light from Draco’s wand, throwing his body to the side as the deflected curse left a blackened crater in the wall. Astoria slumped to the floor, unconscious, when Avery was forced to release his curse. The sight of her battered body filled Draco with an indescribable rage.


The curse tore a chunk out of the back of Avery’s cloak as he dodged to the right and a second later the room was showered with flaming debris from an exploded table. Avery tried to cast a cutting hex but it collided with Draco’s own reductor curse and the deafening impact of the two spells knocked the former Death Eater back onto his heels. As Draco slashed his wand back and forth, parrying Avery’s spells and casting his own, he noted with grim satisfaction that Gamp and the others were merely watching. He would either kill Avery or die in the attempt.

Draco tried to press his advantage, casting curses as fast as he possibly could. Once Avery got past the shock of being attacked, however, the older Death Eater’s experience started to outweigh Draco’s fury. Throwing himself to the side to dodge a curse, Avery flicked his wand at a chair and sent it flying toward Draco. Acting on instinct, Draco stepped out of the way, but just as the chair was sailing past his side Avery hit it with a curse, causing it to explode. Draco was thrown to the floor by the force of the blast. He just managed to shield himself from a cutting hex that Avery sent in his direction and when he rolled to the side to avoid the next curse he could feel the pain of fresh burns on his shoulder and arm. From his vantage point on the floor, Draco was able to slip a tripping jinx beneath Avery’s defenses that knocked him down.

Scrambling to his knees, Draco used shield charms to ward off several more curses. There was no way he was going to win this fight by passively defending himself from the onslaught. Avery was far more experienced that Flint or Goyle; he wasn’t going to make a mistake no matter how long Draco waited. But he did hold one key advantage over the former Death Eater. Avery needed him alive if he was going to get any answers whereas the possibility of Avery ending up as a smoldering black stain on the floor didn’t worry Draco one bit. Hauling himself to his feet, he whipped his wand at Avery.


Draco’s blasting curse erupted against Avery’s hastily cast shield charm, buckling it and driving the older wizard back. Trying to take advantage of Avery’s weakened defenses, Draco conjured a jet of flames from the tip of his wand, buffeting Avery’s shield. He remembered the way that Weaselbee had turned the spell against him, and he made sure to keep control of his wand and maintain enough separation that the searing heat reflecting off of the shield charm didn’t interfere with his breathing. Avery spun away with surprising agility, rolling over top of a couch before Draco was able to set the upholstery on fire. A fraction of a second later, Draco found the flaming couch rushing toward him, but this time he was ready. He used a shield charm to drive it back from where it came, preventing Avery from using it as a bomb.

Around the room, the conspirators appeared to be transfixed by the intensity of the duel. Occasionally one of them would be forced to dodge an errant curse, but for the most part they simply watched the fight play out. As he countered Avery’s curses, Draco tried to maneuver in such a way that Avery’s back was turned on Gamp, just on the off chance that his former housemate would act on the hostility he appeared to feel toward his so-called partner. Unfortunately Gamp didn’t take the bait. He seemed content to allow Draco and Avery to expend their energy on one another.

Draco watched Avery closely as they continued to trade spells. It appeared that the older man was starting to wear down. Whenever his cloak billowed outward as he moved to avoid a curse, Draco could see that Avery looked very thin. The hardships of life on the run from the Ministry had obviously taken their toll. If he could push Avery to the point of exhaustion, he’d have a better chance of getting the opening he needed. Draco stopped varying his spells and started pounding Avery’s defenses with a rapid series of bludgeoning hexes. The spells were easy to cast quickly so that Avery didn’t have any chance to mount a counterattack. As the former Death Eater retreated under the onslaught Draco continued to pour all of his energy into the attack. Avery was breathing hard and stumbling as he struggled to keep his feet and maintain his defenses.

Sensing that his opponent was in trouble, Draco broke his rhythm to cast another blasting curse. The fiery explosion buckled Avery’s shield, forcing him to slump to the side to avoid being hit. As Avery collapsed, he made a desperate swipe of his wand toward a buffet table near the far wall. The heavy table flew into the air, but the spell was poorly aimed and Draco quickly realized that it wasn’t going to come anywhere near him. Draco was about to put Avery down for good when panic filled his chest as it dawned on him what Avery had actually done. He caught a flash of the wicked grin on Avery’s face as he spun around and cast the strongest bludgeoning hex he could manage. It struck the table just as it was beginning to fall, altering its trajectory. At the same instant that the heavy table crashed to the floor inches from Astoria’s unconscious body, Avery’s shout filled the room.

Petrificus Totalus!

Draco’s body hit the floor with a thud, and he lay perfectly still. From his vantage point, he couldn’t see Avery stand up, but he could hear. The former Death Eater chuckled viciously, and from the look on Zabini’s face, Draco guessed that it was probably better that he couldn’t see Avery’s facial expression. Avery slowly stalked around to stand in front of Draco’s stiff body. He could see Avery’s hard-worn boots in front of his face and smell the acrid stench of the curse burns on his cloak. Avery swung his leg back and Draco would have flinched if he’d been able, but the blow never came. Only a cold, menacing laugh.

“I got a better idea. Imperio.

The curse washed over Draco like the waves of a warm, turbulent sea. He struggled to resist, trying to keep his thoughts intact, but he was quickly overwhelmed. The sensation was like sinking into a state of perfect contentment, where you were more of an observer of events than a participant. Draco hated every moment of it. He was not brought up to be someone else’s puppet, especially a crass, uncultured barbarian like Avery. Dancing to the whims of another wizards was...

Draco suddenly realized that he was standing upright, holding his wand, and he couldn’t remember that happening. For a heart-stopping moment, he wondered what else he had done, but then he heard Avery’s voice. It was a bizarre sensation. Avery’s words seemed to reach his brain from within and without simultaneously. The inner voice resonated from the depths of his mind, while the outer voice came from somewhere near his left ear.

“Now we’re going to have a little fun, Draco. Wake her.”

Draco had no idea what sort of “fun” Avery had in mind, but he was going to have no part of it. Astoria was in no condition to be moved. He hadn’t had a chance to check on her since Avery cursed her, but he was sure that she was injured and in a lot of pain. No, it was definitely best for her to stay put. So Draco was very surprised when he saw his wand arm point to her and heard the sound of his own voice.


A loud moan escaped Astoria’s lips as she awoke. The first thing she realized was that she didn’t recall going to bed. The light in her bedroom was unusually bright, and everything appeared blurry as she tried to open her eyes. Voices, unfamiliar ones, seemed to surround her. She suddenly felt very exposed and vulnerable. Why were there strange people by her bed? Astoria tried to roll onto her side and that was when the pain hit her.

Every muscle hurt. She felt as though her entire body had cramped up at once. All of her joints ached. Even small, experimental movements felt excruciating. But the worst part, far and away, was the buzzing residual pain that danced in every nerve ending. It was as if thousands of angry bees were swarming just below the surface of her skin. As a pathetic-sounding whimper escaped her lips, she heard a cold, nasal voice from somewhere nearby.

“Hello, there, doll. Bloody sorry to have to be so rough on you, but you see your little boyfrien’ here isn’ bein’ too cooperative. So we’re gonna have to make an example outta you. Nothin’ personal.”

Boyfriend? In spite of the pain, Astoria forced her eyes open. As the world started to get a little less blurry, she could make out Draco, standing over her. His wand was pointed at her, and she flinched involuntarily. Was he still angry with her about what happened on the evening of Daphne’s wedding? Was he so upset about their breakup that he turned dark?

No, something didn’t make sense about that. Astoria shook her head and tried to gather herself. She realized that they were still in the manor’s great room and other details started coming back to her. It had all started when Jeremy arrived with his friends, bruised and bloodied with their robes scorched and covered in soot. She remembered having her wand taken away by Marcus Flint while Jeremy argued with her father. Then they were all herded into the great room as more of Jeremy’s friends and cousins started to arrive. Her father grew more and more angry, but Jeremy simply ignored him.

Astoria shuddered, recalling the arrival of the wizard called Avery. The moment she laid eyes on him, she knew that he was dangerous. He had the same sort of unrelentingly intense stare as Jeremy, but he lacked even the thin veneer of civility that Jeremy was able to affect in polite company. His clothes were filthy and worn and he smelled terrible. Avery had the look of a man who feared nothing because he had already lost everything. Astoria’s breath caught in her throat when she remembered the moment he’d cast the Cruciatus Curse on her. Never in her life had she imagined that something could hurt so bad. It was like every inch of her body was on fire. No wonder she was so sore, her muscles had literally been trying to tear themselves apart.

Astoria blinked several times to clear her vision and Draco’s face finally came into focus. It was obvious that something was wrong. His jaw was slack and his face expressionless, but his eyes told a very different story. Strain and conflict swirled through those beautiful grey pools that often haunted her dreams. A look of intense concentration and effort. Whatever was happening to Draco, Astoria was pretty sure that he was fighting back as hard as he could. Things were starting to make more sense. Draco hadn’t turned dark and he had no interest in joining Avery or Jeremy. So what was he doing there?

Next to Draco, Avery sighed in mock frustration.

“You have to go and make this hard, don’ you, Malfoy? Well tha’s alright. I like a challenge. We got all the time in the world.”

“No we don’t. You’re forgetting why we’re here, Avery.”

Astoria had nearly forgotten that Gamp and the others were in the room. Apparently Avery had as well. He looked surprised at the interruption, then annoyed. The vacant look on Draco’s face gradually became more intent and his gaze shifted toward Gamp. Astoria followed Draco’s eyes and found her brother-in-law glaring angrily at Avery. His wand was halfway between a casual position and a very hostile one. Avery seemed completely unconcerned.

“Mind your place, Gamp. We have a chance to resurrect the Dark Lord. Azkaban can wait.”

“Mind my place? Last I counted, the rest of us were eight wands to your one.”

Even though she had no idea why the two wizards were arguing, it seemed to Astoria that it was a good thing. Draco was looking more like himself with each passing second. Whatever they’d done to him, it seemed to weaken as they glared at one another. She noticed that his lips were slowly moving and she tried to follow the pattern. I love you. Her eyes widened and for a moment she found it hard to breathe. After everything that had happened between the two of them, he still loved her! Astoria’s heart was singing inside her aching ribs. She wanted to fling her arms around him, but it was obviously the wrong time. Astoria tried to pay attention to what Gamp and Avery were saying as the volume of their argument grew louder. Maybe if they actually started to fight, Draco would be able to break free and get away.

“You think you and your band o’ poppets scare me, Gamp? I serve only the Dark Lord. Compared to him, you’re nothin’.”

“You’re all talk, Avery. If you’re so intent on bringing back the Dark Lord, why’d you spend the last year hiding like an animal?”

“Because I’m not a fool, you bloody-”

A sharp crack and a blinding flash of light suddenly silenced the room. Astoria drew a sharp breath as the muscles in her neck protested against her attempt to quickly turn her head. A tall, dark figure in a hooded cloak stood in the doorway that led to the front door. The man’s face was hidden by a ghoulish silver mask, but there was no mistaking the angle of his wand. Whoever the new arrival might be, Astoria felt quite sure that he wasn’t a friend.

The masked wizard slowly swept his wand around, seemingly challenging anyone to make a move. His gaze finally settled on Avery.

“Of course you’re a fool, Avery. Just count yourself lucky that I arrived when I did.”

Hello, dear readers! These chapters seem to take longer and longer to write, but I have good news for a change. Chapter 15 is mostly finished already because this chapter ended up being so long that I had to split it.

Much gratitude, as always, to my beta reader, sophie_hatter. And a huge, preliminary
CONGRATULATIONS! to her as well. She knows why.

Lastly, thanks to all of you who've read Detox and especially those who've left reviews. I appreciate any and all feedback!

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