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“Dora?” Tonks jumped several inches and tore her eyes off Florence, who’d just got into the elevator with Tonks’ friend Alfred. She’d been called back from Romania a day early by Mad-Eye, to learn that a man named Mundungus Fletcher had publicly confessed to killing Greyback.

She and Mad-Eye had visited him in the holding cells immediately after Tonks returned – she’d even still had her rucksack with her – and poor Fletcher had almost crumbled at the sight of Mad-Eye. His story had made perfect sense, and his magic was a strange, dark aqua sort of colour, according to Mad-Eye, so he was a plausible candidate, but he hadn’t seemed at all convincing when he talked to Mad-Eye; he’d seemed rather sheepish, Tonks thought, almost as if he cared for Mad-Eye’s opinion. And Mad-Eye had had a disappointed look on his face the entire time.

It had all been very strange.

But, Fletcher had stuck to his story, and, while they knew Florence had been the one to kill Greyback, Fletcher fit the evidence; he’d been to Azkaban before, so he knew his way around, and, it was perfectly plausible for a man who made his living as a thief to make his way in and out undetected.

He hadn’t offered a motive, and Mad-Eye had looked like he might fuss about that – and rightly so, Tonks thought, because Fletcher was an apparently innocent man, who was going to be trialled and sentenced for something he hadn’t done.

Fletcher, though, had looked at Mad-Eye through lidded, bloodshot eyes, and said, “Not all of us get to be quite so comfortable during peace-time. Azkaban’s not so bad, really. There’s a free bed, and free food, and other’n that it’s just the Dementors. I’ll be right.”

Mad-Eye’d been grumpy for the rest of the day, but he’d filed the request for Fletcher’s trial and said no more on the matter. Mungdungus was currently a few days into his isolation period, and set to have a trial later in the month. Florence, meanwhile, was still in the Program, despite Mad-Eye’s warning, leading to an uncomfortably tense first day back amongst the trainees, because neither Ben or Yaxley knew what had transpired.

“Dora,” Remus said again, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“Wotcher,” Tonks said, hugging him.

“Knut for your thoughts?” Remus arched an eyebrow.

“Just...” Tonks shook her head. “Auror stuff. Don’t worry about it.”

“It’s the first day back,” he said, looking dubious.

“You wouldn’t think so,” she muttered. He gave her a sympathetic look, and she smiled in return. “How’ve you been?”

“Good, thank you,” Remus said. He headed toward the elevator and she fell into step beside him. “How was Romania?”

“Interesting,” she said, fighting to keep her face unreadable. It had been fantastic to see Tom and Charlie again, and she’d seen some interesting things on the reserve. The boys’ good natured teasing about Remus had frustrated her a bit, but it had also prompted her to give the matter some serious thought.

She’d been a little embarrassed to realise there might actually be something in it, though she couldn’t be entirely sure; she hadn’t seen Remus since she’d got back. Today, she’d be looking at him through... not new, but definitely a slightly different set of eyes.

“How’ve things been here?”

“Pretty much the same,” Remus said. “Harry started to school today, so I’m sure there’ll be stories from that whether it went well or poorly, though I’m certainly hoping for the former.”

“Was he excited?” she asked, pressing the button to summon the lift. Remus gave her doubtful look.

“I suppose you’ve only met him a handful of times... Harry doesn’t really do excited. Nervous, certainly, but excited... I don’t think so.”

“So he was nervous today?”

“Very,” Remus said, as they stepped into the lift. “Almost as bad as Sirius; he was having kittens when he got home.” Remus cleared his throat, and did his best imitation of Sirius’ voice. “Do you think we’re doing the right thing, Moony? Maybe I won’t got to work today, just in case he needs me... Maybe I’ll take him a second lunch, so I can have a quick word with him- or maybe Padfoot could sneak into the grounds at lunchtime- or-” Remus rolled his eyes, but his smile was fond.

“I don’t think Mum was that worried when I started school,” Tonks laughed. “I’m pretty sure she couldn’t wait to be rid of me.”

“Atrium,” the cool voice announced.

“Is the Ministry cafe okay?” Tonks asked. “I’ve only got an hour-”

“Wherever’s convenient for you,” Remus said. “My only commitment today is getting Harry from school with Sirius.” Tonks smiled.

“What?” Remus asked.

“That’s just really sweet,” she said, flashing him a smile. Remus looked pleased with himself, and embarrassed all at once. They picked a table by a window – a fake window, admittedly, but there was a lovely old oak tree on the other side. Remus still didn’t seem to know how to respond, and was awkwardly opening his mouth every few seconds. Tonks passed him a menu – even though they’d eaten here so many times that they could probably list the choices from memory - and he gave her a grateful smile and promptly hid himself behind it.

She chuckled, and glanced down at her own menu for appearance’s sake, although her eyes kept drifting over to him, without her being entirely conscious of it.

“Do I have something on my face?” Remus asked eventually. He’d recovered his wry, amused tone, and seemed equally wary and intrigued at the prospect of an answer.

“No,” she said. “I was- Sorry.” He gave her a thoughtful look, but said nothing more on the matter. “How’s Sirius? Close to finding McKinnon, do you think?”

“I don’t know,” he sighed. “I think the frustration’s starting to set in... I mean, it’s been a few months now, but they still don’t have anything more than speculation, and Sirius isn’t quite as good at guessing what goes through her head as he used to be. Hopefully now that he’s working every day, he’ll find something they’ve missed, or they’ll have the time to look absolutely everywhere, and find her by chance.”

“Maybe I’ll talk to the others,” Tonks said. “They might have a suggestion that Sirius and Robards can look into.”

“I think he’d appreciate that,” Remus said, smiling. Tonk smiled back, trying half-heartedly to crush the butterflies in her chest.

Yes, she thought, I fancy Remus. The thought had her blushing, and she quickly hid behind her menu again. A lot.

*                      *                        *


By the end of the first week at school, Harry had settled into a routine. He was finding school more enjoyable than he’d expected, and had surprised himself by liking the time out of the house. He’d surprised himself even more, by finding his classmates not only tolerable, but actually reasonably friendly (Ruth, Leanne and a boy named Ryan were the exceptions, but even they were tame compared to Dudley, and they didn’t target him anywhere near as much as they targeted Hermione).

And, Blaise was usually able to make them stop, though Harry had to point out the problem, or Blaise tended to ignore it. Their protection had earned them a tentative friend in Hermione; she was becoming bolder when it came to conversation, and also more comfortable around them in general. Harry spent almost all of his time with her; they sat next to each other in class, and also in assembly (Granger came right after Evans in the attendance list) and at break and lunch.

They did, admittedly, annoy each other a bit - Harry wasn't really one to be bossed around, which Hermione was prone to trying to do (she wasn't used to having people stand up to her, in a non-antagonistic way) and Harry thought she was in serious need of a sense of humour. She was a lovely person, though, and genuine, and Harry admired the way she stood up to the kids that gave her a hard time. He wasn't sure what she admired about him, but there must have been something, because she hadn't run off yet.

Blaise hung around with them every lunchtime (except for Fridays, when he joined the football game on the oval) and certainly, he was with them more than with anyone else in the year, but he did split his time; recesses were spent with other students; Blaise, Harry had noticed, was very good at spreading himself between friendship groups, and managed to do so in a way that ensured no one felt abandoned when he moved on to the next group.

Blaise had something resembling a sense of humour, though it was rather wry and sarcastic. Often, he’d make jabs that went completely over Hemione’s head, leaving her prickly because she was reasonably sure she’d been made fun of – due to his tone, or body language, Harry supposed – but not sure how or why. And Blaise, by contrast, was very good at doing what he was told; when Hermione was in a particularly bossy mood, he tended to go along with it (though often in a rather condescending manner), and then seem a bit annoyed at himself later.

Bickering, Harry thought he could have dealt with, but Blaise and Hermione’s awkward not-quite-friends-but-not-enemies-either was something he wasn’t entirely sure how to deal with. They weren’t out-rightly fighting, so there was nothing to patch up, but neither did they get along well enough for Harry to feel like he didn’t need to intervene. It was a somewhat uncomfortable friendship, but Harry treasured it all the same.

Padfoot was using the time Harry was at school to keep looking for Marlene. He was at the Ministry every day now, though not usually on weekends.  And yet, every day he’d walk Harry from Grimmauld to school, and every day he’d be there to pick him up and walk him home. Sometimes he’d come as a dog, and they’d chase each other home, rather than walk, and other days he’d just come as himself, and they’d talk about their days, and just enjoy each other’s company.

Sometimes Moony came, but he’d said something about letting Harry and Padfoot have their walks together, so usually he just dropped by in the afternoon, to talk to the pair of them, and to offer Harry homework help if he needed it; while Padfoot was capable, and had helped Harry when Moony wasn’t there to do so, that sort of a task generally fell to Moony, because Moony enjoyed it more than Padfoot did. During those times, Padfoot generally sat somewhere behind Moony, and alternated between looking through paperwork to do with Marlene, and pulling faces at Harry over Moony’s shoulder.

After dinner, Harry and Padfoot spent a concerted hour on Harry’s Animagus spell – Harry still didn’t feel like he was getting anywhere, but he did, at least, feel like he knew what he was doing. When the right words came to him, he’d be set... or so he hoped. It was nice to feel like he knew something that Blaise or Hermione didn’t, too; magic. Not in a high and mighty sort of way, like Voldemort had; Harry certainly didn’t think any less of them for being muggles.

No, it was more that both Hermione and Blaise were so studious – it was the one thing they had in common, actually – that Harry often felt far out of his depth. Hermione had all the book-smarts, he’d been quick to realise. She only needed to read something, and she’d have that information stored away permanently, ready to write down on their next test. Blaise, on the other hand, studied and read more than Hermione, but never seemed to test well; Harry learned he’d only just scraped a pass in the test on their first day.

He could recite just about anything he’d read in conversation, or apply it to a real-life problem, but the moment it was written down in question form, Blaise had trouble forming a coherent response. He got nervous when he couldn’t see who he was talking to, he’d admitted.

And so Harry, who paled in comparison to his new friends as far as intellect went, took small, secret comfort in the fact that magic, at least, was something he was good at.

Blaise, for his part, didn’t even seem aware that magic existed; he was about as muggle as it was possible to be, and it was oddly refreshing after a year and a half in the magical world. Originally, Harry had thought Hermione much the same; she was very logical, far more so than Harry, and he’d struggled to believe that magic could exist when it was right in front of him.

About two and a half weeks into the term, though, Hermione had missed a day of school, and then come back and holed herself up in the library at every spare moment; she’d started to read things like The Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Harry couldn’t make sense of it, and it made breaks dull – sitting in the library, while Hermione read – but she seemed to be enjoying herself; her face would range from excited, to skeptical, to curious as she read.

Harry was curious - he had no idea what could have prompted her to suddenly stop reading maths textbooks, and start reading fantasy - but he didn't dare question her; knowing Hermione, she'd ask questions in return, and he'd probably end up breaking the Statute of Secrecy, or embarrassing himself trying to avoid them.

No, it was better to just leave her to it, he'd decided.

*                    *                      *

“My son,” Father said, reaching for Draco. They were standing in the foyer, at the base of the stairs, like always. It had started after one of their functions; Draco had overheard Goyle suggesting they go for a little adventure to a muggle suburb and cause havoc, for old times’ sake. While Father had shot down the suggestion – something about it being too risky – he had not seemed opposed to the idea. Draco had heard enough of the conversation to have an idea of what ‘havoc’ meant, and the idea that Father wasn’t against it made his skin crawl.

He’d stayed silent, and read one of the few books they had about the ‘old days’ – the war – for information. He’d felt guilty for doing so – Mother was openly against him or Hydrus learning anything about the Dark Lord – but Mother’d been distracted lately, trying to plan Hydrus’ eleventh birthday dinner, and reading a book he wasn’t supposed to was nowhere near as bad as attacking people, simply because they existed.

So Draco’d read, and Draco’d learned, and Draco’d said nothing. And then the dreams had started, every night. It had been two weeks since then.

“I don’t want to be your son,” Draco heard himself say as he pulled his arm out of reach. “You don’t want me to be your son.”

“You’re my son,” Father said.

“I’m not like you,” he told his father, in a quiet, semi-apologetic voice.

“You’re very much like me.” A mirror appeared and Draco found himself staring into it. “You have my face.” Cold fingers traced his cheek. Draco stared at his reflection. Father was right; they did look similar. They had the same pointed chin, the same eyes, the same pale face... the same everything, really. Draco looked more like Father than Hydrus did – Hydrus had Mother’s eyes, and her nose – and yet Father’s mouth was harder – stern, and proud, where Draco’s was thoughtful – and Father’s eyes were sharp, where Draco’s were dull. “Do you really think we’re so different?”

“Yes,” Draco said quietly. He clenched his hand to feel the scar from Severus.

“You’re wrong,” Father whispered.

“We’re different on the inside,” Draco told him, as gently as he could.

“Do you really believe that?” Draco said nothing. Father took him by the arm and pulled him down the hall, past the portraits of their ancestors. “Look around you, son,” he said harshly. Draco tried and failed to prise his fingers off. Father let him go roughly and jabbed a finger at the walls. “Look!” he shouted. Draco jumped and looked. “Generations of Malfoys, all with the same faces, our faces. Are they different too?”

“They didn’t... muggles, and the Dark Lord...” Draco mumbled.

“And I suppose you were around to make sure,” Father said cruelly. “They’re the same. We’re all the same.”

“They’re all monsters, then,” Draco said sadly. The portraits hissed and jeered at him. Father just sighed.

“And what do you think that makes you?” he asked, looking sad as well.

“I’ll be different,” Draco insisted.

“Who are you trying to convince?” Father asked softly. “Me... or you?”

Draco sat upright, gasping. He was in his bedroom. He could hear the wind outside and see the shadows of trees dancing on the other side of his window.

He slipped out of bed, out the door and into the hall. He heard a mumble from Hydrus’ room but ignored it, making his slow way down the staircase. He stumbled once in the dark and for a moment he thought he’d fall but then his hand found the banister again and he pressed on, his socks almost silent on the marble. He almost fell again when he reached the bottom too since he’d been expecting another step. The lamps on the walls flared to life when he reached the centre of the foyer, making him jump.

“Dimmer,” he told them, aware that he’d be in an awful lot of trouble if he woke Mother and Father. He stopped at the first portrait. It was of his great grandfather, Casius Malfoy. He was a bony man with a gaunt face, sunken eyes and long blond hair, like Father’s. “We’re different,” he told him.

“If you say so,” the portrait mumbled and shifted so that he could rest his head against the frame.

“We are,” Draco said firmly and moved to the next one, of Pollux, Casius’ brother. He’d never met him, but his daughter - Father’s  Great Aunt Demetria - was supposedly just like him and Draco didn’t like her at all. He thought he’d inherited that dislike from Mother. “I’m not like you.” Pollux turned his stern look on Draco.

“Hmph! I should hope not! I’d be embarrassed if ever I awoke at two in the morning to talk to a portrait! Hmph!” he said again, folding his arms. Draco backed away slowly and went to the next.

“You couldn’t read,” he told a picture of his great-great-grandfather Cyprus. “So I’m not like you either.”

“You’re named for me though. Draco Cyprus.”

“That doesn’t mean we’re the same.”

“Surely it doesn’t mean we’re different?” the portrait said slyly. Draco twisted his mouth.

“Draco?” Draco jumped and spun to see his brother standing midway up the stairs. He was in his pyjamas and his hair was flat on one side. “What are you doing?”

“Bothering us!” one of the portraits shouted.

“I heard talking,” Hydrus said, frowning.

“He says he’s not like us!” Pollux said. “Hmph! Little fool!”

“Not like them?” Hydrus asked.

“I’m not,” Draco said sadly. “You must know it.” Hydrus frowned.

“You’re a bit funny in the head,” Hydrus told him, rather haughtily. “But you’re still one of us. Just because you’ve said some strange things doesn’t mean you’re not a Malfoy. Just look at us, and them. We all look the same. And Father says we’re just like him.”

“You are. I’m not.” Hydrus frowned again.

“I don’t know what’s had your wand in a knot lately, brother, but it needs to stop. All of this ‘I’m different’ rubbish... Do you not want to be one of us?”

“I do!” Draco said. “I’m just... not very good at it.”

“I’ll say,” Hydrus muttered. He gave Draco a long look and then shook his head. “I’m going back to bed,” he announced.

“I had a bad dream,” Draco admitted, staring at his socks, as his brother turned away. He didn’t know what made him say it, and felt stupid for doing so as soon as the admission left his mouth. Hydrus stopped and turned again, giving Draco a look as if to ask what he was supposed to do about it. “Never mind,” Draco muttered.

“What about?” Hydrus asked after a moment.

Draco hesitated and then replied, “About monsters.”

“Monsters?” Hydrus scoffed, picking fluff off his pyjama shirt. “They can’t get us here.”

“Some can,” Draco whispered.

“No,” Hydrus said. “The only one that can get past the wards is the Kelpie, and if Potter can deal with it, I’m sure we can. And the wards keep out muggles as well, you know that-”

“Draco. Hydrus.”

“Draco had a bad dream,” Hydrus said at once, smirking.

“I see,” Father said, looking uncertain. “Bed, Hydrus, please.” Hydrus nodded at Draco – probably convinced that he’d just done him a huge favour, and not just left him alone with the feature of his nightmares. “A bad dream? Father asked softly.

“It’s nothing,” Draco said quickly.

“And yet you’re up and about in the middle of the night, talking to your brother about it.” Father took a step forward, and Draco flinched and stepped back. Father looked disconcerted, and stepped forward again. Hesitantly – he’d never have tried it with Hydrus – he put a hand on Draco’s shoulder. His hand was warmer than in the dream, which comforted Draco. He leaned into the touch automatically, and Father sighed and pulled his hand away. Draco looked at him. “What was this dream?” Father asked.

Draco sat down on the bottom step. Father didn’t sit with him, though mother or Severus might have, if they were with him instead.

“It was about momsters,” Draco said timidly. Father sighed again. “They were in the Manor. They are in the Manor.”

“I assure you, Draco, that the wards keep out absolutely everything that you could possibly be afraid of.” Draco said nothing. For the third time, Father sighed. Then he rubbed his eyes and yawned. “Do you feel as if you are in any immediate danger?”

“No,” Draco mumbled.

“Then I suggest we go back to bed. I shall alter the wards in the morning, if you’d like.”

“You can’t keep them out with wards,” Draco said, getting to his feet. Father raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. He ushered Draco upstairs, but then didn’t follow; Draco suspected he was headed for his office.

*                        *                          *

Draco lay under his favourite tree in the garden with Roquefort dozing on his chest and Magical Drafts And Potions propped up against his knees.

Mother and Hydrus had gone out to visit Aunt Bella. Draco wasn't entirely sure how he'd got out of going but he certainly wasn't complaining; if Father was a monster, then Aunt Bella was positively beastly. Father had been out when he woke up, so Draco had had a lonely breakfast with only Dobby for company. Father had come home at some point while he was downstairs, and had already been sequestered in his office by the time Draco finished, leaving Draco free to do as he wished for the morning.

Draco turned the page with a sigh; he’d begun to look forward to his visits with Severus, and got used to having them daily while Severus was on holidays, and now that Hogwarts had gone back, Draco was back to visiting only two or three times a week. He missed his godfather, and missed the freedom of being able to be himself, without worrying about upsetting anyone.

Stir three times counter-clockwise on low heat and then leave to simmer for-

There came a curious noise from above him, that was a cross between a trill and a hiss. Draco looked up.

Sitting in the branches of the tree was an odd creature. Draco had certainly never seen anything like it. It was murky brown and scaly all over, with a line of bright orange feathers in a ridge down its back.

It wasn't a dragon, because it only had two legs - which Draco noticed ended in rather large claws -  and he didn't think it was a bird, because he hadn't seen a bird with a long, plumed tail before. Bright, oddly tame eyes watched him from above a cruel looking beak.

"What?" Draco asked it, shutting his book with a snap.

The thing hissed and flapped its wings and the feathers on its head stood up. It looked like it was wearing a crown. Draco stood up and faced it properly, placing Roquefort on his shoulder.

It flapped to the grass in front of him, and was actually quite a bit larger than he'd thought; its head, resting on a long, serpentine neck, was almost at his shoulder. It hissed, splaying its feathers out threateningly.

Draco staggered backward and tripped. The thing advanced, spitting. The blood drained out of Draco's face. He looked around for help but there wasn't any, and he didn’t have anything to defend himself with, other than his book, which he held up in warning. Absently, he wondered if Potter would be able to speak to this creature too. That would be useful.

Before he could make any move, however, – either to attack or to run - Roquefort sprang from his shoulder, squeaking madly, and latched onto the thing's wing. It screeched and hissed and nipped at Roquefort before it managed to fling him off.

He landed with a thump on the grass. Draco didn't dare take his eyes off the thing. That proved almost fatal; it lashed out with a sharp talon and he felt sudden pain on his cheek, less than an inch from his left eye.

"Gelius!" Father called. An indigo blue spell flew past Draco and the thing fell over, and landed with a noise like glass shattering, but it appeared to be intact. Draco sank to the grass with a whimper, rather wishing the stupid creature had broken. Father was striding across the lawn looking calm, if a little pale. He paused only once, to check on Roquefort.

"Dead," he told Draco in an unusually shocked voice. Something in Draco twinged, and with a loud crack, the frozen thing on the ground did break; it didn’t lose a leg or its head or anything, but one of its wings was now at a decidedly odd angle. Father waved his wand and the rat lifted off the ground and floated gently back toward the Manor. He reached Draco a moment later but didn't kneel beside him, as Mother would have.

He waited, standing, but Draco wasn’t in any mood to stand, even if that’s what Father was expecting of him. He brushed blood out of his eye and tried not to sniff. Father surveyed him for a moment, and then stepped past him to examine the creature. A moment later, he sent that floating toward the Manor too.

“It attacked me,” Draco said, numbly, when he had Father’s attention again. “It just- And Roquefort was- only now-” His voice broke, and while Mother might tolerate tears, Father certainly wouldn’t. Draco struggled to get himself back under control.

“How does your eye feel?” Father asked. Draco shrugged, and this time, Father did crouch down. He flicked his wand, and Draco felt the cut itch and then felt nothing. There was a cool feeling – Father was probably cleaning it - and then Father nodded, satisfied; he was far better at medical magic than Mother. “It’s scarred, but it’s not noticeable.” Draco didn’t really care about that.

“Is Roquefort really-”

Father nodded curtly. The branch the creature had been standing on when Draco first noticed it, fell to the ground with a loud thump, and promptly burst into flames. Draco hugged himself; Father jumped.

“I imagine you probably want to be alone right now,” Father said, after a moment.

Not really, Draco thought. He wanted a hug, and he wanted to cry, and complain and have someone listen. But Father wouldn’t understand that; Father didn’t understand hugs. So Draco just nodded, and Father left.

Draco pulled himself into a ball and wrapped his arms around his legs, which were trembling. Then he shuffled until his back was against the tree-trunk, so that he could be upright, without actually having to support himself.

He wanted Mother, or Severus, or even Pansy; she’d been awful to him lately, but she, at least, knew what this felt like. She knew what it was like when someone died. Draco sniffled and wiped his eyes on his sleeves.

Dead. Roquefort’s dead. He blinked and took a deep breath.

I won’t cry, he thought. I won’t.

He stayed there for another few minutes, fighting with himself, and then he couldn’t take it any longer. Bottom lip trembling, he whispered, “D-Dobby?”

There was a pop almost instantly, and Dobby appeared before him, wringing his hands.

“Little master,” Dobby said, looking shocked. He hurried forward, and patted Draco on the shoulder, rather warily. And Draco flung his arms around the little house elf and sobbed.

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