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8. Night Shifts

The fire in the grand fireplace cast a golden light over the large drawing room and chased away the chill air that seemed to exist everywhere in the large house. The old paintings on the walls were almost black from age. The furniture had seen better days, probably around the time when Queen Mary was ruling Scotland. The sofa, however, was new, no more than a hundred years, give or take. It was also very comfortable. Kingsley found himself relaxing, listening to Abraxas and Snape bicker at each other about Lucius and Draco. Kingsley got the sense, though, that the two men liked each other, despite the growling. It was a bit like two smaller dogs, snarling and barking, not really serious. Kingsley found it amusing as well that Abraxas's opinion on Draco seemed to have shifted drastically.

'My grandson,' Abraxas beamed, 'has made me very confident that our line of Abraxans will be in good hands in the future.' Abraxas's eyes shone. He was very enthusiastic.

Snape coughed lightly. 'I think we have a fair understanding of that exact point by now. Since you've repeated it, what, ten times already.'

Abraxas ignored the thinly veiled hint that enough was enough. 'My grandson will need to choose a horse for himself before he leaves.' He sent Snape a look that told that he noticed his annoyance. 'I cannot believe that Lucius didn't see to that. It is tradition. Or it was.' His nostrils flared, almost invisibly. 'I am appalled that Lucius, of all people, sold the marvellous horse he got for his eigtheenth birthday. He was always an ungrateful son.'

Kingsley had no problems hearing Snape murmuring no wonder, with that father.

'Did you say anything, Severus?' Abraxas enquired acerbically. 'Or would you like a bit more of this very select, exclusive elf-made wine that I usually only serve for important guests?' He sat upright in a very large and deep wing chair. He looked very much the nobleman he could have been, had England not exploded in hatred and abolishment of witchcraft and magic five-hundred years ago.

'Yes. I did say something. I wondered why you cared to give the animal to Lucius in the first place. He was never really interested in them. Now he never will be. He is no longer fond of things that float in the air, you see.' Snape crossed his arms. 'If you, on the other hand, had been more interested in Lucius than in those horses...'

'Always the diplomat. Why don't you say what you really mean, dearest Severus?'

'You're a bastard. Satisfied?' Snape got up. 'I'll be in the potions lab. Tests on that skull you dug up. Going to take all night. So much more interesting than sitting here and pretending that I care.' Snape huffed and stormed out of the room. He slammed the door.

'He's merely worried about Lucius.' Abraxas threw his hands up, as if to apologise for Snape's behaviour. 'I can't say that I blame him. I've been worried about my son for many years. Both when he decided to join the madman and his tattooed clowns and now that he's not well. At least Draco seems promising.'

It wasn't that Kingsley was fond of Lucius in any possible interpretation of the word, but it was a bit harsh. 'Abraxas, really.'

'But you did see what Draco did? He is not as much his father's son as I thought. More like me.' Abraxas positively beamed. He poured himself another glass of wine. 'One more? A nightcap?'

Kingsley found it hard to understand that this boyish happiness came from the same man who'd tried for days to drive him more or less insane with all his convoluted and underhanded snark. It was a side that made Kingsley believe that Abraxas actually might be tolerable company in the long run. 'All right. One. Please.' Kingsley could do with another drink. The wine was very good, and so was, he admitted, the company. Although Kingsley still didn't know what to do with Abraxas, he liked his intellect, his cultured manners. And Kingsley wasn't tired, either. He did not want to go to bed, for he knew that he'd be thinking half the night of the fact that he could have lost his best friend today. It had been too long since the war. He'd forgotten how fast Death moved in from the side, striking at the most unexpected moment. He wondered if he was more affected by the incident than the two people involved, for both Draco and Moody had already gone to bed. Moody, of course, was rarely shaken by such banalities as almost getting killed; he was after all always prepared. For anything.

Pouring yet another drink for them, Abraxas abandoned the wing chair and sat down next to Kingsley in the sofa. Kingsley forced himself to breathe slowly. Abraxas's presence was stirring in a way that was almost impossible to ignore. Kingsley desperately clung on to what little calm he had left when it came to Abraxas Malfoy. It had been easier when he thought that Abraxas was a criminal. It wasn't quite what he'd expected from a trip that was supposed to be a quiet investigation of a mysterious, unsolved case, this... relation. He had indeed found a bit more than he'd been looking for. He looked up and realised that Abraxas was looking at him. 'Yes?'

Abraxas didn't reply. He put his glass on the coffee table and reached out to take Kingsley's too. Too caught up in the moment to react, Kingsley let him. Merlin, he knew it: thirty seconds more and it'd be too late. If he let the avalanche start, there was no turning back and no idea where he would end. One night. More. He didn't know. All he knew was that his confusion was gone. He had no choice, not really.

He had to see. He had to discover for himself what could become of it.

With a knowing smile, Abraxas leaned in and pressed his lips to Kingsley's. It was a firm, lingering kiss. Only a small, shivering sigh revealed that Abraxas, too, was affected. Kingsley's blood was rushing to all the right places. One kiss, one unfinished, brief kiss was all it took. Kingsley was no prude. He parted his lips, wanting Abraxas to take more than just the superficial touching of lips. Abraxas's tongue slipped into his mouth, stoking the fire that was already smouldering. Kingsley moaned, burying his fingers in Abraxas's lush hair. Lord, to have that long hair brushing over his naked body... Kingsley moaned again, deeper, louder. Abraxas's fingers were caressing his neck, cool, teasing strokes that did little to ease his need. Abraxas kissed him until their breathing became strained.

With a tangible reluctance, Abraxas let go. 'Good night, Kingsley,' he said softly. 'Until tomorrow.' With that, he got up. He left the drawing room without looking back.

For a while Kingsley sat there, alone, staring into the flames. His desire was flaring hotly. Abraxas certainly knew how to inflame it. Not only that, he knew how to inflame it in a way that made Kingsley want to burn. He brushed with a finger over his mouth where Abraxas's lips had touched. He wanted more and so did Abraxas, that much was clear. But what Abraxas had told him in, well, no words at all, was that they were going to do this the right way, whatever that was and wherever it went.

The clock on the bedside table whispered a worried, 'Go to sleep, Auror Moody,' for the fifteenth time. Moody turned in bed once more, turning his back to the nagging little piece of magic. It wasn't helpful. He'd love to sleep. In fact, he would love it so much that he'd used almost four hours in bed, desperate for sleep. Instead he could just as well have been a chicken on a spit: too hot, turning and tossing. If he turned to the left, he had the moon shining in his face. He didn't want to pull the curtains; they blocked his view when he wasn't using his magical eye. When he turned to the right, he could see the contours of his broken leg, standing in the corner in all its charming mechanical glory. Every time he closed his eyes, he replayed in his mind the event that could have cost him his life. It would have, had it not been for the small dog who was lying next to him, snoring. He was alive because of the dog.

And because of Draco Malfoy.

It was a bitter pill to swallow. He was not as agile and vigilant as he once was. Far from being old, he had to accept that being half a man was not always enough. Although Moody's broken half was tougher than most whole men, it wasn't enough. He didn't like it when he was forced into early retirement, he didn't like it now. Having one's mortality shoved in the face was not really that interesting. 'You have to accept that you have limits, mate,' he told himself and turned in the bed yet again. It still pained him that two years of boring office work and occasional scoldings of the new Aurors to cheer things up had made him soft. It pained him even more that he was still able to be sentimental and self-pitying about it. And worst of all, it pained him that he was able to be anything at all because of Malfoy's timely intervention. 'But he did save you, so I suppose we'll have to thank him for that,' Moody said and stroked Wagtail tenderly. 'And who'd share my morning coffee with me but you?' Wagtail didn't reply. He just made a friendly growl and rolled over so Moody could scratch him on the other side.

When Moody looked at the clock again, he realised that he had actually fallen asleep. He frowned, staring into the dark, trying to figure out what had disturbed him. He reached for his wand on the bedside table; he wanted to be ready for a potential attack. The magical eye swirled and clinked in its glass. Nothing. He was just about to put the wand back and make yet another attempt to get some sleep when he heard a noise. He paused, then he heard it again. A low, long moan. Moody blinked. Then another, louder moan.

'Oh, you've got to be joking.' Wagtail woke up and looked at Moody curiously as if to understand his irritation. 'That certainly was fast.' Kingsley wasn't usually the person to throw himself at any handsome man he met. Abraxas turned out to be an exception. That was Kingsley's choice. As long as Moody didn't have to listen in on the result.

Then someone groaned; a more desperate, whimpering moan. Moody realised that the source of the groans probably wasn't what he'd thought it was. Or who. Unless of course Kingsley had a very kinky side that he hadn't told Moody about. It sounded as if someone was suffering.

Moody flicked his wand at the candles at the bedside table. He was about to summon his leg, then remembered the state of it. He pointed the wand at his trusty staff. 'Accio!' He was used to moving around without the leg at home, using only the staff. As he wouldn't exactly be able to run about, he'd move easier than with his broken leg attached. He kept his wand at the ready.

'Alohomora.' Moody opened the door to the corridor. He waited quietly until he heard the sound again; he did not want to burst into a room only to find out that Kingsley and Abraxas had decided to take their potential relation to another level.

'No! Please! No!'

Moody turned his head in the direction of the sound. That wasn't Kingsley. It was Malfoy, the youngest of them. Moody hobbled along the wall to Draco's room, next to his own. Moody froze, listening for anything suspicious. He should have put his eye in; now it was too late. The door was slightly ajar, so he waited to see if anything was happening that needed his interference. Behind him the low tick-tick-ticking of claws against stone told him that Wagtail had finally taken his responsibilities as a watchdog seriously.

'Don't melt the Hippogriff!'

The pleading groan made Moody smile. Malfoy was having a nightmare, talking in his sleep. He considered briefly to wake Draco up, but he doubted it would be taken lightly, if Malfoy, too, had trouble sleeping.

Malfoy was whimpering again. 'Run... Help. Help me, Moody!' The words were slurred but Moody's hearing was working well. Too well. Moody knocked softly on the door before he pushed it open.

'Malfoy? Draco?' Moody lit a candle with a wave. Draco lay thrashing, entangled in sheets and the heavy duvet. His nightshirt formed a bulky ring around his chest. 'Draco?' The only answer was yet another whimper. The nightmare certainly had its way with Malfoy. Then, in a flash, Moody understood. It had been some time since the Dementors had been the guards of Azkaban, but the damage they made wasn't as easily banned. The vacant places in the mind... It took time to fill them anew, to make a store of happiness and joy and safety to take up the space from the terrible emptiness and sadness the wretched creatures had created. Malfoy hadn't been exposed to them for that long, then again, Malfoy was a sensitive, nervous person.

Despite his dislike of Draco, Moody supposed that he'd earned a bit of compassion for his bravery. 'All right, all right,' Moody growled. 'Hold on.' Moody limped over the floor to the bed. He almost tripped over an ancient Aubusson. He glared at the rug. Wagtail sat down next to the bed, sniffing.

'Draco? Wake up.' Moody shook Draco's shoulder lightly.

'Father!' Draco sat up, confused and with blinking eyes. 'Wha-?' He sighed. 'Oh, God.'

'You awake?'

'Moody?' Draco's was choking on his fear. He tried to remove the sheet that had tied his legs up. 'I had this terrible nightmare.'

'Really.' Moody watched Draco fumble with the bed linen. 'Here, let me help.' He got Draco out of the duvet's strong grip. 'Unreliable bastards, duvets. Constant vigilance, or they'll become unruly,' he said, half-way joking. He conjured a damp wash cloth out of thin air. 'Here. You're all sweaty.' He pointed at Draco's forehead where a long lock of damp hair was stuck. 'You'd want to look less messy.'

'I don't care!' Draco took the wash cloth nevertheless and wiped his face with it. 'All I care about is being able to sleep.' Draco managed to look exactly as feisty as a rheumatic Pygmypuff. His shoulders fell. 'I dreamt that we, us, were chased by a Hippogriff and it turned into the Dark Lord... I think he ate Wagtail. And your eye. He picked it out of-' He stopped. 'Sorry. I haven't slept properly for two years. No, longer, actually. Since Vo- Voldemort took over my parents' house.'

Moody could see, even in the dim light, that the dream had shaken Draco. 'Not the best sleeping draught, having the evil overlord moving in,' Moody said before he realised that he was being understanding. 'Or to have him threaten one's parents.'

'You're nice to me again. It's very confusing.' Draco sat back in the bed, pulling the sheet and the duvet up to the pointy chin. He shuddered. The night was cold, the castle's thick walls didn't allow the warm summer night to have any effect.

'This time you deserve it,' Moody said gruffly. 'And you are being decent again. That's quite confusing, too. Go to bed.'

'I'm not twelve! And I am in bed.'

I can see that. That you're in bed. As for your age... let's just say that chances are that you're growing up. Goodnight, Draco.' Moody turned around, grabbing his staff. He blew out the candle on the chest of drawers. He was cold; hobbling about in a draughty castle in the middle of the night wearing nothing but boxers and a nightshirt was hazardous to the health. He opened the door. Wagtail sat in the middle of the room, looking indecisive.


With the hand on the doorknob, Moody turned around carefully, balancing on one leg. 'What is it?'

'Could you... could you stay until I'm asleep?' There was an anxious note in Draco's request. 'Sometimes I dream they come back. The Dementors.'

'I thought you liked them better than me.' Moody was about to say something nasty, like pointing out who had put the Dementors in Azkaban in the first place or how many sleepless nights witches and wizards had had because of Voldemort. It would not be fair. Moody knew real fear when he saw it and Draco was afraid. Moody understood. He didn't see any Dementors when he was trying to sleep, but he'd had his share of nightmares and sleepless nights. This one, for instance. He knew himself well enough to know that an incident like the one today would linger a few weeks before it faded into the same grey porridge of run-ins, battles and accidents that he had had through the years.


Moody scratched his stubbly chin. 'Better give me one of the blankets, then. I'm not going to catch a cold because of you.' He sighed. 'Twelve.'


''s all right.' As long as he could bloody lie down and didn't have to limp around like a lame horse. Moody stoked the fire with a quick spell. A blessed warmth spread in the bedroom. 'Move over.' Draco moved. It was a very large bed, exactly as soft and nice as Moody's own. He fluffed a couple of pillows and sat down, leaning against the headboard. With the blanket over his naked leg and a half, he was quite comfortable. Wagtail jumped on the bed and curled up at Draco's feet. 'Goodnight,' Moody said.

Draco didn't answer. A few minutes later, his even, slow breathing revealed that he'd fallen asleep. Thank Merlin, Moody thought. He'd be back in his own bed in minutes. He decided to stay for a little, to be certain that Draco was sleeping soundly. Moody pulled the blanket tighter around himself. It really was a very pleasant bed. Lazily he waved the wand at the door and warded it. He needed to close his eye, just for a moment.

The fire had died out when Moody woke up, but he was pleasantly warm. It was light outside. He yawned and opened his eye, for a few seconds unsure of where he was. Wagtail lay snuggled up against his stomach, in deep sleep. Draco Malfoy lay next to him, his head on Moody's left arm, the blond hair in a messy tangle on the pillow. Malfoy didn't look so arrogant in his sleep, Moody thought. Carefully Moody entangled himself from any present dogs and Death Eaters. He couldn't believe how careless he'd been, falling asleep like that. At least he'd warded the door, but this was not vigilance, not even in the broadest sense of the word. He'd fallen asleep and slept better than he could remember having done for some time, without any thought for danger or threats from outside. So, apparently, had Draco. Moody sighed at his own irresponsible behaviour and got out of bed.

He took down the wards and slipped quietly back to his own bed without anybody noticing where he'd been.

He couldn't tell this to anyone, not even to Kingsley. He'd never hear the end of it. Falling asleep in a bed with a Death Eater next to him... Oh, his Aurors would make merry with his reputation from now on and into the next century if they ever found out. He'd be forever the laughing stock of the department. If no one hadn't managed to kill him first, that was, because he was getting lax. It was, however, likely, in which case he'd be fine.

It had been three days since the band of foolhardy halfwits had returned from the Isle of Drear. Severus was still discussing with himself whether it was a good thing or a bad that none of the idiots had been killed. Perhaps he'd been at home by now if they'd all been busy attending Moody's funeral. Despite the opulent luxury that was Abraxas's potions laboratory, Severus had places he would rather be. In Azkaban, for instance, and not for the sake of the charming location.

Suffering the company of fools was bad enough. To make matters worse, Shacklebolt and Moody had barged in, thrown a rotting skull on his desk (or Abraxas's, if one wished to be precise) and demanded that he found out how old it was and how long it had been detached from the body it once belonged to. At least it had given him something to do, other than to see his father-in-law make a fool of himself, almost wetting himself because of the Minister for Magic and his admittedly nice arse. Disgusting. Abraxas could use some of the dignity that Lucius... well, there was that. Voldemort had stripped Lucius of dignity as well. Wand, sanity, dignity. Voldemort hadn't been a modest man.

Irritated, Severus pulled out a range of ingredients for the potion he was making. He'd combined the reversed properties of an Ageing Potion with root of Asphodel. It was, to be honest, an absolutely brilliant idea. One of the house-elves had found a box of old Prophets and comparing the testing results of materials with exact dates was going well. He'd been able to distinguish April from March and was working on getting the years right. He suspected that any display in the Prophet issues of a picture of Elphias Doge tended to distort the result with a margin of ten years, give or take. Provisional testing of the skull had suggested, though, that its current state of decapitation had happened within a range of a year from the time that Perks disappeared. Severus wasn't satisfied, however. He wanted precision. If the Aurors wanted amateurs, they could have done the testing themselves.

Severus chopped a Jobberknoll feather into tiny pieces, careful not to let the fluffy little bits escape. It was an experiment, the feather. He hoped the memory-enhancing properties of Jobberknoll parts would merge nicely with the age-determiners in the reversed Ageing potion. He weighed the pieces of the feather carefully before he mixed them with the potion he had brewing in the finely polished bronze cauldron. He stirred five times clockwise, ten times counter-clockwise, then put on the lid. It would have to rest at least thirty-six hours, the longer the better. He was unsure of how concentrated the extract would be. He'd have liked to have a whole bird. Perhaps he should get one; he suspected it would concentrate the merging of time and memory if he used the bird's brain for the potion.

He could of course use it as an excuse to go to London. He could visit Lucius on the way. Azkaban was almost in that direction. If by "in that direction" one meant "a very long detour".

His relative peace was disturbed by a thumping sound from the corridor. Severus huffed. Moody could just as well have sent a herald to announce his arrival. He didn't care to turn. 'So, Moody, still short a leg?'

'Better that than short a head, if you ask me.' Moody's gnarled hand extended over the desk. He was pointing at the skull. 'Any news?'

'Not yet. I'm able to detect a time with a margin within a year. It is simply not good enough.'

'It's an indication. Could do with something better than a rough estimate. You've got it nailed down to 1992-1993, though?'

'Yes. I have an idea for improvement. I was wondering whether more Jobberknoll parts or a denser extract would do any good.'

'The kidneys?'

'Brain.' Severus turned. He leaned against the heavy desk that took up the entire wall underneath the windows. 'I want to concentrate the Jobberknoll's ability to store the memory of sound. I hope it will be possible to find traces of sound in all materials; if light makes an impact, why not sound? Minuscule traces, but they have to be there. It should help make the precision better also.'

'Seeing it is a common ingredient in truth potions, Jobberknoll.' Moody nodded. 'I'm not too bad with potions m'self; not in your league, but not bad.' He leant over the desk and studied the sheet where Severus had marked the changes in colour in the potion that denoted the passing of time. 'It works as a catalyst, then? Jobberknoll?'

'It does. Trying out feathers. It'll take a day or two before I can begin testing again.' Snape took the small vial that still held a few blue-speckled feathers. 'I'd like to have the entire bird. I think I'll have to go to London to get one. Might need a few days; I am certainly not going to go by broom.' Severus glared at Moody. The idea of travelling so uncomfortably when one could Apparate was horrible. He'd been over the North Sea on a bunch of over-prized twigs one time too many this month. Not even a Firebolt could ease the pain of hours of flying.

'You could send for one.'

'Or not.'

'Give my regards to Lucius,' Moody growled. 'Going to find out if you'd been paid in full? Nothing wrong with that. No need to hide it, Snape.'

Severus ignored Moody's too-clever assessment. Mad-Eye Moody wasn't famous just for his unconventional looks. 'I thought I'd go look for anything that could lead to more information about the island and those beasts. Borgin and Burkes might have something.' Severus looked at the place where Moody's leg should have been. 'I am certain you had so much fun with those Quintapeds that you'd like to get to know them better.'

'Any ideas?' Moody's eyebrow shot up questioningly.

'A potion to calm them down a bit. Bring meat, add potion, feed the beasts. There's a possibility that you'll have your remaining limbs with you next time, too, without too much hassle.'

As long as you don't kill them. We don't know how they'll react to potions.'

'Hence the research.' Severus lifted the lid of the simmering cauldron. 'This has to simmer for a day, preferably two. I'll charm it, no problem to leave it. I'll be back in time to do tests on it, so I can try to improve it. When are you planning to go back to Drear?'

'Abraxas says that Mr Bruce's wife is making a new leg for me. Carpenter, that one. Wanted to add a few features. Says Mr Bruce has taken a liking to me for some odd reason.' Moody shrugged. 'Could have mended it myself. Faster.'

Severus glanced at Moody's scarred hands. He didn't look like one who was any good with a knife. A wand would do, of course, if one knew the spells to carve out a leg as elaborate as the one Moody had. 'And that'll be done, when?'

'Anytime soon.' Moody smiled a crooked smile, the scar that ran down his cheek pulling his mouth to the left. 'Sally-Anne waited nine years. You should go see Lucius,' he said in a softer tone. 'We can wait a few days.'

Moody had always thought that Kingsley's lips were the most appealing part of his body. Yes, the man had a gorgeous arse and a nice, heavy cock, but the lush, soft mouth... Even after fifteen years, Moody remembered the sensation. Whether it had been on his lips or was sliding up and down his erection didn't matter: Kingsley's mouth was perfect. But right there, when it was glued to Abraxas Malfoy's arrogant, thin lips?

He didn't like it and he didn't like that he felt... envious.

Moody hesitated in the door to the drawing room. Kingsley was lost in the kiss; Abraxas wasn't particularly alert, either, except when it came to mapping out Kingsley's firm buttocks. Eagerly.

'Didn't your mum teach you that it's impolite to spy on other people?'

Moody turned around so fast that he almost slipped. Damned leg! 'Yes, and it obviously didn't help. What's your excuse, Malfoy?'

'Perhaps you'd want to join me in the library?' Draco looked in the direction of the drawing room. 'Are they doing what I think they're doing?'

'Didn't your mother teach you that it's impolite to ask silly questions? How would I know what you're thinking?' Moody leant heavily on his staff. 'Library?'

'Over there.' Draco pointed to a pair of heavy oak doors across the hall.

Moody followed. He had no intentions of spying. If he had wanted that, he'd use his magical eye.

The library was as libraries were, dark and dusty and with the pleasant smell of books and firewood. Draco closed the door behind them. The library was a large, but cosy room with nooks and crannies made up by the many book shelves. Moody sat down in the closest comfortable chair. He turned it a bit so he could watch the door. Draco sat down in an embroidered chair next to him.

'God, this is ugly,' Draco said. 'What do you think these are?' He pointed at a couple of animals at the side of the chair. 'Asses?'

'Erumpents. They're grey.'

'So are mice. And asses. Could be mice. I think that is a tail.'

'Got a point. That'd be a first. Thought they were trunks.'

'Were they kissing?' Draco turned in the chair and hooked his legs over the armrest.

'What? The Erumpents?' Moody looked at the embroidered chair again. It could be. The person who'd made it had a rather alternative view on animal anatomy. Moody's brain caught up with him. 'Ah, Abraxas.'

'It's uncanny. It's my grandfather. He's old.'

'Yes, Malfoy. They were. Kissing. And don't you dare interfere!'

'Why would I do that?' Malfoy shrugged. 'Seen from my point of view it wouldn't be a bad thing, having the Minister for Magic in the family.'

'They were kissing, not getting hitched. Stay out of it.'

'He's hot. The Minister. He could do better.'

'Excuse me?' It shouldn't come as a surprise that others might find Kingsley appealing, although it was surprising that Draco Malfoy did. The Ministry had been intolerable for a while in the beginning of Kingsley's rule. Every unmarried witch and quite a few unmarried wizards had been circling the Minister for Magic like bees around a honeypot. It had taken a while for the collective hormonal poisoning to fade.

'Your eye? There is nothing wrong with it, right? You can see?'

Oh, he could see all right. His eyesight wasn't what it was fifteen years ago, but Kingsley looked better now, one didn't need two eyes to see that. Moody wondered briefly whether Draco, like his grandfather, preferred men. Could be. Ran in the family, that. Not that it was necessary to be interested in men to recognise the fine example of indisputable male perfection that was Kingsley Shacklebolt. 'And you, Malfoy, are the most impertinent little brat I've ever encountered. I don't need an eye to see that.' Moody deliberately let his magical eye swirl disturbingly to annoy Malfoy.

He ignored it. 'Thank you, Head Auror Moody, it's so sweet of you to say that,' he said, adding a healthy amount of sarcasm to the saccharine sweetness. 'It'd still be a perfect solution to our troubles, though. The Minister.'

'What did I just say?'

'Oh, the part about staying out?' Draco shrugged. 'I guess I forgot.' He sent Moody something that might have been a smile. Draco looked tired and the smile didn't reach his eyes. One would think the Malfoys, through the ages, had perfected the art of smiling falsely, but apparently not. There were dark shadows under Draco's eyes. Draco looked away. 'He got me out of that dreadful place. Kingsley. I'm not interfering. Promise.'

The little bastard actually knew the meaning of gratitude? It could be argued that it was stretching the meaning a bit; it was still surprising. Malfoy had layers. Interesting. 'Good thinking, Malfoy.'

Haughtily, Draco added, 'And now I don't have to thank Saint Potter for helping. Even better.'

'Don't push it, boy! Potter did a bit of the hard work, I tell you. Kingsley couldn't have taken you with us without getting in trouble, if Potter hadn't discussed your case with everyone, especially those in the Wizengamot, turning the tide for you. Better remember that. Plus the times when he helped you during the war. I'll help you with the thank-you notes, if you're unable to write them yourself. Incorrigible little idiot.' Moody rolled his eyes. He suspected that Draco knew very well that Potter had worked relentlessly to free him. He'd be a right fool not to acknowledge that fact.

'Yeah, I know. Potter is hopeless. I tried, but to no avail, he really is incorrigible.' Draco smirked.

'As long as you remember that quite a few people did theirs to help you,' Moody growled angrily. 'You wouldn't want to cross me on that one.'

It made Malfoy shut up. He'd had time to think in Azkaban all right. Moody hoped for Malfoy's sake that it was the right thoughts. He'd have to practise gratitude and humility, though, not concepts that Malfoys in general worried about. He studied Draco who'd decided to sit and mope. He really wasn't used to be contradicted, not that Moody cared. Others might be, but Moody wasn't fazed by Draco's antics. Draco, when left to himself, exuded a strange tristesse, a quiet, aloof sadness that made Moody believe that half of Draco's toffee-nosed posturing was nothing but acting to cover up his real feelings. Again he found himself caring for the boy, disturbingly so.

Draco yawned and rubbed his eyes. 'I'm tired,' he pouted. 'I had that dreadful nightmare again. I wish I could have a good night's sleep. Like when you-'

'Maybe a cuppa?' Moody suggested, interrupting. Firstly, he did not want to hear the end of that sentence. It was bad enough as it was. Secondly, he hadn't slept very well himself and he could do with a good cup of Earl Grey. 

Draco sniffed as if he'd been on the verge of crying. Again. 'Yes, please.'

Mr Bruce popped out of the fireplace, as if he'd been listening. 'Sirs wants tea? Is sirs staying?' Mr Bruce looked positively bouncy. 'Mrs Bruce is done with sir's leg. Mrs Bruce will brings it to sir!'

Oh, bliss! He was getting a bit tired of all the limping around. Impossible to uphold any acceptable level of vigilance. 'That would be very kind of Mrs Bruce.' Moody didn't care to ask Malfoy whether it bothered him; it had been a long time since he cared about being discreet his eye and the leg, not that he ever bothered much. If people felt queasy, it was their problem. He was the one who had to suffer the loss of various body parts.

'You're always so polite to the house-elves. Why?' Draco put his legs on the floor and leant forward. 'It's not necessary.'

'You might think so.' The Malfoys' house-elf had suffered greatly at their hands, a fact that did little to endear Lucius to Moody in the first place. How sad if the son was going to take up the habit. 'What was it you told me, about the Abraxans? About their loyalty?'

'That force is unnecessary, obviously!' Draco glared at Moody as if he was utterly clueless. 'Positive reinforcement always works-' Draco shut his mouth almost audibly. 'Oh.'

'Not as far gone as I'd thought. Always know whom to keep on your side. Potter and his friends owe their lives to a loyal house-elf, Draco. Never forget that. Not likely that you will, now that you're reminded of that particular day.'

Draco heaved a sigh. 'I'll try not to.' He pursed his mouth as if he were to say something. Moody expected something nasty.

Luckily the conversation was interrupted by Mr Bruce, who entered the library, carrying a large tray. Behind him a smaller house-elf followed. The elf was carrying an elaborately carved wooden leg. Mr Bruce put the tray down on the coffee table. There was tea and scones, a few delicious looking sandwiches and a bowl filled with chocolate biscuits. Mr Bruce waved the other elf closer.

'Mrs Bruce has made sirs leg, sir.' The smaller elf put the leg down and it took a few small steps to get over to Moody's chair by itself.

'That's-' Moody studied the leg. '-ingenious.' The wooden legs had elaborate carvings, just like his old one, but these were prettier. The carved pattern moved lazily: an Abraxan circling the leg at the widest spot, a small dog that looked very much like Wagtail was playing at the lower part. Other animals, foxes and birds and badgers, were pottering about, doing what carved animals did. The leg ended, not in a claw as the old one, but in a tiny hoof. Abraxan, probably.

'That is a very nice piece of work.' Draco was studying the carvings too with an expression of appreciation on his face.

Moody smiled broadly, impressed by the quality of the elf's carpentry. 'Thank you, Mrs Bruce,' he said in a formal tone. 'It is much better than the one that broke.'

'Mrs Bruce must shows,' Mr Bruce said. 'Shows sirs!'

Mrs Bruce snapped her thin fingers and the leg broke in two.

'What?' Baffled, Moody didn't react before the leg had put itself together. In a few seconds there was nothing to see. It was whole again. 'That's house-elf magic that did that?'

'Mrs Bruce knows how to do woodwork,' Mr Bruce said proudly. 'Mrs Bruce is good wife.' He pointed at the leg. 'Sir musts put on.'

Pulling his trouser leg up, Moody put the leg on. It fit snugly, lined with the softest, finest leather. He got up from the chair, shifting his weight to the leg. The hoof gave it a better balance. 'I won't offend you by suggesting that I should talk Abraxas into giving you clothes, but if I may shake hands with you?' Moody said kindly to the blushing Mrs Bruce. 'If there is nothing else I may give you in exchange?' Moody knew little about house-elves, he did know, though, that they appreciated to be treated with respect and kindness.

'Shake hands with sir?' Mrs Bruce dried her extraordinarily long and pointy nose. 'That is... so... Sir is very nice.' Shyly she held out her hand and Moody took it. Both house-elves looked very pleased. They bowed and disappeared.

'Now you're being nice again.' Draco sat, with his hand under his chin. 'You're a strange person, Moody.'

'Are you keeping a list?' Moody ignored Malfoy's evaluation of his personality. He pulled out his wand. He scanned the new leg for any spells that were not supposed to be there. He didn't expect the house-elves to have any evil plans with his leg, but better safe than sorry. The leg was fine, although the house-elf magic was a tad foreign to Moody. 'Clever little creatures,' he said. 'More to them than meets the eye.'

'A bit like you,' Draco said. 'Full of surprises.'

Kingsley and Abraxas were done kissing, for Kingsley entered the library alone. 'Abraxas is looking for you, Draco.'

'Still on with the messenger service? Quite the luxury, having the Minister for Magic at his beck and call,' Moody said. 'What's next? You sprout feathers and turn into an owl?'

Kingsley showed Draco with a wave that he wanted the chair he was sitting in. 'He was quite adamant, Abraxas. Something about choosing a horse.'

'A horse? He said that he'd let me, but...' Draco stood. He looked pleased. 'I think I might have been forgiven.' He smiled, this time the smile didn't only reach his eyes, but it altered his face, making him look pretty.

'Good for you,' Moody said teasingly. 'I always wanted a pony for Christmas, but did I get one? Guess it's a thing for the landed classes. Damned hard to keep in the loo in a second floor flat, ponies.'

Strangely enough, Draco wasn't offended. 'You could have bought one. I mean, a decently sized bathroom. Not exactly poor, are you, with your position.' He smirked. 'Our toilets at the Manor are large enough to hold several ponies.'

'So could you—buy a pony. Instead of waiting for your grandfather to take pity in you and give you one. But, oh, wait. That'd mean you have to work and earn money.' Moody didn't think that Draco had done as much as one day's honest work in his entire life. He probably didn't have to.

'Dearest Auror Moody,' Draco purred, 'We Malfoys do not buy things. We inherit them. The difference between us and... people.'

'And you have obviously inherited your grandfather's annoying habit of making fun of everything as well as your father's foul disposition.' Satisfied with his come-back, Moody crossed his arms and leant back, waiting for the impact. Teasing Draco Malfoy had turned out to be an interesting pastime.

'Touché, Moody.' Draco opened the door. 'At least I know who my father is.' Draco smiled sweetly. 'You should ask your mum that question. I'm sure she knows who the gentleman is. Maybe. If she wasn't too drunk at the time. And the goat had left.' He shut the door before Moody could react.

Moody stared at the door, flabbergasted. Then he laughed, utterly amused. 'Merlin!' He rubbed his scarred cheek, surprised to find a tear of laughter there.

Kingsley sat down in the chair that Draco had used. 'You're beginning to like him?'

'Wouldn't stretch it that far. He needs a guiding hand and I'm...' Moody realised that he wasn't really certain what he was doing, other than keeping an eye on Malfoy, trying to talk some sense into him. In between the teasing. 'I'm trying to make him understand that the world has changed, I think. And that he can, too.'

'By offending his family and bullying him? Yes, well done.' Kingsley laughed loudly. 'I must admit that you get as good as you give.' He took a sandwich from the tray. 'He likes you.'

'Oh, because you and Abraxas are never on each others' throats like that.' Moody couldn't keep the envy out of his voice entirely. 'And now that we're on that topic, where is that going?'

'Nowhere. Yet.' Kingsley took a bite of the sandwich before Moody could manage to stop him.

'I haven't checked for poison,' he growled. He knew he was being silly, but old habits were hard to break.

'I think you need to relax a bit. There is no one to kiss if I'm dead,' Kingsley said and chewed for a while before he continued. 'Testing the waters, I believe. Getting to know him.'

'But you're serious?' Moody knew already that he wouldn't like the answer. It wasn't as if he wanted Kingsley for himself, but he didn't want Abraxas to have him, either.

Kingsley paused. 'I haven't really decided. I think I am. He is. Says I keep him from dying of boredom.' Kingsley smiled his wide, brilliant smile. 'We're not in love or anything, if that's what you ask. But again, there's potential. He keeps me from slipping into the comfortable suit of the sleazy politician.'

'Oh, thanks, I saw precisely who you were slipping into earlier. Could have closed the door, you know. Before you stuck your tongue into Abraxas's throat.'

'One of the things I love about you, Moody, is that you are always so concerned about being polite and discreet.' Kingsley shook his head. 'You were spying on us?' Kingsley didn't seem worried and took another bite of the sandwich.

'No!.' Moody felt a bit... affronted. 'You should know me better than that.' Moody pointed at the magical eye. Kingsley knew precisely what it could do. He also knew very well that Moody had a very strict ethical code when it came to its use. He was not a voyeur.

'Sorry. Of course you didn't. And before you ask, there has only been kissing. Still not your business, but you'd ask anyway.'

'Yeah, I might.' It was work-related, being curious. 'Are we done discussing your love-life? Because I'd like to know when we're going back to Drear. We're waiting for Snape to return tomorrow, of course. If we can get a confirmation that it really is Tony Perks we found—or not—we'd know whether to continue the search there or if we need to go on to the two locations you suggested.' If it was Tony Perks, it would give Mrs Perks closure, precisely what Moody had hoped for. There was no chance of finding them alive, but finding them at all was an improvement. They should probably search the island anyway; if the body they'd found wasn't Mr Perks, someone else had lost their life there. Moody found it highly unlikely that the body wasn't Anthony Perks. The broom, the location, the circumstances... Snape's time-determining potion would merely be a confirmation what they already had deducted from the evidence.

'If Snape returns the day after tomorrow, he'll probably need three days to test what he's already made and to brew the improved version of the potion.' Kingsley paused and poured himself a cup of tea. 'Do you want to investigate the places we discussed, or should we just  enjoy a few days of peace and quiet? The chances are that it really is Perks we've found, if you ask me.' Kingsley took a sip of the tea and winced. 'Uh, hot!'  He put the cup down and looked at Moody. 'I'd prefer to have the potion with us so we can test on the spot; I am not that eager to have more encounters with those Quintapeds if I can avoid it.'

Moody nodded. He agreed. He wasn't particularly fond of the nightmares that the incident with Quintapeds had evoked and Moody was sure that they'd return with force when he went back. Malfoy, too, had bad dreams still, not that it bothered Moody much. 'The potion will save us work too, if we can do that, test what we find on location. Not that I like to sit idly and wait, but I suppose it is all the holiday we're going to get.' Moody wasn't really interested in wasting time. But Kingsley... he hadn't had a holiday for ages. They could wait a few days and still get the result they were looking for. Three days of boredom, letting Kingsley enjoy his budding relationship with Abraxas Malfoy... that was all right. He owed his friend that much.

Turning yet another page in Kennilworthy Whisp's Quidditch Through the Ages, Moody yawned. He liked Quidditch. The book, however, with its meticulous accord of who did what with a bat and a Snitch in the Stone Age, was blessedly boring. Refusing to go to bed until he was properly tired, Moody sat in a deep chair in front of the fireplace. One of the benefits of having a bedroom the size of the entire floor of his terraced London house. Wagtail had curled up in his lap, occasionally waking up and turning so that Moody could pet him on whatever place Wagtail wanted. 'Lazy dog,' Moody said affectionately. He really should get a dog. 'What do you say, should we go to bed?' Unsurprisingly, Wagtail didn't reply. Moody got up, folding the blanket he'd used. He'd already changed into his nightshirt, his teeth were brushed and he was ready for yet another attempt to get a few hours of light sleep, disturbed by random nightmares. 'Come on,' he said, waiting for Wagtail to jump onto the bed. Moody found his wand, then considered whether three different wards were to overdo safety a wee bit. He knew he had a slight tendency to be paranoid—some might disagree on the "slight"—and he tried to keep it under control. The war was over after all.

'Moody?' There was a soft knocking on the door. 'Moody, are you asleep?'

What was it now? 'Yes. Go away!'

'No, you're not.' Draco opened the door, eyeing Moody's nightshirt. 'You're not even in bed.'

'Astute observation, Malfoy. What is it?' Draco, too, was wearing a nightshirt. He was clutching a pillow. Moody's brain made the connection. 'No! Absolutely no!'

'I can't sleep. I'm so tired.' Draco had perfected the art of sounding pathetic. Moody didn't know whether it was his various hints about Draco's mental age that had made a minor impact, but Draco might have realised that he was falling into the behavioural pattern of a child. 'I heard Kingsley talk with my grandfather. Is it true that we're going back to Drear as soon as Severus is back?' Draco hugged the pillow hard. He wasn't comfortable.

'Yes. That's what Aurors do, Draco, investigate. Even though it's dangerous.'

'I'm not an Auror. I'm...' That moment it felt as if Draco's many masks slipped off, peeled away. 'I'm scared, Moody. I don't want to go back. I know something horrible is going to happen. I tried to sleep, but...'

Something terrible had already happened: Moody realised he felt truly sorry for Malfoy, despite all his wrongdoings and his stupid Pure-blood prejudice and his arrogant, infuriating behaviour. Somehow Moody understood that Draco had tried. He still did. All the time he tried. So much had depended on Draco, so many demands from his father, from Lord Voldemort, from Snape. So much was still expected of him. It was no wonder that the boy was messed up. Moody patted Draco's shoulder clumsily for comfort. 'Go to bed. Just relax. Take Wagtail with you. You'll fall asleep in no time.'

'Moody?' Draco's grey eyes were wide and innocent.

'No. And drop the act. What?'

'Moody?' Draco stepped closer and pulled Moody's sleeve. 'You know... when you were sleeping next to-'

'No. Under no circumstances!'

'Please? Just tonight. So I can fall sleep. I'll feel better tomorrow! I promise.'

'Do I have a label on my forehead that says "idiot", Malfoy?' Moody knew he should refuse. He knew he should send Draco off to bed, let him deal with his nightmares and his fears by himself. Moody couldn't do that for him. He sighed. 'One night. There.' He pointed at the far side of the huge bed. 'And stay there.'

Of course Draco didn't obey. Moody was secretly annoyed that he couldn't possibly berate Malfoy for what he did in his sleep. After eight hours of wonderful, dreamless sleep Moody woke up. This time it was Wagtail who was lying on his left arm whereas Malfoy lay curled up against his side, fast asleep.

Merlin, this had to stop!

9. Desires and Death Eaters

It didn't stop. The next evening when Draco once more was at his doorstep, Moody's protests had decimated themselves miraculously. He'd merely called Draco a spoilt brat and let him in, despite all common sense. When Moody woke up after yet another night of deep, relaxing sleep, he wasn't certain he cared any longer. They'd both fallen asleep almost instantly, all three of them to be exact, although Wagtail surely had no problems sleeping. His sleep was usually only disturbed by the occasional naps he took.

Moody was beginning to think that this holiday-idea of Kingsley's wasn't entirely without merit. Having time to sleep in could be seen as sensible and good for one's health. Especially if one had warded the bedroom properly so one didn't have to suffer unexpected attacks at six in the morning.

Not that he'd have noticed, for the clock was past ten already and the sun was shining merrily outside. Not that Moody really noticed that, either, for Draco had insisted that the curtains were pulled. Moody had made an exception, to some degree accepting Draco's argument that no Dark Wizard in their right mind cared to hover outside the second floor of a desolate castle at night just to hex him. Dark Wizards would, according to Draco, be at their manor houses, enjoying a drink before bedtime, not faffing about to hex people at inappropriate hours. As Dark Wizards' bedtime habits went, Moody reluctantly had to bow to Malfoy's expertise on the matter.

Beside him, Draco was still asleep. Without thinking he reached out, as if to pet Draco in the same way he petted Wagtail. He stopped himself. Instead he studied Draco's relaxed face. Malfoy was pretty when he didn't frown or look arrogant or dissatisfied, which he did most of his awake hours. It had been almost two weeks since they had fetched Malfoy in Azkaban and in those two weeks, Moody had to admit, Draco had changed. Not much, but he had. He was still a petty, childish little arsehole. Only there were glimpses of another Draco, a more honest, mature man, a young man who could be brave if he had to. Moody wondered if he'd be like Abraxas when he got older. Infinitely better than ending up like Lucius. With the right support, and in the right environment, Draco Malfoy would grow up to be tolerable.

Sighing, Moody wondered why Draco sought out his company. There had to be other reasons than his immense charm and beauty. It could be that it was just more comfortable for Draco to sleep next to another person; it could be that he was looking for the father figure he'd been missing since Lucius was broken by Voldemort. It was obvious that Malfoy needed protection, warmth and safety after his ordeal in Azkaban. Although Moody still found it more than fair that Draco had been put there in the first place, he was beginning to find it reasonably fair that they'd dragged him out. Before he, too, was broken entirely.

Although they should dislike each other, two former enemies, Moody was still wondering what had happened since Malfoy trusted him enough to wish to sleep next to him. Moody, in turn, found that it would be unwise to refuse this trust. Draco had showed that the trust wasn't for show: he'd earned the right to Moody's consideration by his brave intervention at the Isle of Drear. A good night's sleep was in that regard a small payment for Wagtail's life. For his own.

Awkwardly, Moody put his arm around Malfoy's thin shoulder, offering what little comfort he had to give. He wondered whether it would be wise to sleep yet another hour or two. Perhaps not. It wouldn't do that Abraxas and Kingsley found out that Draco and he had been sharing a bed. It would elicit questions that Moody wasn't certain that he could answer.

'Moody?' Draco stirred and cuddled up against Moody's chest. 'Don't get up, you're so warm.'

'I'm not your personal radiator, Malfoy. And it's July.'

'I've been freezing for two years. I like it warm. What's a radiator?'

'A Muggle device which keeps rooms warm.'

'I like Muggles. They invent useful things. Can I have radiators at the Manor?'

'No, you don't. And you probably can.'

'If I actually knew any Muggles...'

There was a tapping on the door. 'Damn,' Moody said, looking for his eye. 'You'd not want to-'

Before Moody managed to get his magical eye to react, Mr Bruce opened the door carefully, peeking around the door frame. 'Sirs?'

'Oh, get in here. Close the door,' Moody growled. 'And if you breathe a word to anyone-'

'I thought you said that one needed to be nice to house-elves,' Draco interrupted cheekily. He was grinning.

Mr Bruce wasn't fazed. He was balancing a tray with one hand and closed the door with the other. 'Sirs' breakfast.' He put the tray down on the bed. There was two of everything, except for croissants. There was a mountain of those.

'Moody was trying to say that it would be awfully nice of you not to mention to anyone that I was in here and not in the other bedroom. Could you do that for us, please?'

Moody raised an eyebrow. If nothing else, Draco was a fast learner. 'And none of that Master said I couldn't tell this or that-nonsense. Please, Mr Bruce.' Abraxas would probably hear about it anyway at some point, so perhaps he needed to work on a proper excuse. 'And you,' he told Draco, 'need to go back to your room before breakfast, young man. What do you think your grandfather would say if he found out that you slept here?'

'Good work, Auror Moody. Or something in that direction. You know him, it could be anything from pass me the broccoli, please to I demand satisfaction; meet me at dawn, bring wands.' Draco took a croissant.

Moody pushed Wagtail away from the tray. The dog had his eyes on his teacup. Teacups seemed to be Wagtail's preferred snack.

'Although he's too busy with Kingsley to actually bother with anything that isn't directly related to Minister Shacklebolt's firm arse. We could probably have a party in here with four of the Abraxans and he still wouldn't notice. Not his business where I sleep, either,' Draco argued.

'But it is mine. As long as you insist on being in my bed.' Moody took pity in Wagtail who was looking pathetic with one paw raised, begging. Moody gave him one of the croissants. 'You'll be in your own bed before breakfast tomorrow. No more of this silly business. It's like playing happy family, what with you and the dog.'

'Yeah, isn't it great?' Draco looked smug.

That was the problem. It was great.  No, it was grand. And it really shouldn't feel like that.

It was almost lunchtime when Moody returned from a walk down the coast. His new leg was better than the old one; he found it easier to walk properly. Wagtail, who couldn't care less about the number of limbs that Moody possessed as long as he got his walk, was bouncing happily around, digging and sniffing at anything he found remotely interesting. Moody had needed the exercise, too. He needed air. He needed to think.

Draco Malfoy had wormed his way into his life. Somehow there was this faint echo of what Abraxas and Kingsley had and yet it was nothing like it. Draco was infuriating, but he was an interesting challenge, all the time making Moody question his own opinions, his habits, his life. It was disturbing because the entire relationship, if one could call it that, had a slight flavour of change and reconciliation. It was obvious that his opinions and his occasional scoldings had an effect on Draco, just as Draco had managed to make him think about his own rather firm beliefs on life, laws and Death Eaters. Draco had even managed to make him change his mind: one of those rare occurrences which wasn't worth holding one's breath for.

None of that was problematic as such. The ability to adapt and be open-minded was a necessary trait for an Auror, any Auror, Alastor Moody included. Moody's problem was that he was getting oddly fond of a young man whose behaviour and opinions he should detest. Draco Malfoy was a former Death Eater who'd changed his allegiance at the most opportune moment, just like his equally opportunistic parents. Moody couldn't think of anything worse than this cowardly turning towards those with power. A Malfoy trademark. Only none of it really mattered and it should. There were other stumbling blocks: Draco had his own way of driving him mad. Draco was fickle, annoying, as constant the English weather. And all the time Draco kept him on his toes. All five of them. Moody began to understand what Kingsley found so challenging and interesting with Abraxas. Draco was the same, yet without the experience and the refinement. It would come with age.​

Moody had no idea what to make of their relation. All he knew was that Draco sought him out for safety and protection and that he didn't mind. If he had to admit it, didn't mind wasn't the right term to use. He liked it.

Perhaps he should get that dog. And fast.
Walking over the drawbridge, the hard thumping of Moody's staff and leg might have alerted Draco, for he was waiting in the courtyard, strangely excited. 'Come on. Grandfather has something for you. Kingsley has already got his.'

Moody could think of one or two things that Kingsley got from Abraxas that he had little interest in. 'And what might that be?'

'Not a spoilsport. Not going to tell.' Draco sported an annoyingly smug grin. He scampered off in the direction of the stables.

Trying to keep up with him, Moody limped across the cobbled courtyard with Wagtail running back and forth between them, barking and bouncing. Draco politely held the door to the stables open. He shut the door behind them as Moody went inside. He breathed in. He liked horses. He liked the spicy, sweet scent of hay. A small herd of horses were standing with their heads over the half-wall, trying to get to the carrots that Abraxas was holding.

'Auror Moody.' Abraxas acknowledged his presence with a gracious nod.

'What are those?' Moody regarded the horses with interest. They were much smaller than the Abraxans, the size of a Muggle horse, perhaps sixteen hands or so. Abraxans seemed to come only in a variety of palomino colours, from pale eggshell to dark bronze. These horses were black and chestnut, spotted or grey or dappled in a wide array of colours.

'By-products.' Abraxas offered a carrot to a beautiful flaxen colt with golden eyes. 'Cross-bred.'

'I told you,' Draco said, reaching out to rub one of the horses on the neck. 'My many-times-great grandfather bred horses for Muggle warriors hundreds of years ago. They were originally Spanish horses crossed with Abraxans. We still keep the line. A few of them come out like this, with wings. It has to happen once in a while, since it's in their blood. Not that often, though. Grandfather is careful with the genetics.'

'I've noticed.' Moody didn't understand this obsession with breeding, whether it was horses or humans. The animals, however, were beautiful, sturdy horses who carried themselves proudly. Moody could understand why one would like to keep a herd of them. They were pretty to look at.

'Not of much use these days,' Abraxas said, 'but they are a part of the Malfoy heritage. The winged ones are much sought after, especially by French witches and wizards. Of course I could breed more of them, but that is not the purpose of the line. So they stay very rare.'

'And expensive,' Draco added. 'When did you last sell one, Grandfather?'

'It is distasteful to speak of such matters, Draco.' Abraxas correction was kind. 'We are not... nouveau riche. Remember your manners.' He sighed. 'Those were the times... witches and wizards at the courts, the Malfoy horses at the tournaments. In battle.'

'Yes, Grandfather.' Draco accepted the correction gracefully. Moody had no problems recognising the small pout and the flash of anger in his eyes. Draco was getting better at it, being an adult. Two weeks ago, he'd thrown a temper tantrum.

'You're hoping for yet another crusade? For the sake of your horses?' Moody laughed. Abraxas was... incredible.

Abraxas, too, laughed. 'No, Moody. The reason that I am out here, a few inches from falling off Scotland, is that I do not appreciate war. Any war.' Abraxas handed Moody some of the carrots. 'I am a gentleman of leisure and I insist on the luxury of doing things that do not make sense to anyone but me.' He pointed at a smoky black gelding, large and heavy set. The shiny black wings had a bluish tint to them. 'That one. I used to ride him often. He's brave, easy to get along with, handsome. That'd be my choice for you, since you're not that experienced and he is. But pick anyone you like,' Abraxas added generously. 'Unless you'd rather have one of the Abraxans; they're a bit difficult to get into the loo, though. Draco mentioned that you'd probably try to put it there if I didn't agree to let him stay here. You'd have to go and visit him, obviously, and I'd be less bored with a slight influx of intelligent company.'

'So not entirely an offer out of the goodness of your heart?'

'Of course not. Kingsley already accepted his gift. He'll have to come back to go for a ride once in a while. You, Auror, despite your attitude, is quite entertaining, too, although for different reasons.' Abraxas's eyes slid to Draco. 'I'm not the only one who thinks that having you here is tolerable. And we cannot disappoint the young, can we?'

'Easily,' Moody growled, a bit defensive, despite the underhanded compliment. Did he really have to admit that he was changing his mind on the Malfoys? 'The young-' He looked pointedly at Draco '-are far too used to getting what they want.'

'Are they?' Abraxas's face was expressionless.

Moody wondered how much Abraxas knew. Whether he knew where, exactly, Draco stayed some of the day and all of the night. Wisely, Moody changed the subject. 'So, that one?' He looked at the horse. It had the colour of a late and foggy winter night. It was a nice horse, not that Moody had much experience in the matter. If he didn't have to worry about where to put it, he could accept the gift. If Kingsley had accepted his, Moody could do the same without feeling as if he did something he shouldn't do. Most important of all, this wasn't Abraxas trying to buy himself a political favour. Instead, Moody thought, it was a strange and sometimes lonely man who didn't mind company occasionally, going riding with his guests. The horses were merely a guarantee that Kingsley and he would return to the castle. 'Seems I got the pony I wanted for Christmas anyway,' he said to Draco. A smile was pulling at his scars.

'Horsa. That's his name.' Draco stepped closer to Moody, diverting his attention for a moment with a hand on his arm. 'His brother, over there, is called Hengist. That's the one I chose. They're both of the H-line. Haizum's their sire, so Halcyon is their grandsire.'

Moody offered a carrot to Horsa who appeared very interested in the remaining vegetables. The horse tried to do a bit of self-service and nibbled at the carrots until Moody gave in and let the horse have another. He rubbed the animal on the nose. Draco's choice was quite modest. He'd have thought that he'd would have taken the most impressive of the Abraxans.

'I thought that we could...' Draco's pale skin took a slightly rose tone. 'I could teach you, if you want? Riding. Flying.'

'Are you being decent again?' Moody asked, ignoring Abraxas's presence. 'Careful, lad. One day it becomes a habit.' Draco's hand was burning hot on his arm. 

'Of course not.' Draco smiled. 'It wouldn't be fair to you, leaving you without anything to complain about.'

'Oh, that won't happen, I assure you. If nothing else, there is always your appalling wand-safety to criticise.' Moody raised an eyebrow at Draco's wand, sticking up from a pocket in the robe. 'Where did you get that, by the way, didn't you use one of your grandfather's wands?' Moody held up a hand. 'No, wait. I know. Special order from London.'

'Special order from Bulgaria.' Draco raised an eyebrow too. 'For various reasons, Mr Ollivander is reluctant to receive our patronage. So will you?' Draco removed his hand. 'Go riding with me.'

'You won't take no for an answer, I suppose?'

'Not really.' Draco shrugged. 'It'll be fun. And when you've learnt, we won't have to-' He paused. '-you won't have to bother with long-distance travel by broom again. The horses are much more comfortable for that kind of travelling.'

It all sounded very nice. Too nice. It didn't make it any better that Abraxas looked like he appreciated what Draco was doing. Moody gave up. Draco Malfoy was beyond hopeless. 'May I see your hands?'

'What for?'

'Give 'em here.'

Draco held out his hands. 'What are you playing at, Moody?'

Moody grabbed Draco's right hand. It was thin and warm, but Draco was trembling slightly. 'Nothing. I just wondered which of your little fingers you have me wrapped around.' Somehow Moody found it a little hard to breathe. A shiver went through him. Maybe he was getting a cold? Reluctantly, he let go, only to realise that he hadn't wanted to.

Perhaps he was running a fever, too?

The next day, Snape returned. It was a calmer, happier Snape, one that even managed a smile. He'd arrived with a larger assortment of books and potions and had almost immediately retreated into the potions laboratory. They didn't see him for a few hours, and it was very clear that their interference was unwanted. Snape had sent for his lunch, then for tea.

After dinner Snape was still working. Moody found a particularly interesting volume on vanishing spells and potions in the library and went back to his room to study it. As usual, Wagtail had a problem. He ran upstairs with Moody, then decided to run back downstairs to find Draco, that was at least what Moody thought. When he for the third time let Wagtail out, he growled an annoyed, 'Then bring the boy with you, stupid dog!' When Draco showed up he didn't knock and Moody didn't complain. He didn't care to get up from the bed, either, showing with a nod that Draco could join him.

Curling up with Wagtail at the end of the bed it took barely half an hour for Draco to worm closer so he could lie with his head resting on Moody's good leg as if it was the most natural thing in the world. He, too, was reading. Distractedly, Moody reached out and stroked Draco's hair. He hadn't even noticed, not until he threaded his fingers through it. Draco merely sighed, content.

The sea was calm. For once, the harsh northern wind had turned into a summer breeze. Under the open window, slow waves rolled upon the shore, a slow, constant rhythm. The large poster bed felt like a small, pleasant island. Moody couldn't remember when he'd last felt this relaxed, except in the morning, when he woke up with Draco next to him and Wagtail lying somewhere in the bed as well. He knew he needed to think about what he was doing. What they were doing. At some point, he had to face... it, this strange nest of satisfied needs they'd been creating for themselves. Moody paused. Draco reached up to touch his hand, urging him without words to continue. In the same casual way that Moody had touched Draco's hair, his fingers suddenly were entangled with Draco's: a small, bony hand disappearing into Moody's much larger fist. There was this shivering energy again, a tiny stream of magic flashing between their hands.

Moody realised that instant that he surely wasn't running a fever. Not that kind of fever, at least.

'I need to see Snape,' Moody said and freed himself. 'I'll come back later.' It was too much. He needed a break, something else to do. Before it went to far.


'It's your bedroom,' Draco said. 'Could have figured that out by myself.' 

It was midnight before Moody returned. Draco was asleep, Wagtail in his arms. The dog opened one eye when Moody entered, only to do the sensible thing and go back to sleep. Quietly Moody bathed and went to bed. He knew he should make Draco leave. Waking him up, asking him to leave would be cruel, so he didn't. He turned his back on Draco and Wagtail. Sleep didn't come as easily as he'd hoped, neither did he sleep as long as he'd wanted. Morning came far too soon.

The sun was bright and clear. Long fingers of light were clutching at the curtains, making it impossible to ignore the early summer morning. Moody was lying on his back, one arm around Draco's shoulder. Draco's hand lay limply on Moody's chest. One of Draco's legs was thrown over Moody's good one. Also, Moody had a problem. A large one. It was as if his body was awakening. He'd been busy with the war and later, when Kingsley pulled him out of recovery, there had been little time to worry much about that sort of needs. It was easier to ignore them anyway, since there was little chance that they'd be satisfied.

He got up from the bed without waking Draco. He was getting good at that. He didn't want Draco to think that his safe retreat was threatened in a way that neither of them had foreseen. Realising that one had been sleeping next to a scarred, middle-aged Auror with a morning glory the size of the Big Ben might be a bit disturbing for a young man. Moody grabbed his clothes and went into the bathroom. A look at Draco before he locked the door assured him that he was still asleep.

Moody tossed off harshly under the shower, thinking only of how Kingsley looked when he came. It took up the room for images that he'd not want to entertain. He moaned as he imagined Kingsley's lips and tongue on his cock, forgetting for a moment that he wasn't alone. The release was quick. He finished showering and hurried to dress. He was trying to overlook the fact that he should have cast a silencing charm, but he didn't like them. It wouldn't be possible to hear attackers trying to sneak up to him. Well, nothing to remedy that now; Obliviating Draco would be a bit on the excessive side. Hopefully, he wasn't yet awake.

It wasn't Moody's lucky day. Not only was Draco awake, he managed to blush and look complacent at the same time. If Draco's fidgeting was a clear indicator, Moody hadn't been as quiet as he thought he had.

'Erm- hello.' Draco did indeed blush.

So much for hiding it. 'It has been some time.' Moody didn't volunteer further information. There wasn't much more to say. 'I'm getting used to it, abstinence. Since you're staying here, I suggest you do too.'

Draco looked searchingly at Moody. 'What? To not having any? Azkaban is the den of sin, I'll have you know.' Draco looked extraordinarily displeased by the mere thought of the prison.

'Not very likely.' Moody sighed and sat down on the bed. 'As I understand it, there is no contact between the prisoners.'

Draco ignored Moody's comment. 'Why? I mean, why haven't you, if you don't mind me asking?' He turned, facing Moody, cuddling up next to him with the duvet around his shoulders and Wagtail in his lap.

'I do mind. But look at me, lad. And then tell me that I'm the stuff dreams are made of. People have eyes.' Moody never got used to the ravaged face that appeared in the mirror, neither had he truly accepted the loss of his eye and leg; he'd coped, which was not the same. He'd been good looking once. Not handsome, but decent. That time was long gone and it still pained him occasionally, although he really didn't care what other people thought of him. 

'Oh... I...' Draco looked puzzled. 'I hadn't thought of that. I... sort of don't really notice. The scars, if that's what you mean.' He licked his lips before he continued, this time hesitating as if he was wondering if he'd said too much. He went on: 'They're battle scars. Honour. Shows that you're brave and strong. A hero. Surely women like that?' He raised his hand, reaching out to touch the violent scar that ran down Moody's cheek, then regretted it. He rubbed his left arm instead. 'Not like this one.' He put his hand back in his lap.

The fact that Malfoy had wanted to touch his scars was very surprising. 'Women might.' Moody snorted. Was he truly sitting here, discussing with Draco Malfoy his lack of anything that resembled a love life? 'That's not the problem, though.'

'Women are not a problem?' A realisation hit Draco. Oh,' he said again. 'Oh! That is... You are... Oh. I didn't think that you...'

Draco did not look disgusted. On the contrary. He looked a bit flushed and pleased as he sat there with the pretty lips parted and surprise shining in his grey eyes. It was a kissable mouth, Moody thought, before his conscious mind registered the utter inappropriateness of the idea. Merlin! He had to get out immediately, as not to think that thought to its very disturbing end. Draco Malfoy kissable? He had to make certain he hadn't been hit with a spell. Perhaps he'd suddenly been transported into an alternate universe where such things happened?

Then Moody realised that he'd been looking into Draco's eyes the whole time, staring at the handsome young man breathlessly. A similar baffled and breathless look had settled onto Draco's face.

'Bugger,' Moody growled. For the first time in decades, Auror Alastor Moody had no clue on what to do. All he knew was that this was a battle he couldn't fight. So decided to do the safest thing he could think of—before he gave in and kissed Draco Malfoy senseless and ruined everything:

He fled.

Moody avoided Draco for the remains of the day. Luckily he had things to do. He needed to speak to Kingsley; they both needed to plan the investigation they were carrying out. He decided to go and see Snape, hoping there was something he could do that could keep him away from Draco as long as possible. To be honest, his vigilance had let him down. He'd guarded everything, always alert and perceptive. Doors, windows, houses. Hexes and charms and spells. Everything he'd done so he could keep himself and others safe.

Only one thing he'd forgotten to guard, for in his infinite stupidity it hadn't occurred to him that it was under fire.

His heart.

He knew he had been lying to himself. He should have seen it coming, known where it would go when he let Draco into his bed. He had pretended it was care for the young man. It was, but from the moment he'd woken up and found Draco in his arms, he'd been lying to himself. He had been so occupied with Kingsley, afraid of losing his best friend. He had admittedly been a bit jealous, but now he understood it wasn't because of Kingsley's relationship with Abraxas. Moody didn't want Kingsley, he wanted a relationship. He didn't want to be alone for the rest of his life. So very stealthyly, covered by the fact that Moody's attention had been elsewhere, Draco Malfoy had made his way into Moody's life. He had sought comfort and warmth and Moody had given it to him willingly.

It did not, however, mean that Draco wanted more than that; on the contrary. Why would anyone want Alastor Moody with his paranoia and his ruined, ravaged body?

Moody decided to deal with the Malfoy problem later. Instead he went through the castle's long corridors to find Kingsley. If they progressed as they'd planned, they were to return to Isle of Drear tomorrow. A meeting with Snape was first on the list of things that Moody had to do. Dealing with his unexpected feelings for Draco had to wait.

He turned around a corner almost running directly into the man he'd been looking for.

'Oi! Where are you going, Moody? I was looking for you. On your way to Snape?'

Moody confirmed Kingsley's assumption. 'Yeah. He was rather pleased with the progress he made on the potion yesterday. He's still fiddling with the Jobberknoll.'

'And the skull?'

'Still decreasing the time margin.' Moody managed a grin. 'Snape's certain the remains belong to Anthony Perks. He has determined that the person in question died during the summer 1992. Mostly he wants to impress us with his potion-making skills, I think. A right perfectionist he is, Snape.' Moody snorted. 'When he's done, he will probably be able to detect the moment of death to within a few seconds of the event.'

'Handy potion, that. I suppose the Magical Law Enforcement is buying?'

'You bet.'

'I'll make sure the Ministry is in on this. Could save us a lot of work on troublesome cases. I'm glad we, erm, asked him to go with us.'

'Coerced, you mean.' Moody began walking towards Snape's laboratory. 'Nevertheless, he seems... content that he bought Lucius more freedom with this. He seemed happier when he returned. Couldn't have been pleasant, watching the man he loves go to pieces in Azkaban.'

Sighing, Kingsley nodded. 'I agree. I knew it was bad there, even without the Dementors. It is going to be my first priority when we get back. New governor, better conditions. You wouldn't let a dog live like that.'

Moody's laughter almost sounded like Wagtail's barking. 'I don't think they'd mind, living like dogs, compared to how it looks now out there. Wagtail sleeps in my bed and eats my breakfast. Delicious croissants, by the way.'

'You big softie, you,' Kingsley joked. 'You are quite fond of that Crup.'

'I think I need a dog,' Moody admitted. 'As long as nobody complains that I'm bringing it to work.'

Kingsley held up his hands. 'It's your Aurors. Your rules. I'm not going to micro-manage the Ministry on the accounts of a puppy. It can't possibly be as messy as those sodding owls.' He changed back to the subject they were discussing: 'I am glad that we did what we did for Lucius. I am not really that fond of Death Eaters, but I'm less fond of torture. And if I have to admit it, I don't think that Lucius really wanted Voldemort to take over, he was simply in too deep when he realised that his son's life was at stake. There was no turning back.'

Moody stopped below a huge painting of a group of people in 17th century clothing. They were all tall and pale and blond, indistinguishable from any Malfoys that Moody had ever met. 'Far from being an apologist for Death Eaters, I suppose you are right. He might have supported Voldemort fully at some point, but I agree that he regretted his involvement. In the eleventh hour. And even if he had been a true supporter, we are not uncivilised and shouldn't be when it comes to punishment. Justice, punishment, redemption. Not justice, torture, death. That is not a society I'd support.'

'I know. You were always righteous.'

Righteous indeed. Righteous enough to have fallen in love with a Death Eaters' brat, a young man who had come to him for protection and safety. More like depraved. 'So were you. You didn't like the sight of Malfoy in that cell, either.'

'No.' Kingsley started walking again, then stopped. 'Are you all right, Moody?'

Apart from trying to overcome the realisation of his attraction to a Malfoy, to a confirmed, convicted Death Eater? 'I'm... fine.'

Kingsley looked at Moody searchingly. 'You don't look well.'

'Don't you worry, laddie, I'm fine,' Moody growled. Kingsley was very perceptive. 'It's nothing.'

'Tell me when you feel like it, yeah?'

Far too perceptive.

Snape put down the ladle and sighed. Was it entirely impossible for the Minister and his friend to be a bit considerate? He was in the middle of the creation of a potion that would revolutionise the investigation of murder, amongst other crimes. And all Shacklebolt and his sidekick worried about was whether Moody could take his puppy to work with him? He opened the door to the hall. 'I understand that you have a Ministry to run. Please go and do it elsewhere. My mind can hardly wrap itself around the importance of such tasks as to decide the exact location of household pets during working hours.' Snape didn't close the door. He glared at the two men who clearly had better things to do than to worry about the importance of science and silence. 'Well?'

'Snape.' Moody nodded, looking serious and grim as always. 

'Hello, Severus. We're sorry to disturb you. We're going to take a small trip to Drear tomorrow, that is if your potion is finished?'

Severus nodded curtly. 'What did I tell you, Shacklebolt? It would be ready today, yes? So what do you think? If you are able to fetch your brain from the floor below your navel.' Severus still found it extraordinarily disturbing that the Minister for Magic was drooling over the man who was his lover's father. Thank Salazar he had decided not to tell Lucius about it; if he continued to improve in the hands of the young, progressive Healer who had agreed to treat Lucius, he'd be able to process such disturbing information soon. Not yet, though. Not yet. Severus glared at the Minister. He, in turn was standing, leaning calmly against the door frame, arms crossed over his chest. He didn't take the bait.

The Minister smiled. 'Your help is invaluable to us. I am sorry we are keeping you from taking care of Lucius. Of course we do not want to put any pressure on you. It was merely an enquiry.'

'The sooner you are done, the sooner we can get back to Drear,' Moody added gruffly. 'I assume the Age Determining potion is done by now?' He sent the bronze cauldron an appreciative glance. 'Sodding good idea, that.'

Severus wasn't sure he was ready to be cooperative. 'The sooner I've paid for my lover's sanity and health, you mean?' He huffed angrily. Although the tiny, but comfortable flat that some Magical structural designer had put up instead of the icy cell had improved Lucius's mood considerably, he wasn't well. 'The Healer said he suffers from the trauma of having been held hostage for almost two years,' Severus said coldly. 'And then from having the experience reinforced in Azkaban.'

'It must be very straining.' Shacklebolt's calm, deep voice had this soothing tone. 'For the both of you. I am sorry I haven't been able to make the Wizengamot understand the urgency of improving the prison.'

'Don't patronise me,' Severus sneered. 'Just because you're shagging my lover's father, you are not my father also.' Severus turned around, ignoring the two intruders. 'He was a right arsehole, too. Muggle bastard.'

There were steps in the corridor. 'Oh, here you are.' Abraxas stepped into the laboratory. 'And I am not shagging anyone, dearest Severus. Not that it is any of your business, but I am certain that you are more than adequately intelligent to know that it is impolite to throw around such assumptions.'

'Hurrah. Another idiot.' Severus made a face that no one saw; he was facing the desk, trying to concentrate on his potions. 'Let's have a party in here while we're at it.' He turned around and glared at Abraxas. 'As I recall it you have made it your business to meddle in our affairs, Lucius's and mine. Does that mean that you are going to stop now? Oh, joy!' Severus closed his eyes for a moment, thinking of the pleasant day and night he'd spent with Lucius. They'd made love for the first time in ages. Lucius had been able to hold a conversation and he'd reacted less violently upon the triggers that usually sent him into an almost catatonic state. He had to restrain himself from hexing these people. He had to. For Lucius's sake. Shacklebolt and Mad-Eye Moody were crucial. If Lucius ever got out of Azkaban it would be because of them. They'd pulled Draco out, just because it suited them.

Severus prepared himself mentally. He could play the part; he could be accommodating and pleasant. The sooner they were done with the socialising, the sooner he could get back to his potions. 'All right. If you insist.' Severus pointed at the bronze cauldron. 'It's as finished as it will be, unless I use a few more months to refine it.' He took a scroll from the desk. 'If you compare this shade of purple here,' he pointed at a colour chart, 'with the results from the tests on the skull, here, you'll see that the person the skull belonged to died in the last few days of June or in the first few days of July 1992. Perhaps with a better quality of parchment I can get closer, but unless anybody else as reckless as Anthony Perks was seen over Drear at the time, it is probably safe to say that it is Perks.'

'It is not a hundred percent, but it's good enough. Drear isn't exactly overrun by tourists or people getting lost over the North Sea,' Moody said. 'But damned impressive nevertheless.'

Moody should know; after all he'd been useful, using a full day in the laboratory, helping out.

'And the Pacifying potion? If we dare use it.' Moody looked apprehensive.

'We wouldn't want to kill the creatures. If it was that easy, we could just ride in, kill the lot and go explore.' Abraxas shook his head. 'If Severus says it's safe, I trust him.'

'How benevolent of you,' Severus murmured. 'Of course it's safe. It's a mild sedative, nothing else. I have tested it on myself; I had an undisturbed nap that lasted around an hour. The Quintapeds are about our size, at least according to Scamander.' Severus pointed at the second edition of Scamander's exhaustive, revised work on Fantastic Beasts. 'I found that volume at the Manor; the Ministry wasn't exactly cooperative, but the middle Weasley is unusually open to suggestions when Shacklebolt's name is mentioned.' Severus pushed a thin file over the desk. 'This is the account of the examinations Magical Beings made on the isle twenty years ago. I have taken everything in here into consideration. It's safe.' Although the information on the Quintapeds was sparse, there were one or two titbits of information that made Severus consider that there was more work to be done with those beasts. The legend behind their creation was interesting enough, for a start. 'I'm working on a few other things that might be useful,' he volunteered. 'I'll let you know if they look promising.'

Kingsley sent him a properly interested look. 'Thank you, Severus, it is really-'

'Isn't it? Incredible how extortion works well in such matters.'

'So we're ready to go tomorrow?' Moody interrupted. He looked a bit pale.

'The vials there, bring them and this.' Severus pulled three smaller scrolls. 'It's a simplified colour chart. You take a small sample of the item you want to test, place it on this scroll. Sprinkle a few drops of potion on it and compare the colour with that of the chart. Saves the trouble of bringing anything here that isn't beneficial for your investigation.'

'Damned good work.' Even Shacklebolt sounded excited. 'If you don't mind, Severus, the Ministry will purchase the exclusive rights to that potion. If you are willing to brew it for us, of course.'

Severus smirked. 'There is a price.'

'Isn't there always?' Kingsley laughed his booming laughter. 'I promise to look at Lucius's case personally. I assume that is what you want?'

'I'm so pleased we understand each other,' Severus said, only half-way sarcastically. He grabbed another, larger vial. It was gleaming in the same calming blue and green colours as the sea on a sunny day. 'Two drops on a piece of meat. One drop if it's a smaller Quintaped. Don't overdo it. Gives you... half an hour at worst, an hour at best. See if you can test it on one before you decide to get down off your high horses. I am, after all, not a Quintaped.'

'You could go with us, Severus.' Kingsley took the vial and studied it. 'Do a bit of research there.'

'I'm allergic to horses. No thanks. And I am not going there on a broom.' It was Severus' allergy that had made Lucius put a damper on his interest in horses. Abraxas had been livid when he realised that Lucius had rid himself of the first class Abraxan stallion that he had given him for his birthday. He'd been even more livid to realise exactly why Lucius had sold it. Severus felt a tiny bit guilty. He liked horses, but he wasn't fond of the allergy.

'Oh, I didn't know. Do you want us to get a Thestral for you? I am sure Hagrid wouldn't mind lending us one.'

'No. I prefer not to end up as a meal for those beasts.' He rubbed the scars on his neck. 'Bitten once is enough.'

Kingsley nodded. 'I can understand that. So... we have everything? We know that the body we found is Anthony Perks; the tests and the fact that we found remains of his broom more or less proves it. Indicates it, to be precise. And we have no signs of Sally-Anne, except for her broom. No signs of her wand or her clothes. We might need to look for bones; we don't know whether the Quintapeds eat everything, do we?'

'I would have seen leftovers from their charming meals if that was the case,' Abraxas argued. 'No, they don't leave anything. And I doubt that many human take-away dinners come their way.'

'You don't even know what take-away is,' Severus sneered. 'Stop trying to be clever.'

'Yes, thank you, gentlemen.' Moody stepped forward. 'Tomorrow I'll investigate the ruins of that house. I suppose I can do that without getting myself killed. Unless the beasts have keys and have decided to live there.' He pointed at Abraxas. You and Kingsley will hold the fort, you'll need to stay outside and keep any attacking monsters at bay. There is little chance that Sally-Anne made it to the house, but we need to look for anything she might have left there if she actually managed. When that is done, we'll start to search the isle from the spot where Abraxas found Sally-Anne's broom. If we can manage to buy ourselves a bit of time with the Pacifying potion, we should be able to get some work done.

'And Draco rides with you. You might need someone who can get Halcyon off the roof in a jiffy,' Abraxas said. 'You are not trained enough to go on your own. It's too risky.'

Moody looked even more grumpy. 'All right.'

'Are you done ?' Severus asked. 'Please leave. All of you.' He'd had it with the planning. They could go do that somewhere else. He had work that needed his attention.

'Anything you need help with?' Moody asked, strangely polite. Shacklebolt and Abraxas were leaving together. Severus didn't want to know what plans they had.

Severus raised an eyebrow. Funny how Moody had decided that his laboratory was the place to be. He'd been busy enough with Draco, which in itself was good; it kept Draco away from him. Since the time when Draco had refused Severus's help they hadn't exactly been close. Severus could tolerate a lot from people, Salazar knew he had. But the ungrateful little sod had... Severus shook his head and directed his attention to Moody. 'Yes. Chop up the stewed lacewing flies, then crush, not smash them.'

The good thing about Mad-eye Moody was that the man was able to shut up and work.

Moody returned late. It was a relief for him that his bedroom was empty. He had no idea where Draco had gone. He needed the break from being with him. He needed to sit alone, think things through. He'd been running away from the entire situation, from his feelings, from his responsibility, from the decision he had to make.

It needed consideration, the strange relationship they had built in such short time.  He had thought that he could handle the budding friendship between a seasoned Auror and a young Death Eater. He had thought that he was able to help where everybody else had withdrawn or, like Draco's father, had been unable to. Abraxas was all right, but he wasn't the steady, calm role-model that Draco needed. He had thought that he could handle it when he realised that Draco was more than just an immature fool. He'd thought he could handle it when he started to appreciate the bravery and the banter and the blessed sleep in the bed they had shared so innocently. He had pretended not to see where things were going. He had made himself blind to the fact that he had gone and fallen in love with the most inappropriate person on the globe, Voldemort exempted. To think that he'd berated Kingsley his attraction to Abraxas. Moody sighed deeply, feeling sad and lonely. There was Nemesis for you. There was nothing in his relationship with Draco Malfoy that made sense. Except it did, despite the differences.

On the bottom line, none of those arguments mattered. Draco did not see him as anything but a pillar to lean on. Moody would see to it that it stayed that way. It would only lead to embarrassment and humiliation if Draco found out that Moody saw him as more than a redeemed prisoner who needed a helping hand. There would be no more sleeping together, no more teasing.

Moody flopped down on the bed. Draco's nightshirt lay on a chair in the far left corner of the room and the book he'd been reading lay on the chest of drawers. His hairbrush was thrown casually on the bedside table. Wagtail was as usual snoring, half-way buried underneath the duvet.

He crossed his arms under his head. He needed to stand by his decision. He'd forgotten who he was, who Draco was. Hell, half of his scars were the results of run-ins with Draco's family. His aunt had killed his friends, broken their minds. He'd neglected his responsibility as a high-ranking Auror, as any Auror for that matter. Draco... Malfoy—he needed to think of Draco as a Malfoy, that would make it easier—had not even been properly released from Azkaban. He'd thought that he was helping a young man stand on his own two feet and instead he'd had his one remaining foot swept off the ground by a boy who could be his son. Moody rubbed his stubbly chin angrily. Oh, it was easy to see now, how he'd fallen so deeply. Malfoy's charm. His arrogant cheekiness. His sweetness when he wanted something. His obvious intelligence. His bravery.

'Good Lord, I'm doomed,' Moody said aloud, making Wagtail look at him with his head cocked, ears up. 'Yeah, you like him, too. I know.'

He could not let anyone know how he felt. He could not let Malfoy see that look in his eyes again, a look of more than just care and kindness. Malfoy would be appalled, Moody told himself, if Malfoy knew what he wanted. Moody conveniently ignored that Malfoy had said the exact opposite: he'd appreciated the way Moody looked. It was easily forgotten. Of course Malfoy had no idea what he was saying. No one with eyes would find Moody attractive. Malfoy was merely looking for someone to latch onto until he was able to go back to the Manor and continue his way of living. A lifestyle that did not in any way include scruffy and scarred old Aurors.

It was half twelve when the knocking came. Moody closed his eyes, trying to collect himself and any strength he possessed. He could not let Malfoy in; it would lead to disaster. There was no way Moody could endure another night with Malfoy's slender body pressed against his own. He wanted what he could not get, and it stopped now.

He got up and managed to reach the door before Malfoy burst into the room, as usual ignoring Moody's right to privacy.

Malfoy looked insecure and apprehensive. 'Moody, may-'

'Draco, please. You cannot. I can't...' Moody shook his head. 'It is not appropriate for you to sleep in here. Go back to your room,' he said gruffly, leaving no doubt that he meant what he said. 'Good night.' He attempted to close the door, but Malfoy put a hand on it.

'Why? Did I do something wrong? Moody... I can't sleep without you!' There was a note of desperation in Malfoy's voice.

'No, you did not do anything wrong. I did. I shouldn't have let you in in the first place. It is not suitable for a prisoner to sleep together with those who sent him to prison, neither is it appropriate for the Malfoy heir to-' Moody stopped. What was there to say? If you insist, get in here, and I'll tell you that I want you, that I need you so much a can't think? 'Go back to your own bed, Draco. I cannot and will not let you in again. I'm sorry. Good night,' Moody said, not trying to explain his decision again. This time he shut the door firmly, hurrying back to the bed as not to be tempted to open the door and ask Malfoy to come back. Malfoy didn't repeat the attempt to enter.

Moody put up a few extra wards, but it still took a very long time before he finally fell asleep.

As usual, Kingsley and Abraxas had been spending the hour before bedtime in the library, discussing books, magic and politics. And kissing. There had been kissing too. Kingsley felt a bit like a teenage boy. He'd like more, but Abraxas was the old-fashioned type and Kingsley accepted that. It didn't do much for his ability to keep a clear mind, but on the other hand he hadn't done anything he might regret later. Neither of them had. Kingsley had the distinct notion that when the offer came, it would be because Abraxas had made up his mind about their relationship. Even Pure-bloods had standards. On the other hand, it was easier that way. If Abraxas offered and Kingsley accepted that would be it. A strange confirmation of their intentions.

It wasn't as if they hadn't spoken of them. Of the future and of the problems their status might create. Abraxas wasn't and had never been a Death Eater but he was the father of one and the Malfoy name was closely connected to Voldemort's reign. They'd have to deal with that problem if they decided to go on and let their flirting and kissing become more than just that. It was entertaining and very flattering to be courted by a man like Abraxas. Handsome, refined, cultured, rich. And not least, he wasn't impressed by Kingsley at all. He simply treated Kingsley as his equal and no one had done that before. The few witches and wizards he'd gone out with since Moody broke up with him had all been so very... awe-struck. Moody, on the other hand had treated him like a young man who needed protection and Kingsley had no use for that. It had been painful to realise that they weren't made for each other.

Abraxas, though, needed nothing, for he had everything. And still he was interested. He had nothing to prove.

Kingsley was caught up so deeply in his thoughts that he hadn't realised that Abraxas was standing in front of him. 

It's time.' Abraxas held out his hand. 'Tomorrow we're going into battle.'

'Time for?' Kingsley cocked his head. Then the Knut dropped. 'Are you trying to seduce me by indicating that my chances of having sex with one of the most gorgeous men in Scotland are minimised drastically by tomorrow evening?' He smiled, a sarcastic smile. 'Or is it another time you are talking about?'

Abraxas rolled his eyes. 'You are such a romantic, Minister. I was merely being... sensitive and refined. But if you like brash better, I am willing to oblige.'

'I didn't know you even knew the word.' Kingsley was suddenly restless. The way Abraxas looked at him was disconcerting. Cat and mouse. The tables could be turned at any point. It excited him. Abraxas was arousing and he knew it. He knew precisely what he did. He'd teased and kissed and touched for more than two weeks, always withdrawing at the right time. They were doing this right, but right there and then, Kingsley wanted to do it wrong. He'd held back. He understood the reason for their common reluctance. He understood that they both had to be careful. Not that Kingsley's career meant more to him than love, but he saw no reason to sacrifice it for something that wasn't. Not yet.

Except Abraxas was asking him to, right there and then, to take the step that he didn't know if he was ready to take.

Now, when he looked at Abraxas, at his elegance and his exquisite face, he knew that he'd moved from attraction to something more. He was falling in love with the most inappropriate man on earth and he wanted more than just kisses and teasing. He'd let Abraxas lead the way, enjoying not to be the one who had to make the decision. Kingsley stretched out his long legs and looked up at Abraxas. He sent him a burning look. 'Surprise me?' He took Abraxas's hand and got up.

Abraxas didn't step back. Instead he pulled Kingsley closer, sliding his arm around his waist. 'Brash, then.' He leant in, ghosting his lips over Kingsley's cheek. Abraxas was tall, but not as tall as Kingsley. 'Upstairs. I can't wait to have you naked.' Abraxas ran a hand down Kingsley's chest, his nails sliding over a nipple, a fingertip caught on the golden hoop that Kingsley wore. 'Mmm, interesting.'

Kingsley hissed at the sensation. 'Do we need stairs?' His impatience was growing.

'Not if it'll get you out of that shirt a full minute earlier,' Abraxas moaned and pinched the nipple lightly. Abraxas's magical abilities apparently included precise Apparition. He took them upstairs, landing within an inch from his bed, managing to flick his wand at the candles, too. He was working at Kingsley's shirt even before they'd regained their balance. He pulled it open with little regard for the piece of clothing. 'Salazar, yes.' Abraxas's expression was one of undisputed appreciation. 'Oh, yes.' He spread his fingers and brushed them over Kingsley's broad chest, pushing the shirt off his shoulders. 'How the hell could anyone resist this?'

Trying to regain a modicum of control, Kingsley buried his hand in Abraxas's lush hair. It was heavy and silken. Kingsley had fantasised about it, feeling it slide over his body. He groaned as Abraxas did something wicked with his nipple. 'Bed?' Kingsley was impatient.

'Off!' Abraxas managed to undress and kiss Kingsley several times in the process. They pulled off their clothes, not caring about being seductive or trying to look good. Not that Abraxas needed it, trying to look good. The mere sight of his slender but still muscular body had Kingsley's desire flaring hotly. Abraxas certainly wasn't sitting idly, watching the house-elves work in the stables. Reaching back, Kingsley managed to hit the bed. He ended up on his back with Abraxas on top of him which in itself was brilliant. Abraxas wasn't shy. He closed his hand around Kingsley's erection, pressing it against his own, smaller cock. 'Fuck, you're hung like a stallion! This isn't going to fit.'  

The crude words contrasted Abraxas usual refined manner in a way that Kingsley found quite arousing. Kingsley groaned and dragged Abraxas down to kiss him. Abraxas's hair felt like a whisper on his skin. 'It doesn't have to,' Kingsley said when he could breathe again. 'Lie back and enjoy.' Using his strength to flip them over, Abraxas landed on his back, moaning, 'Salazar, yes!' Kingsley straddled him. Abraxas's cock was damp and ready, leaving drops of precome on Kingsley's stomach. It was only then he realised that he'd let Abraxas have what he'd never offered to anybody before. Even in bed, Kingsley's need to be on top of things had influence. Only with Abraxas there was this sense of equality. It had been what had attracted Kingsley in the first place, and it didn't exactly turn him off now. On the contrary. He wanted Abraxas now, any connection between their bodies that ensured their combined pleasure.

'A spell, I can't...' Kingsley was desperate. His usual calm had disappeared and been replaced by lust. 'It has been a bit since I-'

Abraxas murmured a few words and Kingsley felt a wet and slick sensation spreading inside him. Something cold and slimy trickled down his thigh. 'Uh.'

'Sorry.' Abraxas reached over the side of the bed and grabbed a piece of clothing. 'Here.' He laughed, breaking the awkward moment. 'Yeah. It has been some time. Should probably work on that spell at some point.'

'Yes, please.' Kingsley, too, laughed and used the garment to clean up a bit. 'Now, should we go on with the celibacy, or are you interested in getting laid properly and with less oil?' Kingsley rubbed his own cock which had flagged slightly. 'Maybe this is the time I tell you that I haven't actually done this before?'

Abraxas's eyes widened. 'At all? No?'

'Of course I have. I haven't been on this end of it, though.'

'Ah.' Abraxas looked extraordinarily smug. Abraxas's erection bobbed and he slid his finely chiselled fingers over it, stroking it languidly as he looked up at Kingsley who positioned himself over Abraxas's cock. 'Don't let me interrupt you.' He sent Kingsley a look so hot that it could have turned December into May. He moaned softly. 'Ride me.'

Evidently Abraxas had some experience with that particular exercise. Kingsley sank down on Abraxas's length, slowly getting used to the pressure and the slight pain that went with it. It felt good. Then Abraxas moved. There were things to be said about what all that excessive horse-riding did to a man. It was as if Abraxas was able to control every little move of his hips, directing their pleasure with the angling of his hips, the shallow, sharp thrusts, the way he made his cock hit the spot inside Kingsley that made him dizzy and almost unable to hold back.

It wasn't that Abraxas was good at what he did. What did it for Kingsley was that Abraxas gave him what he needed. He wasn't careful or considerate. He drove Kingsley to the point of breaking, offered him an edge to stand on; the narrow spot between the abyss and the firm ground. He'd been in love with Moody once, but this was what he needed: someone who'd be his equal in all aspects of life and love. Someone who made the ground under his feet shake.

Abraxas's grey eyes were firmly set on Kingsley when he thrust in deep and moaned the words that sent Kingsley over the edge. 'So, Minister,' Abraxas groaned, on the verge of coming. 'How is it, giving in? Finally sleeping with the enemy?'

Kingsley's reply was intelligible. The orgasm, on the other hand, was blindingly good.

There it was again, the noise. Moody stirred and turned in his bed, reaching out for Draco. All he got was a pillow and a growl from Wagtail. He sat up in the dark, wondering why he'd woken up. Unless he'd forgotten entirely, he hadn't had any nightmares and none of his wards were set off. The moon shone brightly outside and no Death Eaters had abandoned their comfortable mansions to try and get their way with the second floor windows.

The thumping sound continued. Moody lit a candle. He took his eye and popped it in place, wanting to be able to localise the source of the sound. The eye rotated, focussing as best it could in the dark and through walls of stone. No one outside the door. Draco's room was too far away, and it was too dark in there for Moody to see anything but a faint light, perhaps from from the fireplace. The eye made a 180 degree turn towards Kingsley's room.

Moody had to take a deep breath. The thick wall distorted his view. He could, however, see enough. More than enough. His first thought was that Kingsley had grown into a very sexy man and Abraxas clearly seemed to think the same. As Abraxas had his dick buried deep in Kingsley's arse, Moody forced his eye to look away. It whipped back immediately.

'Oh, no you don't,' Moody growled and tried to make the eye behave, to no avail. He hurried to take it out, but that didn't help—on the contrary, since the eye didn't have to use power to see through the back of Moody's head. He got an even better view of Kingsley's aroused face and his erect cock and of Abraxas's naked chest. That was it: Moody was not going to spy on his best friend, not even with the weak excuse that his eye didn't work properly. If his mind and his magical eye had decided to form this unholy alliance, he was not going to sit idly and watch. The least he could to was to remove the eye far enough to make it impossible to watch any... physical contact between Kingsley and his lover.

His new leg had sensed his urgency for it had already placed itself next to the bed. Moody put it on, then grabbed a dressing gown and threw it over his nightshirt. He could sit in the library until... until he could go back without needing to blast the sodding eye into pieces. Moody had no intentions of watching his former lover have sex with Abraxas Malfoy.

He put back the eye and took down the wards quietly. He slipped into the corridor. He walked slowly as not to wake up Draco or Snape with the sound of his wooden leg against the tiles. Walking past Malfoy's door he heard a whimpering. He closed his eyes, desperate. He wanted to let Malfoy back in; he wanted to care for him and make sure he'd never wake up again choking on fear and nightmares. He paused outside the door, listening.

Malfoy moaned again, loudly. 'Alastor... Oh, please... '

Moody startled by hearing his first name. Draco had never used it before; strange that he should do so in his dreams.

'Alastor... God... so good, harder.'

Perhaps it wasn't exactly a nightmare Draco was having. Moody forgot to breathe.

'Yes, oh, pleasepleaseplease!'

Draco's cries became louder and Moody, even trying to deceive himself, could no longer be in doubt of what Draco was doing. Draco was awake and also Moody wasn't in doubt that Draco was-

'Alastor! Fuck me!'

Neither could he be in doubt of what Draco wanted.

'Please! I want you so badly! I need you. I'm in... Oh, Alastor, please!'

Or what he felt.

Draco was on the verge of coming, for his moans turned into wordless, erratic sighs. Moody hastily Disapparated into the library, despite the danger of it. He hadn't wanted to spy on Kingsley, and he had definitely no intentions of standing outside Draco's bedroom door and listening to him masturbate, not even for the intense pleasure it was to be the target of Draco's desires. He lit the fireplace and hurried to pour himself a drink. Merlin, he needed it. Those few minutes in the corridor had certainly been a revelation: two minutes that changed every decision he'd taken, dissolved every oath he'd sworn not to let Draco come close to him again.

He slid a hand down his scarred face. There was the scar that Rosier had made, taking a chunk of his nose. There was the one Crabbe had caused, there the long gash that the older Lestrange had managed. No, his face was not handsome. He didn't understand what Draco Malfoy saw there. Of course it could be Draco's fantasies. Perhaps he'd rather stab himself with a broken wand than actually touch someone as ravaged as Alastor Moody.

Then again, he knew that it wasn't just a perverse fantasy. Draco had looked at him for a moment as if he'd been the second coming of Christ. He'd looked at him with desire and need. He knew, for he had looked at Draco in the exact same way. Moody was no longer in doubt that Draco did not see him merely as a purveyor of protection.

Moody downed the Firewhisky and poured himself another. Tomorrow he'd have to make it clear to Draco that he'd regretted his decision of cancelling their sleeping arrangement. Tomorrow, when they'd been to that dratted island and back, he'd have to do the right thing and tell Draco what he felt. Maybe, in time, Draco would come to accept him. Maybe in time there was hope for more than just sleeping—even if Draco's nightly confession was merely the result of a young man's fantasies.

At the third Firewhisky he attempted to tell himself that he was being ridiculous. Of course Draco didn't care for anyone who wasn't a Pure-blood princess, and Moody certainly was as far from that as one could possibly be.

At the fourth, he gave up. He was surely destined to live his life alone. Kingsley and he had been discussing dangerous beasts for two weeks, and Moody began to feel like one of them. Mad as a hatter, ugly as sin... oh, he'd be a nice beast for Beauty to show off to his friends. He didn't want to deal with the hydra that was the Malfoy family, either. It was impossible.

At the fifth, he realised he was getting drunk. Highly unusual. He put down the bottle and the glass and sat down on the Chesterfield instead. There was a nice blanket placed over the armrest. Moody unfolded it and decided that it would be a very good idea to go to sleep. He needed to be clear-minded. Right now, his most important task was to keep his magical eye far away from any Malfoy doing things Moody really, really didn't want to know about.

Thanks to the Firewhisky and the sound of the soft-crackling fireplace, he was lulled to sleep quite fast. He even forgot to set the wards.

10. Draco, Dread and Disasters

The effects of the Firewhisky were gone when Moody woke up. As usual, alcohol didn't have much of an impact on him. His head was clear and after a good cup of coffee he felt fine—or as fine as he possibly could, now that he was awake and able to face the world. He decided that he had to reconcile with Draco. They had a straining and dangerous task in front of them. Moody knew better than most that distress or pain could be the factor that decided the outcome of a battle: it could be the tiny margin between life or death.

He had to reassure Draco that he wanted to take care of him. It was clear that Malfoy did not appreciate being alone. Moody had to calm his own fears, too: he wanted to make certain that what he'd seen and heard yesterday wasn't a figment of his imagination. They both needed to go to the Isle of Drear with their minds at ease. What would or could happen after... that remained to be seen. What he could give Draco now was the promise that he'd protect him, guide him. Perhaps let Draco understand that he acknowledged that there could be more. If Draco wanted it.

He dressed and ate a quick breakfast in his room. Mr Bruce showed up to clean, but Moody threw the house-elf out, ordering it to leave the room alone. He wasn't in the mood for talking to anyone, not before he'd spoken with Draco. He could hear the others pottering about, making ready to leave. Moody Transfigured a pillow into a lined bag for Wagtail to sit in. Wagtail ran down the stairs, barking eagerly, excited that they were going for a walk. In the courtyard Abraxas and Kingsley were readying the Abraxans. Draco was standing next to Halcyon. Kingsley was busy with Haizum. Moody was supposed to ride with Draco, he knew already. This time he didn't mind at all. On the contrary.

He watched Draco handle the impressive horse. He studied Draco as if he saw him for the first time. It wasn't too far off. He'd made himself blind. Now he wanted to see, wanted to recognise the budding feelings, the desire he felt.

But Moody didn't like Draco's expression. He looked lost and forlorn, like the day they pulled him out of Azkaban. There was an aura of grey sadness around him. Having used far too much time thinking about what to do about Malfoy, Moody tried to focus on the task at hand. It wouldn't be easy, sitting behind Draco, touching him, knowing that the boy had been thinking of him. The nightly discovery, however, had certainly been fodder for Moody's thoughts. It was, Moody decided, impossible to leave Draco alone and expect him to refrain from doing something stupid. There was a very good reason that he had been released under parole. He needed to be kept under surveillance. Constantly. Draco Malfoy was a misbehaving, manipulative, rash and spontaneous little brat. He needed to learn what was good for him and especially what wasn't. Otherwise he'd keep Moody up at night indefinitely, worrying which kind of unfortunate incidents he would cause next.

Bracing himself, Moody went to greet Halcyon. He nodded curtly at Draco. 'Malfoy,' he said gruffly. 'A word before we take off. I have come to a decision regarding your release and probation. I might have been a bit hasty yesterday.'

Draco said nothing, just looked at him with large rain-cloud eyes, as if he was to burst into tears at any second.

'It would be irresponsible to leave you to your own devices.' Moody snorted. 'Leaving you to take care of yourself will only mean that you are going to get into trouble sooner or later. Possibly when you are able to meet up with all those horrible friends of yours. The ones with the tasteless tattoos.'

'What did I do now?' Draco sounded confused and offended. 'I did what you told me to and went to bed, although I'd much rather sleep in your room. And there is no way I'm going to have anything to do with those... I haven't-'

'Shut up. I'm not done.' Moody poked Draco in the chest with a finger. 'I have decided to supervise your case personally. Of course I cannot babysit you all day, but you will be under my care when I am not at work. And at night. You will probably be more inclined to mess up your life if you don't sleep properly. Can't expect you to be able to think clearly if you're tired.'

'Really?' Draco's sad face lit up in a rare, honest smile. 'You'd do that?'

'Don't get too excited, laddie. It's for the sake of the wizarding world. Mere vigilance. To keep an eye on you.' Moody almost believed in it himself. It was safer for Malfoy and for anyone who'd try to lure him from the narrow path of redemption that Malfoy had taken. Or at least looked at. It was a sacrifice, of course, to use so much time to take care of one damned Death Eater, but he'd do it. He was after all the head of the Dark Wizard hunters. Who could possibly be more qualified?

'So I can sleep with you tonight, I- I mean, in your bed?' Draco looked a bit flustered which pleased Moody to no end. 'Every night? Even when you're... when we are going... Am I going to stay with you? I can? I don't have to go back to the Manor? I don't want to go back!' Despite the babbling, it sounded as if Draco didn't find it unreasonably hard to be confined to wherever Moody saw fit. Draco sighed, obviously relieved that he didn't have to return to the house that Voldemort had desecrated. 'Thanks, Moody.'

Moody growled something unintelligible. 'You may just as well call me Alastor. I understand,' Moody then said, looking searchingly at Draco, 'that you prefer a more... intimate way of addressing me at times.' A fine way to say that he'd heard Draco masturbate, calling out his name repeatedly.

The hint didn't go unnoticed. 'Er-' Draco blushed furiously. 'Thank you, er- Alastor. I, erm-' He raised a hand, as if to touch Moody.

'Yes, yes.' Moody turned to Halcyon. He was fighting an urge to touch Draco, too. He was painfully aware that Kingsley and Abraxas were at the other side of the courtyard, getting ready to leave. 'Get on the horse. We don't have time for that,' he said, a bit more brusque than he'd planned. He offered Draco a leg up, but was disturbed before he got on the horse himself.

Abraxas was crossing the courtyard. 'Moody.' Abraxas looked refreshed and, Moody hated to admit, as if he was glowing. Incredible what a proper lay could do to one's skin.

'Slept well?' Moody asked gruffly. 'Perhaps moving the bed an inch or two from the wall before tonight would let the rest of us have a good night's sleep.'

Abraxas coughed lightly. 'But of course.' He sent Moody a boyish grin. 'My own bed is better anyway. Should probably suggest that tonight.'

A couple of feet above, Draco sounded as if he was choking. 'Grandfather, really!'

'As soon as we get to Drear, Kingsley and I will take a quick overview. We have plenty of prepared meat; we'll try to get to as many of the Quintapeds as possible.'

Moody nodded. 'And we'll try to get into that ruin if it looks as if the Quintapeds are elsewhere.'

'If you get in from the roof, you have half an hour. Halcyon can manage to hover for some time, but it is straining for him if he isn't flying properly. He's not a Muggle helicopter. If he lands on top of it the house, I fear it might come down. Up to you, see how it looks. If it's safe, send him down on the ground. He can handle himself.'

'I'll send my Patronus if we get in trouble. But Wagtail is pretty good at keeping watch.'

'And we have meat and Pacifying potion, too,' Draco added. 'And the Time Determiner.'

'Good. We'll fly west. The ruin's to the north-east. We start at the cliffs.' Abraxas patted Moody on the shoulder. 'Take good care of my grandson, Moody.'

I will,' Moody said. Perhaps Abraxas wouldn't be as chipper if he knew how much, precisely, he wanted to take care of Draco. 'I will.'

As Abraxas returned to Kingsley, Moody got into the saddle. This time he didn't try to avoid close contact, not that it was really possible. The saddle was meant for two, but it still barely wide enough for a smaller rider and someone Moody's size. He secured the bag that Wagtail sat in, then wrapped his arms around Draco.

'Ready, Alastor ?' Draco looked over his shoulder. He smiled. Next to them, Haizum took off, the golden wings taking the riders high into the sky in a few seconds.


Halcyon had them into the air in a few strides. The powerful horse caught up with Haizum just before Abraxas turned towards west. The bronze palomino quickly became a speck on the horizon as the Abraxan sped up.

'I'm cold.' Draco shivered. Despite the warm summer sun, the speed cooled them down. He turned his head. 'Could you...'

Merlin, yes! Moody had been thinking of holding Draco in his arms constantly since he realised that Draco was thinking about him as more than just a friend. Moody wanted more than holding on to Draco for the sake of safety. Of course he would hold him to keep him warm. It was a start. Moody pulled his large travel cloak open, careful not to expose Wagtail to the harsh wind. Oddly expectant, he embraced Draco, closing the cloak around the both of them. Draco's hand was cold as it found Moody's between the folds of the thick wool the cloak was lined with. Moody entangled his fingers with Draco's. He sighed deeply, content. He stroked Draco's hand with his thumb, slow, tentative caresses.

Draco shifted. He leant back against Moody's chest. 'If I promise you that I'll listen to your advice and be a nice redeemed prisoner, will you promise me one thing, Alastor?' He tilted his head, trying to avoid the wind ripping his words to pieces. He didn't wait for Moody's reply. 'That you never, ever, again treat me like an unwanted puppy and dump me like you did. I've been treated like dirt and told what to do by others for four years, and I do not appreciate it.' Draco turned around as best he could. 'You could have told me, you know. Instead of panicking.'

There was no need to ask what it was that Moody should have told. 'I'm sorry,' he said, giving one of his rare apologies. 'I promise.' Strange how Draco suddenly appeared so mature, while he had been acting like an idiot because of his insecurities. Sometimes tables turned in very strange ways.

Draco leant back again. His hand fluttered, turning, caressing Moody's hand. Moody tightened his embrace. For the first time he was holding Draco close as a lover, not as someone he was taking care of. 'Good!' Draco squirmed a little, making a purring sound that Moody more felt than heard, then settled with his head on Moody's chest. 'I'm a little bit in love with you, Alastor Moody,' Draco said quietly into the wind. The words were almost inaudible. 'If that's all right with you?'

There, flying between the clear blue sky and the wild sea, astride the most fantastic beast, Moody couldn't think of anything that was more all right with him. He couldn't think of a place he'd rather be, than here, with Draco in his arms, so close to heaven. A feeling of deep happiness soared inside him. 'Yeah,' he said gruffly, his voice strangely thick and hoarse. 'I can live with that.'

The short distance to the Isle of Drear was soon made. The small island appeared under them, cliffs and trees growing bigger as Halcyon dove towards the ruin. It had once been a grand house, a nice mansion on the top of a hill. Now it stood, roof-less and with broken windows and rotting doors, on the verge of giving into the years of decay that had torn at it. They circled the ruin a few times, trying to determine whether there were any Quintapeds lurking.

'When we get off the horse, have your wand ready. Never for a second let go of it. Constant vigilance, Draco.' Moody wasn't that worried. As long as they kept their attention on the surroundings, they could easily get away from the Quintapeds. 'We need to search the top floor, find out if the 'peds can get up. After that, we secure the house. Could be that they have found a way in.' A look at the house made it unlikely that they hadn't.

'Yes. Wands and vigilance. And we have Wagtail.' Draco turned. 'I wish we didn't have to do this.'

'I understand. But it's my job, Draco. It's what I do.'

For once Draco didn't come up with a cheeky comment. That, more than anything, told Moody that Draco was nervous. Clever thinking. The monsters were extremely dangerous. Large, fast and man-eating. Couldn't get much worse. They'd be fine as long as they were careful.

Turning his attention to Halcyon, Draco managed to find a spot on the collapsed roof where the Abraxan could hover without colliding with it. 'Careful,' Draco said as Moody got down. 'The wings are rather fragile.' Avoiding the moving wings, Moody made it to the floor, or what was left of it. The old oak planks had withstood the exposure to the wind and the rain well, but there were still large holes during which they could see the lower floors. Moody's magical eye swirled madly.

'Hold it, lad.' Moody held up a hand, as if to stop Draco from joining him. 'Let me check this out first.'

The floor was easily surveyed. It had been an attic once. Only a big pile of rotting wood and pieces of iron indicated that the place had been inhabited. The roof had caved in. Moody lit his wand, examining the debris. A bit further down a few upright wooden bars denoted the existence of a staircase. Moody walked carefully over the floor, using his staff to test each plank before he stepped on it. He was looking down at a set of rickety and narrow steps. He sent a spell at it, testing its strength. It creaked, but held. If they were careful they could use it. 'Clear. You can come down now,' Moody shouted. He didn't care whether he alerted any Quintapeds, on the contrary. Rather have them out in the open. If they were attacked they'd have to flee rather than use hexes, and Moody wanted as much time as possible to do that. The floor below was silent, however.

He waved Draco closer. 'It's empty as far as I can see.' He made poked at the first step with his staff. 'Cover me if you can.' Moody looked around, made a quick scan of the surroundings. As far as his magical eye could see, the house was empty.

'No.' Draco's hand on his arm was firm. 'I'll go first. If anything happens, I'm faster up those stairs.' His hand stayed.

'Draco...' Moody knew this wasn't the time or the place, but for a few seconds he let go. He pulled Draco into an embrace. 'You're being brave again.' He pushed a stray lock off Draco's face. 'I'm the Auror. I know what I'm doing.'

Draco's face softened for a second. 'And I'm half your size and twice as fast. I'll take Wagtail with me, he'll spot them before I do.' Then Draco raised up on tiptoe and pressed a kiss to Moody's scarred cheek. 'I'm not twelve.'

'No, thank goodness!' Moody's heart made a strange somersault. He touched the spot that Draco had kissed. Unfortunately Draco's argument made sense. 'Careful, then. Wand at the ready.' He put down the bag and let Wagtail out. The small dog had been quiet, another indication that the house might be abandoned by men and monsters alike.

The stairs creaked, but Draco made it to the bottom without any problems. There was a flash as he cast a lightening spell. 'It's okay. No one here. Come down.

The floor was indeed abandoned. The doors to some of the rooms were still closed. Judging from the amount of bird droppings and cobwebs, nobody had been inside since the house was originally abandoned. No one except for rats and mice and all sorts of bugs. It didn't look as if the monsters had been inside. They opened and closed doors, finding only old beds with linen eaten by the critters which lived there. Wagtail was excited, eagerly awaiting permission to go and hunt some of the fat mice. 'No,' Moody told him and picked him up, carrying him on one arm. He had his wand-arm free, ready to encounter any larger beasts.
'Downstairs?' Draco pulled a fat spider out of his hair. 'Urgh, they're big.' The black spider scampered off to hide under a pile of dusty wood that might once have been a chair.

'I like those better than their cousins out there.' Moody studied a window that lacked glass entirely. A vine covered most of it. 'No sign of Kingsley or your grandfather yet. They're probably feeding 'peds on the other side of the island by now. Let's find a way to get downstairs that won't kill us.' The main staircase was done for. They went back to a room where they'd seen a stone stairwell that still had proper stairs. It had steps. At least some. They managed to get to the ground floor despite the state of the stairs.

'Quickly now,' Moody said. 'You take the left, I go right. There's a greater risk down here, perhaps they're not fond of stairs, the Quintapeds. Too many legs.'

'I feel entirely outside the norm now,' Draco said and grinned. 'Two legs are just so out of fashion these days.'

'Brat,' Moody growled, almost tenderly. It was rather a nice feeling that Draco didn't care to be so damned considerate about his missing limbs. 'Go! Shoo! Away!' Moody went left and opened the doors to the first room. It had once been a library. Parchment and pages were strewn over the floor, turning into dust when Moody stepped on them. There were still books left on the dusty, old shelves. He looked at the titles; old tomes all. Moody didn't see anything recent. Judging from the books, the house had been abandoned for more than a hundred years. Moody recalled the legend of the Quintapeds. Perhaps there was more to it than just legend? Perhaps the MacBoon family had lived here until their enemies, the McCliverts, had Transfigured the entire clan for revenge? Of course the MacBoons had their revenge. Turned into monsters, they had eaten every remaining human on the isle, thus eradicating the McCliverts from the face of the earth. Despite the strange and spooky ruin, Moody still found the story unlikely. Although legends often had an element of truth in them, he had to admit.

Moody returned to the hall where the main stairs had collapsed. He'd found no signs of Sally-Anne, no clothes, no wand, no bones. She hadn't made it to the house. Seeing the state it was in, it wouldn't have helped her for long, either. Without water or food, she'd have had to go outside—outside where the monsters were waiting for a snack.

There were more rooms. Draco was in the other end of the house; Moody could hear Wagtail's eager whining. A dusty dining room was next. The furniture had survived: sturdy oak benches and a long, heavy table. Somewhere in the house a heavy door squealed.

'Wagtail! No! Crap! Moody! Hurry!' Draco sounded as if he was panicking. Wagtail was barking like mad, as if he was in a fit of rage. 'Wagt-'

'Draco!' Moody ran as well as he could into the hall. He stopped, his wand raised. He looked at the front door. It was open. 'Draco?'

Nobody answered.

'Draco? Draco!' Moody could feel the panic rising. 'Draco!'

He took a step closer to the open door. He knew already what he might come to see. He braced himself.

He raised his wand. A floorboard creaked as he moved. The warm summer wind was gentle, but the view wasn't. Moody's heart beat wildly. Two Quintapeds were standing on the top of the stone steps that led to the front door. A herd of larger Quintapeds were crawling towards the house. Wagtail stood on the bottom of the stairs with his back to the two monsters. His teeth were bared in a ferocious sneer. He growled angrily at the herd of gigantic spider-like creatures that closed in on them, then made a leap as if to attack them.

'No!' Moody felt his life fall apart in that moment. Draco... He got a grip of himself. He knew how to do this. He'd been the one standing with friends and colleagues dead around him. He knew how to stand. Experience kicked in, and so did Moody. He hit the door with a spell, slamming it shut and locking it. He couldn't go out there on his one leg. He'd be dead instantly. He wished he'd brought a broom, but if wishes came true so easily, Draco wouldn't-

Again he cut himself off from any emotions. He almost flew up the stairs to the attic. Perhaps he could save Wagtail if he hurried. 'Halcyon?' If only the horse would help him. The Abraxan might have sensed his distress, for it kept still, hovering as low as it could while Moody mounted. 'Please, help me now!' He remembered what Draco had said, that the horse was used to be controlled by the rider's weight. Moody tried to keep calm. He moved a bit to the left while he pressed with his legs as well as he could, urging Halcyon forward.

It worked! As Halcyon hovered over the roof, Moody sent out his Patronus to Kingsley. The silver shape had changed. It had taken the form of a winged horse. There was no time to dwell on that fact. He turned Halcyon towards the front of the house. 'Hurry! Please, hurry!'

Clumsily he hovered in front of the house, above the stairs. Wagtail was too far away for him to reach. He tried a spell, but missed as Wagtail turned, angrily cornering the two Quintapeds, separating them from the herd. They were smaller than the rest of the bunch, pony-sized, pale spider-creatures. The herd of Quintapeds were coming closer. Wagtail turned again, howling from anger. Then the brave little dog attacked. The first Quintaped didn't survive. Wagtail was impressive in his anger. It tore off the legs of the monster, then turned to the next. Moody tried to summon the dog with a spell, but Wagtail moved so fast that it was impossible to get a decent aim. His Accio wasn't strong enough to lift the dog, he needed to concentrate.

He looked to the sky, and there Haizum came racing towards them. Moody sent a hex towards the closest Quintaped. If he could only stall them until he could get on the ground. A gigantic Quintaped moved in, its club-footed legs whirling. Wagtail jumped out of its reach, only to be too close to another.

The blow fell straight and true. Wagtail didn't see it coming. The small dog fell limply to the ground and moved no further.

The world went black. Moody turned Halcyon, sending him directly into the herd of monsters. The gigantic stallion attacked. This was what it was made for. In the middle of the pain and the rage, Moody appreciated how Abraxas had turned the horse into a killing machine, relentless, strong and brave. A Quintaped flew through the air, squashed by a hard kick. Another lost two legs and scrabbled along the foundation of the house, only to hide under the shrubbery.

'Halcyon, to me!' Abraxas's commanding voice made the horse stop and it leaped into the air, flying towards Haizum. Moody held on, not caring about what happened, trying to forget that he had stepped across the moral border he had set for himself: he had killed in anger. He desperately fought the deep black anger and the deep sadness that had overtaken his mind. He could do this. It was what he did, telling people that their loved ones had gone.

Below them, the monsters were scrabbling to reach the Abraxans, to no avail. Abraxas emptied the bag of meat he'd brought and the monsters fought to get each their share. Moody thought it felt like eternity before the Quintapeds began wobbling about, finally to flop down into a pile of hairy legs.

Moody put on a mask, the one he wore to keep people at bay.

'Moody, what happened,' Kingsley shouted as Abraxas eased Haizum closer.

Abraxas didn't have to ask. One look at Moody's face and he knew. He paled. 'My grandson.' He closed his eyes, his face contracted. A tear formed and rolled down his cheek. 'Down, Haizum,' he demanded in a broken, cold voice.

Halcyon followed. Moody couldn't do anything, he just sat there, empty, as the horse touched the ground.

'Moody?' Kingsley sounded heartbroken. Even through the calmness of his voice, Moody could hear it.

'He was checking the bottom of the house with Wagtail.' Moody coughed to get his voice under control. 'The Quintapeds were trying to get inside and Wagtail attacked them. Draco... he...' Moody felt the tears burning. He held them at bay. 'He was gone ten seconds later. No traces. No hope. No... Oh, God.' He took a deep breath. 'Wagtail attacked the herd. He wasn't quick enough.' Moody looked at the brave little dog who lay where he'd fallen, forever silent.

Only then did the tears come.

Kingsley took them back. The Abraxans seemed to understand what had happened. They obeyed willingly. Nobody said a word. Abraxas was crying, hiding in his cloak. Moody felt as if he for any reason opened his mouth all his sorrow would come out, he would have to let go of the scream of pain he was holding in.

He had experienced the happiest moment of his life and the worst, all in the short span of an hour. Sixty minutes of happiness was all he had left. In his arms he cradled Wagtail's body, still warm to the touch. He had everything, for an instant held in his hand all he ever wanted. The promise of love. Friendship. Happiness. Now it was all gone.

Moody had lost so much in his life and every time he'd got back up, shaken his imaginary fur and continued, a limb or an eye shorter. This time... he did not know how to go on. He did not know if he would be able to shake off the events and the loss. This was different. He didn't think he would ever feel whole again.

Snape was waiting for them in the courtyard. One look at their grim faces and he knew. 'Draco?'

Kingsley nodded. 'I'm sorry, Severus.'

'What did you imbeciles do to cause that?' Snape's voice was as cold as December. 'How can I possibly tell Lucius? It will kill him too.' For a second his hard, cold face crumbled into an expression of deep pain. 'What happened?' 

'Let's get Moody and Abraxas inside. I have to take care of the horses.'

'I'm not doing it, I can say as much.' Snape's voice revealed no emotions. He stepped a bit closer. 'Abraxas, please?' Snape led Abraxas towards the house while Moody stood in the courtyard, looking at the sky. He'd been flying up there with Draco. Now he didn't think he would ever find pleasure in flying again.

Finally he was able to move. He carried Wagtail inside. Mr Bruce was running around, desperate. 'Sir... Young sir! And sir's dog. Oh, is unhappy day.' The house-elf pulled Moody with him. Moody did not have any resistance left; he wanted to be alone, to mourn. He could not fall apart here, showing emotions that told others that Draco meant more to him than merely a prisoner in need of guidance.

'Here, sir. Sir musts put dog here.' Mr Bruce had found a small table and covered it with silk and pillows.

Moody placed Wagtail on the plush cushions. He stroked the soft fur, trying not to let the bloody creature be the cause of his breakdown. 'We'll bury him later.' Moody turned away. He was at a loss of what to do, where to go, how to get through. He stood in the great hall, looking at the paintings, Malfoys and Abraxans. A thousand years of history. Now the thread to the past had been cut. There would be no more Malfoys. When Snape returned, Moody hadn't moved; he stared blindly at the huge painting of two Abraxans and their riders.

'Moody?' Snape paused. 'Moody?'

Moody pulled himself out of the pleasant place he'd been to; a place without emotions. 'Yes.'

'You need a drink. A bottle. So do I.' He paused, the black eyes oddly glazed over. 'I want to know what happened.'

'I don't know if I can-'

'You can. He is my... He is my lover's son, Moody. I've known him since he was born. Despite everything, I...' Snape's face revealed little emotion. 'If I can, so can you. Now. I need to know exactly what happened.' Snape had clearly decided to leave any courtesy behind. Perhaps his way of showing pain and distress. 'Was he eaten? Did you see him die? Any traces whatsoever?' 

Moody straightened up. He looked at Snape with a grim expression. He did not want to relive this. 'None.'

'Ah.' Snape's face changed suddenly. 'You will tell me everything. Anything you can remember. Every detail, no matter how insignificant. No!' He held up a hand as if to prevent Moody from refusing. 'The library. Moody, please?'

That did it. Snape did not ask politely. Snape demanded or bullied. If Snape pleased, it was important. Moody's training helped him again. There had been no delaying of reports, no matter the battle, no matter the number of deaths. 'Right.'

They sat down near the fireplace, a bottle of Firewhisky on the table in front of them. Snape summoned a quill and a scroll, ready to take notes. 'Forget anything except the moment he disappeared. What happened, where was he, what happened right after you realised he was gone?'

'I was in another room. I went to check on the front door. It was closed and I went back to investigate. Draco and... ' Moody took a deep breath, controlling himself. 'I heard the front door open. Then Wagtail was barking like mad, Draco yelled at me for help, then at Wagtail. He was cut off. I was there... five seconds later. Not a sign of him.' Moody sank. This was harder than he thought. 'Two Quintapeds were trying to get through the door. I think we encountered one of them the first time we were there. Small. The other was lanky.' Moody made a grimace. 'Perhaps they were hungry.'

'Perhaps.' Snape scribbled something on the scroll. 'They were right outside the door? You didn't go through it? Where was the dog?'

Moody tried to remember. It had happened so fast. 'I didn't go through. I kicked the door shut and bolted it with a spell. Went in and out through the roof.' He rubbed his face, then paused and took a swig of the bottle, not caring whether it was filled with poison or not. 'Wagtail was on the stairs outside. A herd of those monsters were approaching and he was going berserk. He attacked them and-'

'So, he had his back to the other Quintapeds?' Snape interrupted, not looking up from the scroll. He was drawing something that Moody couldn't see.

Moody pursed his lips. 'Yes. Now that you mention it. He had. Wagtail. Odd.' Moody scratched his head. 'Oh, you mean...' Moody gaped. 'It can't be!'

'Think again, Auror. And this time, try to use that marvellous brain of yours.'

Moody's heart started beating again, wildly, as if it had been numb and still since the moment Draco was taken. 'You found something in those documents from the Ministry?'

'I told you I was brewing up something else.'

'You did.'

'So, Auror?'

'So Wagtail was not attacking those two Quintapeds. He was defending them.'

'See, you are not entirely lost. Good to know that your brain hasn't stopped working.'

'Snape,' Moody said, feeling life and emtions and hope pouring back into his body. 'I could kiss you right now!'

'Try, and all your worries will be over.'

'Is this... is this... should I tell Abraxas?'

'I can't stand all that whimpering. Yes. Yes. I am sure. Oh, and come to the lab. I need someone to do all the boring stuff,' Snape shouted as Moody hurried out the door.

Moody ran. He'd grown wings; wings which could take him anywhere.

There was a chance.

No. In fact there were more. 

There were two.

11. From Hell to Heaven

They buried Wagtail at sunset. Mrs Bruce had made a small coffin for him, lined with silk. They carried him to the cliffs near the sea, to the spot he had liked best. Abraxas cut a niche in the rocks with his wand. He sealed the small burial chamber neatly with a spell.

'Large bravery and loyalty sometimes come in small packages,' Kingsley said and nothing more needed to be said.

Moody rubbed his eyes. He was going to miss the small dog. It had wormed its way into his heart. Wagtail had showed precisely how loyal a Crup could be. He had given his life for a beloved friend he had never forgotten.

Snape stood behind them. Moody wondered why he, too, had gone. His face must have expressed that question, for Snape turned and walked beside Moody as the went back to the castle.

'If one truly loves... ten years is nothing.'

'It is for a dog.' Crups tended to live longer than Muggle dogs, but ten years was still a long time. Then again, Snape knew what he was talking about. Lily and Lucius. The faithful family dog, Snape.

'And yet he never forgot.'

Moody heaved a sigh, feeling the sting of the loss. 'He didn't.'

Snape had decided to be human. 'I'm sorry. You seemed... attached to the animal.' He looked concerned. 'We should get back to the laboratory. It's going to take time. The potion.'

Moody had all the time in the world. He'd sworn he'd solve this case, and he would. If it was the last thing he ever did. 'Nothing better to do,' he said. 'Not until we have found a way to get Draco back.'

They worked all night. They didn't speak much. Snape pushed ingredients over the desk and demanded them stirred or cut into size. Moody obeyed. He was tired, but it didn't matter. Snape's eyes were red-rimmed. He, too, seemed determined to work as fast as possible. The laboratory smelt of the spicy scent of Knotgrass and the minty scent of Fluxweed. Snape was crushing a bit of Bicorn Horn in a mortar.

A question had been on the tip of Moody's tongue for a while. He didn't think Snape would appreciate any snooping into his private affairs, only Moody wanted to know. 'Draco,' he said. 'Were you close? I understand-'

'You understand nothing.' Snape seemed to have cut off any further enquiries. Snape continued to fiddle with the powdered Bicorn Horn. 'I became a murderer for him. He would not let me help.' Snape closed his eyes and his knife stilled. 'His immature arrogance cost me more than I was willing to pay, and yet I paid. Because Narcissa asked me to; I owed her, for what she did for Lucius and me, accepting that we....' He put the knife down, turning to look at Moody. 'I assume that you are clever enough to understand why I am reluctant to... let our relationship return to what it was before. Vigilance, I think you call it. Constantly.'

Moody had seen by far enough of Draco's "immature arrogance" to last him a lifetime. 'He can be... All right, he's horrid. There is no other word for it. And that behaviour in the middle of a war?' Moody scratched his hair. 'As close to betrayal as could be without stepping over the line?'

'Yes.' There was no need to elaborate. 

'He's growing up. He has changed.' Moody realised that he was apologising for a former Death Eater and shut his mouth before more rubbish came out of it. It idn't make it less true, though, that Draco had begun a transformation that might turn him into a decent person.

'Let's get on with this, Auror. And then we'll discuss whether there is a chance of any growth. The potion might not work and we have lost him.'

There was that. Moody felt his hope crumble. He refused to let it die. He had to trust Snape's abilities as a potions maker. If they did this right, there was a chance.

They worked for a while in silence. The clock on the wall passed midnight, then five, then six and seven. When the clock struck eight, Kingsley knocked on the door, opening it ajar. 'May I come in?' Without waiting for a yes, he opened the door. 'Anything I can do? Breakfast?'

'Seeing all you need to do is to ask Mr Bruce to fetch it, it really isn't that much of a help,' Moody growled before Snape probably would have said something similar. 'But yes, please.'

Snape nodded his accept. 'Where's Abraxas?'

'He didn't sleep too well. No wonder. He's on his way. If there is anything he can do, Severus... He needs to do something and not just wait.'

'All right. I suppose I can find something for him.'

Abraxas showed up a little later. He looked exhausted and worn, almost shabby. There was little left of the otherwise so handsome and correct man. Kingsley put an arm around Abraxas's shoulder, so obvious in his need to protect and support Malfoy that it made Moody smile, despite the seriousness of the situation. He couldn't imagine being in Abraxas's place. Kingsley and he... they were too alike. How ironic that they'd both fallen for each their version of the famous Malfoy beast.

Snape pushed a bowl towards Moody. 'Pre-stewed Lacewing Flies. I don't expect them to work as well as something I've prepared myself. I bought them in Diagon Alley because I thought they might be useful. It saves us three weeks to wait for them. Instead we can make the potion in a day. They're worth a try. Now I just need to figure out how to condensate the potion and turn it into a fixed shape, a gel, perhaps. I'd like to have it wrapped in meat. Might be easier to get the 'peds to take it.'

'What is it that you are brewing?' Kingsley asked. 'Potions was never my strong side, but it looks suspiciously like Polyjuice. How can Polyjuice Potion possibly be at any help?'

'It can't.' Snape looked as if he was very aware how superior his intelligence was, compared to, well, everyone else's. 'It merely gives us the chance to find out if my theory about the MacBoons is right.'   

Abraxas looked more worried than ever. 'Then, how...'

'You would like to be able to actually speak to Draco again, yes?' Snape didn't show any compassion. 'Without him trying to eat you?'

'There is that.' Abraxas nodded. 'I'd prefer not to be eaten. And then?'

'Then I'm going to provide him with Polyjuice Potion long enough for us to find a counter-spell.'

'So... you don't know how to...' Abraxas's usual flashy and confident self had taken a holiday.

'The files, Abraxas.' Snape grabbed the files that Percy Weasley had found in the Ministry. 'Legend says that the MacBoons were Transfigured. The Beast Division wasn't able to catch one when they tried, so nobody actually knows what happened to the family. Beast Division could just have asked Abraxas to assist them; evidently they did not. No matter: that which has been Transfigured can be turned back.'

'You insist that Draco was Transfigured, then? Not... devoured?'

'Abraxas?' Snape sounded extraordinarily tired. 'Get us some coffee if that blasted house-elf is too busy to do it. Take Shacklebolt with you. Go to Draco's room and find some of his hair. Shouldn't be difficult. There is a brush somewhere, I believe?' He eyed Abraxas's lush hair. 'And don't get it mixed up with yours.'

'Fine. Kingsley?'

'I'll get Mr Bruce.'

The two men disappeared and Moody went back to preparing whatever Snape sent his way. Moody's thoughts revolved around Draco constantly. He went over the events again and again. No matter how he turned it, Snape had to be right. 'What I don't understand,' he finally said, 'is how the Transfiguration happened.There hasn't been a MacBoon alive on the island for centuries, at least not according to the Ministry files. And since they ate their enemies, there are no McCliverts alive, either. 'Could it be that the curse embedded in the house?'

'The MacBoons were notoriously inept at magic. The files confirm that part of the legend. It could be anything.' Snape paused. 'If the McCliverts were just a bit better and the MacBoons couldn't trace the spell, it might be that they were able to hex the house without the MacBoons noticing it.'

Moody shredded some Boomslang Skin. 'Then it's either the door or the outside stairs. The only place we didn't go, both Draco and I, without disappearing.' He frowned. 'But Wagtail did. He went through the front door.'

'Aimed only at humans, perhaps? You want to test it?' Snape's mouth curled at the corners, as if he found the idea amusing. 'Could get you a few more legs to pull.'



'If it wasn't because you are brewing the potion that might get us Draco back, I'd have hexed you into something terrible.'

Snape was about to make a snappy comeback when Kingsley and Abraxas returned. Abraxas looked, if possible, even more tired and sad. 'No hairs. Mr Bruce cleaned the room this morning and Draco's hairbrush is gone. Nothing to find, not even on the pillows.' Abraxas's hand on the desk was shaking. 'Is there anything we can do?'

'I don't know.' Snape, too, looked worried. 'I have never tried to counter a Transfiguration with Polyjuice, Abraxas.' He pinched the bridge of his nose. 'I'm not sure it will work. If it is as we think, and Draco is turned into one of those creatures, I don't even know whether we get a Draco who is basically a cannibal with a Quintaped's mind or one who has returned to his normal self. I've added Jobberknoll brain to restore the memory of his former self and shape. It's not even Polyjuice proper. With a hair from somebody else... No.'

Moody, too, stood there, anxious, feeling the slight hope they'd had turn into dust. Then it hit him. He took a deep breath. This was not going to be the time of his life. 'I think I can find some of Draco's hair for you.'

Abraxas looked at him, the hope once more ignited. 'Yes?'

'I think Draco might have left his hairbrush...' Moody braced himself. 'He left his hairbrush in my room. We've been sleeping together for a week and a half.'

Flabbergasted, Abraxas stared at him. Kingsley blinked. The room was silent, the only sound was a bubbling cauldron. Moody coughed slightly. This was a bit more embarrassing than he'd thought.

The silence was broken. Snape was laughing. Loudly. 'Oh you...' He laughed again. 'Of course there was an explanation for all that eager participation. So the upstanding Head of Aurors found himself a boytoy? Didn't think you had it in you, Mad-eye.'

'Not like that, Snape,' Moody growled. 'Sleeping. Not having mad and noisy sex like-' Moody shut his mouth.

'Look at me,' Snape demanded in a commanding tone.

Moody looked up before he could think. He should have expected it, of course, the attempt at Legilimency. Snape cared deeply about Draco even though he tried to hide it. Moody shut Snape's probe out instantly. 'Try that again, lad, and you'll regret it sorely,' Moody snarled, glaring at Snape. 'You may be a great Legilimens, just not the only one here. If you don't want to know by personal experience what a trained Auror might drag out of your brain against your will, I'd be careful if I were you.' Moody's left hand was closed tight around his wand. 'Ask if there is something you want to know. I might tell you. A fair warning: don't try to steal unless you want all your own little secrets revealed.'

'I,' Abraxas interrupted, 'would like to know.' His voice had taken that drawling, arrogant tone that characterised any male Malfoy that Moody had met.

Moody just raised an eyebrow. Abraxas had the right. He was family. Moody forgot that instant that Snape was too.

'What are your intentions, Auror? I find it strange that someone of your... standing would let someone like my grandson come to his bed. What do you want with him? He's been used enough, don't you think? You cannot possibly mean that you're going to... do that in public. Recognise that you are-' Abraxas searched for the word. 'Attached.'

'Why wouldn't I? Keeping secret that do not need to be secret is only to allow one's enemies the upper hand.' His intentions? Moody hadn't thought beyond taking Draco home to make a decent wizard out of him; a redeemed Death Eater. Moody looked directly at Abraxas. They had shared the pain of losing Draco, Abraxas openly, Moody in silence. Abraxas deserved the truth. Moody couldn't hide for Abraxas how he felt. He relaxed and loosened the grip on his wand. 'I'm in love with him,' he admitted, making it very real and not just a distant and impossible dream.

'And he...' Abraxas hesitated. 'He's been out of Azkaban for three weeks, barely. What does he want? Is he even in a position to know what he wants? Does he feel-'

'I know. It might merely be a whim of his, I'm aware of that. He's vulnerable, and I don't want to take advantage of that. As for what he wants... ' Moody made a small, strained smile. 'I cannot speak for him. Although he said that you'd either ask me to pass the broccoli or challenge me to a duel at dawn when you found out. So which is it?'

'I don't see any broccoli here.' Abraxas's face was neutral.

'What time tomorrow, then?' Moody didn't believe that Abraxas would go that far; then again, he was eccentric.

'I suppose I should get up at dawn. I'd have, though, to leave my bed and this prime specimen,' Abraxas paused to touch Kingsley, 'from my collection of Ministers, high-ranking bureaucrats and war-heroes. No, Head Auror Moody, I am not going to ruin my power base. You fit into it very nicely.' Abraxas's eyes narrowed. 'But hurt him and I'll reconsider that decision.'

'I am trying to help him.' Moody didn't feel offended. Abraxas was joking, although surely there was a grain of truth in his words. 'To protect him.'

'And that went so well.' Snape sounded annoyed. 'Which is why we're here, working. If you're done with all that soppy nonsense, let's get on with it, shall we?' Snape obviously wasn't much for romance.

'Moody,' Abraxas said. 'Remind me that I should let you see some of the letters that dear Severus sent to Lucius when they were younger. He was here often during the summers, visiting my father while he was still alive. Interesting read, if you like metaphorical descriptions of how much in love he was, that is. A bit saccharine. Soppy, in fact. I think Lucius left them on purpose where I would find them, just to annoy me. There are still some left hidden in Lucius's old bedroom. Incredible imagination, not surprisingly, that Snape.'

Snape suddenly became very busy with the potion. He was blushing.

'Interesting reaction.' Moody hid a smile. Then he remembered something important: Kingsley and he had brought Sally-Anne's hairbrush with them since Wagtail had reacted so strongly to the scent of it. A brush of luck, so to speak. 'We have a bit of Sally-Anne's hair too,' he said. 'Maybe it is worth a try?'

They were up at dawn anyway. Moody had slept badly, all the time waking up and reaching for Draco or Wagtail. He'd never felt more lonely in his life, not even during the months he spent in his own damned trunk. The small taste of love and family that he had had made him long for more. He knew that he might never get it, not if Snape's experimental potion didn't work. There wasn't room for mistakes, even if they managed to bring Draco back to his human shape. The tiny handful of blond hair wouldn't last them long. There was no guarantee that the Transfigured Draco's hair would work as replacement.

It was raining when they turned the Abraxans east over the Isle of Drear. Kingsley and Abraxas was leading, as usual together on Haizum's strong back. Halcyon was kind enough to follow, ignoring Moody's less than adequate riding abilities. Next to Moody Snape was sneezing loudly, despite the fact that he insisted he had taken a potion against the allergy he suffered from. No wonder that Lucius had lost his interest in the Abraxans when his lover couldn't get near them. At the rear, the two cross-bred winged horses that belonged to Moody and Draco were struggling to keep up with the Abraxans. Faster and more agile, Horsa and Hengist didn't have the endurance that the Abraxans had. Abraxas insisted that they brought them anyway; since they were going into the house again, the smaller horses were easier to handle on the rooftop.

If they were lucky, they would also need extra horses on the way back from the island.

The house was quiet. There were no Quintapeds in sight. 'Send Halcyon down on the ground when you're certain it's safe to enter the house,' Abraxas shouted. Hengist and Horsa will wait for you if you have to get out fast. They'll follow Halcyon, so don't try to do anything. They'll do fine.'

'Easy for you to say,' Snape muttered and sneezed again.

Abraxas leaned forward and released a large package the size of a pig. It landed in what had once been the front garden of the manor. Little pieces of meat spilled out. 'Perhaps this will stop them before they try to get into the house.'

'Of course it will.' Snape blew his nose before he continued. 'It has soaked in Pacifying Potion. Could we get off these animals now?' Snape, despite his allergy, patted the Abraxan, a calm, friendly mare, on the neck. 'I don't mind them, but... '

'Yes. Let's get on with this. Good luck,' Abraxas said, turning Haizum towards the cliffs where they'd seen the small Quintaped for the first time. Moody raised his hand for goodbye. He hoped that Draco would be there, too, somewhere on the island. Alive.

Halcyon manoeuvred carefully between the beams and broken wood of the roof. The mare seemed to understand the general idea. She hovered with the large pearl-white wings flapping slowly as Snape slid off the horse. Moody was getting used to the exercise and wasn't particularly bothered by his leg. Damned good leg, that. Snape murmured a spell that Moody recognised as a cleaning spell. He was probably trying to get rid of the horse hair.

It was easier to get downstairs this time, since Moody knew where to be particularly careful. He didn't need to warn Snape. He moved with a cat-like grace, each move measured out as precisely as the ingredients for the potions they'd made. There were no doors or windows left in the attic so they went down a floor.

Snape raised his wand and tested the frame of the closest window. 'Urgh. It simply hums from magic.' He waved his wand again. 'Yeah, there's a spell embedded. It feels like a Transfiguration. A variety, at least. Try it,' he encouraged.

Scanning the wood with his wand, Moody agreed. It was an old spell, a bit frayed but sound enough. 'Impressive spell-work,' he said, appreciating work well done, if not the results of such a spell. 'Stand back. Confringo!' Moody blasted the frame into pieces. The wood splintered with a creaking sound and turned to dust. He poked at it with the wand. 'I think that did it.'

Snape stepped closer and sneezed. The dust spread. 'Nothing.' Snape made a wry smile. 'Or we'd have been Quintapeds both by now.' He brushed off some dust that had settled on his robes. 'We should probably leave one or two.'

'The Department of Mysteries will thank us,' Moody said, slightly sarcastic. 'But I think we should. We might need to do more research.'

'I hope not.' Snape patted a pocket in his robes where he, like Moody, carried two different sets of condensed Polyjuice: small cubes with a bit of meat wrapped around them. 'This is going to work. I'm confident.'

They continued to defuse the spell that was inlaid in the frames. All the windows on the first and second floor contained the Transfiguration spell. Snape paused, looking out the window they'd just blown into pieces. 'That must have been some enmity... between the two families, I mean. I admire a man who can hold a grudge, but this is a bit over the top.'

'A bit of vigilance would have helped them. If the MacBoons were so terrible at magic they probably didn't know what hit them before they were all turned into 'peds.' The entire story made Moody feel queasy. How anyone could have enemies and then be so careless as to let them close to the house was beyond him.

Snape laughed bitterly. 'Yes, because neither of us would have made that mistake, because we are so good at the Dark Arts and defensives spells—and yet we did.'

'There's that.' Moody felt guilty. He didn't need Snape to point it out. 'Anyway, the McCliverts really hadn't considered the implications of their spell. Couldn't have taken long before the MacBoons had eaten them all.'

They went to the ground floor. It was untouched since Moody had left it, the front door still held shut and locked by the spell Moody had used. They split up and took down one dusty, broken window after the other plus a few doors to the garden and a kitchen door. It was impossible to enter or leave the house without turning into a monster. Moody had seen many nasty spells, but this took the prize because of the pure evil of it. The wizards who had put it up probably hadn't been certain it would work, so they'd smothered the house in their spell. An unfair way to fight.

Moody was keeping an eye on the front garden. Halcyon was getting restless and changed between hovering around the roof and standing on the ground, watching the surroundings. It had taken perhaps half an hour before the Quintapeds had showed up last time. Time was running out if Kingsley and Abraxas hadn't fed the herd some of the Pacifying Potion. Moody went to find Snape.

'I'm done. I think we need to be very careful now; it can't be long before the Quintapeds realise that we're up here.

Snape agreed. 'If they're as perceptive as you say, and as fast, I think I'd rather be on that roof soon.' He pointed at two windows next to the front door. 'These are still functioning. I've sealed them so nobody can get through by mistake. The door too. We can take them if we need them for research; if not, the Department of Mysteries can fetch them if they want them.

'Let's get up, then.' Moody was a little impressed by Snape's thorough work. If Moody needed to choose someone to cover his back, Snape would be high up on that list.

They made their way to the attic. The two smaller winged horses were quiet. Hengist had found a safe spot to stand on. Horsa was hovering over a tree, interested in what Halcyon was doing.

Snape sneezed. 'Damned. Not again. Couldn't the man have bred dragons instead?'

Moody was staring at the horizon. 'They're returning. Let's get on the horses.' The bronze palomino was flying fast towards the house. It circled the sky, a couple of times taking a steep dive towards the ground. As the Abraxan came closer, they could see Abraxas working with a lance. 'I think he has the herd with him.' They both hurried to their horses. Halcyon cried out: a sharp warning, unlike any cry that Moody had ever heard. A battle cry.

'Get up and hold on. I think we're in for a ride,' Moody shouted as he put his good foot in the stirrup. He swung himself into the saddle. He was grateful for the small amount of training he'd had. He'd be able to stay on the horse, at least. He watched Snape who was clearly less comfortable. 'Just get a good grip on the saddle and let Hengist do the rest,' he said, doing the exact same thing as Horsa took off.     

The short rest on the roof had done Horsa and Hengist well. The two horses shot like arrows towards the sky. The wind pressed tears from Moody's eyes. He looked over his shoulder, his long hair whipped around his face. Snape looked even more pale than he usually did, but he hung on. Below them, Halcyon's large wings moved in slow, powerful movements as the horse surveyed the ground. Compared to the comfortable and steady Abraxan Moody's black horse was like riding a sensitive and incredibly fast racing broom.

As they got closer to Abraxas and Kingsley they saw that Abraxas indeed was trying to keep at bay a herd of Quintapeds. The large spider-like creatures seemed slower than last time Moody had seen them. They moved almost sluggishly, not really in the mood to fight or attack. They were trampling each other, as if they weren't really in control of their movements. A few had already fallen, one with its legs into the air, a few others in a pile of tangled hairy legs. Somehow Abraxas communicated with Halcyon, for the big stallion dove into the herd, separating two smaller Quintapeds from the rest.

'Moody!' Abraxas waved Moody closer. They hovered next to each other, as close as they could get without colliding. 'Are those the small ones you saw?'

To Moody they all looked the same. Reddish-brown fur, five legs, club-footed. Not much variety in that. Compared to the rest, however, the two Quintapeds that Abraxas had found were smaller. One was malnourished and thin. 'Those were the only small ones?' he shouted.

'A few medium-sized. Those were the smallest we could find. They kept to themselves, too. A bit confused, I think. Could be them.'

'Worth a try.' It could go wrong, of course, and they'd end up with a Draco-shaped monster in for a human meal if one of the wrong Quintapeds ate the Polyjuice cube.

Abraxas turned Haizum and used the blunted lance to push a couple of the most resistant and perky 'peds back in the pile of half-asleep monsters.

'Five minutes, and they'll all be asleep. We need to feed the small ones their medicine now, before they are unable to do anything but snore!' Snape pointed at the two small Quintapeds.

'I tried to keep them off the meat with the Pacifying Potion,' Abraxas said. 'Can't say if I managed, though.'

'How long will it take before the Polyjuice works?' Moody found the package with the small cubes of hardened Polyjuice. He tried to keep on the horse without holding on.

'A minute or two, although with the new recipe, we can't be certain. We need to get down there, Moody.' 

Moody did what Abraxas had taught him. He leant forward, thus telling the horse to get on the ground. Snape, still sneezing occasionally, did the same. They landed on the far side of their targets. The two small 'peds were waving their legs. Moody didn't know whether they were trying to communicate. 'That one last.' He pointed at the skinny Quintaped. He had his wand ready. The creatures didn't show any aggression, though. They mere scrabbled around, restlessly.

'A bit selfish, are we?' Snape raised an eyebrow. 'Of course. Better her than him if anything goes wrong.' He unpacked one of the cubes they had made and threw the meat-wrapped tit-bit in front of the 'ped. It gobbled it up without hesitation.

'Of course not!' Moody was appalled, mostly because there was a grain of truth in Snape's assessment. 'Get a cloak,' Moody demanded. 'If this works, we can't have the poor girl stark naked on the ground. She'll be confused enough as it is!'

The Quintaped stopped. It convulsed, its long legs jerking and kicking. Then it was as if a wave rolled over it, changing its brown fur into white skin. A few seconds later, a slender girl the age of ten or twelve was lying on the ground, her blue eyes blinking against the sun. She looked stunned and afraid.

'Quick.' Moody waved Snape ahead. 'I have her at wand-point.' Snape could handle one little cannibalistic spider, but better safe than sorry. If they were lucky, the potion had worked and Sally-Anne would have her shape and voice back, at least until they had no more Polyjuice left.

The girl turned on all fours. Snape hesitated. She looked up. 'Pro- Professor Snape?' She made a sound as if she was sobbing. 'Professor Snape! You found me!' Then she was up, throwing her arms around Snape. He looked quite uncomfortable.

'It worked. Obviously. As I knew it would.' He wrapped the cloak around the girl, trying to get out of the embrace. It didn't work. 'Sally-Anne? You are Sally-Anne, right?' Snape asked, awkwardly comforting the girl.

'Yes! How long have I been... I was one of those!' She pointed at the herd. 'And then he came, a few days ago. The boy. Did you find my father?'

Snape looked up. Moody met his eyes. Snape nodded his accept and went on, attempting to answer Sally-Anne's confused questioning.

Moody fumbled with the Polyjuice Potion. His hands were shaking. Oh, Merlin. 'Draco?' He threw the small cube in front of the Quintaped, almost unable to breathe. Please, let it work, he whispered, squeezing his wand so hard that he made it creak dangerously. Oh, please!

He'd had solved the case that had filled so many years of his professional life and it felt very good. Only there was something that was more important than work and duty. Much more important. He stepped closer to the Quintaped, careful not to be within reach as it went into the spasms of the change.

Finally Draco lay panting on the ground. Moody held back, his wand ready. he wanted to be certain that it wasn't merely a Quintaped in human shape. 'Draco?'

'Oh, that hurt!' Draco managed to get up on his knees, sitting back. 'Moody?' He tried to stand, but couldn't.

Moody was with him instantly, kneeling next to him. He put his cloak around Draco's thin shoulders before he pulled him into his arms. He looked into Draco's eyes, looking at the face he'd thought he'd never see again. 'Draco...' There was so much pain and longing in that single word.

'You came for me,' Draco whispered hoarsely. 'You came for me... Oh, Alastor... '

Then there was no holding back. It didn't matter that there were other people there. Hell, it didn't matter that they had a herd of sleepy Quintapeds next to them. Moody sighed, then leant in, pressing his lips to Draco's. Draco responded instantly. It was a wet and open and greedy kiss, warm and a little bit clumsy. Draco pressed his thin frame against Moody's hardened, battle-worn body, clinging to him as if he'd never let go. With Draco's slender arms around his neck, Moody let Draco have what he wanted. It was a long and delightful kiss, the best Moody had ever had. He surely didn't want to let go of Draco, either.

It only stopped when Kingsly coughed politely. 'You only have half an hour before the nice little 'peds wake up, Moody. And an hour before you'll be snogging one of them, when the Polyjuice runs out. Let's get back and work on those spells, shall we?'

Draco gasped. 'Salazar, I'm sorry, Alastor. I didn't mean...'

'They know. All of them.' Moody got up, wincing at his leg. 'And your grandfather did not challenge me to a duel.'

'Don't feel too confident,' Abraxas snapped. 'Get on a horse and let's get off this island.'

'What's with the Polyjuice,' Draco asked. 'You mean we're... Polyjuiced Quintapeds now?'

Moody helped Draco to mount Halcyon. There was time to explain when they flew back. Sally-Anne was still clinging to "Professor Snape". Moody didn't find it strange; he was the only one of them she knew. 'You'll tell her?' he asked Snape. 'Everything?'

Snape nodded. He wasn't used to being the only steady rock in any young girl's life, that much was clear. 'Yes.'

'Gently,' Moody said. 'She might be twenty one, but her mental age might not have changed much. '

'I'm not a monster, Auror. I am capable of compassion, I'll have you know.' Snape snorted, offended.

Moody wasn't in doubt. He'd seen how gentle Snape had been with Lucius, how worried and caring. 'I know.'

Draco took the news surprisingly well. When they pulled up the horses over the castle's courtyard, he had stopped crying. 'You and Severus have been working together and you came to find us. I trust you, Alastor. You'll find something that can undo this. Promise me.'

'I don't need to,' Moody said as he helped Draco get off the horse. 'I promised you that you could come live with me, and I am surely not going to have a Quintaped ravaging my nice house. I just had the kitchen refurbished. I have to find a cure for you, since I won't have you messing it up.'

'There's also the slight downside,' Draco said, in a better mood, 'that one's mind is rather fuzzy inside those creatures. I might eat you.'

'If you promise just to nibble, that's all right,' Moody said and winked. 'I have scars enough as it is. You can nibble all you like, though.'

Draco smiled. 'Are you flirting with me in a time of deep peril, Auror?' He didn't seem to mind.

'I think so.' Moody laughed. 'It is quite awkward.'

'Thank God. I thought you'd be appalled and didn't want-'

It was impossible to speak and kiss at the same time. Draco was no more a monster than Moody. Moody knew how it was, being shunned for how one looked. He would never do that to Draco. They'd find a cure, a spell, a hex. Anything that helped.  Until then, he could live with a bit of temporary furriness.

They sent Sally-Anne and Draco off to bathe and dress. Mr Bruce popped in and out all the time, wringing his hands, all excited by the news. 'Mrs Bruce is takes young Miss Perks to her room. Professor Snape sir is comes too,' Mr Bruce demanded, too eager to be as polite as he usually were. 'Miss Perks is distraught. Professor Snape sir must comes.'

Abraxas calmed the house-elf down. 'You may tell Miss Perks that the Minister for Magic will come and speak to her. Kindly let Mrs Bruce explain that Professor Snape is going to do a few tests so that Miss Perks does not turn into a Quintaped again.' Abraxas turned to Kingsley. 'We should go take care of the girl. It must be very distressing for her to learn about her father's dead.'

Kingsley rubbed his bald head. 'Not to speak of the fact that she's lost almost ten years.' He looked down at Mr Bruce. 'Did she mention Wagtail?'

'Miss Perks was crying, Mrs Bruce said.'

'That's all right.' Kingsley tried to calm down the hand-wringing Mr Bruce. 'Perhaps you and Mr Stewart the Cellar-elf could prepare rooms in the dungeons, or anywhere safe for Draco and Sally-Anne?' he asked.

​​Kingsley turned to Abraxas, stroking his arm, a small caress, but very intimate. 'We can't keep them in human form all the time. We'll run out of Polyjuice too soon.'

'I know.' Abraxas's eyes flickered to Moody. 'They need another dose in,' he looked at his watch, 'fifteen minutes.'

Snape reached into his pocket. He turned a small flask in his hand. 'This one is for Sally-Anne. One small mouthful. We need to stretch what we have as long as possible.' He gave the flask to Kingsley. He found another. 'Mr Bruce, if you will deliver this one to Draco before you go to the dungeons?' 

Mr Bruce grabbed the bottle and went off, clearly more at ease, now that he had something sensible to do.  

'To the laboratory, then.' Snape turned. 'Come.'

A house-elf had already been there since a tray with fresh sandwiches and tea was waiting for them. The laboratory smelt slightly of jasmine. Pouring a cup for himself, ignoring the fact that it was probably poisoned, Moody groaned as he burnt his fingers on the hot tea. He blew at them. He sat down on a stool. 'You had planned an improved potion?'

Snape was cooling his tea by stirring it with a spoon. 'The Jobberknoll. Delightful mix of brain and feathers. Still better than fur and five legs.'

'I've considered whether a variety of the Animagus Transfiguration spell might work. It transforms both ways, to and from animal form. I don't believe that a common Untransfiguration is enough, although we need to attempt that.' Moody reached out for a piece of paper and a pen.

'Either that or... ' Snape hesitated. 'Perhaps we should get a Floo call through to Minerva? She lives in this area anyway, so-'

Abraxas didn't look particularly enthused. 'If we don't find a solution right away. At least we can try to return them to natural form by that spell. If it doesn't work, we'll get the woman.'

'It's far-fetched, but if Draco and Sally-Anne change their names, the Transfiguration, when we're talking Cross-Species Transfiguration, might work better.' Snape took a sip of his tea and sighed. 'It's fourth-year Transfiguration curriculum. Might work. Simple, but it might work.'

'So... Beetles into buttons, guinea pigs into guinea fowl, is that it?' Moody recalled something in that direction. 'Similar in name or appearance. It's a thought.' He wrote the suggestions down. He liked having things on file; sometimes he caught a relation between information that he'd otherwise not seen. 'Malfoy to MacBoon, or the other way around... it's perhaps close enough to work.'

'At least it's not very time-consuming. We can try that if none of the Transfiguration charms won't work.' Snape agreed.

'Another kettle of fish, but... Episkey ?' Moody scratched his chin thoughtfully. 'Nothing is really broken, but in combination with the other spells?'

'Good thinking, Moody.' Snape looked appreciative. 'Maybe together with Reducio ? Now, I know it's supposed to shrink things back to normal size, but the origin of the spell-'

'Is French. Reducer. To bring back to the source.' Abraxas's eyes narrowed. 'Combined? As the last resort. Perhaps with a Reparo instead. Although that is surely too simple.'

They discussed the possibilities and Snape's advanced version of Polyjuice spiced with the memory-enhancing Jobberknoll brain. There were possibilities enough, it was merely difficult to select the right direction since they didn't know the old spell that had been used. Basically they weren't even sure whether proper Transfiguration was involved at all. It was just the branch of magic that seemed most logical. It was a place to start.

They stopped only when Kingsley brought back Sally-Anne.

'I've explained to Sally-Anne what we've been doing, how we went to look for her and what happened to her father.' Kingsley pulled out a chair for Sally-Anne. 'It is more or less as we thought: Anthony Perks's broom malfunctioned.' Kingsley was kind enough not to mention Mr Perks's death. 'Sally found the house as she tried to get help. She lost her wand.' Kingsley put a hand on her shoulder. 'We understand if this is confusing for you, but is there anything you remember, except for the accident?'

Sally-Anne shook her head. She looked thin and fragile, Moody thought; he needed to remember that she was no longer a girl, but a young woman underneath the Polyjuice appearance. Despite the nine years on the isle, her body would have developed. Her mind... that was another question.

'I remember that I suddenly wasn't a girl. It's all like a dream, you know, when you know you're dreaming, but can't wake up? And I had this craving for meat all the time. I liked biscuits better before.'

Moody turned on the stool and leant forward. 'Kingsley has explained to you who I am?'

'Yes.' Sally-Anne smiled, then stood and held out her hand. 'Thank you for looking for me, Auror Moody.' She lowered her voice. 'He also said that the boy you... That was Draco Malfoy! I went to class with him. He was a right git.'

'He isn't any longer.' Moody couldn't suppress a smile. 'I thought so too, once, that he was a right idiot.'  He patted Sally-Anne's hand. 'Now that I think of it, he still is a bit of a git at times.' Moody's expression changed into a more serious one. 'You know that your human form isn't constant? That we need to do a few experiments? So that we can get you back to normal.'

'Kingsley explained it.' Sally-Anne straightened up. She looked like a little girl who tried to be brave. 'I miss my mother. Kingsley said it was best not to tell her yet... if... if you couldn't...'

'You know Professor Snape, right?'

'Yes.' Sally-Anne dried her eyes.

'He's the best Potions Master and Dark Arts specialist there is. Kingsley and I aren't bad, either. Abraxas knows a lot about beasts. It might take time, but we'll get both you and Draco back to your natural shape.'

'But I'll have to turn into a spider? So you can see if the spells work?' Sally-Anne, for obvious reasons, didn't sound enthused about the prospect.

'Yes, unfortunately. But you are a brave and strong girl, otherwise you wouldn't have survived. We'll help you all we can. We'll make some nice and secure rooms in the basement. We don't want to be eaten, and I'm sure you wouldn't want to eat any of us by accident.'

Sally-Anne thought about it for a moment. 'No. But I wouldn't mind roast for dinner.' There was this glimpse in her eyes that told she was serious, but not entirely. 'And some books. Not to eat, though. But to read.'

Snape laughed. 'There's Ravenclaw for you. What a waste.' He looked at the clock. 'There is ten minutes left of your last dose. Would you like to go ahead and do some tests right away, or would you rather wait? It will be helpful if we can go ahead. We could ask Draco if he wants to go first if you'd rather wait and see what we're doing.'

Sally-Anne had reached some maturity in the nine years that had passed. 'No. He's not used to be a spider. I'm used to it. As long as you turn me back.'

'Brave girl. Well done.' Snape showed a hitherto supportive style. 'Well, Miss Perks, would you like to accompany the Minister and me to the dungeons, then? Let's see if Mr Bruce has made us a nice place to do some testing. I think our first task is to find out whether Quintapeds like biscuits as well as they like meat.' Snape took a few steps towards the door. 'Are you coming, gentlemen?'

Moody stared at Snape. If he didn't know better, he'd have sworn that a chameleon had been involved in the creation of Severus Snape. 'Did he just show pedagogical ability?' Moody whispered to Kingsley.

'I think so.' Kingsley, too, was flabbergasted. 'Highly disturbing.'

Abraxas put a hand on Moody's shoulder, stopping him. 'I think that three able wizards are more than enough to do the preliminary tests. Perhaps you could go and see how our other little monster is doing. Two hours, Moody.' Abraxas leant in. 'He needs you,' he whispered. 'If this goes wrong there is little time before we run out of Polyjuice. Use it well.'

Abraxas was right, Their time was running out and any brief moments of happiness they could have together might be all there was left when the spells and the potion ran out. Use it well. He would.

They went down the narrow path to the coast. 'I'm going to miss him,' Draco said. His eyes had that sad rain cloud-grey tinge.

'He was a brave little warrior,' Moody said. He, too, missed Wagtail. It wasn't his dog, it would never be, but still they had bonded. Wagtail had taken a liking to Draco also. 'Maybe he knew... before we did,' Moody said. 'That this was going to happen. Us.' Moody squeezed Draco's hand lightly. 'He never chose between us. Perceptive and vigilant he was.'

'He saved me.' Draco looked at the small grave. 'If it hadn't been for him, I'd still be crawling around on the Isle of Drear, enjoying my new leggy friends. I don't even have flowers to give him.'

Moody was oddly touched by the gesture. 'He'd probably rather have had a teacup. I think he liked the crunching. Not picky about food, that one.'

Draco bent down and took a small rock. He waved his wand over it, Transfiguring into a small cup. 'This will have to do.' He put the cup down on the stone under which Wagtail was buried. 'I'd like to stay here for a little,' Draco said. 'I don't want to go back yet.' He looked at the watch he was carrying. Abraxas's pocket watch, Moody thought. It had the initials A. M. engraved on the backside. 'I have the potion with me; we can stay,' he said, sounding hopeful.

Moody found a nice place out of the chilly wind's reach. He sat down, not entirely elegantly, leaning against a sun-warm rock. Draco curled up next to him like he'd done at night. This time it was different, though. This time Moody didn't need to pretend. This time he could caress Draco, enjoy mutual attraction for the first time in years. He still didn't understand that someone who'd once been as fickle and superficial as Draco Malfoy was able to see beyond the scars and the ruined eye and the missing leg.

Draco snuggled closer, caressing Moody's chest. 'Alastor?'


'Are you in lo-'

'Yes.' No reason to hide it. He was not one for grand declarations, though. Although he expected Malfoy to be demanding and greedy in that area as well.

'Good.' Draco moved a little, sliding his arm around Moody's neck. 'I think it's this one, by the way,' he said and held up his little finger. 'But I could be wrong.'

'What do you want?' Oh, he was wrapped around Draco's little finger, all right.

'This,' Draco said and kissed him.

That instant Moody didn't care one Knut if a contingent of Death Eaters and half a dozen Dementors had been hovering above them. He didn't care where his wand was and whether he might hex off half a buttock by accident. All he cared about was to kiss Draco senseless, to make him breathless and wanting for more. The slick heat of Draco's mouth was alluring. Moody, too, became breathless, his body's awakening happening fast. Draco was busy touching everywhere he could reach: Moody's muscular upper arms, his broad shoulders, his waist that still showed little sign of too much office work and too little work in the field.

Draco's body was porcelain in his hands, pale and fragile and thin. Draco was surprisingly tough, though, as he pulled Moody with him to lie down. 'Show me how strong you are,' Draco whispered against Moody's mouth. 'I like that you're so powerful.' Draco's budding erection was rubbing against Moody's thigh. This was getting out of hand. 'I want you on top of me,' Draco demanded in a tone that didn't leave room for protests. 'God, I have longed for this!'

Moody flipped them over, Draco landing on his back in the soft grass. 'Oh, yes.' Draco moaned shamelessly, his eyes closed in pleasure. 'Please... Oh, please, Alastor!'

No further encouragement was needed. Moody kissed Draco again, hard and demanding. Leaning on one arm, he pushed a hand between them, fumbling with robes and buttons until he finally held them both in his large hand. Draco made a needy sound and moved his hips, one leg thrown over Moody's good one. The silken-soft skin felt perfect in Moody's palm. He thrust against Draco, slowly at first, then faster, more violently, using the force that Draco wanted so badly.

He didn't last long. One look at Draco's face, contracted in pleasure as his orgasm overtook him, was enough. Moody groaned at the sensation of Draco's semen, splashing over his hand, making it easier to thrust against Draco's warm skin. He moaned a dark, 'Oh, Draco,' and came too, too early and too violent; he forgot everything except for Draco's willing body under his own.

It took a little before he was able to breathe and think. 'Damned,' Moody sighed. 'That was...' He breathed out, a long, satisfied sigh.

'Mmm, me too,' Draco murmured sleepily. 'Do we have to get back? I'd rather stay here.'

Moody didn't answer. He didn't want to get back, either. He turned over on his back, wrapping his arms around Draco. He mumbled a spell to clean them up a bit before he pulled the cloak over their half-naked bodies. He fumbled for the flask. 'You should drink a little Polyjuice. Your hair has a tinge of red.' Moody's hand drew circles on Draco's skin; calming, soft caresses. No, he certainly didn't want to go back.

They lay like that for a while, silent both. It was as if the warmth between them was enough, their touches and kisses spoke for themselves. Above them the clouds moved. It was a small island in time that Moody knew he'd remember for the rest of his life. As he lay there, a bit uncomfortable on the hard ground, he knew precisely why it would never have worked with Kingsley. This, what he had with Draco... it was different. The tension, the little power games, the teasing, even their conflicting opinions created an electric field, a place where peace was shattered by tension, tension by care and care by this intense pleasure. Kingsley and he would have bored each other into insanity in the long run. If Draco drove Moody insane—more insane, some might argue—it wouldn't be because of boredom. Draco was exciting. As a man who'd lived his life on the edge, Moody was, he had to admit, addicted to exitement, to danger. The few years of forced retirement had been the most boring period of his life. Stupid Ministry, thinking he couldn't do his job, just because he lost a leg. It had been a bad time. Even his paranoia had flared wildly since it had little else to do. He'd never want for excitement in his life again with Draco Malfoy as his lover.

If they managed to cure Draco, that was.

'We need to get back,' Moody said. 'Twenty minutes, and you'll be less pleasant to cuddle with, love.'

'You're just jealous because I'll have considerably more legs than you,' Draco said and got up, smiling. The smile didn't reach his eyes.

They returned to the castle reluctantly. There was ten minutes to spare when they walked down the neatly swept stairs to the basement. They could hear Kingsley's booming voice coming from the depths of the vast dungeon. Just before they reached the rooms Mr Bruce had prepared for the Quintapeds, Moody put a hand on Draco's shoulder, turning him around. 'So little time,' he said, aware that the anxiety he felt was audible. He pressed Draco against the cold stones, kissing him harshly, possessively. Draco responded eagerly, as if he drew from Moody's power. Moody groaned at the wild abandon that Draco put in their kiss. He withdrew before they'd have to use a bit more Polyjuice. He nuzzled Draco's hair. He smelt of sea and sky and grass. He had a few leaves entangled in the braid. 'A bit revealing,' Moody whispered and pulled off the grass. 'Kingsley will know that-'

'And?' Draco said proudly. 'He's not exactly being discreet, shagging my grandfather and all.' He paused. 'You are not ashamed of me?'

Moody shook his head. 'Hardly. But I'm perhaps a bit more private than Kingsley.'

'What, you think they'd believe we're just holding hands?'

Moody looked at Draco. He looked exactly as someone who'd had marvellous sex. 'No. I think that's what Abraxas hopes we've been doing.'

'Hah. He can forget about that. Dirty old man.'

'And that makes me, what?' Moody said, shaking his head. 'Come on, we better get you into safety.'

'It makes you a dirty old man, too. But you're my dirty old man, so that is of course different.' Draco made an expression so arrogant and haughty that Moody couldn't stop himself from laughing. 'I don't know why I decided to put up with you, horrible brat!'

'Because I'm nubile, rich and with a bad-boy reputation?'

'One could be led to believe that, yeah. But mostly because you're cute when you're asleep. And, importantly, quiet.' Moody rapped Draco on the forehead. 'Now, off with you. I don't trust people who sudden sprout hairy legs.' It was reassuring to know that the Quintapeds, at least the recently Transfigured ones had some form of human memory, although a bit on the hazy side. What Moody didn't trust, though, was Sally-Anne's and Draco's ability to suppress the Quintapeds' craving for human flesh. At wand-point or behind a solid barrier, that was the way to approach them.

They found Kingsley, Snape and Abraxas standing outside in the corridor. Sally-Anne was there too, listening to Snape explaining something to her.

'Any luck?' Moody asked and leant against the wall. He had strained his leg a bit much. Next time he'd insist on having Draco on a proper bed.

Kingsley looked at Moody once. 'No, but it seems that you got lucky.' He winked. 'You should probably comb your hair.'

Had it been anybody else than Kingsley who had directed attention to Moody's love life, they'd found themselves in the unfortunate end of his wand. 'Thank you for pointing that out. Should I make posters? Perhaps an announcement in the Prophet?'

Abraxas didn't say anything, but he didn't look entirely displeased, either. 

Moody turned and looked at Draco who, in turn, looked triumphant, as if it suited him well that the consummation of their relationship was made half-way public. 'We better get you into-' Moody looked questioning at Snape.

Snape opened a door. It had a small opening with bars in the upper half. 'In here. There's a mattress and blankets. You may want to get rid of your clothes as not to ruin them.' He closed the door behind Draco. It creaked and fell shut with a reassuring, heavy clunk.

They stepped away from the door to leave Draco a bit of privacy during the change. Moody searched the serious faces. 'Nothing worked?'

'No.' Kingsley fiddled with his golden earring. 'We managed to get the fur to retract, but that's it so far. The only thing more pathetic than being a Hairy MacBoon is to be a bald MacBoon.'

There were some unpleasant grunts and groans from Draco's cell. Moody walked over to the door and took a quick peak through the small opening. 'It's all right. If that's the right expression. He has changed.' Moody turned around. 'What's the plan?'

'There are a few combinations we haven't tried.' Abraxas was worried and tried not to show it. He fumbled with the files he was holding. 'The next step, if this fails, will be to get a hold of Professor McGonagall. And to send Mr Weasley an application for an official change of surnames.' Abraxas pressed two fingers against the bridge of his nose. 'It feels as if we're approaching this from the wrong angle. It feels wrong. It's too advanced.'

Snape opened the door to the cell. 'Careful now.' He raised his wand. 'Draco, if you understand me, tap twice on the floor.'

Moody was relieved when the Quintaped did so. They still needed to remain vigilant.

'We'll begin the tests now,' Snape explained. 'Three taps for us to stop. If it feels unpleasant.' He waved Kingsley closer. 'Take over, Shacklebolt. Close the door or push him back with a spell if he loses control or tries to get out.' Snape lowered his wand. 'Why is that, Abraxas? It's fairly advanced magic, Transfigurations. High level.'

'Because neither the McCliverts, nor the MacBoons were famed for their intelligence or their magical abilities. To be brief and little polite, they were a bunch of baboons with wands.' Abraxas held up the file. 'You read the reports and the legends, too, Severus. I know that Transfiguration isn't that easy, so they couldn't have been entirely without talent, though. I don't really think that they used their time on refining spells, however.T hose two families did little but quarrel. Unrefined, brutal, cruel, yes. But advanced? Not in any known interpretation of the word.'

Sally-Anne had been listening. She pulled at Snape's robes. 'Professor McGonagall taught us that it is very difficult to Untransfigure a Transfigured item.'

'Professor McGonagall was right about that,' Snape said. 'Especially since none of our attempts with standard spells worked.'

Sally-Anne looked at the Quintaped. She pursed her mouth, as if she was thinking hard about something. 'Professor Flitwick taught us that if we did something wrong with a charm we could reverse it.' She waved her hand as if she was holding an imaginary wand. 'Finite Incantatem' Determined, she held out her hand. 'Give me your wand, please.'

Snape couldn't hide a smile. 'It might be a bit more difficult than that,' he argued. 'And careful with the wand. It's probably a bit more powerful than you're used to.'

Before Moody could manage to stop Sally-Anne and give her a thorough lecture on safety and the proper way to handle a wand, especially wands that belonged to ambiguous Dark Arts specialists. She swished and flicked neatly, a precise movement that would have made Professor Flitwick proud of his student.

'Like that. Professor Flitwick told us.' She looked at Snape, expectantly. 'Now you!'

'Er-' Snape looked uncomfortable. He probably wasn't used to being commanded by a small girl. When one looked at it from Sally-Anne's angle Snape was probably less scary than the monsters on the Isle of Drear.

'All right. It can't exactly hurt. He pointed the wand at Draco. 'Finite Incantatem!

There was a flash of lightning. Moody feared what he would see as the smoke disappeared.

'Holy Hippogriff! What the hell was that?' Draco stood naked, clutching a blanket to cover his bits. 'I would tap three times, but it seems I've lost a few legs.'

'That,' Snape said, sounding less sarcastic and controlled than he usually did, 'was four of the wizarding world's strongest wizards being taken down a peg by a twelve year old girl! I must say...' He scratched his chin. 'Have anyone seen my pride? I think I've lost it. Hold on.' Snape turned his wand to Sally-Anne. 'Perhaps a blanket for Miss Perks... before...'

Kingsley hurried to find one. It was one thing to have a twelve year old naked Sally-Anne, but underneath the spells her body had developed into a woman of twenty one. A blanket would be good. Although her mind still had a decade to catch up with, Sally-Anne might feel uncomfortable with her development. The good thing was that her mind clearly wasn't damaged, that much was certain.

Snape flicked his wand. Another flash, and the young Sally-Annei had turned into a woman. She was very pretty. Perhaps that was how her grieving mother might have looked when she was twenty-one. Sally-Anne was tall and pale and slender. She could even have been a Malfoy with her fair hair and the pale skin. The Norwegian ancestry was rather obvious.

Moody was stunned. It was so simple that none of them had seen it. Mean, crude and inept, the McCliverts had managed a very effcient spell by pure luck, but they hadn't been able to make it advanced, therefore the counter-spell wasn't, either. It hadn't been a Transfiguration, not really. It has been the attempt at making one, and the result had been horrible. The Department of Mysteries would be in over their heads with that one. It was distorted, mangled magic, revenge magic created by people only remotely more clever than the rocks they lived upon.

He shook himself out of the paralysis. Rushing into the cell, Moody helped Draco wrap the blanket around himself. 'That, I think, was the sign that we're going home soon,' Moody said. 'Our investigation of the Sally-Anne Perks case ends here.'

​​​'That was quite a ride,' Kingsley said. He was sitting comfortably in the deep armchair in the corner of Moody's bedroom. He had a glass of Firewhisky in one hand. 'In more ways than one.'

Moody finished packing. He watched a line of clothing, books and a few bottles of Abraxas's best Elf-made wine disappear into a small bag. Moody charmed it considerably smaller and dumped it into one of the deep pockets of his worn travelling cloak. 'You can't complain about your holiday being boring, though.' Moody took a last look at the room he'd been using for three weeks. 'Although you can still manage. You can look at your fish for almost a week before you have to be all serious again.' Moody grinned. 'Aren't you excited?'

Kingsley just smiled. 'I'm not going to look at any fish. When we've accompanied Miss Perks to her mother's house, I'm going back here. To be with my lover.'

'To Abraxas.' Moody frowned. 'I take it you have decided it is worth the scandal?'

'I take it that you understand that it will be such a delightful diversion when the Prophet finds out that former Death Eater Draco Malfoy is moving in with the Head of Aurors?' Kingsley's eyes were shining mirthfully. 'They're going to eat you alive. And him too, your lover.'

'Do I sense a smidgen of amusement on my behalf?' Moody knew that the teasing was probably the destruction of the last tiny threads that bound them together as former lovers who still cared a little bit too much for each other. When those threads broke, they'd still be friends, happy with each their man.

'Of course.' Kingsley took a drink of the Firewhisky. 'I am happy, though, to see you so... content.' Kingsley got up, placing the glass on the table next to the chair. 'You'll have fun with the Prophet's journalists, I suppose? They are going to frequent St. Mungo's for weeks, trying to get through your wards.'

'Yeah, me too. Happy, that you are.' He was. He wanted Kingsley to have everything he hadn't been able to give him. 'It would never have worked out, Kingsley. You and me.'

Kingsley knew what he meant. Of course he did, they had been friends for more than fifteen years. 'I know. Can't blame a man for wishing.'

'I suppose not.' Moody patted Kingsley on the shoulder. 'I'm too busy with my tame Death Eater to worry about that, laddie.'

Kingsley laughed softly. 'I have what I want now. There's a bit of taming to do with a Malfoy, yes, but I'm fine with that. That and the scandal and the political implications.' Kingsley looked a bit worried for a second. 'We both got what we needed, I suppose.'

'At last,' Moody said. He'd waited fifteen years for someone to overwrite the memories of the few weeks he'd had with Kingsley. It had happened, and the feeling was bittersweet. He hadn't loved Kingsley as a lover, but he loved him as a friend. He always would. Moody squeezed Kingsley's shoulder, as if to express that notion. 'I do love you, you know,' he said, uncharacteristically open about his feelings.

Kingsley just smiled and nodded. They understood each other so well.

It was time to leave. It was a little sad. Moody was about to open the door when Mr Bruce popped out of thin air.

'Sirs is leaving.' Mr Bruce had with him a tiny house-elf who wore something that looked like a toddler's t-shirt. It was bright orange and had a picture of a bear on it.

'Sirs are. Thank you for your help, Mr Bruce.'

'Sir is very kind.' Mr Bruce pulled the small house-elf closer. 'This is Mr Bruce. He has taken clothes from Master.'

Moody looked at the skinny little creature. It was about half the size of the other Mr Bruce. 'Another Bruce?'

'Is Mr Bruce's third son. Is no proper house-elf. Is taken clothes and wants salary. Sir will do Mr Bruce a favour if sir will take him.'

The tiny house-elf nodded. 'Is one Galleon a year. Mr Bruce will take good care of sir and young sir.'

Moody stared at the pair disbelievingly. He looked from the older Mr Bruce to the younger. 'Oh, that's precious.' Moody pointed accusingly at Mr Bruce the older. 'You talked Abraxas into this? And then you forced your own son to take clothes because you knew I wouldn't take him otherwise, is that so?'

Mr Bruce didn't say anything. Moody realised that house-elves were perfectly able to blush. Mr Bruce was looking interested at his own feet. 'Mr Bruce can iron his hands, if sir wants it? Master said that Mr Bruce could not let young master be without his own house-elf. It is not fitting for a Malfoy, Master said. To be in a household without a house-elf.'

'No ironing. And we'll take him in. Provided he will accept a standard house-keeper's salary,' Moody said sternly. 'And Sunday off to do... what house-elves do when they have the day off.'

The young Mr Bruce nodded eagerly. 'Please, sir!'

Moody gave up. Abraxas was incredible. 'Go find your master, then. He probably needs help packing all those fancy robes his grandfather bought for him.' Mingling with Pure-bloods was a tad surreal for a man as down to earth as Alastor Moody. He would never get used to all the fuss with house-elves and castles and manor houses. 

'Moving up in society?' Kingsley said, a wide grin on this face. 'Your own house-elf? It might work wonders for your standing.'

'The only thing that makes wonders for my standing is this.' Moody grabbed his trusty staff. 'And you forgot I also have my own pony now.' Moody waved Kingsley to the side with a mock expression of arrogance. 'Make way for the elite,' he said, sounding very stuck-up and snooty. 'I don't have time to spend with a mere Minister for Magic.' 

'Well, you are going to spend the day with me, unless you don't want to accompany Miss Perks on her journey home. Kingsley swatted Moody on the shoulder. 'Also, my pony is bigger than yours.'

'There is that. And I should know. I've been riding it a couple of times,' Moody retorted and walked out the door.

It was a brief goodbye. Moody stood in the courtyard, leaning against his staff, watching the young Mr Bruce mollycoddle the young Master Malfoy when Snape walked down the stairs, holding a broom and a trunk. He looked less sour, one might even suggest that Snape looked a bit chipper.

'Off to Azkaban, are we?' Moody nodded at the Firebolt. 'That's a nice broom you've got there. Didn't think you cared to use it.'

'I don't know where you are going, but I most certainly am.' Snape's eyes flickered to Draco. 'To make certain that all my demands are carried out. I suppose you'd want him to have a father, still?' Snape snorted and waved his wand at the trunk. 'You better take good care of him, or I'll personally make your life a living hell.'

'Thanks, Snape, but my life was a living hell for a couple of days, so if it's all right with you, I prefer it as it is now,' Moody growled, not really putting much effort into it. 'Give my regards to Lucius. And don't you worry, I'll take care of Draco all right.' Moody paused. Then he added solemnly, 'Even if he chooses not to be with-'

'Oh, no!' Snape looked decidedly amused. 'You're stuck with him. Just the way he looks at you... Then again, maybe he should have his eyes checked?'

'It might run in the family,' Moody said with a sarcastic smile. 'One would suspect that Lucius could benefit from a pair of glasses, too. Now, when you think of it, the only Malfoy who's got himself a decent looking man is him.' Moody pointed at Abraxas.

'Touché. I guess you're right.' Snape watched Kingsley for a few seconds. 'The Minister isn't half bad, a bit on the flamboyant side, though. And his head isn't right. Abraxas is intolerable.'

'Not fond of your father-in-law?'

'Not particularly.'

Moody smiled sweetly. 'I know the feeling.'

Kingsley joined them. Snape was right. Kingsley looked dashing in a new travelling cloak. A gift from Abraxas, probably. Moody felt cheated. He'd rather have had a cloak. Much easier to maintain than a house-elf.

'Severus.' Kingsley held out his hand. Snape hesitated a moment before he took it. 'Thank you for your help. Let me know if there is anything Lucius needs; I'll do what I can. I trust that you are able to convince the governor that it would be a particularly bad idea not to implement the changes I ordered?'

'It would be my pleasure to remind him,' Snape said gleefully. 'Are you going to keep your promise and replace him?'

'As soon as I'm back at the Ministry. I have made it more difficult for us; there will be witches and wizards who insist that I am in league with the Malfoys and they would be right. They will be wrong, however, if they think it matters when it comes to my political decisions.' Kingsley looked serious. 'Before your Slytherin side takes over, Severus, I'll make it abundantly clear that I am not even thinking of releasing Lucius from Azkaban before time enough has passed for his incarceration to look like a proper punishment.'

Snape's eyes narrowed. 'Understood. As long as he is kept under tolerable conditions.'

'That was what we agreed upon. I do not condone torture.'

Snape nodded, then went across the courtyard to say goodbye to Draco.

Moody and Kingsley watched Snape. When he stopped being sour and unpleasant, it was clear that Snape cared deeply for the Malfoys in his life. 'He really is in love with the man, isn't he?' Moody looked at Kingsley. 'They're strangely addictive, the bastards.' Moody suspected that Snape suffered from the same need to protect his lover that he did.

'Yeah. It is still a riddle to me, though. I've rarely met a more unpleasant and arrogant person. Could be that he, too, has a softer side.'

Moody couldn't hear what Snape and Draco were talking about, but both men turned and looked at him, so it wasn't entirely wrong to assume that Snape was giving Draco a bit of fatherly advice in regards to his relationship with Head Auror Alastor Moody.

Abraxas joined them. 'Of course we are waiting for the ladies. Miss Perks seems to have a problem wearing anything but fur and five legs.'

Moody was just about to open his mouth and say something less than nice about jokes on having five legs and a craving for meat when Abraxas cut him off.

'Mr Bruce is changing some of my own robes for her. I offered her some of Draco's but it seems as if she's stuck in the mindset of an twelve year old girl—you know, very stubborn and with a distinct preference for blue and no frills. She complained that Draco's robes were, and I quote, girly. They all looked at Draco who was wearing a pale green set of robes, elaborately embroidered with silver and dark green. Moody coughed lightly.

'They are appropriate for a young man of his standing,' Abraxas insisted. 'If he was a seasoned Auror, it would be different. They, it seems, can wear anything.' Abraxas gave Moody a once-over that indicated that Moody's trusty travelling cloak had seen better days. 'Take care of him, Alastor. And come back here and visit me, both of you.'

Luckily Sally-Anne made her appearance before Moody managed to ask Abraxas less than politely whether he thought he had lost it entirely. It was the general idea of the arrangement: that he'd take good care of Draco. Very good care. 

Blue suited Sally-Anne. Moody wondered how it must feel to have lost nine years and then step out in the wizarding world with the body of a young woman. Her body didn't suit her, though. She moved clumsily, as if she hadn't yet managed to control the longer legs and arms. She was carrying in one hand the Oakshaft that Kingsley had admired in the basement. 'Mr Malfoy gave it to me,' she said. 'He said it is the most reliable broom Galleons can buy.'

'The girl needs a decent and reliable broomstick,' Abraxas said, as if giving away a ten thousand Galleon Oakshaft was nothing to him. It probably wasn't.

'Depending on how many Galleons one has,' Kingsley said, not telling Sally-Anne how many Firebolts she could get in exchange for the sturdy vintage broom. 'If you don't mind, we'll Apparate. It's a bit far on a broom.'

Moody realised that Kingsley was being considerate. Of course Sally-Anne's first time on a broom shouldn't be a long-distance flight, not after her ordeal and the loss of her father. His line of thought was interrupted by the young Mr Bruce. The house-elf was pulling at his cloak insistently. 'Yes, Mr Bruce?'

'Mr Bruce will go to Master's home and clean,' the house-elf announced. 'Masters must be home for dinner,' he demanded and disappeared.

Moody didn't know whether to laugh or to despair. His life would never be the same. It would be a tough change, suddenly being saddled with a lover and a house-elf. It also looked very much like the family he had wanted. Perhaps he could learn to live with it. In time.

Draco was done speaking with Snape. He looked relatively happy. Couldn't have been too bad, then, what the two men were whispering about. Moody checked the bag that Wagtail had been sitting in before he realised what he was doing. It stung that the brave little dog hadn't survived. He pushed away the thought. They had solved the case, they had found Sally-Anne and her father. That, in itself, was worth a celebration.

Snape raised a hand for goodbye.

'Tell my father I'll visit him in a few days,' Draco said, following Snape with his eyes as he made himself ready to Disapparate. 'When he's getting used to the thought of...'

'Of you, being with me.' Moody took Draco's hand. It was still as thin and cold as the first time Draco had put his hand in Moody's. Now it was lying in his, steady and calm. 'Are you ready? Side-Along?' Draco wasn't fit to Apparate by himself, not yet. Moody had fiddled a bit with the coordinates; he'd prefer that Kingsley didn't trample any puppies ike he'd done when they last visited Sally-Anne's mother. Kingsley needed to work on his precision.

'Please.' Draco put his arms around Moody's neck which provided Moody with an opportunity to nuzzle Draco's hair. Draco smelt of soap and some kind of after-shave, a pleasant discreet scent of forest and rain. Sally-Anne held on to Kingsley. 'Ready?'

They stepped out of thin air three feet from the gate. The garden and the farm house were quiet. A blackbird was busy telling other blackbirds to sod off. Bees were humming in the lavender and the litter of small puppies that had greeted them last time were sleeping, cuddled up with a bigger Crup under a garden chair.

'It hasn't changed at all,' Sally-Anne whispered as if not to disturb the deep afternoon calm that enveloped the place. It was as if the house lay there, waiting for something to happen. 'It's the same.'

Moody put a hand on her arm. 'You and your mum have changed. It is probably a good thing that the house hasn't.'

'What if she doesn't recognise me?' Sally-Anne sounded anxious. 'I... I don't recognise me.'

'Listen, love. Your mum have thought about you every day since you disappeared. Had you come back with five legs, she'd still love you.' Moody knew that Mrs Perks would be so very happy that her daughter had been found. 'Don't you worry.' Moody pushed open the gate. The Crups woke up, the adult immediately barking and growling at the intruders. The puppies jumped around, not sure what to do. One of the bravest ran up to Moody and growled at him. He had seen that one before. It had a brown patch over one eye. He couldn't stop himself from laughing. The tiny dog reminded him of Wagtail. 'Grow up, lad, and I might be a little bit scared,' he told the Crup. He bent down and picked up the puppy. 'Yes, you're cute,' he said and scratched it behind one ear. The Crup tried to lick the remains of Moody's nose. 'I don't think so,' he said sternly. 'I'd like to keep the rest of it.'

He handed the puppy to Draco, then said to Kingsley,' If you wait here... I think I should go and prepare Miss Perks's mother for a bit of a shock.'

Moody followed the garden path around the house to the kitchen door. The commotion had alerted Mrs Perks and before he reached the house, she was standing in the doorway. 'Moody... I didn't expect you back before-' She frowned. 'Did you find something, since you...' Moody could almost feel the tension emanating from her. She tried to breathe calmly. 'I don't know if I really wanted you to find anything. It's-'

'Why don't you sit,' Moody suggested. 'It's not all bad.'

Mrs Perks's head snapped up. 'But some of it is?'

'Yes. It is.'

Mrs Perks turned around and went inside the house, into the large and cosy kitchen where Moody and Kingsley had sat the last time they were here. Mrs Perks pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down. Moody sat down next to her. He hated this part, telling relatives that they had lost their family.

'The bad news first, please.' Mrs Perks looked if possibly even more haunted. 'You haven't brought Wagtail with you?'

'That's the first part, then.' Moody could feel the loss still and he had to pause before he continued. 'He was extremely brave. We lost him at the Isle of Drear, in a battle against a herd of Quintapeds. Before that he saved my life. Draco Malfoy's life too. He died trying to tell us something very important, you see.'

Mrs Perks's mouth shivered. 'He was the last connection I had to Sally-Anne,' she said quietly, a tear running down her cheek. 'He was such a good dog.'

'I know. He stayed with me all the time and I became rather attached to him. I miss him too. I'm very sorry we weren't fast enough to save him. It was my fault.'

'Where is he... why were you on that island?' Mrs Perks looked very confused. 'And that awful Malfoy boy... Isn't he supposed to be in Azkaban?'

Moody stroked Mrs Perks's shaking hand, trying to comfort her. 'We buried Wagtail at Castle Dùnaid. He has a grave there now. Draco... we took Mr Malfoy with us because he agreed to assist us. He has been released in my care. He actually did save Wagtail once. Before the fight that cost him his life. Mr Malfoy, too, was fond of him. We both regret that we lost him.'

'Oh...' Mrs Perks dried her eyes and collected herself. 'Is there more?'

Moody couldn't seen any reason to delay the pain. 'Your husband is dead. We found his body at the Isle of Drear. His broom malfunctioned. As far as we could determine, he was killed almost instantly from a blow he received to the head.'

Mrs Perks started sobbing. Moody reached into his pocket for a handkerchief. He handed it to her, not trying to say anything. There really wasn't anything to say.

It took a while before the tears stopped. 'I'm... I'm sorry, Moody. I knew already, it's just that the confirmation... Thank you.'

Moody stood. He found a kettle and put on some water for tea. He deliberately worked with his back to Mrs Perks, leaving her room to breathe. When the tea was done, he put a cup in front of Mrs Perks. He poured. 'I'm sorry.'

'Don't be. It's better to know. To move on.' Mrs Perks's eyes were red-rimmed and puffy. She looked up at him as if she wanted him to sit.

'A moment. I have Kingsley with me, and he has something you might want to see.' Moody went to the front door, waving at Kingsley to enter.

Kingsley and the litter of puppies went into the kitchen. 'Mrs Perks.' Kingsley nodded politely. He sent Moody a look, as if to say that he understood that Moody had broken the bad news to her. 'I'm sorry for your loss.' Kingsley sent Moody a questioning look. 'Should I tell?'

'We do have some good news, though,' Moody said.

'Very good news,' Kingsley agreed.

Mrs Perks looked from Moody to Kingsley and back again. 'I hardly dare ask...'

'You don't have to.' Kingsley stepped aside and Sally-Anne walked into the kitchen she had left ten years ago. 'She's doesn't remember much from the years that went by.'

Mrs Perks frowned and stared at the unknown young woman standing in her kitchen. She sat in silence as the seconds passed by, trying to digest the miracle. 'Sally-Anne? My child? My little girl? Oh... You found her! Moody, you found her!' Mrs Perks's eyes filled with tears, but this time they were tears of joy. Slowly she got up, all the time staring at her daugther.

'Mum... Mum!' Sally-Anne threw herself at her mother, crying. Mrs Perks embraced her daughter, stroking her hair, kissing her cheeks, looking at the daughter that she had thought lost forever, smiling through her tears.

Moody quietly pulled Kingsley with him out of the kitchen and into the garden. Draco was sitting in one of the garden chairs, the cheeky little Crup still on his arm. 'Women,' Moody growled, rubbing his eye that suddenly felt as if he had got a hair in it.

'Old softie,' Kingsley said and swatted Moody on the shoulder. His eyes, too, were suspiciously glazed over.

'Yeah. Can't be a big, bad Auror all the time.' Moody didn't even care to deny it. 'I like happy endings.' It hadn't been a wasted summer, but it had been a strange one. His life has changed so much in only a few weeks and the future... it looked bright and exciting. He had put to rest the one case that had haunted him for years. Next summer he could go on a real holiday instead, maybe visit Abraxas again together with Draco. 'Oh, Draco,' Moody sighed. It was too late to regret it, his attachment to an infamous criminal.

'What did I do now?' Draco got up. 'I haven't done anything.'

'Nothing. Yet. But I'm certain you'd like to,' Moody teased. He put his arm around Draco's waist. 'It's time to leave.'

Kingsley closed his travelling cloak. 'I'll be back in a week.'

Before they managed to Apparate, Mrs Perks came outside. 'You're leaving? Oh, Moody, and you Minister, thank you for all you have done for us.' She stared at Draco. The Death Eater Draco Malfoy was obviously not forgotten by those who had suffered the war. Moody's arm around Draco's waist didn't stay unnoticed. 'And Mr Malfoy, too,' she sad a bit tensely. 'If there is anything I can do, anything you want...'

'It's our job,' Moody said, touched by Mrs Perks heartfelt gratitude. 'We're Aurors. This is what we do. It's nothing.'

'It is! Surely there is something...' Mrs Perks insisted. 'Anything!'

Draco coughed lightly. Moody turned and looked at him. Draco held out his hand. The chipper little Crup, barely a handful, was sitting there, looking at Moody with an expression so alike Wagtail's that they had to be related in some way. Moody raised an eyebrow. 'A dog?' Well, he had thought of getting one, but that was before he got a Draco. Then again, a Crup would be ten times easier to handle.

He turned to Mrs Perks. 'Are the puppies for sale?'

'No,' she said, smiling. 'They are Wagtail's last litter and we'll keep them all. Except for that one.'

'You mean...' Draco looked anxious. 

'I mean that he has already chosen his owner himself,' Mrs Perks said and stroked the tiny puppy on the head. 'I'll be happy to-' she looked from Moody to Draco, '-to let you and Auror Moody have him. There are times when we witches and wizards have to realise that we are not always the masters and mistresses of beasts.'

'That, Mrs Perks,' Moody said, 'is very true. But a man needs a challenge once in a while.' Moody looked at Draco, his beautiful, untamed Draco.

Oh, yes, he'd certainly got the challenge he wanted. Taming Draco, Moody had no doubt, would last a lifetime and that was perfectly all right with him.

Perfectly all right.

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