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Ain't No Friend Of Mine

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When they said you was high classed,
Well, that was just a lie.

—Elvis Presley

x

1.

x

Weak sun filtered through drawn blinds, casting the private investigations office in bands of dark and light. Draco sat in the dark, a mass of shadows masking his quiet observation of the bird who had entered the office.

Her pearl complexion and coal black hair were a higher contrast than the gray light, and even the bars of shadows could not dim the blood red of her dress. Apparently unperturbed by the quiet darkness, she sat with a thigh on the desk, luxuriously lounging, a be-ringed hand propping her up. The other hand rose to pick up a paperweight and set it down, before she took out a cigarette and lit up. She seemed prepared to wait.

Draco was surprised. Pansy never had been one for patience.

Observing without being observed, Draco watched the lit tip move in the shadows, the flame illuminating her face from time to time. After a minute, the door to the office opened, and another bird strolled in. "He won't be able to help," the second bird said, her voice low and smoky.

"He has to," Pansy said, not even breaking the rhythm of the fag rising to her ruby lips.

The second one was more plainly dressed, tweed skirt suit, buckle shoes, dark hair tucked up neatly under a smart hat. The slats of light split up her bulk, but illuminated the hand she placed on Pansy's satin-clad thigh. "It's been weeks," she said, without an air of comfort.

Pansy didn't move, neither at the words nor the touch. "It's been too long."

"He's probably—"

"Don't you dare say it, Millie."

Pansy never had been one for practicality, either. They saved that for Millicent Bulstrode.

Although they spoke cryptically, without context, Draco knew the missing persons case of which they spoke rather well. They were speaking of the disappearance of one wizard—young, handsome, clever, amusing, sparkling ingenious justoverwhelming,really—

A man came stomping into the office and Draco's thoughts. "Do we really think Potter can do it?" he asked the women.

Of course, they saved utter and complete indiscretion for Greg.

At the noise, Potter stumbled in, looking rather worse for lack of caffeination. He flicked the Muggle light switches, then somehow managed to remember he was a wizard and used his wand to flick the blinds. Morning sunlight flooded in the office, and in it Pansy's mascara was smudged from an obvious hard night; Millie looked well-flossed as always, and Greg looked worried sick.

Potter looked from one to the other as if he thought he was still dreaming.

Before Potter could properly focus, Pansy slid off his desk in a fluid movement to face him. Her girlish, sing-song voice was steely. "Potter," she announced. "We're here to hire you."

Potter blinked.

"We want you to find Draco Malfoy."

Potter rubbed his eyes and looked down at Draco. "I thought you would've let me know there was someone here," was all he had to say.

What, like that's my job here all of the sudden? Draco thought to himself. I just started today. Don't I get a—I don't know—an orientation? With instruction pamphlets, about how I'm not your doorbell or personal secretary. Also, eclairs.

Aloud, he barked.

* * *

It all started with the defeat of the Dark Lord.

Of course it was supposed to have ended there, but endings start beginnings. A reactionary group had formed in response to the Muggle-born registration act during the war, called the Muggle-born Martyrs. The Ministry of Magic still hadn't recovered from its infiltration by Imperius and Death Eaters, even five years later. People still wanted to start wars even while they were still visiting graves.

When Voldemort died the past came alive, and the wizarding world was haunted by times gone by.

Sometimes literally.

At Malfoy Manor: routinely.

Burbage's ghost had squirreled herself away in the upstairs east wing linen closet.

At one point someone had necromanced the grounds, and Inferi attacked the house. There were undead Malfoys, but also undead Muggles who had no business in those plots. Voldemort had liked to call the Malfoy lawns potters' fields; he'd had a sense of irony and a dumping ground for dead. And when the Inferi rose there was also a undead pet parakeet from when Draco was seven.

The Howlers weren't so bad, nor the Imperio'd peacocks, nor the occasional bricks and stones breaking windows. The sense of irony hadn't died with the Dark Lord, either, because a whole lot worse were the poisoned mead and cursed necklace making widows. Hepzibah just snuffed it after that; that was the end of the Crabbes. Mum, however, possibly became a bit touched. Maybe she just missed her dead husband. Draco rather thought she missed her dead sister.

Then there were the Dementors. They were still roaming about in clutches out of control on the countryside. The ones about Wiltshire were in particular persistent and fond of the manor. Draco rather thought they missed Voldemort.

You wouldn't think it to look at them, but they weren't completely mindless. That seventh year, often locked in perpetual fear and amongst Voldemort's multitudinous and varied minions, Draco'd gotten to know Dementors better than he'd ever wanted. Enough to notice a clutch of them, or one especially, seemed to have grown more mind of late than most. It definitely seemed to have a pattern, anyway, and was making it hard for more than one family of Death Eaters to go on with their lives.

Because Draco meanwhile had gotten over his past. Most of it. In some respects. Anyway, the point was, he was tired of the past hanging around the present. If it wasn't Dementors, it was Howlers, or his friends' mums or dads snuffing it. Or it was undead parakeets. And Imperio'd peacocks. There was definitely a recurring bird theme, Draco concluded sourly.

In fact, around the time this avian motif became apparent, Draco also concluded he was going to end the harassment, once and for all. Starting with the Dementors who were persecuting Voldemort's former followers. Particularly the Parkinsons; Pansy only had her mother and sisters, now; there were so few fathers left. Draco wasn't going to stand for them hurting her; she had had enough of that.

He was going to track these Dementors down; he was going to find out what they were up to; he was going to stop them.

"In other words, he was going on stupidest, most ridiculousest task he could assign himself, obviously," Millicent said much later, when she and Pansy and Greg were hiring Potter to find him. "Everyone knows if it's pointless and impossible and Don Quixote, Draco's for it."

Draco turned up his nose. Everyone also knew not to listen when Bulstrode talked about filthy Muggle things.

He thumped his tail on the ground, too, but no one noticed. He had been doing just fine tracking down the Dementors, thank you.

Before everything went pear-shaped.

* * *

When Draco finally came face to face with the Dementors he'd tracked across three counties, he found that it was not many Dementors but one Dementor, and not a Dementor but a man, and not a man but something in between. He had eyes like a man and walked like a man, but a mouth like a Dementor, the presence of a Dementor.

The air was cold and full of fear. Draco was in an alley between two Muggle brick walls, the dark, forbidding figure on the other end, blasting icy terror down the alley. A gutter nearby kept going drip, drip, drip—, but to Draco it sounded like a warning to run, run, run. His fingers felt so cramped around his wand he wasn't sure he could let go of it, but his hand was so sweaty and clammy he wasn't sure he could hold onto it.

Then the not-Dementor spoke and sounded like neither man nor Dementor; it sounded like a thousand different happy cries sewn together into bits and pieces to make speeches. If it was a Dementor, it was using Kissed, stolen souls to say, "Young Mister Malfoy."

I know I am, but what are you? Draco thought wildly, but his mouth felt frozen shut in the icy air.

The—the it, it laughed, like birdsong and hearth fires and the tinkling of bells, moments of bliss stolen from condemned souls. "Once, I could've cured you of your fear," it said. "I could have Kissed your happy memories away. You don't have to be afraid of anything, once all your peace and joy have been robbed."

The sounds of the souls with which it spoke didn't come from its mouth. They flowed all around—the happy memories, joy, peace of which it spoke seeping into Draco instead of out of him, the opposite of a Dementor. Draco was the Dementor; he was a monster.

He was doing nothing to stop it.

"But that power was taken away, and what is left?" the not-Dementor said. "You should know. The Dark Lord showed you, just like me. He stripped you of your power, revealed what you really were underneath. Obedient, weak."

Draco knew what he wanted to say.

Voldemort had created this creature, made him not a man and yet not a Dementor. This was some remnant of Voldemort's terrible experiments with magic and power, the rending of Riddle's soul. Some shadow, some impression left on the world by both Riddle the man and Voldemort, the terror in every man's heart.

But Draco had never been able to say "no" when Voldemort told him to cast Cruciatus, either.

"See," the not-Dementor said. "Too spineless, even, to admit the truth. Luckily, even though I can no longer steal joy, I can steal the lies." The not-Dementor laughed again. It raised an arm. "Without them, I doubt anyone will even know you. Your real essence."

"What are you—what's going to happen to me?" Draco stuttered.

"Suffer the truth," it said.

And that was how Draco got turned into a dog.

* * *

After a not-so-thorough investigation—he was canine and he drooled—Draco first concluded the not-Dementor made no sense. Draco wasn't really a dog; this wasn't any truth; and the not-Dementor was stupid. And had a low self esteem; apparently, it'd lost its powers of soul-sucking and the only way it could feel good about itself any more was by faffing about changing random people into midsize fluffy house pets.

Draco had a long lean body with a deep chest and slender hips, and absurdly long legs that should have been awkward but somehow weren't. He had a long tail and a narrow head and snout, and longish hair everywhere that was the pale, washed-out color of his normal hair. Some sort of deerhound maybe.

His sense of smell had gone very sharp, but his eyesight basically sucked, and mostly his body (dog's body! Dog's. Body!) instinctively knew how to—to pant and to wag his tail and to itch his ear with his foot and his crotch with his mouth, God.

But he still had a man's brain. Or at least he thought it was a man's brain. A dog's brain couldn't wonder whether it was a dog's brain or a man's brain, could it? Which made him conclude he'd basically been turned into a dog Animagus. Which wasn't so bad. Except he'd wanted to be something halfway decent, like a water snake or a great white shark or a leviathan. Or a merman, but he never told anyone that one.

The point was, was that he'd wanted to be an Animagus, and now he was one. He just had to figure out how to . . . unbe one. Which shouldn't be so hard.

Except that it was impossible.

He couldn't use his wand, as it had disappeared along with his clothes, along with He Who Was Not A Dementor. Draco tried to will himself human. He also tried tucking his tail between his legs and growling in frustration, but not on purpose.

Realizing this, he saw he should be deliberate, instead of just wanting very much to not be a dog. Deliberate and Determined, and—that other one. He imagined his Destination (man's body! Man's. Body!), but soon saw it was going nowhere. Literally, because after trying a few times he found he couldn't Apparate, either.

Which made it that much worse, since Plan H had been to get some help (Plans A through G being all the ways he might manage to turn back on his own), and help was nowhere to be found around here. He was in a Muggle area. He was in a Muggle area in Merlin knew where, seeing as how no one who was anyone cared about Muggle areas, and geography was of little import to wizards. But now he couldn't Apparate, and he couldn't Floo, since he couldn't speak (other than in barks and growls and—and was that a whine?), and he couldn't seem to dredge up any other magic to help him find a wizard.

He had the general idea of being in northwest Surrey, some sort of western suburb of London. The only thing for it seemed to be to head to London.

Knockturn Alley.

Wizards.

* * *

There were many things to be learned traveling by dog's body, Draco learned.

1) Muggle roads were confusing, and Muggle cars were stupid. They never watched where you were going. Also when you ran out in front of them they acted as if you couldn't see them—as if you could possibly miss them honking at you like big murderous geese. There was that alary theme again, Draco was none too pleased to note.

2) There were apparently no wizards in Surrey or west London. Obviously, because:

3) Surrey and west London were stupid, too. They smelled bad and felt dirty and were full of starving, straggly strays far more starving and straggly than he, who'd gone native—or nasty and wolfish, anyway, as far as he could tell—due to strain.

4) Surrey and west London were also full of children, and children were the largest-most-horrifying menace of all, because:

5) When two little girls with pigtails accosted him on the pavement, going home and being their pet forever didn't sound so bad, next to the week he'd already spent starving and straggling on the street. Draco imagined thick T-bones and warm fires, gentle, enamored petting and possibly some frolicking in clean, sparkling fountains in stately gardens.

He did not imagine tail-pulling, ear-jerking, and hair-yanking, or wearing dolls' clothes, or being chased through mud in a yard of broken toys, or being finally run out by a mother and a broomstick she didn't even know how to fly, and being called a "filthy animal."

Apparently not everyone knew Muggles were the filthy animals. He didn't add that to the list, though, because everyone had learned that thoroughly during some war or other everyone had to have about it.

6) No one ever thought to tell a dog directions.

7) He couldn't make or buy food, and he couldn't hunt, either, considering the lack of huntable creatures hereabouts, and anyway, he had a human brain. He had no idea how to hunt, and the thought of actually killing something and eating its guts and liver or whatever made his stomach turn.

Which left begging. Draco should have been more reluctant, but Voldemort had taught him all about being on his knees.

Draco had long known the power of mercy.

8) Speaking of which, Muggles were hard-hearted, vicious, and cruel. They rarely gave you food, and if they did sometimes they threw it at you and laughed. And sometimes they threw stones instead, or bricks, or once or twice a lit fag. They kicked you and called you names. And chased you with brooms.

9) Malfoys might eat from rubbish bins if forced.

10) None of this knowledge would never ever ever be advantageous in a future which did not include being a starving and straggly stray, thus rendering said knowledge entirely useless.

So he might as well forget the rubbish bin thing ever happened.

11) The Tube was magical and lived underground. You had to figure out the maps, which were color-coded and thus much more difficult considering his species. And you had to figure out how to sneak on board, which wasn't as difficult considering his species—how fast he could go and how small he could make himself. Then it could take you straight to somewhere else where you transferred, and to somewhere else where you transferred again, and then somewhere else which was very near the Leaky Cauldron.

12) Wizards could be more hard-hearted, more vicious, and more cruel.

* * *

Once finally in Knockturn Alley, Draco had headed toward Perseus' Pernicious Potions shop. The Malfoys weren't on such good terms with Borgin and Burkes any more, and the potion shop's proprietors were acquaintances of Draco's. Dorcus was Flint's sister, and the older Capulet had a little brother in Slytherin two years below Draco. They were married now and had just recently bought the shop.

Draco wished he had actual friends somewhere about, but no one very close to him lived in London, and if the Capulets couldn't help him, then at least there were other wizards about who might. All in all he thought it a good place to start, a pretty safe bet.

He couldn't have been more wrong.

Dorcus apparently needed various dog parts for her potions, and Capulet locked Draco in the back to cut them from Draco and give them to her. It was worse than Muggles could have ever done, because wizards could enspell body parts—ears, tails, bits of skin—to grow back. It was worse than Muggles could have ever done, because these were wizards, and they should have been able to tell that Draco was not a dog, that he wasn't natural, that he needed their help.

The operative element in that, he supposed, was that they had to care first.

This went on for several days, and Draco had worn his throat out barking, gotten beaten a time or two for biting Capulet when he came in the back, and was currently trying to dig through the metal floor of his cage.

This went on, in fact, until Harry Potter showed up.

Though obviously, Draco would've gotten out on his own. He had very strong toenails and metal could only put up a fight for so long, after all.

Anyway, of course it would have to be Harry Potter. Big hero, saves day from evil, same old story—because of course the Capulets were evil. They were Slytherin and knew Draco and one of them had been a Death Eater. Everyone knew anyone with any three of those traits might as well drink Muggle baby blood or frolic with Fenrir, or something, according to press and public.

And anyway, Potter managed to always be there at Draco's lowest—crying in the bathroom, screaming at the approach of Fiendfyre, panting like a dog. Being a dog, in point of fact. No surprise Potter'd be here now, even if he wasn't an Auror, like everyone had predicted.

Potter was a private investigator. Draco later found out Potter was following on a case of a potions addict who thought some of the ingredients being used might be illegal. So there Potter was, finding all the things being done to make potions addictive and habit-forming, and meanwhile the culprits were on their way to escaping, edging around the equipment tables toward the front of the shop.

Draco barked sharply and Potter whipped around, flicking out spells faster than Draco could keep track of. Then the Capulets were face down on the ground and going nowhere fast.

Potter turned toward the cage where Draco was kept, and cast a spell on the lock. He knelt down and peered in. Draco pressed himself against the back of the cage and snarled.

This was Potter, after all.

Potter stank, and Diggory was the one true Hogwarts Champion.

Potter reached in further and Draco pulled back more, curling deeper into the cage.

At last, muttering and looking angry, Potter gave up and stood. He turned back to the couple bound to the ground. Then he cast something at one of the prone, helpless figures, still muttering so that Draco couldn't hear what he said.

Capulet writhed once.

It was only just then Draco realized he still had a scar across his ribs and stomach, even as a dog.

After the one writhe, Potter quickly lowered his wand and stepped toward the couple. For one crazy moment, Draco thought Potter was going to start kicking them. Instead Potter's hand just clenched and unclenched on his wand as he looked down at them.

Then Aurors started popping into existence all around.

They took the Capulets into custody and began collecting a lot of the equipment about the place as evidence. No one seemed to notice Draco, and Potter seemed to have forgotten about him.

Instead, Potter was yelling at one of the Aurors, waving his hands, growing red in the face. The Auror's words back were low and sharp. Potter clenched his jaw and turned to leave, and that was when Draco first found out he was far more dog than he realized.

He streaked out of the cage after Potter.

It was probably a good idea to escape the Aurors, who'd probably bag and process him for evidence too, just like everything else. But once Draco got out the doors of the shop, he should have run in the other direction.

Instead, he followed Potter.

Of course he didn't want to follow Potter, of course he didn't care that Potter was leaving or where Potter was going. But there was something else in Draco's head, something driving him forward, something like: good, food, protector, good, strong, warm, safe, good, and so on. It was incomprehensible and even more than that, appalling.

Thinking about it later, Draco realized he might very well have displayed some canine instincts before that. The Surrey sisters with the pigtails, for instance. He never would have thought being their pet was a good idea had he been in his right mind.

Nor would he have begged.

Nor would a Malfoy ever eat out of the rubbish.

As if!

During these other instances, though, Draco had excused his own bizarre behavior because he'd been exhausted, starved, and suffering. But he knew no matter how much he was put out, he would never, ever, willingly follow Potter. Which meant something was compelling him some of the time that wasn't himself. Something that wasn't human.

Outside the shop, Potter sensed Draco following. "Go on," he shouted. "Get."

It was the Dog Brain that made Draco lunge toward Potter and press into his legs as he Disapparated. They Side-Alonged to Grimmauld Place.

And that was how Draco became Potter's pet.


x

2.

x.

After Pansy, Millie and Greg came to hire Potter to find Draco Malfoy—well, Pansy and Millie came for that; Greg apparently came to pet the dog—Potter got to work.

And brought Draco with him.

Really, it was almost as if he knew who Draco was.

Draco was suspicious. He was even more suspicious when Potter took him to a car, and expected him to get in. Draco had learned on his trip to London that cars were awful, horrible, and stupid. They honked like geese, and he had had enough of his avian motif.

Potter said they were going to a dark place where they wouldn't be seen.

Potter was going to murder him.

Draco's suspicion increased.

Then they were going to watch a house for hours and hours while sitting in a car, with nothing to do but suspiciously sniff the binoculars. Potter cheerily explained, "It's called a stake out."

Draco's suspicion knew no bounds. He had to know who Draco was. He had never liked Draco, and there was that time in the bathroom with the Sectumsempra.

Potter was going to murder him with boredom.

Then they were outside in the night air and Potter was driving like he flew, a maniac. Draco wasn't sure what to think of that, until the window on his side magically opened. It was Muggle magic, Draco supposed, seeing Potter's hand moving out the corner of his eye. Muggles used buttons instead of wands, which bespoke some kind of disgusting mechanism to make things work instead of the beauty of mysticism, but Draco hardly had time to consider that.

He had to put his head out the window.

He had to.

Obviously, this was what life was all about.

He also had to open his mouth so his tongue could fly in the direction the wind was whipping his fur and ears. It was glorious.

Potter was laughing. "Dogs," he said, as if it wasn't all about missing the feel of a broom.

The stake out, though, burst Draco's bubble of suspicion. They were keeping tabs on the Muggle-born Martyrs, the group that had formed after the war that kept demanding reparations, and promised to protect Muggle-borns and Half-bloods from former followers of Voldemort. As if there were really any coherence left to the Death Eaters to cause Muggle-borns any trouble.

As if Potter didn't have far more important cases!

But obviously Potter didn't care about one little missing former Death Eater, or how much it must have hurt Pansy's pride to hire Potter for help, or about Draco Malfoy at all.

Except that the next morning they started working on the case, and Draco found out they had actually sort of been working on it all along.

They started with Dementor tracking, just as Draco had done. Potter always took Draco on surveillance, and even as a dog, he could do some investigation, tracing his steps. In fact, Draco was rather loathe to admit it, but he and Potter made a good team.

Draco had been to these spots before, so he could navigate to some extent when Potter Apparated them there. Draco had to admit, having a nose with a keen sense of smell was no small benefit, but he couldn't speak with the people they questioned. But even if he was human he probably would've been better than Potter at tracking leads anyway. And even as a dog, he was probably still better at human interaction than Potter.

But Potter was good at picking up the details Draco, in his worry and hurry to solve the case, missed. Draco was surprised, considering before this he would've classified Potter as the most unsubtle creature on Earth. Besides Weasley. Maybe Potter had picked up something from all his prolonged and obsessive stalking of Draco in sixth year.

Potter was also really good at scaring people, and when Draco got his growl on, they were formidable. And when one of the Muggle-born Martyrs they'd been spying on during the night previous showed up at one of the Muggle areas the not-Dementor had disturbed, it was Draco who recognized him, but Potter who chased him down, and both of them who cornered him. Draco kept him backed up against the alley wall while Potter cast an anti-Apparition ward. But then Potter played a card only he could play, which was just unfair, really, but who was keeping score? Draco wasn't. That would be petty.

But if he had saved the world, he would do it better.

"I'm the Boy Who Lived," Potter said.

The Muggle-born Martyr got on his knees and thanked Potter for saving said world.

Honestly, the things people got on their knees for these days. Whatever happened to prayer, crushing utter defeat, and blow jobs?

"Get up," Potter said, "and tell me everything you know about the rogue Dementor Draco Malfoy was hunting here a few weeks ago."

It was only then that Draco realized the Muggle-born Martyrs could in some way be connected to the not-Dementor. Maybe the stake out had been work on his own case, and Draco hadn't even known it. After all, where had the not-Dementor come from? Who had made it . . . not a Dementor? It had been set to prey on pure-blood families. Pure-blood families the Muggle-born Martyrs had to hate for their involvement with the war.

The Muggle-born, meanwhile, claimed not to know anything, just passing through, really, can I lick your boots Mr. Brooding Hero, and on and on in that vein. But Draco, realizing the Martyrs could be behind his whole imprisonment in this dog's body, watched the Muggle-born very closely. Potter was about to let him go, when Draco barked sharply.

"Boy?" Potter asked, pausing before letting the Muggle-born walk on out of the wards.

Draco barked again.

Potter looked at the Martyr again, more closely now. "The Dementors were Voldemort's, you know," he said finally.

It was Voldemort's name that did it.

"Yeah," the Martyr spat. Either Potter had broke through to some inner passion, or the Muggle-born was just working up a fine lather to polish Potter's boots with. "It was His. He Who Shall Not Be Named's little project. So why would we have anything to do with it?"

"Project?" Potter repeated. "It? Are you talking about the rogue Dementor?"

"Not a Dementor any more, is it?"

Potter scowled. "What is it?"

"Truth."

"Wha—?" Potter started asking, but by then the Muggle-born had worked through the wards.

He Disapparated, leaving Potter grasping at thin air and Draco barking like mad.

* * *

The first thing Potter tried to do, once he had acquired Draco as his pet after saving him from the Capulets at Perseus' Pernicious Potions, was to give him away.

To himself, first, apparently trying to convince himself he could possibly put up with something that had hair the color of Draco Malfoy, probably. That is, once they Apparated into Potter's house, Potter glared down at him with a, "What'd you do that for?" look on his face. Then he paced away a couple steps, and looked back down at Draco.

"You can't follow me home," Potter said finally aloud.

Then he did this continuous thing where he looked down at Draco, walked away a couple steps, then looked back. He was obviously nutters, just as Draco had always tried to tell everyone. Potter paced like that over a dozen times, as though trying to come to some sort of decision, before Draco came to his own.

Since he was here—here! In Harry Potter's house!—he should at least have a look about. He hadn't been here since he was a child, when old Grandmother Black used to feed him fig biscuits.

Potter followed him around. Sort of like sixth year, and really, why didn't not-Dementors go around and turn crazy stalkers into dogs, seeing as how they stuck to your tail like a puppy already?

Whenever Draco stopped to look at something—alright, sniff something—Potter would stop to look at Draco.

Finally Potter said, "Have you got a home? Owners?" He paused. "Collar?"

Draco mostly ignored him in order to sniff the yummy mothbally curtains.

"I don't know what to do with you," Potter continued, which earned a disdainful look from Draco.

I'll tell you what you can do, he thought very hard. Change me back into a wizard so I can hex you senseless and wash my hair again, you enormous git!

But the look must have actually been saying, Feed me and keep me warm and give me a place to sleep, and I'll lick your face all up!, because Potter said, "I can't keep you. I don't know how to take care of a dog."

This was how Potter convinced himself to give Draco away, which was just horrible, even as intimately as Draco was aware that Potter hated him and he hated Potter. Draco wasn't Draco, at least to anyone but himself. He was a dog. And everyone loved dogs! Whoever didn't love dogs had a stone cold heart and a frigid, frigid soul. And Potter had certainly had some sort of connection with that mutt Sirius Black. But oh no, now that Draco was a dog, he had a sudden hatred of all things canine. Probably contracted an unnatural measure of prejudice against ferrets in fourth year, too.

It was alright, though. All for the best. It wasn't as if Draco actually wanted to stay with Potter. In fact, he could just march—fine, trot—out this door any time he wanted to. In fact, he would. Right now.

As soon as he figured out how to open the knob without an opposable thumb.

And before that happened, Potter had Side-Alonged him away again, and Draco began his catalogue of people who didn't want him, which was just fine since he didn't want them back. He didn't have anything better to do than keep track of Potters' failures and it staved off the humiliation to some extent, even if what Potter was failing at was making anyone want Draco.

Anyone at all.

* * *

The first attempt was Weasel. Naturally. The Weasleys had always been the poorest wizarding family and the Malfoys always the richest; obviously, things would shake out such that Weasel ended up owning Draco. The Malfoys might've been replete in one form of fortune but they were sorely lacking in another.

Draco didn't mind; it was all a good laugh, really; he could always appreciate cosmic irony; he was just going to kill them all; that was it.

Potter tumbled them out of the Floo because he was clumsy and clinically insane and clueless and many other alliterative things. Weasel met him at the hearth, but Draco didn't hear most of the initial comments because he had just realized this was Weasel's house. Draco was too busy hating Potter forever and twisting behind Potter's legs, hiding, to listen.

"What is that?" Weasel suddenly said.

"A dog," Potter said.

These were exactly the enlightened, elevated conversations Draco had been missing by not being in the great House of Gryffindor. He had suspected as much. Despite being a dog, Draco couldn't help but feel some small spark of triumph.

Potter briefly explained the circumstances of attaining Draco: Knockturn Alley, Capulet and Dorcus, and Draco following him home like a—well, like a lost puppy. "And now I don't know what to do with it," Potter finished. "I thought maybe—I don't know, do you want it?"

Draco's triumph bottomed out.

"Dogs are a lot of work," Weasel was pointing out meanwhile. "And—well . . . money."

"I can—"

Even if it was bitter, some of the remnants of said triumph stirred. Being bought was much, much better than being given away. He was stuck being a dog for the time being; it was horrible enough—if he was going to be owned by Weasel, well, at least let there be some consolation.

Let him know how much Potter thought he was worth.

But Weasel interrupted. "It's not just that. You've got to take him to the vet; he's probably got all kinds of manky diseases. You got him in Knockturn Alley, remember? I mean, you don't know."

Draco bristled; this was the moment he conceived his plan for the Weasel's death.

Potter stepped away from where Draco was pressing hard against his legs.

Weasel was going to get fatally beaten with Bludgers.

"And it was probably a stray, before Flint and whoever-you-said got a hold of him," Weasel went on. "He could bite, get into fights . . . Do you even know if its house trained?"

Weasel was going to get beaten with Snitches, which would hurt more because it would take so much longer to kill him.

"I didn't think."

The embers of Draco's triumph glowed feebly for a moment—Potter never thought!—and were immediately banked forever and ever when Potter continued, "I just thought, you know, it might be fun for the kids."

Kids were evil, Draco thought very hard, trying to convey this to Potter by pressing very heavily into his legs again. Apparently Potter read that as, Why, I love to have my eyes poked and my ears screamed in, bring me more children oh please oh please, because Potter absently patted Draco's head and said something to Weasel about how dogs loved kids.

Draco had forgotten. Potter was evil, too.

Then Granger rushed in in a flurry of frizzy hair, putting on a shoe with one hand and fastening an earring with the other. Potter started telling his story of acquiring Draco all over again, and that was when Draco realized just how evil Potter was. He was not only trying to give Draco away to Weasel but also the Mudblood, the know-it-all-Mudblood whose screaming he thought he could still hear echoing sometimes in the manor.

Burbage sometimes sang her praises from the linen closet.

The Mudblood-whose-screams-he-heard-in-his-head, who by the way, was cooing over him now and saying things like, "Vile animal. How could he do that to a living thing?" and, "She's just as bad as he is. The English language is rarely sufficient; she's not a bitch. Poor thing, just look at him. Malnourished, probably abused—"

Draco remembered her house-elf campaign, and her knit caps. He also remembered the Surrey sisters with the pigtails, and then it was his own screams he heard in his head. He tried to hide behind Potter's legs again, lest the Mudblood get any ideas about dress-up.

"Hermione," Weasel was saying. He rather looked like he was remembering the house-elf campaign and knit caps as well. Maybe he was inwardly screaming, too. Too bad for him; there was no more room behind Potter's legs if he wanted to hide. "We can't keep it."

"What?" Granger said.

Then Potter tried to give Draco away again. Just for the hell of it.

"Are you mad?" Granger asked Weasel, in the middle of Potter's awful spiel. "We don't have time for a dog. And can you imagine the children? Oh, Lord, Rosie," she seemed to suddenly remember, and swept off with a reproving look that seemed to say they had one too many pets already, and Weasel just might be it.

Weasel mock-grimaced and spread his hands. "The Boss says no."

Potter looked down at Draco in extreme disappointment.

It was such a familiar look, Draco wondered whether Narcissa or Lucius had tried to give him away and failed, too.

But that was unfair, Draco reminded himself. Of course Mum and Dad had loved him.

And anyway it wasn't as if Draco cared what Potter thought, like he had with Father.

"You know," Weasel said after a moment. "It might be good for you."

Potter frowned, still looking down at Draco. "What?"

"You live all alone in that place." Weasel rushed on before Potter could speak. "I know you like it that way, but . . . it can get kind of quiet."

"I like the quiet."

"I know." Potter's disappointed-face had switched from Draco to Weasel, and Weasel looked as though he found it familiar, too. "It's just—look, mate," Weasel said. "You never even got a new owl."

Potter's look now switched from disappointed to sort of like he wanted Weasel to die of Bludger-beating, too. "I don't see what Hedwig has to do with anything."

"Nothing." Weasel didn't look as though he recalled Potter's extreme need for physical violence, which had been proven in many places, more than one of which was Draco's abdomen. In fact, Weasel's voice was rising, which caused Draco to remember perhaps bloodlust was the whole basis of Weasel's and Potter's friendship, and why himself and Potter had utterly failed to relate. "Hedwig hasn't got to do with anything," Weasel repeated, "so why can't you just take a damn dog?"

"I don't want one." Potter's voice was cool, now.

As if on cue, Weasel's voice went soft. "You just want something," he said.

That was when Draco began to suspect there was something wrong with Potter.

Not that there weren't a million things wrong with Potter. A million serious things. But most people were blinded by the great hulking scar or maybe the glare off those glasses, and this was something . . . even Weasel knew. And everyone knew Weasel was dense as a very dense thing and barely knew anything. It must be something different wrong with Potter, something even his scar couldn't block out.

Draco was stuck with a recognized madman.

Who knew why, since apparently these idiots were made for each other.

Good riddance. Draco had never wanted either of them.

* * *

And he wanted both of them so much more than attempt number two. Draco'd at least had some feelings of kinship with the Mudblood, anyway, haunted by her screams and all, but the Weaseless had made his bogeys bats, for Merlin's sake.

When they arrived at her flat, Potter tried to give Draco away again and wee woman Weasley looked at Potter as though he was insane.

Rightly so, at that. It made Draco like her a little better.

"Harry," she said finally, in the middle of Potter's heroic saga of battling villains and saving puppies and probably rescuing kittens from treetops, achieving world peace. "What on Earth makes you think I'd want a dog?"

"What?" Harry looked nonplussed. "Because you're nice. It's a nice dog." Yes, thank you, Potter. His sales pitch was spectacular, really. How could she resist?

Apparently her powers of refusal were fueled by her stone cold heart and her frigid, frigid soul. She probably didn't even like Pygmy Puffs, she was that hard.

"I'm not my mother," the ice queen was saying. "Remember? I don't dote. I don't live to take care of everyone else." She paused. "I don't marry my schoolhood boyfriend and have a quarter dozen children before the age of twenty-five. And I don't have pets."

Potter was starting to look like he thought she had a frigid, frigid soul, too. "Right," he said slowly. "I do remember. You don't like animals."

"Harry," she said again. Her voice was soft, and dear God, if Draco was going to be subjected to witnessing a lovers' reconciliation he just might—"You don't know what I like," she finished.

Oh.

Come to think of it, it was interesting that Potter had gone to Weasel before Weaseless.
He'd been snogging her while Draco was getting his guts stitched back into his abdomen, after all.

Maybe he would rather have been snogging Weasel.

"Admittedly," the woman Weasel was going on, "I didn't give you much of a chance to know what I like. But after the war . . . you're so closed. You don't—you don't let anyone in. And I was trying so hard to be what you wanted . . . I wasn't letting you in, either. I was letting you live with a stranger—I was being a stranger."

"I wanted to marry you." Potter sounded as though he was speaking of something long in the past, but there was still emotion there.

Draco tried to figure out how to make a dog's throat pretend to gag.

"I wanted to live with you," Potter continued.

She looked sad. "That wasn't living."

Potter didn't disagree. He said only, "I still wanted you there, Ginny."

How he had ever gotten a date in his life mystified Draco intensely, and would have kept him entertained for weeks and weeks, had he given half a damn at all.

"You wanted someone there," she corrected. She sounded so much like her brother Draco began to be concerned Potter was actually a closet serial killer. That was the only reason Draco could think of that they didn't report Potter's obvious raving idiocy to the Ministry; they were all too afraid; they talked to him in these soft, gentle voices because they knew if he started twitching he'd fly into a mad rage and kill them all.

Ginny went on, "You wanted someone who loved you, but whose thoughts you didn't have to know, whose feelings you didn't have to worry about.—Not that I'm any different," she added, with a spark of amusement. "The only difference is I know I'm not good at caring for anyone but myself. You don't." Pausing, she glanced down at Draco. "What's its name?"

"What?"

"The dog. Is it a boy, or a girl?"

Man! It is a man, thank you! Draco thought so hard he barked.

Potter looked down at him, startled. "I don't know."

Weasley nodded, as if she had expected this. "Have you fed it anything? It looks half starved."

Draco basked in the wonderful revelation that Ginny Weasley was beautiful and shining and not made of stone or ice at all!

"I don't know what it eats." Potter was blinking, as if unable to take in this sudden turn in conversation. Draco was hardly able to take it in himself, he admired and loved Ms. Weasley so.

She smiled slightly. "I'm sure you can figure that out. It hasn't even has a bath since you saved it from Knockturn Alley, has it?"

Wise woman Weasley, that's what they all called her, purveyor of sustenance and suds, and any moment now she would be pulling out a nice, smelly bit of jerky that was deliciously chewy like an old shoe—

He really needed to work on subduing the Dog Brain, Draco thought.

"I told you," Potter said, "it followed me home."

Case in point.

"I followed you too, Harry."

Potter got a funny look on his face. "You're not a dog."

"No," she agreed. "I ran away."

Excellent notion; it was true the Weasley wench was wise. Run away! Of course Draco would get right on it. Later. Seeing as how he was a little busy being given away.

Ginny started to turn away, too, but paused. "I do like animals, by the way." Of course she did! She probably even loved Pygmy Puffs. She was made of sugar and spice and all things that wanted to feed dogs many many beefsteaks.

"Want to know my favorite one?" Not waiting for an answer, Ginny went on, "It's birds. I like birds. Because they fly. Because they're free."

Figured. Weasel and Granger would have been bad enough, but at least they weren't Potter, and the whole reason they didn't want Draco turned out to be something about some dead owl or something. Now here was Ginny who was brilliant and clever and probably had jerky in her pocket, and she didn't want him because of his problem with this goddamn recurring avian leitmotiv.

Potter and Draco stood there, denied, and Ginny went to go get her Quidditch gear for her next practice.

* * *

It seemed Potter might've listened to whatever Ginny had said. Draco couldn't be sure, since he himself had stopped listening after it had become apparent she wasn't going to feed him. She was a stone cold ice queen after all, heart hardened to Potter-hating dogs and Pygmy Puffs.

But Potter, on the other hand, seemed on the way to improvement. When they got home he went straight to his freezer and pulled out an entire slab of bacon.

Then he tried to cook it with a spell and burnt it to a crisp.

To truly improve, he'd obviously have to become unPotter.

Draco wondered whether cruel and unusual treatment of bacon was one of the horrible crimes Potter had committed to cause his friends to treat him like they knew there must be something wrong with him. But it all remained very cryptic, and as Potter cursed and swore, Draco was only able to find out some new words, that Potter rarely cooked, and that burnt bacon tasted a bit of alright.

"You don't have to eat that," Potter said. "I know I've got some . . ." He was rummaging around in a white box. "Um. Tikka Masala?"

Yes, please.

Potter put a box made out of strange material on the ground in the middle of the ruins of the bacon. Inside was familiar enough, though: lamb and Tikka sauce and rice. Draco went to town on that, too.

Potter headed over to the table with some Muggle thing called Wheetabix, and sat down to eat it in a bowl. Meanwhile, Draco couldn't believe he was eating with Potter, letting Potter feed him. He hoped this was yet another thing he could blame on the Dog Brain. Of course if it were just Draco, sans canine instinct, he would have turned up his nose and nobly refused anything from a specky, jumped-up Half-blood.

Well, unless Snape had worn glasses.

Then Draco forgot all about the Dog Brain, because there were the things Muggles called Jaffa Cakes, and he called ambrosia.

Potter gave him one, smiled when Draco enthusiastically swallowed and looked hopefully back to the package. Potter had one himself, then gave Draco another, and another.

It was worth eating from Potter's hand.

In fact, it was even worth sharing supper with Potter, who played with his food and liked to eat off all the chocolate first.

"What?" Potter said defensively, when Draco tilted his head at him in disapproval of this manifestly ridiculous behavior. "I like to see what's in them."

Draco disdainfully turned back to his smorgasbord.

And sicked up all over the remains of the bacon and Tikka Masala.

Potter put down his Jaffa Cake. He seemed to move very slowly and thoughtfully, looking from Draco to the mess on the floor.

Draco flattened his ears.

With a flick of his wand, Potter had the mess cleaned up. He had barely seemed to move, to notice the vomit, before he went back to eating. After a little while he put the rest of the box of Wheetabix and more Jaffa Cakes on the floor.

When Potter got up from the table, he stretched, and moved toward the kitchen's exit. "I'm knackered," he explained, as if a dog needed explanation. "Um. I guess . . . I'll see you . . ." He trailed off, and paused at the door.

There was a long moment of him just standing there, and Draco knew he was thinking about the mess, even if he'd acted like it had barely happened. And Draco was thinking about the mess, because even if it was all the Dog Brain's fault, Malfoys did not sick up on Harry Potter's floor.

This was it, now, what all Potter's friends had found out about Potter, what was obviously so wrong with Potter: he had no compunction about dog killing, canine beating, puppy tail eating, or a bloodbath, anyway.

Instead Potter said, "I'm sorry. I know what it's like to have too much after too little."

Whatever that meant. Honestly, Potter was mental.

* * *

By the next day, Potter seemed to have forgotten having any sympathy at all with Draco, because he woke up late, spent hours in the shower, and caused Draco to forget Potter was a psycho freak. In fact, he reduced Draco to whining at him from behind the door, because Draco really, really had to go, and when it got to that point, apparently the Dog Brain thought nothing else mattered.

Potter jerked open the bathroom door at Draco's scratching, looking around half wildly, spraying water everywhere with his maniacal hair. Then, finally, he thought to look down, and his eyes widened with surprise.

Draco gave a sharp bark of remonstrance.

"Oh," Potter said dumbly. "Oh, yeah. Okay. Just let me . . ."

He came out of the bathroom all wet, the idiot. Of course, he was a filthy Half-blood and obviously under-evolved, because civilized people know you use towels and don't wander about naked like Neanderthals, God.

Potter went down the hall. Draco almost followed him; he had to go so bad and these humans, you had to follow them around because they were not very smart and needed to be reminded of your needs.

But that was the Dog Brain ticking. Potter was just going to get dressed—hopefully, if he could figure out civilized people did that, too. Anyway, Draco certainly didn't need to see that and be scarred-for-life by Potter a second time.

Draco shifted from foot to foot. Strange, what a different process that was with four feet.

In under a minute Potter was dressed and grabbing his jacket and heading downstairs. He looked down at Draco as Draco rushed for the door. Potter smiled a little. "We'll show you wrong, Ron."

Say that three times fast, Draco glared. He barked again.

Potter kept the strange little smile and opened the door for Draco.

In seconds, Draco was in the little park across the street.

Potter came up as Draco was finishing up, still talking to people who weren't there, like the raving lunatic he was. "Satisfied, Ginny?" he was saying. "He's a boy."

It was only then Draco realized he'd lifted his leg to urinate.

Speaking of Half-blood under-evolved Neanderthals, how come dogs didn't wear clothes? Didn't they know anything? And anyway, what kind of sick fascination was it, humans letting them wander around naked all the time? Civilized dogs didn't do this, either! This was all Potter's fault.

* * *

That wasn't the half of it, though.

After eating and feeding Draco some of his breakfast, Potter said something about a bath.

Speaking of sick fascination, Potter was going to have to bathe him, and Draco may be naked but at least he was covered in hair and wasn't wet. Getting bathed by Potter should have sounded repellant and insulting, and Draco should have backed away slowly.

But Draco didn't care. None of these concerns held a candle next to his concern with being clean. Finally. In fact, the most distressing thing about any of it was discovering his tail.

It was wagging.

Potter was looking down at him. His hand slipped into his pocket to grip his wand. It looked as if he was going to, but he didn't use it. Instead he said, "Come on." He looked down in relief when Draco trotted steadily beside him upstairs toward the bathroom.

When Potter stopped at the door, he still had his hand in his pocket. Draco stopped and looked inquiringly up at him. "It'll be alright," Potter said. He pulled out his wand. Draco saw he was holding it very tightly. "Go on in. It's just a little bath."

Draco walked in, but slower now, wondering if "little bath" had become synonymous with "lot of torture." Potter sure made it sound that way.

"Okay." Potter shut the door and came up behind him. "Now we just have to get you in." He pointed his wand at Draco.

That's when Draco remembered that horrible, terrible things happened with Potters in bathrooms. There wasn't even Myrtle to set up an alarm when Potter tried to murder him. There wasn't anyone. And Weasel and Granger and Weasel Two had known it, and still said things like, "you should keep it" and "you should bathe it". For the first time Draco wondered what had happened with this Hedwig character. Obviously Potter could not be trusted with living things.

Looking around, Draco saw there was no escape. He scrambled into the bath, as far away from Potter as possible.

Potter had to switch his wand to his other hand to turn on the tap. He tested the water and plugged up the drain, all the while keeping his wand trained on Draco. And still, Potter didn't cast.

Draco tried to scoot up in the bath. Could be acid. Probably acid. Dorcus had been going on about how she needed clean dog bones for her potions; Potter had probably found her recipes and was going to use them to turn a profit.

Then there was nowhere else to go, the water touched his feet, and Draco was fine. He held very still as the bath slowly filled and Potter began to splash him. "Good?" Potter said, after a few moment of scrubbing down Draco's legs. "Not going to run?" Then he put his wand away.

That's when Draco realized Potter hadn't been directly threatening him. He'd been holding his wand ready in case Draco didn't get into the bath. Lots of dogs disliked baths, Draco recalled Vince telling him once. But still, that wasn't any reason to pull a wand on anyone. What had Potter thought he was going to do? Imperio him?

It was then that Potter, still scrubbing him down, touched the underside of Draco's belly. "What did they do to you?" he murmured.

Hello, irony, Draco thought, glaring at Potter. Did you recognize me by my enormous bleeding scar?

"Stupid bastards," Potter went on muttering.

He seemed really angry. Draco remembered Potter muttering like that when he had found him in the cage. He remembered Potter's expression as he stood over the prone figures of the Capulets. He remembered Capulet writhing.

Considering everything that'd happened, Weasel and Weaseless's cryptic hints and Potter's obvious dementia. Potter probably had been going to Imperio him.

Everyone always said Potter was so gentle and merciful because he had only used a disarming curse to defeat the Dark Lord. No one seemed to remember the way he'd cut Draco open in the bathroom. But Draco remembered. He knew what Potter was really like. He knew the truth.

Wizards were the least merciful of all.

* * *

The third attempt was Loony.

Now that Draco was fed and all sparkling clean, he supposed he was more appealing, because Loony said yes. Or maybe it was because Potter didn't try to use his, "ickle girls like ickle things!" line.

Instead he used something like, "Weird girls like weird things."

At least he knew Loony better than his own former girlfriend. Really, girls went out with this guy?

"I meant like the Thestrals," Potter was going on. "I know you like animals and stuff. Like you take care of things. Things other people don't take care of." He looked down at Draco. "Can't take care of."

Things other people don't want, he meant.

"You already tried Ginny," Loony said.

"Yeah." Potter sounded a little miserable.

"I can tell." Loony looked down at Draco for a bit.

Draco hadn't been looked at like that since before he'd gotten turned into a dog. She made him feel—She made him feel like a human being. This, he thought, could work.

Loony finally looked away. "He has odd eyes."

"Huh?" said Potter, honing his conversational skills.

"They're gray. Beautiful, but . . . dogs don't have eyes like that."

"Maybe he's different." Potter wasn't looking at Draco's beautiful gray eyes. "Like the Thestrals?" he added.

If Potter compared him to Thestrals one more time there were some new people hereabouts who were going to be seeing Thestrals.

"Alright." Loony leaned down to speak to Draco eye to eye. "Shall we be friends?" she suggested.

Friends is such a strong word, Draco thought.

"You mean you'll take him?" Potter sounded blank, as if he was so surprised, he forgot to be eager.

"Oh, yes." Loony straightened. "Did I forget to say that part?"

"Er, don't you want to talk to Neville about it, or something?"

Longbottom and Lovegood?

Did that make a Lovebottom?

"Neville likes Thestrals," was all Loony said.

Also, now she was comparing him to Thestrals. Maybe she wasn't looking at him as if he was a human being after all. She probably saw all animals as human beings. Or all human beings as animals. Maybe she didn't see a distinction between the two and thought they should all be treated as equals. Sort of like Muggles and Wizards. Mudbloods and Half-bloods.

It was a crazy world out there.

"Are you sure?"

Speaking of crazy, wasn't Potter trying to get rid of him? What was with the second guessing? In fact, with the way Potter was holding back and not looking around for ways to escape, it was almost like he didn't want to give Draco up.

Well, Draco thought, stretching a little luxuriously. He'd always known what he'd say when Potter came crawling and said, 'I know the right sort, now!' Too bad. Should've gotten a piece of this when you had the chance.

It was a little disappointing, though, that it all came out as a bark.

"Yes," Loony said. "It will be fine."

"But it might not work out," Potter persisted. "What if we put it on trial?"

There have been enough trials, thank you.

Potter continued, "Just in case it doesn't work out. I mean, I wouldn't want to cause trouble for you."

Oh, don't mind me here. No trouble at all, just pass me around like a Quaffle, why don't you.

"Me neither." Loony smiled a little. "Do you want the dog, Harry?"

"What? No. Of course not. That's why I'm giving him to you."

"Yes," Loony said. And that was how Draco became the Lovebottom dog.

On the basis of the name alone, it was horrifying.

Then there was the garden.

* * *

Twelve hours later, the male Lovebottom brought him back through the Floo to Grimmauld Place. They were covered in mud.

"Luna said something about a trial?" Longbottom said.

"What happened?" Potter asked.

Longbottom ran his hand through his hair. Who knew why; maybe he wanted to rearrange the mud. "Bit of a tussle."

"With what?" Potter said, aghast. "A Norwegian Ridgeback?"

"Close." Longbottom sighed. "A Blibbering Humdinger."

Potter, replete with erudition as ever, said, "Er."

Shrugging, Longbottom said, "I just don't ask. Could've been the python she keeps back there. Dog doesn't seem to like snakes."

The man was crazy. Draco loved snakes. They were Slytherin; they were cunning. They also smelled with their tongues, which was just plain wicked. Draco just didn't like, you know, getting eaten. Or spending whole summers with snakes the size of your body slithering around as if they owned your house. Or hearing anything even slightly hissy coming from something without a nose and red eyes. Or getting anywhere close to one, really. In fact, Draco loved and admired snakes ardently, as long as he was as far away from them as possible.

"Anyway," Longbottom went on, "he got into the greenhouse, too."

"You mean he dug stuff up?"

"Not so much," Longbottom said. "He's pretty well behaved. And got to admit, he's a beauty. But with the arboretum . . ."

Draco barked. No, no no!

"Yes?" Potter said.

Stupid Potter.

"I can't have a dog pissing against my trees."

Damn. Draco barked again. Longbottom had to go and tell Potter. It wasn't his fault he was a dog!

Potter had a weird little smile on his face though. "It's okay," he said.

Not okay. Not okay! Potter, we had a—we had a thing! I hate you; you hate me! You—me—us—being roomies violates the sacred strictures of the thing!

"I get it," Potter went on, over Draco's ineffectual dog talk. "I thought maybe Luna would've wanted to talk to you."

"She's always bringing things home." Longbottom shrugged again. "Naturalists, you know? I like it. Trevor wasn't . . . well, the best. But it seems like, the more fanciful the animal, the better it is for all of us. If you know what I mean."

"Some of them you can't even see?" Potter asked.

Longbottom smiled. "Or hear, or touch." He glanced down at Draco. "Find him a good home, why don't you?" he said.

And that was how every single one of the people who had put Draco's father in Azkaban repaid him.

x.

3.

x.

They were still working on the case of the missing Malfoy.

It was all very annoying to Draco, since of course he knew where he was, just not how he got there, or how to get out of there, anyway. Being in a dog's body was tough, especially seeing as how as a human he could have been so much more film noir than Potter. Boy Hero watched all those films and learned exactly squat, whereas Draco watched nothing but A Star Is Born over and over and could still be more savvy than Potter. But he had to stay; they seemed to be getting closer and closer to finding the not-Dementor.

Their time was split between spying on the Muggle-born Martyrs, and tracing the path Draco had taken when he first started hunting the rogue Dementor for Pansy. Potter still took Draco on every case, and they were getting even better at working together.

Potter started to rely on him. When investigating a site the not-Dementor had been through, or the Muggle-born Martyrs had used as a meeting point, they split up. Sometimes Potter called and Draco came running to help him chase someone down; if Draco found something, he barked, and Potter came running too.

Even though Draco couldn't speak, Potter seemed to read him, as he had read Draco's mistrust of the Muggle-born the first time they'd caught a Martyr snooping around in their investigation of the missing Malfoy case. Potter didn't fill the silence of Draco's inability to talk with a bunch of meaningless chitchat, but he seemed well aware Draco could understand him.

Once and only once, though, did Potter use Draco's obvious understanding to approach the truth of the case. It was shortly after that first morning, when they had chased the Muggle-born in their search for Draco Malfoy.

Potter asked Draco whether he was an Animagus, and Draco could honestly bark in the negative. Then he asked whether Draco was once human, which Draco couldn't answer quite so honestly, but he didn't want to blow his cover.

The whole reason he had decided to stay with Potter, weeks ago after exploring Grimmauld Place, was because with Potter he might be able to find the not-Dementor and get turned back human. Now that they were on its trail, this was his big chance.

When Draco didn't answer with a bark or any sign of comprehension, Potter didn't press the issue. Sometimes Draco was sure Potter knew he wasn't what he seemed, but was content for Draco to go on seeming it nevertheless. Potter had told him that night--the night of the huge storm—that he could barely get on with how to treat a dog. Maybe Potter was just grateful he could pretend Draco was nothing more, so he could have someone to talk to without fear of failing, as he had with Ginny.

If so, it was selfish and wrong; Potter was always collecting lackeys and treating people as less than human, and Draco had always hated him for it.

But now he saw how Potter could hardly do more, wasn't capable of it--not yet, anyway, and all Draco could feel was pity, and regret for misunderstanding him so before.

So they went on, boy and dog, a team as powerful as any two men, and Draco was able to keep searching for a way back to his real life.

More importantly, after a couple of days of no headway, Potter took Draco to see his mum.

When they popped into existence in front of Malfoy Manor, Draco didn't care about the why or wherefore. He cared he was in Wiltshire, and it was the first time he'd been able to get back to Mum since getting turned into a dog. He streaked off across the torn up lawn, Potter calling him from behind.

They usually stuck together when they were on a case. This wasn't a case to Draco, though, and he didn't care.

A few minutes later, when Mum had open the door and Potter was catching up, Draco was still barking.

He had thought, since it was Mum— . . . But she didn't recognize him.

"Mrs. Malfoy?" Potter puffed. Then he went still. "Professor Burbage?"

"You're in time to take tea with us," Mum said politely.

Inside, it was all very awkward. Mum was having one of her bad days, and Draco resented the nervous looks Potter kept giving her, as if she were mad. And then Potter would look at the ghost, as if he had had to watch her die, huh, and then he would try to hush Draco again.

"Er, sorry, Mrs. Malfoy," Potter said, over his tea cup. "This is my dog; I don't think he's—he wouldn't have seen a ghost before."

Draco barked sharply at Potter.

Potter scowled. "Fine, if you have, it was before I got you."

"You're talking to a dog," Mum pointed out.

"You're having tea with a ghost!" Potter tartly returned.

Mum pursed her lips. "Charity has been keeping me company since my son left." Her voice was tight.

"Yes," Professor Burbage said. "It's a very sad business."

"Er," Potter said. "So . . . you don't know what's happened to Mal—uh, Draco?"

"If I did, I doubt you'd be here," Mum said coolly, and Draco remembered why he loved her, even if she didn't recognize him. "Miss Parkinson's sent you, hasn't she? Shouldn't you be looking in places he might be, instead of places he hasn't been in months?"

Potter put down his tea cup. "Do you want me to find him, Mrs. Malfoy?"
He obviously hadn't heard the desperation in Mum's voice. Her knuckles were white over her own cup. Professor Burbage fluttered to the window in agitation. "I'll pay you," Mum finally said, quietly. "I'll pay you double--triple--whatever it takes."

Potter managed to look slightly embarrassed over his previous question. "Ms. Parkinson is already paying me." Possibly, it was an attempt to sound soothing.

Obviously, he didn't know Draco's mum.

"She's paying you to look. I'm paying you to find him."

Potter was silent. Draco, for just one moment, thought Potter might laugh. Mum was showing herself, showing more of herself than she usually allowed, and she was sick. Potter had always treated them as if they were subhuman--beings who didn't love or feel loss like he could.

But Potter only looked grim, and Draco remembered everything he had learned about Potter, and couldn't excuse Potter with his horrible social skills for all the ways he'd treated Draco, but then again he couldn't excuse his own behavior either. Draco just knew enough to know that in the face of his mother's grief, Potter knew exactly what to do. He'd be the hero; that was the one thing he was good at.

"I'm trying to save him," Potter said. "I always do. It has nothing to do with how much money I'm getting. Now, tell me what Professor Burbage is still doing here?"

After a month of working on Potter's cases, Draco had learned it really wasn't for the money, and it wasn't for the fame or prestige either, despite all Draco's past suppositions regarding Potter's motives. It was because it was five years since Potter had killed Voldemort, and the Wizarding World was still a mess. Potter was a private investigator for the same reason Draco had gone after that not-Dementor: no one else was doing anything about it.

But it still didn't explain the one thing that had always bothered Draco about Potter's motivations: why was Harry Potter always saving him?

Meanwhile, Mum was telling Potter how the past kept coming back to haunt Malfoy Manor.

"They necromanced the lawn?" Potter asked, frowning.

"It was full of filthy Muggles." Mum realized what she had said as soon as it was out of her mouth, but she didn't take it back. She stared at Potter, flat-mouthed, daring him to challenge her. It was when she glanced at Burbage's ghost she looked apologetic. "They were His," she said. "Voldemort's," she added, and shuddered.

Potter nodded. "There was an outbreak of Inferi for a while there. It was the Muggle-born Martyrs."

"Them?" Mum sniffed.

Burbage asked, "Who?"

"I think they're targeting pure-blood families," Potter explained. "Because of Voldemort's persecution of Muggle-borns."

"Isn't it a little late for revenge?" Mum asked.

Professor Burbage wisped about uncertainly.

Potter asked whether Mum knew any more pure-bloods had been harassed lately, or whether bad things had happened to them. Mum told him about the Imperio'd peacocks, the bricks and stones, about Dad and Mr. Crabbe, about the rogue Dementor sightings.

"There have been other things, since Draco disappeared," Mum went on. "Ty Nott has lost her magic. Rachel Slough can't remember who she is; Lydia Carrow found out she was adopted . . ."

"She might be a Muggle-born?" Potter asked.

Mum drew herself up. "No. Not the slightest possibility, not Amycus' girl. She has no stake in this anyway. Finding . . . that"--she spit it out like something distasteful, which Draco supposed it was--"out about yourself isn't something anyone can make happen."

"But a Nott got made into a Squib, and that other one you mentioned got made into someone nameless, someone without an identity. I didn't think anyone could unmake a Dementor either."

Mum's eyes narrowed. "What are you saying?"

"It's this rogue Dementor," Potter answered. "I think it's making pure-bloods something . . . different."

* * *

After the Lovebottoms gave away Draco back to Potter after Potter had given away Draco to them, Potter stood staring down at Draco for a second after Longbottom left. "What am I supposed to do with you?" he asked finally.

Hate me, don't want me, give me away. Not that Draco really cared. It was just . . . annoying, when you were a dog, and had to rely on other people taking care of you, if someone willingly—suspiciously gladly—took you back where you had never, ever been wanted before.

Oh, also considering Potter was more barking than Draco was, an obvious feat considering Draco's condition, Draco couldn't be all that pleased. Even the Lovebottoms seemed to suspect something was wrong with Potter.

"That's right." Potter chuckled, apropos of nothing. See? He heard voices. "You do need another bath."

Draco guessed Potter would do. Since there would apparently be scrubbing and bubbles involved.

When Potter turned and headed upstairs, Draco followed, leaving muddy footprints behind. At the bathroom, Potter paused. Draco went in and got in the bath, looking at Potter impatiently. He would turn the tap if he could; it wasn't as if he wanted Potter to have to give him a bath; this mud was itchy, God.

Potter chuckled again at the look Draco was giving him. "Guess I didn't have to worry last time," he said, coming over and turning on the water.

Draco liked how Potter always turned it on just a little and tested the temperature with his hand before turning the pressure up.

"I remembered from somewhere that dogs are always trying to run away from baths," Potter was explaining, fiddling with the tap. "I thought I was going to have to use Imperio."

Draco didn't like Potter, though; he was obviously a maniacal Unforgivable using lunatic. Honestly, Imperio, on a dog? Overkill, much?

"I didn't know what else to do." Potter had the water going, now, and was adding soap. Before he'd just used a bar, but now he had it in a bottle, and it was making the water sudsy. "I mean, do subtle encouragement spells work on dogs?"

You could've tried it, Draco thought, glaring. You melodramatic, over the top, crazy—oh, to the right a little bit.

Potter was scrubbing around Draco's ears. "See," he said. "Stuff like that. Is why I can't keep you. I can't have a dog."

The Dog Brain was kicking in, and it was saying, oh yes you can, you're doing very well, yes, now harder, like that. His mouth came open, all unconsciously, and his tongue unfurled.

Potter scrubbed harder. "You like that."

Draco sunk down deeper in the water to get away from Potter's hands. Then he submerged completely to cover his shame.

He didn't think it was washing off.

"What are you?" Potter wanted to know, when Draco came back up. Draco stiffened. If Potter found out who he was—"What do you think you are? Merdog?"

Git. Draco swiped his tail so that some of the foamy suds atop the water brushed up in Potter's face. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be a merman.

Potter wiped the bubbles off himself, smiling. "That's nothing. You've got a beard."

Some of the foam had clung when Draco had come back up from under water. Draco glared, and suddenly Potter gave a great big guffaw.

"It's just, you look so resentful," Potter explained. He was so helpful that way.

Draco stuck his nose back in and brought up a whole lot more of the soap bubbles so he could turn his head and fling them in the general direction of Potter's face. Potter's laughing turned into coughing.

Good. Hope you choke.

But when Potter stopped coughing, he was still laughing. Then he turned on the shower head, pointing the jets right at Draco.

And that was not on.

It was a water war, full stop. Potter had the definite advantage of the showerhead and two legs and that opposable thumb thing.

But Draco had hair. Everywhere. And it was soaked.

He leapt out of the bath and gave a great shake. Potter cried out and tried to block his face with his arms, but Draco managed to sprinkle water not only all over Potter's dry parts but all over the bathroom. Potter tried to chase him with the showerhead, but he hadn't shut the door this time, realizing that Draco didn't need to be forced into the bath. Draco made it halfway down the hall before Potter tackled him with a towel.

Potter was laughing the whole time.

Draco hadn't realized until then that he hadn't know what Potter's laugh sounded like.

After Potter rubbed down Draco's legs, he tackled his torso, then his neck. He was holding Draco head in the towel, looking down at Draco's face, when he stopped laughing. Potter looked startled.

From the look on his face, Draco thought that Potter had just realized he'd forgotten what his laugh sounded like, too.

* * *

The fourth attempt was a house Draco didn't recognize. They Apparated to the gate outside the lawn, and the door to the house opened.

Aunt Bella stepped out.

Considering the fear radiating out of every portion of his consciousness, Draco fully expected to hear a whine emerge from his throat. The Dog Brain was especially inopportune; he didn't want to seem afraid. He never wanted to seem afraid. If something threatened you, threaten back, and they might leave you alone; that was his motto.

That was why he was always taunting Potter, anyway, but he wasn't thinking about that now. He was—

He was growling.

That was it, he thought with surprise. The growl revved out deep in his chest. His hackles raised and his teeth bared as he leaned harder against Potter's legs. This was exactly it! Maybe if he just thought about it hard enough, concentrated, he could overcome the Dog Brain's instincts after all.

Or so he thought, until Potter dropped a hand on his head and said in a curious voice, "What're you so afraid of?"

And then Draco remembered it actually was a canine habit to threaten when feeling threatened, and that he was not really overcoming the Dog Brain at all. In fact, he was agreeing with it, had always acting according to its instinct.

Suffer the truth, the not-Dementor had said.

Draco shook off the thought. He was rational; he was a human being; he did not normally have canine instincts—that was not Aunt Bella. Which only left—

Aunt Andromeda.

Potter's hand fell away as Draco bounded across the lawn.

At her feet he found she smelled familiar; she smelled like home. It didn't matter that Mum had fought with her, that they hadn't seen each other in over two decades, that Draco had never even met her. Time, distance, dissent didn't matter.

Blood mattered.

She extended a long-fingered delicate hand for him to sniff before flipping her hand to pet him behind the ears. It was a gesture of Mum's, that elegantly turned wrist, that way Mum used to cup his jaw. These were like her gentle fingers. Andromeda was the person closest to him he'd met since being turned into a dog. Surely she would recognize him.

But as Potter finally approached after him on the walk, Andromeda said, "Who have you brought?"

"It's a dog."

"Yes." Andromeda smiled, not quite generously. "I can see that."

Of course Potter would attempt to converse with her on the same level as all his Gryffindor friends. How could she stand it? Come to think of it, how had he stood it? Eating Potter's food, getting bathed by Potter. Even if she didn't recognize him, Andromeda was obviously a hundred times better than Potter; at least she was somewhat in Draco's league. Now all Potter had to do was try to give him away again.

Should be easy enough. Potter should be an expert by now.

"I meant," Andromeda was saying, "why have you brought him?"

Now for it; this was it; the moment he'd been waiting for . . .

"Er," Potter said.

Apparently accustomed to Potter's incoherent blankness, Andromeda invited them into the house and prepared tea. Eventually she managed to pull out of Potter the story about saving him.

"The Capulets," Andromeda repeated. "Hmm."

Perhaps if Andromeda thought on it enough, she would see the Capulets' connections to her family and then conclude there was a reason a dog had been with them in the first place and then conclude the dog was a wizard coming to them for help and then conclude the dog was Draco. It was all so simple; Draco's tail spontaneously wagged.

"He followed me home," Potter said.

Andromeda put down her tea cup. "And now you're looking for a new home for it?"

Yes! Draco's tail wagged again.

"Well, I," Potter said haltingly. "Yeah. I guess. Yes. I thought it would be good. For Teddy."

Draco's tail thumped on the floor hard, and stayed.

"Thoughtful," Andromeda remarked.

Evil, Draco thought.

"PUPPY," Teddy shouted.

He came waddling out from the other room, obviously just having awakened from a nap. His hair was a nondescript, unkempt brown, just like Professor Lupin's, until he saw Draco. Then the hair went shock white blonde.

The fact that he could only be three years old or thereabouts was bad enough. The memory of the Surrey sisters with the pigtails and doll clothes was forever etched in Draco's brain.

Much worse was the memory of Voldemort, mocking Nymphadora's and Professor Lupin's marriage. Saying Draco could baby-sit the cubs. Burbage sometimes spoke of it from the linen closet. It was one of the last things she'd heard, and she'd been fond of the Professor.

Now the Lupin child was going to be taking care of him.

Irony not only recognized Draco, but wanted to dress him up and take him out, apparently. Possibly in doll clothes to back gardens full of mud. When the toddler started pulling the fine hairs on Draco's tail, Draco didn't even bother trying to escape. It was too poetic, really. Justice, and all that. He took on an expression of long-suffering—which he knew, considering irony's interest, probably just looked like indulgence—and resigned himself to a doomed existence of fate's twisted games.

"Teddy appears taken with it," Andromeda observed, sounding amused.

"Good," Potter said distractedly. "I'm sure he doesn't like you to pull his tail," he called over in Lupin's direction. "You can pet his head. Gently."

The Lupin whelp promptly began yanking Draco's ears.

This is way worse than Sectumsempra, Draco tried to convey in a mournful gaze. After all, he would have nothing to do in the coming years but hone mournful gazes and contemplate the misery of his sad, futile existence. Thanks, Potter.

And that's precisely when Potter began backpedaling. "Maybe he's a bit young to have a dog," he said anxiously, still watching the toddler.

"It did cross my mind." Andromeda still sounded amused. "I was thinking, though, that a benign canine influence might soothe some of Teddy's transition issues when it comes to lycanthropy."

In fact, a little Sectumsempra right now could do me worlds of good.

The kid was now trying to ride him. And he had lycanthropy. Draco wondered if you could become a werewolf if a toddler tried to teethe on you.

"Or it could make it worse." Potter was frowning, still looking down at Draco.

"We could try it," Andromeda suggested. Then she mentioned giving him away to some neighbor toddlers hereabouts if things didn't work with Lupin-spawn.

Where was Aunt Andromeda's sense of decency, her family values? Draco saw now why Mum and none of the other family ever spoke to her.

Kill me now, he thought at Potter.

"Er," Potter said again. Draco didn't think he'd been listening to Andromeda at all, so worried did he look watching Draco.

Little Lupin was on Draco's back, grabbing Draco's ears, and hitting Draco on the head, saying, "Go, go, go!"

Potter stood abruptly and swept up the weird, alien, incomprehensible person into his arms and off of Draco. The expression on Potter's face said he found the tiny person weird, alien and incomprehensible as well.

"Let's not—we don't—Teddy," Potter finally said, kneeling to put the kid down. "Don't ride on dogs. It's not very nice to pull their hair, and you could hurt them."

"Oh!" the toddler said, sounding surprised. He threw his arms around Potter's neck, pulling him back from standing up. "Uncle Harry? Does that mean I can't ride on your back?"

"Um," Potter said, looking extremely awkward and trapped. "Of course you can. Some other time."

"I do on Uncle Ron's," Teddy said conversationally. He looked like he might be giving Potter a hug. Potter couldn't seem to figure out what it was at all. "And sometimes Grandpa Weasley's."

"I'm sure," Potter said faintly. He looked around helplessly over the boy's head, very much as if his godson was a book he had selected, read a few pages of, and would now very much like to put back again.

Serves you right, Draco was thinking. Now get your ears pulled, too. But something in the Dog's Brain must be working again, because Draco sat on his haunches and barked, which distracted the boy enough from Potter to make him let him go. Potter hurriedly stood, looking relieved.

No wonder Ginny thought the bloke couldn't even take care of a dog.

"Maybe I'll just wait until Teddy's older," Potter said.

Of course Ginny was wrong; Potter could take care of a dog; he could take him home and feed him Jaffa Cakes and never, ever expose him to young children ever again; yes, he could. Potter had pulled Draco out of Fiendfyre; he could save him again now. Once you saved a life, weren't you responsible for that life forever and ever?

Not that Draco wanted Potter responsible for him. Except that he completely did, if the alternative was a three year old Metamorphmagus with lycanthropy and grabby hands forever pulling at all his dog parts.

Draco didn't know why Potter was suddenly undermining all his various attempts at giving Draco away, since the fourth time was proving to be a charm and all, but Draco wasn't going to look it in the mouth. He had faith, faith in Potter. Potter would save him. Potter had to.

"Oh," Andromeda said, sounding neutral. "Whatever you like."

"It's just that I'm not sure Teddy can appreciate him. Fully. Yet." Potter's voice was pleading.

"Of course," Andromeda said smoothly. "That's certainly true in many respects."

"Yes."

Draco didn't know why he had ever found Potter a bad conversationalist. He was so succinct.

So right.

"When you think about it," Andromeda went on, "Teddy doesn't really need presents at all. Just someone who loves him. Who spends time with him."

And that's where Andromeda's sense of family values had been hiding. Draco was confused all over again as to why she and Mum didn't talk. Andromeda sounded just like her, and flung the Black attack at Harry Potter, no less. Mum would've loved that.

Potter hung his head.

"I just want what's best for Teddy," Andromeda said, a little more warmly.

"I do too," Potter said quietly.

"Then don't be such a stranger."

Potter didn't respond to that. Instead he said, "I've—I've got to go take care of my dog now."

And that was how Draco became Harry Potter's pet after all.

* * *

Draco wasn't going to stay, of course. He was going to make like Ginny Weasley and get out of this twisted relationship as soon as possible. He would've got on it sooner had he not been busy, what with being given away and all.

It was too bad Potter didn't want him either though. This became obvious as soon as they got back from Andromeda's. Immediately after dumping Draco at Grimmauld Place, he'd Disapparated, and now he'd been gone for hours. Probably to try to find more people to give Draco away to. Which meant that by running away, Draco was doing them both a favor. And Draco didn't want to do Potter any favors.

But there was nothing for it. When Potter left, Draco began to sniff out his escape route. Literally sniff, but he tried not to think about that.

Of course this quest led him to the tapestry of the family, where his name was written proudly in script under Mum's. Andromeda's was burnt out—rightfully; the old hag should've never turned away family like that. Even if the family was unrecognizable in dog form. Even if her own family had turned her away.

Moving on.

Sirius Black was burned out too. It was interesting that Potter had just left the tree like this, instead of taking it down. He could've at least changed it up some, brought back the people he so obviously liked, burned out the names he hated. Bellatrix's name was still there, looking like the woman herself, big and bold and black.

Enough of the family tree, then.

In his haste to high tail it out of there (with his tail low between his legs), Draco streaked out into the hall and bumped a covered portrait. Speaking of Potter not doing any redecorating, why on Earth was Potter living with old Grandmother Black?

"MUDBLOODS! BLOOD TRAITORS!" the portrait was screaming. Then the painted eyes lit on Draco. "MUTT!" the painted mouth screamed. "MANGY MUTT! JUST LIKE ALL THE MUDBLOOD STRAYS! TRAITORS AND NASTY CURS! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!"

So much for the time when she fed him fig biscuits. Draco scrambled up the stairs to get away from her screaming.

He could still hear her up there, but it was fainter. Besides, the only way of escape he'd found downstairs involved turning knobs or breaking windows. Maybe a window had been left open up here, and he could get onto the roof. And, he didn't know, maybe as a dog he could jump and—no, wait. That was cats who always landed on their feet.

Anyway, his mother's cousins' rooms were on the upper levels, and they were worth checking out. And Potter's room was up here. Of course there wouldn't be anything interesting in it, probably full of Quidditch trophies, Orders of Merlin, and saving the world medals. He probably had all his Daily Prophet articles and Witch Weekly spreads Spellotaped to the wall, right next to photos of him hobnobbing with all the important people he knew, like the Minister of Magic or Celestina Warbuck.

But Potter's room had none of those things. In fact, Potter's room had nothing much, except an old portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black, a coughing wastebasket, a wardrobe, a bed, and a desk. Only the desk looked new; the other things looked like they could be a hundred years old. As old as Mrs. Black, still yelling her head off downstairs.

Draco remembered what Weasel said about Potter living all alone here. Well, no wonder Weasel was concerned. Apparently Potter had tipped from slightly insane self-obsessed sports hero to very insane self-obsessed psycho hermit. All the more reason to escape.

Instead, Draco started nosing around.

Most of it was Potter-smells and Potter-clothes and Potter—Draco didn't know—ness. The desk, for instance, was a total mess. Heaps of scrap paper and incomprehensible scribbles and—hello.

There on a paper stained with a tea ring was the name Gloria Parkinson. Ernest Baddock. Blaise Zabini. The list continued—all names Draco recognized as schoolmates, or parents of schoolmates. Also, as it happened, all names of people stalked by the not-Dementor.

As Draco investigated further, he found a legal pad whose third page was labeled, "Former Death Eaters," and another list of names.

These, Draco realized, were Harry Potter's cases.

These, Draco realized, were the reasons he had to stay.

No one had yet even seemed to have an inkling Draco wasn't a dog. Because he couldn't Apparate or Floo, and because London was so large and difficult for a dog to traverse, he wasn't going to be able to get to anyone who knew him well, and might see his dog form and make an educated guess. He wasn't going to get help from anyone else, unless by some stroke of luck.

That left two options to work with without trusting to fate: he could find how to become human again on his own, or he could track down the not-Dementor and making it change him back. Looking at the information, names, and contacts Potter had written here, sticking with Potter seemed Draco's best bet. Even if Potter wasn't working specifically on the Dementor case, he was working with enough people connected to it that perhaps Draco could glean some information. Furthermore, some of these contacts were experts in fields of magic—transfiguration, transformation, permutation magic.

Of course, it would take time, but Draco had several things working to his advantage. Potter was probably off doing his private eyeing most the time, which left Draco time to sort through all these papers. Furthermore, no one ever thought twice about a dog listening in on conversations, so if Potter ever did any work here, or brought any of his contacts into the house, Draco just had to keep his ears perked for clues to drop. Eventually, he'd have to pick up something that would be helpful for finding the not-Dementor or figuring out how to return to human form on his own.

Draco was resigning himself to a horrible fate of living with Potter when something in the house changed.

Mrs. Black's shrieking had stopped.

Potter was home.

Draco quickly hopped off the desk chair, ran out of Potter's room, and bounded down the stairs.

Potter was just coming down the corridor, his arms full of parcels. He didn't seem to notice anything odd about Draco's behavior. Instead, he slowly began to smile when Draco appeared.

"Sorry I was gone so long." Potter said it almost more to himself than to Draco, as if he was embarrassed to be talking to a dog. And he should be embarrassed, only Draco wasn't a dog.

Draco decided it still counted. He could still inwardly mock Potter for being an idjit. Come to think of it, Draco couldn't really think of any situation in which mocking Potter was not a valid choice.

Potter came to the landing, then sat on the steps to put the parcels down and begin unpacking them. "Look," he said, still sounding soft. "I got you things. I didn't know what to get, so I just sort of . . ."

He'd just sort of bought a whole pet store.

This is where Potter went, after trying to give Draco away to a grubby, jam-handing shrieking three year old?

Draco supposed it was alright. After all, it looked as though he was going to be here for quite some time.

* * *

It was a strange relationship. Draco had to depend on Potter, to some extent—for food, shelter, place to bathe, place to pee. While the Dog Brain seemed to operate based on these needs, it seemed also to depend on Potter for others. Occasionally that strong-protect-savior instinct that had caused Draco to follow Potter in the first place was downright palpable. But Draco himself—

Well, he was a dog, and Potter didn't know who he really was, and it was funny and . . . interesting, actually, seeing what Potter was like.

After staying with Potter a few days, Draco figured out what was wrong with him.

Scratch that. There would never be anyone who could figure out all the things wrong with Potter, not even Potter (especially not Potter), and even if there was it would take a hundred years or so to list them all.

But Draco had figured out what Weasel and Ginny thought was wrong with Potter. Even Andromeda had pointed out what was wrong with Potter, couched in mild reprimand as it was.

Potter didn't know how to be with people. Or with anything living (seeing how Draco was a dog). Maybe Potter had been alone a lot (seeing how his parents were dead).

Potter's friends, aware of his incompetence as they were, knew far more about taking care of a pet and told Potter so often. Which might be true, but really, they'd given up the right to tell him what to do with Draco. They hadn't wanted him.

Draco rather thought Potter thought as much, too. Potter usually just nodded when they offered their advice, and remained quiet. And yet, after they left he would try all the things they said.

"You're not theirs," Potter had said once to Draco, lowly, after Ginny had offered him more advice. "You're mine. But that's why I don't—I don't want to screw it up. Not like I did with her."

There Potter went, comparing his girlfriend to a dog. It really wasn't so bizarre he hadn't kept her, after all.

But obviously it wasn't neglect. It wasn't that Potter didn't want him—or hadn't wanted her. In fact, the way Potter said, "you're mine," more than once, Potter to think he and Draco had bonded, or something crackpot like that; they were friends now, and everything. Maybe trying to give Draco away had been some kind of crucible that'd brought them closer together. Maybe Potter could tell that Draco had decided to stay as well.

Or maybe Potter remembered how he'd laughed in the bathroom.

Maybe he wanted to do it again.

Whatever the reason, Potter acted as though he wanted Draco there all the sudden, and that was it, the other half of the thing wrong with Potter: Weasel had said Potter wanted someone. Ginny had said he wanted someone. Potter had said he'd wanted her. In short, Potter was lonely.

On the one hand, what was really wrong with Potter was he was a masochist. He was famous and popular and good-looking. He'd always been shameless and skillful at making the papers fascinated with him, cameras love him, and girls riot Quidditch stands in sixth year. He wasn't lonely out of necessity; he just did it so he could mope about feeling sorry for himself; it was all about thinking he was important and getting more attention.

On the other hand, Potter was so fantastically bad at relationships, or apparently relating to anyone at all, maybe everyone stayed away once they realized what he was really like. Maybe Potter really was alone.

Anyway, one aspect of Potter's utter incompetence was that he only seemed capable of expressing fellowship by buying things. Andromeda had pointed out Teddy didn't need gifts, and the more Draco observed of Potter the more he conjectured that the sum total of Potter's interaction with his godson was buying him presents.

Potter had done it with his girlfriend, too, apparently. He'd bought her brooms and jewelry and whatever Hermione said, until Hermione had realized she was enabling and made Potter resort to more devious methods to finding out what to buy to make Ginny happy. (Devious methods such as asking Lavender Brown, Draco learned, much later).

The only conclusion Draco could come to was that Potter's Muggle relatives had spoiled him rotten. Draco's parents had bought a lot for him, too, but of course seeing as how Draco was a pure-blood, he knew how to have class about it. But Potter, obviously, was filthy rich and was just trying to fling it around on everyone, show how much money he could waste.

In the end, Draco had to conclude that even more than superficial, Potter was just plain incompetent. He obviously cared. He wanted to do right by those he cared for. But he had no idea how to do that.

* * *

The first thing Potter gave Draco was a name.

He hadn't any right, either, seeing as how he hadn't wanted Draco in the first place, and Draco already had a name, thank you very much. Even if everyone laughed at it.

The name was Black.

"Er," Weasel said, upon hearing this. "You might not have noticed; the dog is practically white?"

Weasel edged around the words very carefully. Understandable, considering he'd had to ask what a dog was during their last conversation and Potter had had to tell him. Apparently statements of the obvious and tautological phrases were just the norm for Gryffindors; understandably, Weasel couldn't be certain Potter actually knew his colors. Although considering the way Potter saw the world, not being able to differentiate between black and white would make him effectively blind.

"Well." Potter remained very straight-faced. "I thought about calling it Hedwig II, but it just didn't fly, if you take my meaning."

Weasel grimaced. "Very funny."

"It's not after the color, Ron," the Mudblood said, sounding as if she was trying to tell the Weasel something tactfully and failing utterly.

"But Black?" Weasel said. "What—oh."

Potter looked away. "He . . . reminds me, sometimes. But I couldn't call him that. It seemed wrong. So . . ." Potter shrugged. "I went for irony, I guess?"

If he had, Potter would have to choose between them, because Draco and irony were dire enemies and should have nothing to do with each other, ever. Draco reminded Potter of Sirius Black, of all people. A murdering mangy psychopath. And, well, even if he'd turned out not to be a murderer, he'd still been crazy, and lived in Azkaban, and—and Father had said Potter cried like a baby when Aunt Bella killed him.

Draco supposed there were worse names he could be called. At least it was a family name, practically almost already his.

"Are you taking him to the vet?" The Mudblood had turned very businesslike in the wake of Potter's memories and Weasel's stumbling.

"I don't really think he has any diseases," Potter said, shaking his head as if to clear it. "I mean, he's been here a few days; he seems fine." Potter paused, looking down at Draco. "He does scratch a lot. Maybe he has fleas."

As if!

Granger seemed equally as indignant, but for a different reason. "Harry!" she exclaimed, managing to sound both shocked and pedantic. "You have no idea what he might have! And anyway, even if he isn't sick now, he could get sick later. He needs shots."

Draco whined. He couldn't control himself; it was the Dog Brain.

"He also needs to get neutered."

Draco cried. Maybe he could have controlled himself, but why should he? The dog parts were his parts too!

Luckily, Potter sounded equally as offended, and this time for entirely the same reason. "You want me to . . . castrate my dog?" His voice was weak over the word "castrate", and Draco guessed it wasn't, as he might once have supposed, because Potter had trouble pronouncing polysyllables.

"Not castrate. Just a little snip." Granger seemed to think she was speaking in a sensible tone. Weasel was looking at her in terror.

"That would mean he could never be a father," Potter pointed out with the obvious. Again. "I don't really think that's my choice to make."

The Mudblood rolled her eyes. "Is he going to make it?" she asked, crooking a finger at Draco.

"He doesn't want to get neutered, Hermione."

Draco felt the incredible, insane urge to lick Potter's face.

"He cried when you mentioned it," Potter was going on.

Granger huffed again. "Dogs do not know English!"

"Mine does." Potter sounded defensive.

Draco barked.

"See?" Potter said.

"Fine," Granger said. "But you should still take him to the vet. Did you even get him a collar?"

"I did." Potter looked reluctant. "It didn't exactly . . . work."

"Er, mate," Weasel finally spoke up. "Aren't they just . . . sort of like a belt?"

Again with the obvious.

What Potter meant was that Draco hadn't let him. Potter had come after him with a collar and Draco had growled at him from the corner until Potter gave up. Potter even went out especially to get a tag with the name "Black" on it. The pet store must be banking on him; it seemed they could convince him to buy anything if they said the magic words, "dogs love and/or need it". Which must have been why Potter also got him a special elastic collar that was supposed to be more gentle and not pinch.

That trip also produced flea bath equipment, which was the final straw in convincing Draco that even if he had always loved getting presents, the madness had to stop. There was the flea bath soap and the flea scrubber and the flea spray, and then all the grooming materials like the shedding mitt (as if Draco would ever do anything so undignified as shed!), the toenail clippers (they hurt), the hairbrush (. . . ooh).

The hairbrush, Draco supposed, was alright. He could put up with being brushed from time to time. If he had to. Someone had to suffer Potter's madness, after all.

No one else would.

Not even Hermione, who, after having unsuccessfully trying to convince Potter to have sick sadomasochistic torture performed on Draco (needles, collars, leashes, castration; the vet was all about the same thing, really), threw up her hands and went to go buy Potter books on dog behaviors, hygiene, and care.

Potter had relented about the collar, even the special elastic one with the little "Black" tag. But not until after many earnest attempts. "Come on," Potter had pled at Draco, who'd been growling in the corner again. "You have to."

I also have to eat on the floor and piss with my leg up, Draco thought vindictively. It just sounded like snarls.

"It's part of being a dog." Sometimes Draco thought Potter could understand those snarls. Then he remembered Potter couldn't understand anything. "Everyone needs know who you are," Potter persisted.

But even as Potter said it the hand with the collar lowered, and his other hand seemed to unconsciously rise to the scar on his forehead. It would've been melodramatically metaphorical, except the metaphor didn't translate right. As if Potter wouldn't want everyone to know who he was! Yeah, right.

Right?

"I know. People look at you and know you're owned," Potter said, incomprehensibly.

Sometimes Draco thought Potter spoke in those snarls back. But Draco understood human; he was pretty sure he didn't understand Potter.

x.

4.

x

As Potter and Draco worked more and more together on Draco Malfoy's missing persons case, people started to notice. The two biggest headlines in the Prophet these days were, "DRACO MALFOY, DEATH EATER AND MISSING", and "HERO BOY SIDEKICK DOG FIGHT CRIME, SAVE KITTEN". The part about the kitten was completely fabricated. Skeeter obviously needed to work on her material. Potter saved it; Draco was the one who'd chased it up the tree. It was Arabella Figg's fault, actually, for having so many cats.

Potter had been tracking the not-Dementor across the three counties Draco had already tracked it across weeks ago. Potter's trail was cold, but he kept putting pins in the map.

After Draco's friends left without recognizing him, Potter looked thoughtfully at the map.

Helpful, Draco barked.

"Shut it," Potter said. "Sarcasm won't exactly solve anything."

Draco barked again.

"I didn't exactly love him in school." Draco tilted his head in what he hoped conveyed a skeptic dog matter, and Potter conceded, "Okay, I didn't exactly like him either. Fine." Potter threw up his hands. "I never cared less, and sometimes I cared rather more—about seeing his arse beat and bent—"

Draco started barking. Too much information; too much information!

He didn't exactly want to hear all the horrible things Potter thought about him when he actually . . . knew it was him. Of course, if he ever got to be human again and Potter turned into the big, fat lazy toad thing his Animagus form probably was, Draco would delight in telling Potter all the horrible Potter-thoughts he'd ever thought. But the reverse was not on, and anyway it was awkward hearing Potter talking about doing things to Draco's arse, no matter how clinically sadistic, when Draco still thought about humping his leg from time to time.

"Anyway," Potter said, "that doesn't mean he deserves to be . . . I saved his life," Potter huffed. "He's supposed to get old and stupid and rich like his dad. And have long hair, and marry some pure-blood witch, and—and our kids are supposed to go to school together, and hate each other, and . . . it isn't supposed to be like this."

Stop thinking of the way it was supposed to be, Draco wanted to tell Potter often enough. Sometimes he thought that was Potter's whole problem.

All is never well.

"I know," Potter responded, as if he really could read Draco's frustrated expression. "It's just . . . this Dementor. It's not normal. It's something Voldemort . . . made."

Potter touched his scar, and Draco barked.

"This Dementor . . . and me," Potter said quietly.

No, me! Me me me! Draco was yipping, though he wasn't sure why. It wasn't as if he exactly wanted Potter to find out who he was. When it came right down to it, it wasn't just not getting to work on the cases or getting treated differently by Potter that Draco feared.

When he turned human Potter was never, ever going to find out Draco had been his dog.

Draco would just—just never live that down.

Sure, it was possible to pick up and go on after . . . after detention in the Forbidden Forest and falling off your broom in Dementor drag and getting Bat Bogey Hexed and having your dad arrested and getting disemboweled on a bathroom floor . . . but having been a dog. Having licked Harry Potter's face. Just . . . no.

"What?" Potter was asking, trying to understand him.

Draco stopped yipping.

Potter sighed and came over to the map. "Malfoy was last seen here," Potter said, walking over to the map. He stared for a while. "Do you know, that's very close to Little Whinging."

Walking over to Potter, Draco pressed himself up against his leg, bracing for Disapparition.

Potter shot a tight smile down at him. "I guess we have to," he said, and Disapparated them to his childhood neighborhood.

Draco was not allowed inside of Arabella Figg's home. The Dog Brain would not allow him to behave, and Potter left him regretfully on the pavement.

It was the cats, see.

They were driving Draco—well, barking.

That was when he might've—well, just might've chased one up a tree.

When Potter was outside again, kitten duly saved, Draco could finally force the Dog Brain to stop, due to its own need to pant and jump up on and—how utterly humiliating--lick—Harry's face.

Potter "ugh"ed and laughed, teasing Draco about the poor kitty no one cared about any more because this was Potter; he was safe after going into the crazy old bat's house.

"I'm gone for one hour," Potter started, still laughing.

Draco loved to hear him laugh.

And hated that that was true.

He dropped to his feet and barked sharply.

Sobering, Potter said, "She didn't see Malfoy, just the Dementor, or whatever it is." Potter shook his head. "Woman has a knack for not-witnessing, I guess. She also . . . heard it." At Draco's pressing, he said, "Suffer the truth."

Draco clamped his mouth shut and didn't bark any more.

But Potter was musing, not noticing Draco's silence, or if so, ignoring it. "Some of the other cases . . . that pure-blood kid who lost his magic, the former Death Eater who thinks he's a not-so-former Death Eater . . . Suffer the truth?" Potter repeated. "I mean—Black, listen."

Potter was getting an idea and Draco hated that. In fact, he'd discovered why Gryffindors only stated the obvious and tautological. Of course he should have known; the solution had been staring him in the face. Obviously, whenever Gryffindors speculated, drew conjectures, deduced, it ended badly. A Gryffindor idea was a bad idea, and that was pretty much tautological.

"Dementors usually suck out your soul, right?" Potter was saying. "But this isn't a Dementor, so he can't do that. We know it changes people, is changing pure-bloods. What if, instead of taking your soul out . . . it changes it? It doesn't take your self away and leave fear; it changes you into something you fear."

I'm not afraid of any mangy mutts, stupid! Draco wanted to bark his head off, but for once the Dog Brain was silent, and he could not force his mouth open.

It was because of the possibility in what Potter said. The possibility Draco had never wanted to face, and so could never consider, even though he had had all the information Mrs. Figg had just given Potter. The possibility of the truth.

That what Draco really was, deep down—the truth—was a dog.

Not so much with the slobbering or the squirrel chasing or even the leg humping.

But Draco recalled again the way Snape had been called a lapdog, Lucius Voldemort's dog—how he had wanted to be each of those men he had so revered, and how each of them had crawled on their bellies for Voldemort.

And Draco had crawled too—crawled for them, for his family, and for himself, his pride, his honor. Voldemort had raised his banner, and Draco had come running. His father had said to jump for the man, and Draco had said, how high?

Draco wanted to howl, but his mouth was still clamped shut.

"You could be changed into anything," Potter was saying. "That Nott woman Mrs. Malfoy told us about was afraid of being a Squib. That one who found out she was adopted was afraid of not being a pure-blood. That one with amnesia was afraid of being no one, having no family history, nothing to relate to. If you were afraid of heights you could turn into a skyscraper; if you were afraid of going crazy you would . . ." Potter broke off, looking straight at Draco.

No, Draco wanted to howl, because he didn't want Potter putting the pieces of Draco's story together. This was the real reason he wouldn't let Potter know with a couple of well-timed barks that he was human. He didn't want Potter finding out who he was, what he really was, the truth. Not that his dog was Draco Malfoy, but that Draco Malfoy was—

Suffer it, the not-Dementor had said.

Potter was shrugging it off. "She said something else," he added quietly. "The Muggle-born Martyrs. She saw some of them. Described them to a tee.

"They're the ones controlling the Dementor."

* * *

By the time Draco had officially belonged to Potter for around a week, they had established a sort of routine. Potter woke late and showered in the morning with Draco scratching on his door to go out. Then they went outside to the little copse of trees across the street, Potter jumping from foot to foot to keep warm (because apparently he'd forgotten the power of warming charms because he'd forgotten he was a wizard, God) while Draco did his business.

Then they went in and had breakfast. Initially this had consisted of dog food, until Draco decided to test the Potter-spoiled-people theory, and declined to eat food made for dogs. Acting like a spoiled brat of course had only occasionally worked with Mum and Dad, who had fed him gruel most mornings of early childhood (it worked much better with Dobby). It sort of worked with Potter, who began to worry Draco wasn't eating properly so finally took Granger's advice and took him to the vet.

Draco alternately whined and growled the whole time, but it ended up not being so bad. Potter made him wear a collar only for the duration; the shots didn't hurt much more than a hippogriff ripping him to shreds, thank you very much, and he didn't have to worry about never ever being a man ever again. "Don't worry," Potter kept murmuring into Draco's soft, large ears. "I wouldn't let them do that to you.

"I won't let anyone hurt you.

"You're mine."

Potter loved puppies and unicorns and pretty frolicking butterflies in meadows; God, Potter was a sap, and where was Rita Skeeter to dish to when you needed her? But anyway, the vet said that Draco was being a snob, which Potter, when he got Draco back home, said was a lot of bollocks. Then he muttered on for a while about doctors being stupid and not knowing anything, but this was before Potter started confiding in him, so Draco didn't know anything about what had happened with Potter and St. Mungo's.

After that Potter fed him beans and toast for breakfast, until Draco decided to test the Potter-was-a-sap-and-would-spoil-him-rotten theory, and refused to eat that, too.

Worriedly, Potter tried everything, eggs and bacon and breakfasts worthy of Hogwarts. He even called Kreacher back from who-knew-where and started getting him to cook. The only thing that really worked was Kreacher's filet mignon and lemon butter sauce.

That's when Potter looked down at Draco and said, "I think that vet was right about you. You just want to know how far you can take it, don't you?"

Took it pretty bloody far, Draco thought.

"Don't you smirk at me like that," Potter said, but he was smiling.

Draco was ashamed to realize his tail gave a wag, and he was bantering with Potter.

It was all very horrible. Except that Potter didn't stop with the filet mignon in lemon butter sauce, which Draco guessed made it alright.

In fact, Potter seemed to not only be humoring him, but humoring himself, too. He had Kreacher try more and more exotic foods, and price was no object. Maybe he was trying to call Draco's bluff and ply him with rich foods until Draco broke down and begged for something plebeian. At any rate, Potter seemed to get a real kick out of eating Wheetabix while Draco had escargot for breakfast.

Which was weird. If Potter's Muggle relatives had spoiled him so much, seemed like he should be wanting caviar, too. Instead all he seemed to want was something that wanted things, something he could spoil.

After breakfast Potter would Apparate to his office. While Potter was at work, Draco would try to make sense of Potter's cases, files, and notes. Draco didn't worry too much about mixing papers up and rearranging them; even crumpling and tearing them seemed just fine by Potter's . . . system. Draco did worry though about getting slobber on the papers or teeth-marks on the files. He didn't want Potter to know he was in here and taking particular interest in legal pads with Death Eaters listed on them.

It was around then Draco discovered that nowhere in Grimmauld Place was there a room full of Quidditch trophies and Orders of Merlin. There weren't even random Witch Weekly spreads Spellotaped about. Grimmauld Place seemed exactly as old Grandmother Black would have wanted it, except for a few Muggle things here and there, and the MUDBLOODS, BLOOD TRAITORS and MANGY MUTTS SULLYING THE NOBLE HOUSE OF BLACK, and such.

Potter would stay away until quite late, although Draco noticed that as the week went on Potter came back earlier and earlier. Maybe he was on a declining schedule until Friday, or maybe it depended on his cases. Maybe he just wanted to come home to stare at Draco blankly and try to think of things to give him—the collar, the special name tag, the flea bath. The escargot.

When Potter got home Draco got to go out again, and then they had supper. After that they sometimes went their separate ways. Usually Draco nosed around the old Black house—there were plenty of interesting things in his cousins' rooms and the attic, that apparently Potter hadn't seen any necessity in cleaning up.

Sometimes when Potter went out at night or met with friends. Sometimes he worked on more cases. More often than not, they both sat down and watched the Muggle telly thing.

It was Muggle, so Draco disdained it at first, but the colored lights and music worked very unMuggley. They called to him. They drew him in. They were just like magic.

So beautiful. And sometimes sparkly!

Potter told him not to sit so close to it, because it would ruin his eyes and also because Draco liked to plunk himself down right in front of it and Potter couldn't see, but Draco couldn't resist the bright dancing lights. He liked the ones with talking dogs and Julie Andrews best. It was obvious Dame Andrews was not a Muggle; she used a shrinking spell on that carpet bag, and her umbrella was obviously spelled just like a Nimbus. Draco didn't understand the ones that had plots about Muggle crime and gun things so much. They also tended to be less colorful and didn't have singing, so he didn't really care.

Potter seemed to get amusement also from Draco's fascination with the telly-thing, which was rude if you asked Draco. It wasn't as if anyone had made fun of Potter for not even knowing he was a wizard at first. Anyone but Draco, that was, and anyway that didn't count.

After the telly Potter would let him out one more time and then they would sleep. Mostly Draco had commandeered Regulus's room. He seemed the more reasonable of the two cousins.

Not such a bad life. For a dog.

* * *

"When was the last time you let this dog out, Harry, for Merlin's sake," was Ginny's advice.

They were across from Number Twelve in the copse of trees, Potter and Ginny waiting for Draco to do his business.

Potter looked confused. "We're out right now."

Draco was beginning to think maybe it was unGryffindor to state things that weren't obvious.

"From what you said, it's the only time he gets out."

"I said I let him out three times a day." Potter looked down at Draco. "You think he needs more?"

"Yes he needs more!" Ginny said, without taking a breath. "He needs to go out. He needs to run around. He needs to chase that squirrel."

Ginny Weasley was amazing and fascinating, Draco recalled.

Almost as amazing and fascinating as that squirrel.

"He needs exercise?" Potter looked blank. "I guess I hadn't thought."

"I don't know what he needs." Ginny put her hands on her hips. "Walks around the neighborhood, visits to the park. Some dogs need to herd sheep, I hear; I'm not the dog owner here."

"Herd sheep?" Potter turned to Draco. "Do you need to herd sheep?"

Possibly. Draco's palate had developed quite a preference for lamb Tikka Masala, when Potter wasn't torturing him by saying, "Thought you preferred escargot?" Nasty, slimy things.

But right now what Draco really needed was to chase that squirrel, and he couldn't, because—because . . .

Right. He did not need to. The Dog Brain needed to. The Dog Brain did not control Draco. He controlled the Dog Brain. The Dog Brain was not him. They were completely different and that not-Dementor was bollocks, because Draco had never felt the need to chase squirrels before becoming canine, thanks.

"Oh," Potter said. He was watching Draco, head tilted. "Well, Black. You can go on. If you want."

And Draco was off.

He ran so fast he found he could go utterly new speeds as a dog. His legs naturally, without thought, moved with remarkable force, the hind legs coming up and forward so far they were almost in front of the forelegs, before the forelegs left the ground again and stretched him out so long he thought he might be flying. He raced across the street, after the squirrel who scuttled up a gutter. If he could get around the house—and then he saw another tiny movement, much farther away but also closer to the ground, and he was off again, around the corner of the block.

It was horrible, because he realized he had not made one move toward the squirrel until Potter told him he could.

Of course, that was the Dog Brain too. It wasn't as if Draco had ever felt the need to obey Potter before becoming canine, either.

But Draco was thinking about it, and what the not-Dementor had said. About what he was, the truth underneath when all the lies were stripped from him.

Snape had used to get called Father's lapdog, because of the way he was always there with the Malfoys, willing to do what they asked of him, willing to give to them, to make Unbreakable Vows. But Draco had heard Father be called a cur too—Voldemort's, because even though Father had resented him, resented that he'd come back and spoiled father's plans of securing Malfoy power, Father had in the end given in. He'd had to follow Voldemort—follow him and obey him, follow him and grovel to him. Snape had done it out of love, Father had done it out of fear, and Draco had had to do the same.

When Draco thought about it like that he wondered if he'd been doing the same even before Voldemort's second rise to power. He'd always followed Father. He would have given anything to make him happy. He would've made an Unbreakable Vow.

He couldn't ever really remember living for himself.

It was a squirrel, God, obviously it was the Dog Brain, and Potter giving him "permission" to chase it just happened to coincide with the collapse of Draco's resistance to the canine impulse; that was all. It was annoying and infuriating he couldn't resist the impulse, but it wasn't his fault. The not-Dementor had made him into something different, something he wasn't before. He wasn't this; he wasn't just some animal at Potter's heel until Potter told him to go. This wasn't him.

Then the little furry creature Draco had been chasing and really wanted to catch and tear to shreds and eat and smell the blood of just now was out of sight and out of scent. Draco turned around to trot back toward Potter.

And stopped.

He had no idea why he was going back to Potter. Of course, eventually, there were Potter's case files to get to and the not-Dementor to track down, but not now. Not right this moment. Now he was outside and free, and Ginny was right. He hadn't gotten in nearly enough fresh air or leg time. He didn't have to go back to Potter. He could take his sweet time.

But the impulse go back was going stronger and stronger, until somehow it felt crippling. It wasn't a conscious thought, not anything so easily understandable. But it was something like fear, like anxiety, and also something like desire building in his chest, his legs, even up his throat. He heard himself whine as he tried to take yet another step in the opposite direction of Potter. Of home.

It was the Dog Brain; it was what had made Draco follow Potter home in the first place. Dogs sought warmth and security. They needed humans to love them and take care of them and protect them. Draco didn't need that.

Draco didn't need anyone.

But the Dog Brain was pushing at him, rising so high inside of him it would carry him, whether he wanted it to or not.

Then he heard Potter yelling, and that sounding like home, too, and Draco had to go back.

"Black!" Potter was shouting. "Where are you? Come! Black!"

And then Draco was running toward him and jumping on him.

God, he hated his life.

Potter didn't really seem to hate Draco's, even if he was busy trying to suffocate it out of Draco by wrapping his arms around him while Draco's paws were on his shoulders. Potter scratched his head and muttered in his ear, "Jesus, boy. Don't scare me like that. Jesus."

Draco had been gone for maybe five minutes, and Potter had obviously gone all to pieces. Having Potter get so soppy over a dog was somewhat gratifying. Obviously Potter needed someone, even though Draco didn't. It was sort of pitiful, really, considering how bad Potter was with people.

It was also somewhat gratifying being wanted like that, being missed like that, ooh, being scratched behind the ears like that—

But of course that was the Dog Brain.

Ginny was running up from behind. "I'm sorry," she panted, when Draco was back on his feet again, and she was abreast of Potter.

"No." Potter was looking down at Draco. "It's not like you said to go tell him to run away right then."

"I had no idea he'd just run off like that."

"You were right. If I'd been letting him out more he probably wouldn't have wanted to."

Good luck, Draco thought. If he couldn't control these impulses, at least Potter wasn't going to either. Let's see you try to resist a squirrel next time you get cursed with mutt mentality.

Potter laughed. "Black doesn't think so."

Ginny laughed as well. "A squirrel is a squirrel."

Speaking quietly, Potter said, "But you like birds."

Ginny looked away.

"I guess it's . . ." Potter took a deep breath. "I guess it's important to be able to run free, if you need to."

What was really frightening, and Draco was only just beginning to learn, and Ginny had obviously known a while, was that Potter didn't understand this simple, simple thing.

Ginny turned back, steady. "You should," she told him firmly.

And it was even more frightening to consider, for a moment, that the reason Potter didn't understand it was he'd never gotten to be free. And Ginny seemed to think she knew something about that, too. Seemed to imply Potter's life had been planned from day one . . . seeing as how day one was the day the seventh month died . . .

Draco'd always just thought if you were born a hero you got to do whatever you damn well pleased, and he'd hated Potter for that.

Potter's voice was still low. "Then you have to be able to let go, I suppose."

Ginny gave a small smile. She didn't say anything, but she slipped her hand in Potter's.

* * *

"Do you ever pet this dog at all?" was Lovebottom's advice.

He, Loony, and Potter were over at the Weasel-Mudblood's for a dinner. Since Potter had always had a grudge against Draco and missed casting Sectumsempra, he settled for the next best thing and brought Draco so "the dog could play with the children."

But things took a turn for the worse when Longbottom started scratching Draco's belly. It was disgusting and undignified and bloody brilliant. And Draco couldn't seem to stop his leg from moving in time with Longbottom's scratches, God.

Longbottom was smiling. "It's like you don't get any love at all at home," he teased. He didn't bother to turn to Potter to ask his facetious question. "Don't you ever pet him?"

"Not really," Potter said, and went on shelling peas for the dinner.

Longbottom went back to scratching after a momentary pause. Draco's leg went back to moving and that would have been the end of it, had not Draco wandered into the kitchen looking for scraps when the men were in there alone doing dishes. Or Neville was doing dishes, sleeves rolled up and elbow deep in dirty water.

Potter was frowning down at the towel dangling in his hands.

"I'm just saying this because I think maybe we come from the same place," Neville was saying. "I mean, I didn't grow up an orphan, but—well, you know how it was."

"I know how it was," Potter said quietly.

No, Draco thought. How was it? Against his better judgment, a bark slipped out in his agitation. It wasn't that he was so agitated to know how Longbottom grew up into the Lovebottom he was now, or anything. It was just . . .

Draco'd thought he'd known everything necessary about the Gryffindorks, but over the last few weeks he'd begun to suspect some things about Harry Potter that didn't exactly match up with his previous impressions.

"We come from the same place," Lovebottom had said.

He and Potter had the same birthday.

"Here, boy," Potter said.

Hoping he hadn't ruined the possibility of further disclosure, Draco trotted over.

Potter patted him awkwardly on the head.

Simultaneous with a surge of hatred for the Dog Brain, Draco's tail thumped.

"See?" Lovebottom said. "Dogs like attention. They need it. It's reassuring to them. They follow you around and want to be by you, feel your warmth, be touched by you."

Don't bet on it. Draco glared.

"I had it better," Lovebottom went on. "I know my Gran loved me. But she didn't have good ways of showing it, sometimes. People like us . . . we have to learn how."

Potter was quiet for a moment, looking down at Draco. "That why you got so into plants?" he said finally.

Lovebottom gave a wry smile. "You mean an interest in roots?"

"I meant because you have to . . . care." Potter made it sound like he was talking about metaphysical Arithmancy, for crying out loud.

Lovebottom shrugged. "I always was a nurturer, even if I never exactly learned by example. It was something I was good at."

"Yeah," Potter said dully.

"Look." Grabbing the towel from Potter, Lovebottom dried his hands, then spelled it to start drying the dishes. "You know we're you're friends. We don't care if—if you're more reticent after the war. Take a look at me; I'm less so."

"Yeah. No. Thanks," Potter said, in his usual articulate fashion. "I just . . . thought some things would be easier. I'm grown up, and he's dead."

"Just because you and Ginny didn't work out, doesn't mean you can't—you know, make it. You just have to try, and work at it."

"Maybe that's it," Potter said. "I always wanted a family. I always thought it just meant . . . people who would be there for you. No matter what, and you didn't have to do anything."

Draco had been wrong all along. Potter had not been brought up a spoilt brat. He had not been brought up at all.

Not even by wolves. Even wolves knew you had to do things for the pack.

Lovebottom chuckled. "Guess it's good you've got a dog, then."

Of course, Draco had forgotten wolves were the non-handicapped un-stunted versions of dogs.

Shortly after this very palpable hit to Draco's dignity, Lovebottom made his excuses to leave, obviously fearing Draco's retribution. And Draco very, very much wanted to go with him, admittedly, partly to take many more palpable hits in the form of tummy rubbing. But most of all Draco feared being left alone with Potter.

Potter was very fucked up. From what Lovebottom said, and sometimes Potter, Voldemort had done some kind of number on him, more than the ugly scar and numerous attempts to kill him and torture his friends, anyway. He'd done something to Potter's brain, and Potter's friends knew it, and they made allowances because of it. Allowances like having to tell Potter that dogs liked to be pet, and loving people took work.

Even a child should know those things.

What Draco feared most of all, really, was feeling sorry for Potter. It seemed like one thing to not care about anyone but yourself because you were selfish, and entirely another because you did not know how. Maybe it was easier for someone like Potter to live and love when death and war were at his doorstep. Maybe adversity'd been a part of him so long he felt bereft now.

As Draco stood there trying to determine how anyone could possibly be so morbid and nonsensical and yet evoke his pity, Potter tentatively reached out to scratch behind Draco's ears.

Suddenly Draco supposed sympathizing with Potter wasn't so bad after all.

"It sort of looks like you're smiling," Potter said, after a while.

Draco promptly shut his mouth, only just realizing it was open, and he was panting.

Certainly not because Harry Potter was touching him, though. It was just hot in here. In all this fur, God.

And he was certainly not smiling, anyway.

"You're so contrary," Potter said, sounding amused. He stopped petting Draco's ears, but then looked for a moment at Draco and apparently found him doleful, because next Potter sat right down on the floor and began scratching vigorously behind one ear and on Draco's chest, double-fisted.

That was the first time Draco licked Potter's face.

Mortifyingly, it would not be the last.

* * *

Loony's advice was that Draco needed to be in the society of other dogs.

For all Draco's annoyance at even Ravenclaws, now, resorting to stating the obvious, it was quickly becoming apparent that Potter did need to be told these things. For instance, Potter didn't appear to know he needed to be in the society of other people, seeing as how he'd lived a crazy, fucked up life and didn't know how to live a regular one.

In fact, Draco suspected Potter hadn't moved out of Grimmauld Place because it was still hidden under a locked Fidelius charm, and Potter didn't want anyone finding him. Not only did Potter not hobnob with people like the Minister for Magic, or Celestina Warbuck, he actively seemed to avoid reporters and his fanatic fans. Some days Draco thought Potter didn't actually hobnob with anyone at all, that he was even avoiding his fanatic friends.

"Meeting other pet owners is often beneficial," Loony added. "There's always an excuse to talk." Apparently, as well as being up on dogs' social behavior, she was aware of Potter's antisocial behavior. She shouldn't have had a leg to stand on, seeing as how everyone at Hogwarts had avoided her; also, she didn't seem to realize that as a crazy person she should have sought the society of other crazy people.

In fact, she and Potter should've been institutionalized together, seeing as how they were both crazy, and had a sadistic streak a mile wide, which manifested when Potter did try to make him socialize.

First of all, Draco was not a dog. He did not need to interact with canines, thank you—unless it was that Lassie character on the Muggle telly, because she seemed far smarter than Elizabeth Taylor in the movie or Potter or any of these other people who purported to own dogs.

Second, Potter was obviously psychotic and needed help, but it wasn't as if Draco had ever needed the society of his own kind, even as a human, thank you. He was not a freak like Potter; he had a family he loved and tried to honor. He worked very hard to take care of his friends. In fact, that was what had gotten him into this whole thing in the first place, trying to protect Millie, but it was because he could handle it and they couldn't; he loved them and they needed taking care of.

And the final and most important reason Draco had absolutely no need to socialize was that he—he wanted to sniff the other dogs' groins, and that was not on.

The world was obviously evil and terrible and going to end.

Then the bitch down the road went into heat. She was inside her owner's house, but Draco could still smell her when they took walks, which had become horrible ordeals for him. And then Draco never got to her, and all he could think about was wanting to randomly hump things. The Great And Noble House of Black really didn't afford much relief in that respect, either. Potter's leg really seemed like the only viable option, and if Draco did that, the world really was going to end.

"If you had gotten him neutered," Granger said, speaking exactly as if she wasn't talking about the other other end of the world, "he wouldn't be having this problem."

Potter's friends were over at his house for watching Muggle Quidditch. Thomas and Finnigan claimed they hadn't met Draco yet (huh. If they knew) and they had got to talking about the dog. At Granger's words, Thomas, Finnigan and Weasel were currently making choking sounds over their lager and crisps.

"It's just that girl dog," Potter said, sounding unhappy himself—as if he really had anything to worry about, when it was Draco who was reduced to considering Potter's leg. "Once she calms back down, he'll be fine."

"Maybe you should let him at her," Finnigan suggested, making lewd gestures.

Potter looked blank.

"Well, Harry," Weasel said. "If you're not going to castrate him—which I wholeheartedly stand by, by the way—"

"It's not castration," Granger interrupted testily.

"Then he's going to have needs," Weasel concluded. "It's cruel to keep him away, isn't it?"

"I'm not exactly keeping him away," Potter said. "They keep her in the house."

"You should just talk to the bitch's owners," Thomas said, reaching for more crisps. "How my sister got her dog. We had these two neighbors, and they would arrange breed dates. Two months later, bam, litter, and they give away the puppies."

"Oh," Potter said. "Do I really need to do all that?"

Finnigan scoffed. "Just because you live the life of a bloody monk—"

Granger interrupted him firmly. "If you're not going to get him neutered—which I still think you should," she added amidst protest, "then you should give him a chance. It's a biological imperative—not necessary for survival, obviously, but a command of nature."

"True." Thomas stretched out. "Everyone needs a good breed date now and then."

"Speaking of which," Finnigan began. "Harry."

"No."

They saw the look on Potter's face, and that was the end of that.

When the others had gone Potter was still quiet. Closed off, thoughtful, he did that pacing around thing he did, occasionally stopping to look at Draco, just as he had when he'd first gotten Draco and wanted to get rid of him.

Potter couldn't be thinking that now. Thinking Draco was too much trouble, with the bitch and the bother and the need to leg hump; Potter couldn't be thinking he couldn't put up with Draco and needed to give him away again. He couldn't, not yet.

Draco had all that research to do in Potter's case files.

"I guess . . ." Potter finally spoke. "I guess I'll talk to that girl dog's owners."

Draco whined.

"Er . . . you want something . . . someone else?"

Draco whined again.

Potter took his glasses off and rubbed an eye with a fist, then put them back on. "I don't know what that means."

Exactly. You have no possible way of understanding. So stay out of my sex life, Potter, Draco thought, barking once, sharply. Idiot.

His parents were bad enough.

Draco thought of Mum and Dad, how they had always expected him to marry and have a family and carry on the Malfoy name and pure-blood traditions. Even with Dad dead, the imperative was there. Even with Mum not quite right any more. In fact, that increased the pressure; Draco was all there was left, all there would ever be.

Potter looked away. "People are always trying to . . . you know. Set me up. I mean, the papers are always saying, 'When will Harry Potter settle down?', but it's not just that, it's . . . Mrs. Weasley and . . . you heard Seamus and Dean. Most of my friends are married and it's just . . . it shouldn't be something other people get to decide."

Alright. So maybe Potter understood. A little bit.

"I loved Ginny," Potter was saying. He sat down, his elbows on his knees, looking as if he needed to put his head into his hands. "But I didn't want it to be complicated—jealousy, keeping the lid on the toilet down, learning how to talk. I didn't want it to be a biological imperative either. I didn't care about any of that; I just wanted what I wanted ever since I was—ever since my parents died, I guess, just simple, just a family; I just wanted—I wanted someone who loves me, and cares for me, and I don't know why it's so hard—"

It's because you're an idiot, Draco was thinking, making everything harder than it is. Also, everyone loves you, you selfish self-absorbed fool. And thirdly, of course you didn't want anything complicated; your little brain couldn't handle it. And fourthly—you're going to have to deal with sex if you want a family, but oh that's right, your dad died before he could teach you about the birds and the bees. And fifthly—

Draco could go on. He knew he could. But Potter was looking at him, just looking, the words, "I wanted someone to love me" caught on his lips. In his eyes.

And Potter was a selfish self-absorbed fool whom everyone loved, but Draco understood.

His parents had loved him to distraction, his relations, some of his professors, and he'd been popular in Slytherin House. But none of that had been anything to Draco in the face of Potter not wanting to be his friend.

"What does it matter, anyway." Potter lifted his head, stood. "You're just a goddamn dog."

* * *

By the next day Draco had pretty much forgotten about Harry's little breakdown. His emotional dysfunction wasn't nearly as traumatic as Draco's ferocious need to hump legs and small ottomans had been. They wouldn't let their issues fester; they would move through them manfully, or dogfully—or anyway, they would ignore them, and hope they went away.

But the next day Potter turned out to be still upset about something or other, which Draco only discovered that night. Potter had come home from work late and unhappy, but Potter was often late and unhappy, and Draco hadn't had a walk for several nights running. Even though Potter took Draco out so he could do his business, Potter said, "Not tonight, boy," when Draco hopefully walked a bit in their usual direction to the closest park.

Of course the Dog Brain was very attuned to Potter and made Draco trot right back, but later when they were back inside and he got to thinking about it, Draco resented it. He hovered around Potter, who was at his Muggle computing thing, but Potter was having none of it. After nudging Draco out of the room with his foot, Potter shut the door.

Afterwards, Draco wondered whether it was really the Dog Brain or if it was himself that caused what he did next. Only the Dog Brain wanted to go walking with Potter, naturally. On the other hand, knocking down the hat rack so he could get off Potter's scarf with his teeth, and then dragging it to the door and scratching at said door—well, it was canine behavior, and yet there'd always been something in Draco that had wanted to defy Potter, make things difficult.

Potter slammed open the door. For a moment he just stared down at Draco with that annoying face of his, with the insane hair, and the disfigured scar. Then he yanked the slobbery scarf out of Draco's mouth, and said, low and tight, "Leave me the fuck alone, why don't you; don't you see I don't bloody care; I don't want anyone near me; I DON'T WANT YOU; I NEVER WANTED YOU; GO AWAY!"

And Draco all the sudden remembered why he'd joined the Inquisition Squad.

Potter in fifth year had been exactly like this and it was really annoying.

The Dog Brain, however, hadn't been inured to Potter's yelling the way Draco had. Draco tucked his tail between his legs and fled. Once he got downstairs he managed to trip over the hat rack he'd knocked over, which sent him bumping against the wall, which disturbed old Great Aunt Black's curtains. She started yelling at him, too. Draco hid in the parlor, where her cries were mostly muffled.

Eventually Great Aunt Black stopped yelling and Potter came looking for him. He checked room to room quietly, and Draco stayed hid. Potter'd been angsty and shouty in fifth year, but in sixth year he got much quieter and took to stalking, and that was the year he'd used Sectumsempra to make Draco's guts spill out.

The truth was you never knew what Potter was going to do.

You particularly didn't know he'd sit on the floor beside you and spill his own guts out.

Potter had finally found Draco hiding under a large wingback chair, but failed coaxing him to come out. And that was when Potter started talking, there on the floor in the dark. The sound of his low, steady voice eventually convinced the Dog Brain to make Draco slowly crawl out. The words Draco's human brain parsed, however, should have made him want to run away as far as possible.

Potter told Draco about the Horcruxes first, the secret to Voldemort's invincibility, the precious key Potter and the two others who knew of it would never share with anyone—anyone not a dog. Draco was stunned at the information and sickened by the knowledge and terrified of the burden of knowing this, of keeping it secret.

Of never, ever making use of it to himself.

Rambling on, disconnected, the confessions of a man who thought no one could hear him or that the one who heard him couldn't understand, Potter revealed that had been a Horcrux himself.

He spoke of his parents' death, how his own death had been necessary to bring about Voldemort's. How Dumbledore had manipulated him into that sacrifice, how he had loved the man, how he had felt betrayed. How Snape had betrayed his own cause to give Potter his, and how Potter had walked willingly into that forest, that darkness, that death.

Draco's ears perked to hear of what his mother had done in said forest—Mum had never told him that, but it was a fleeting detail in a winding tale, and then came the kicker.

"So that's how I defeated him," Potter was saying, "with Malfoy's wand, and I was alive. That should've been the end; everything should have worked out after that. All is well, right?

"But it wasn't."

Potter talked about what it was like, knowing Voldemort had lived in your head. Worse yet, knowing you hadn't even known he was there. Worst of all, knowing you wouldn't even know now if someone hadn't told you. Perhaps Voldemort really had made little impact on Potter. Or perhaps since Potter had always had him, he couldn't know what not having Voldemort in his head might have been like. Worst again, Potter said, perhaps he was just enough like Voldemort that Voldemort not being there made no difference to who Potter was.

"He was like me, you know," Potter went on. "Voldemort. He tried to tell me, only I wouldn't listen."

Then Draco learned for the first time that Tom Riddle had been a Half-blood, found out all about just how like him Harry was, and how different they both had ever been from Draco.

"I didn't grow up in an orphanage," Potter said, "but I really can't imagine the Dursleys was that much better."

He told Draco about Dudley, Vernon and Petunia, and with the way he spoke, low and hoarse and almost as surprised at his own words as Draco was, Draco gathered Potter had never spoken these things before.

It was because of the Dog Brain, and Potter sitting so still, his voice so hoarse and low, that by then Draco had crept closer.

"Voldemort was like that, you know. Just another kid, without any parents, anyone to take care of him. Dumbledore said I was different, because I can—I can love. I do." Potter's hand reached for Draco, tentatively at first, but then his hand went deep in Draco's fur, as if assuring himself the warm, living body was there, close. "Of course I do," he went on.

"If I had to die to save Hermione right now, right this moment, I would. In a heartbeat; I wouldn't have to think. I could do it for Ginny, any of the Weasleys; I would die and I wouldn't blink, because I love them. But they don't need me to do that any more. They don't need me to die or fight or run for my life or save them from anyone any more, and I don't know what they need. Those are the only things I'm good at."

Draco put his head in Potter's lap—jaw on Potter's thigh—and Potter's hand moved from clutching Draco's neck deep in the fur to scratching behind his ears.

Just right, just the way Draco liked it.

Potter was good at this.

Then Potter was telling him how he'd tried to be an Auror, and failed. It wasn't that he wasn't good enough. He was too good, at least at the part where he caught criminals and made them pay for their crimes. He couldn't stop himself—it wasn't Avada Kedavra, never that, but once he'd started using the other two Unforgivables during the war, they got to be so natural. "I was out of control," Potter was saying. "Everything was supposed to be better, done, over, and here was all this ugliness . . . Even now, sometimes, I can't stop it. When I found out what the Capulets were doing, I was so angry, and then I saw you and you were helpless, just a helpless animal and I . . ."

Potter's hand slipped down Draco's body to his belly, to the scar. You're a raving loon who can't control violent impulses? Draco finished for him, feeling the Sectumsempra in Potter's tracing finger. And yet, Draco didn't start away, and Potter did basically admit to being raving in the next breath, both of which sort of took the fun out of Draco's sting.

After quitting the Aurors, Potter had gone to St. Mungo's. He thought he must still have some Voldemort in him, something wrong. But the healers kept telling him it was psychological, it was post traumatic stress, it was nothing. "But I left him there," Potter was saying. "I left him there, in my head, at King's Cross," Potter wasn't making any sense, "I left him crying, alone, in pain, just left him under the chair, just the way the Dursleys left me, locked under the stairs . . . So he must still be there. Even if he isn't . . . it's just what he would do, leave something there, alone, just because it was weak, because he could ignore it, because it was in pain . . ."

Draco didn't know exactly what Potter was saying. All he knew was he should be running away, and instead at some point he'd climbed all the way into Potter's lap. It was all the Dog Brain, but the human part of Draco, while not exactly eager to drape on Potter's thighs or anything, couldn't hate Potter any more, couldn't even resent him. With all his might, Draco tried to conjure up the hatred of years of stings and insults, being enemies in a war, suffering at Potter's hands had caused.

But now there was only dull understanding, a kind of pity, and an incredulous disbelief that the only person who could've saved them all, had to have been this fucked. The one who defeated Voldemort had to have been exactly the damaged person Potter was, or else Dumbledore's gambit never would've played out.

"They say," Potter was saying, "Hermione, Ginny, even Neville—they say I should try. When you showed up, came home with me, they said—they said I could start small, and I started to believe them. It should be easy, being with a dog, way easier than another person. And maybe it is, but—but what does it say about me, if the only one I can say these things to is a dog? And you, too. I yelled at you earlier, but I wanted to do worse. I wanted to hurt you; I wanted to—I wanted to do things to you, because you're just a dog, because you're not enough, because I want something—someone more, but I can't even take care of you, not like a human being should, and—"

Draco licked Potter's face again.

That was the Dog Brain, too, though—if Potter had been normal at all, he would've tasted like tears and Draco's canine body merely craved that, the taste of skin with a sting of salt. But Potter didn't taste like tears, because he wasn't crying. He couldn't have a normal breakdown like a normal person, obviously.

Maybe that was why he'd looked at Draco so oddly in the bathroom before the Sectumsempra.

"It's easy for you," Potter was saying. "For you it's always like it was for me during the war and at Hogwarts. Life is simple, you love unconditionally, and the way you do that is protecting people you care about. Love is so easy for you, so easy to ask for and receive. You're a dog."

Potter kept petting him after that, and Draco was enjoying the feel of it, but that was probably the only thing in good conscience Draco could blame on his canine-ness.

The other things Potter was talking about, they were true.

But not because Draco was a dog.

Love had always been given and received by him; the things he did he did for family. Most of his friends he'd made before the age of five, the pure-blooded and the rich. However, after they'd learned his faults—that he was bossy often, crazy sometimes, obsessive always, and he theirs—that Vince was chronically obese and Greg chronically not much smarter than a post, that Pansy had less self respect than she should and Millie might be part goblin—he couldn't stop loving them. He couldn't stop any less than he could stop loving Mum, who clung too much and crippled his independence, and Dad who was always disappointed.

Draco saw now that his animosity towards Potter had often been jealousy, but that it is Potter who would be jealous of him, had he known the kind of love Draco received and gave so easily.

Somehow, the thought of Potter being jealous of him didn't afford the kind of satisfaction it once might have. This was—this was different, and now that he saw things this way, he couldn't stop and go back to seeing them the old way. He couldn't stop.

It was easy, so easy to love and show it and get it back in some form or other.

The only difficult part in all of it was stopping.

Eventually, Potter stopped petting him. He yawned and went upstairs to bed.

Draco was left alone.

* * *

That was also the night Harry and Draco started sleeping together.

There was a big storm, the likes of which London rarely saw—rocking winds and loud cracks of thunder. Draco had never thought much of storms either way; he liked the fresh coolness of them, and hated the inconvenience of them.

The Dog Brain, on the other hand, made him terrified of them.

The thunder must've awakened Potter, or else he'd never gone to sleep after his minor breakdown. Soon enough, Draco heard Potter moving about in the kitchen. "Hey, Black, want some?" he called, but Draco was too busy taking refuge under his chair again.

Potter wasn't making it any better, banging around as he was. "Black? Where are you, boy?"

It was not unusual, Potter being up in the middle of the night, making a snack for them to share. Draco had always had a sleeping problem too—not like Potter's, obviously, because Potter was an insane insomniac, but anyway being a dog hadn't changed Draco's night time habits.

It'd only changed just how scary thunder was.

Lassie would be ashamed of his behavior, Draco remonstrated with himself.

No effect. Thunder was still very scary.

Finally, Potter came in the parlor and found Draco crouching under the chair.

"Hey, you're under there again," Potter said, because he still had to state the obvious even when Draco was obviously in fear for his very life.

But instead of kneeling and trying to coax Draco out from under the chair, Potter stood there, still, saying nothing.

Finally Draco looked up, curiosity overcoming cowardice.

That often happened when Potter was around.

"You were under there earlier tonight," because Potter insisted on carrying on. "Does that mean . . . I was as scary as the thunder is?"

Also, Potter was a complete solipsist.

"You're not . . . you're not still scared of me, are you?"

He probably didn't even know people other than himself existed in the world.

"Because of what I said?" Potter pressed. "I know you could understand me."

Well, okay, maybe he noticed the sky was blue every once in a while.

"I would never hurt you." Potter's voice had that same unused hoarseness, the kind that meant he was speaking from deep within, deep within that place he thought Voldemort still lived, because it was as hard and untouched and lonely as Tom Riddle had ever been.

Draco took it back. Potter was stupid, and didn't know the sky was blue.

Draco came out and licked his hand.

Potter smiled, slowly, still standing very still. "You can come upstairs." The hoarseness was gone; he was almost laughing. "I promise to protect you. Now that's something I'm good at."

It was, Draco realized, hating Potter being right and also Potter being good at anything. It was why Potter had been such a success, so lauded, such a hero during Hogwarts and the war. And why he was such a miserable failure after, all for lack of something to protect.

Draco was the opposite. Witness his family when Voldemort was alive, Pansy being haunted and harassed after he was dead, Draco's failure with the not-Dementor. He was no good at keeping anyone safe.

But he was good at other things.

There was more than one way to save someone.

Draco couldn't sigh, because he was a dog. He followed Potter up the stairs and into bed.

The next morning, once Potter was ready to go to work, he looked down at Draco with regret.

Draco could read him instantly. I had to listen to you pour out your heart whinging half the night, and then we slept together, and Potter you kick—all that and I still don't get a walk? What's a dog got to do?

Draco barked reproachfully.

Potter paused, mouth open to tell Draco there wasn't time. "Tell you what," Potter said.

And then he Side-Alonged Draco to his private investigations office.

That morning, Pansy, Millie, and Greg came to hire Potter to find Draco Malfoy.

x.

5.

x.

As they worked together, spying on the Muggle-born Martyrs and tracking the not-Dementor, Draco realized something had changed. Maybe it was Potter finally speaking about those things of which he'd never spoken, even if he'd only spoken them to a dog. Or maybe it was because Draco was a dog that Potter felt he could trust him. Potter was afraid of himself, of Voldemort inside him or what Voldemort had made him, or worst of all, what he had always been. But with Draco, he had shared the truth, and could be free.

Or maybe it was just that Draco understood all this, and finally understood Potter in the bargain.

Either way, they were no longer strictly a man and his dog.

There was that once Potter had asked whether Black was an Animagus. Draco hadn't let on that he understood, but not just because he'd wanted to be undercover, so he could stay with Potter and track the not-Dementor.

He also feared Potter would treat him differently, more like he had Draco Malfoy, and less like he had Black. Even being treated like Ginny Weasley or the Lovebottoms, even getting treated like Ron Weasley or Granger, who had lives of their own of which Potter could no longer be the center, would feel . . . less, somehow. Because Potter couldn't be himself with them, couldn't be this with them.

Potter tried the spell to turn Animagi human, and other spells on Draco. None of these worked, as Draco had long suspected they wouldn't. As he had also long suspected, Potter seemed content with Draco being a dog.

That . . . was different. Lucius had loved him, of course. But he'd always thought Draco would be more than he was now, too.

But even if Potter thought of Draco as a dog, in some ways they were not man and pet, possession and master at all.

Draco could blame following Potter home on the Dog Brain, but not what had happened afterward. Especially not what had happened after Potter had revealed himself, that night of the storm, and they had slept together, close and warm and content in the knowledge of each other. Because from there on out, Draco hadn't been staying because of the Dog Brain. He hadn't even been staying to get information about the not-Dementor.

He'd been staying because Potter needed him, Potter needed someone, and this—this dog was the only one he could talk to, the only one who understood, the only one who would follow him, follow him anywhere . . .

In some ways they were Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, more than they ever could have been in school, in their own bodies, in their own preconceived opinions and prejudices.

More than they ever could have been in truth.

Suffer, the not-Dementor had said.

Suffer precisely that.

* * *

Once Potter found out from his witness, Mrs. Figg, that the Muggle-born Martyrs were controlling it, the not-Dementor was not so hard to find.

It was in the new meeting-house of the Muggle-born Martyrs, which turned out, not so very surprisingly, to be Perseus' Pernicious Potions. It was one of the Martyrs who had hired Potter to investigate the place. The Capulets had been a pure-blood family the Martyrs were intent on destroying. In some way that was alright, considering all the Capulets' misuse of snails and certain puppy-dog tails, but the Capulets had never perpetrated any specific wrong-doing against the Martyrs. The Martyrs just wanted all pure-blood families wiped out or behind bars.

"This is where I found you," Potter whispered, as they crossed the threshold.

Draco was just about to give a low sound that meant, Don't treat me like an idiot and I'll let you tag along; of course I remember where you found me, and also, I would've escaped by myself. I have strong toenails!, but then he saw Potter's look.

Potter was afraid.

"I was angry," he was saying. "That the Capulets were using illegal substances, of course, but also the way the person who hired me for the case seemed out to get them. There weren't supposed to be blood feuds any more. And then I saw you, and—and something snapped."

Potter's jaw was clenched; Draco had never seen him look so hard, unapproachable. Terrifying, really, if not for him being a specky. For all that, Draco could see the truth: Potter was terrified.

"I cast Crucio on Capulet."

Always knew you were cuckoo for Crucio, Draco wanted to say, in a light voice, a touch to Harry's arm, a smile, just so he would stop looking like that, like something was going to end, right here, right now.

Then they found the not-Dementor.

Immediately, Potter cast his Patronus.

Draco braced himself. He'd encountered Potter's Patronus before. The silver stag had kept him up at nights, terrifying him into wakefulness. Even much later, when he had worse things to dream of at night than some wispy sliver of soul, Draco had thought of Potter's Patronus and shuddered. Those were the nights he had dreamed he could never find a feeling happy enough again to evoke anything as sleek and strong as the stag.

Only, the form that burst out the end of Potter's wand this night was not a stag.

The not-Dementor laughed, and it still sounded like the tinkling of bells, the laughing of children, the echo of all those feelings Draco had thought he was losing, those nights he tossed and turned in despair.

"What are you?" Potter demanded, as Draco had not been able to when he had faced the not-Dementor alone.

"You might be asking yourself that question." The not-Dementor sounded like singing.

Potter was actually stepping toward the thing. Draco hung back. "We already know you try to turn people into what they fear."

"Do I?" The not-Dementor looked pointedly at Draco.

Potter was about to continue, when he paused, looking from Draco to the not-Dementor. "Yes," he said, after blinking between them once.

"Not what they fear," the not-Dementor corrected, after another long moment of silence. "What they are, the truth of them."

"Where is Draco Malfoy?" Potter asked, cutting to the chase, ignoring the not-Dementor's riddles.

Draco tucked his tail between his legs.

"Who is Draco Malfoy," the not-Dementor corrected. "He was surprised to find out. Imagine learning you never have the stuff to be the leader of the pack. That you'll always find a wolf to follow, that you're the beta to the alpha, that you'll roll over and show your belly when he comes anywhere near to standing over you. That you'll pant and whine and remain loyal to the very end, just for the very possibility of a bit of demonstrative love."

For some reason Potter looked down at Draco.

Lassie, Draco thought very hard. Lassie, Lassie, Lassie. What would Rin Tin Tin do?

Potter began to shake his head. "You're wrong," he said, looking back to the not-Dementor. "We already are what we are."

That's it, Potter; stick to what you know, Draco thought, in his own frantic bubble of shame, fear, and tail-tucking. Tautological phrases; there's a good fellow.

Godric Gryffindor's legendary sword was probably a phony. His real weapon had been his finger, jabbed emphatically into a dictionary over and over again, thereby evidencing his enemies into submission.

Amidst everything going on, the thought was vaguely comforting. He would tell Potter that, about Godric's stupid finger, if he ever got out of this alive. And human.

And Potter not hating him forever for who he really was.

"I ask again," the not-Dementor said. "Do you know who you really are?"

For some inexplicable reason Potter was looking down at Draco again. "Yes," he said, very firmly, not taking his eyes off Draco. "I know who I really am."

"The truth," the not-Dementor began.

"It's not the truth, what goes on inside," Potter cut it off. "Our inner thoughts, our secrets, desires—they're not the truth. They're not who we are. We're what we show to the world, our actions."

And Potter had to believe that, Draco realized. He had to believe it or go mad.

It had something to do with Voldemort under a chair or something, or Potter under the stairs; Draco hadn't really understood which when Potter had spilled his guts that night.

It should have happened in a bathroom.

Potter had to believe he wasn't some monster he spoke of in his chest, that he was only his actions, the face he showed to the world. By that token, it wouldn't matter that Draco was in a dog's body. Or even that he had the Dog Brain. It wouldn't even matter if the Dog Brain was really Draco after all, if everything the not-Dementor said was true. Draco needing someone to follow, needing to prove himself, needing to attack when threatened, to submit when a hand was laid on him, when his name was called—those things wouldn't matter.

All that would matter was what he did right now.

The not-Dementor was laughing again. "Perhaps. Perhaps you only fear what you may find—your inner thoughts, your secrets . . .your desires." He used Potter's own words back on him.

"What are yours?" Potter asked suddenly, turning the tables once again.

For a moment, Draco was sure the not-Dementor wasn't going to answer, as it had not before. But then it said, mocking, "I am my inner thoughts. My secrets, my desires."

"Dementors don't have those things." Potter, Draco saw, was not just chatting to pass the time. He was looking for a way in, a weakness. "They're empty—spirits, demons."

"Vacuums," the not-Dementor said, in correcting mode again. "Soul collectors. But what happens when you try to collect the soul of a vessel whose soul has already gone—splintered into pieces?"

"Voldemort," Potter breathed.

And it was that simple. The Dementor had tried to Kiss Voldemort, but finding Voldemort empty, the Kiss had worked in reverse. Since the Dementor had no soul to be sucked, though, what had been sucked out of the Dementor was the Dementor's own brand of happiness, the Dementor's reason for existence: the Dementor's own emptiness. Without it, it could not Kiss, already too full to pull more souls in. Nor could it remain entirely unfeeling, unaffected by the souls inside, the love and lives it had taken.

"You're alive," Potter breathed.

The not-Dementor flinched.

"You're what you fear." Potter was on a roll, now. "You're us."

"I was no one." The sound of the not-Dementor's voice was still joyous, but also violent now, euphoric. These were the cries of lovers. "He made me everyone!"

"I know something about that." Unbelievably, Potter moved closer. "I can help."

"You? You're going to change me?" The not-Dementor laughed. "Just as he did?"

"No," Potter breathed.

"In fact, you are him, aren't you?"

The not-Dementor's arm was rising.

Draco barked.

"Come, Potter," the not-Dementor said. "Become what you are. You're the only one in the room who hasn't"

Potter looked at Draco in dawning confusion, and Draco leapt.

Draco would've liked to have believed later it was all because the not-Dementor was going to tell Potter who he really was, and Draco couldn't have that. Oh, and also it was all because that the not-Dementor had made him this way in the first place and maybe if he got a little rough with these acquired incisors, the not-Dementor would change its mind and switch Draco back.

Maybe it was something Potter had said, about being your actions, and Draco really just did it to prove he was not a coward. He could protect the ones he loved, when it mattered . . . even if finally proving it—it was Potter he was protecting, which meant Potter was the one he—

But it was really reflex, as thoughtless and uncontrolled as the Dog Brain. Draco saw not-Dementor's arm rise, and knew Potter was in danger. So Draco instantly reacted, propelled by the instinct of that dog-loyalty, that dog-duty, that dog-devotion.

What was so horrible about it was Draco at last knew: whatever it was that made him chase squirrels and want to hump legs and afraid of storms, it was not this. This—this dogged loyalty, duty, devotion—this was not some Dog Brain. It was all him.

Potter was howling.

Not for the first time, Draco wondered why Potter didn't have to be the dog. He would have rolled his eyes mid-leap if he could.

"Avada Kedavra!"

And Draco landed upon a robe and cloak full of mostly nothing but echoes of happy sounds, and it might be useful because he was naked.

The not-Dementor was gone. Potter had killed it.

And it dying had broken the spell, and turned Draco human (and naked. Naked!) again.

Meanwhile Harry Potter was Voldemort.

All at once, Draco realized what Harry had been so afraid of, when they had walked into this building and Harry had told him he was cuckoo for Crucio. The not-Dementor made you what you most feared you were.

And Harry feared becoming Voldemort.

Maybe the not-Dementor, in its dying moment, had changed Harry, the way it had changed Draco and other pure-bloods. Or maybe in destroying the not-Dementor's chances of ever changing anything again, Harry had changed himself.

Harry was curled in on himself, rocking where he'd collapsed after casting the curse, horrible, hoarse noises nothing like crying coming from his throat. He reminded Draco very much of what Potter had described had been in the dream he'd had after Voldemort had tried to kill him in the Forbidden Forest: the baby Voldemort in King's Cross.

Draco knew he should run away. He had learned in the war that once someone started throwing the Killing Curse around, running was pretty much the only way to stay alive.

But it was just as instinctive as leaping for the not-Dementor had been, and just as impossible to blame on any Dog Brain.

Draco walked over there and wrapped himself around Harry, just as Potter had often done around the tight, warm ball of Draco's dog form, a knot of muscle and hair and slobber. Harry was just as warm and wiry as Draco had been those nights. He was probably slobbery, too, but he was not Voldemort.

"You're not," Draco told him over and over again. "It's not the truth, only your fear. Stop, you're not, I know who you are, you're Harry. Harry," he said, over and over again.

Harry stayed tightly wound around himself, though he stopped rocking, stopped making those hideous sounds. He seemed to be trying to listen to Draco's voice, but occasionally he was still rocked by a convulsion of—something else, something Draco could feel go all the way through him.

Harry's eyes were changing colors, from Slytherin green to Voldemort red.

For a moment, Draco had to close his own eyes. He may not be flattering himself that he was the Dark Lord—Potter never was humble at all, was he?—but it was hard to face who he was, too. Everything could not just go back to as it had been. He couldn't be the same person who hated Potter, disdained him, would laugh at him or run from him in his condition. He had to think with—with the Dog Brain.

What was shocking was how easy it was. It was an instinct, a part of him—loyalty, for those few he chose to . . . chose to love.

"It's gone," he told Harry. "It couldn't turn you into your worst fear, you're not him, the curses break with its death, see, I'm back to—to—this is me."

That finally seemed to catch Potter's attention. His head jerked up; his eyes were an eerie shade of green. "Black?"

Draco had to look away. He still didn't want to face it.

But, "yes," he said quietly, and couldn't take it back, either.

"I—I—can't," Potter was saying, and his eyes were going red again. "I can't stop it."

Draco's voice was quick and quiet. "You're not him."

"I cast the Killing Curse." Potter sounded full of self-loathing. "I've never—never—"

"Never?"

"No."

"Of course," Draco said, and held him tighter.

"Not even when I—when he was defeated." Potter was babbling, and of course just repeating things everyone already knew.

He could tell him about Godric's dictionary, now, Draco thought, and stroked Potter's hair.

"I couldn't use it on him," Potter explained. "I thought it would make me—make me him—this—"

"You're not him," Draco said again. Very patiently, he thought. He shouldn't be surprised. He was patient with Greg and Millie and Pansy and Mum, too. "You're not him," he repeated, voice harder, less automatic. "So you can cast the Killing Curse." He tried not to stumble over the words. "Lots of people who are good can."

"Not—"

"Molly Weasley."

"But—"

"Albus Dumbledore."

"You don't think those people are—"

"Severus Snape."

With a final shudder, the convulsions ceased. "Snape," Harry said wonderingly, and lifted his head. His eyes were a conclusive, luminescent green. "He did it for love. Did you know that?"

Mutely, Draco shook his head.

Harry's eyes abruptly focussed. "Malfoy?"

Draco watched Harry's face. Saw it move through a series of expressions, from confusion to curiosity to disbelief to that final, damning look, the one Draco had been so sure in school had been reserved especially for him. The, 'what's this on my shoe?' look, the 'oh it's you look,' the 'can I even be bothered to despise you?' look, the one that made Potter say aloud, "Where did you come from?"

Draco wrenched away.

"Wait!" Potter called, scrambling up after him.

But Draco was already Disapparating.

* * *

The press had a field day, of course.

Mostly, it was a result of what got leaked about the Muggle-born Martyrs, by—most probably—the Muggle-born Martyrs. They were seeking to clear their names a bit. Yes, they had discovered the not-Dementor and its extraordinary abilities, and yes, they had planned to use it against those who had acted against them in the war, but it was meant to be all fun and games. Turn that one into a Squib here; turn this one into a dog there. Look at what happened with Draco Malfoy; wasn't it a good tale?

Or tail, as the joke went.

But the not-Dementor, of course, had turned on them. It had remade the Martyrs as it had remade the pure-bloods, as it had remade Draco: turned them into what they feared in a way they least expected. It had made their games violent. It had broadened their reach to include anybody of a certain brand, blood type, name. It had made them into their own sort of neo-Death Eaters—that which they feared most.

Very well for them, Draco concluded, but he had been a dog for a month, his father was still dead, his mother insisted on talking to a ghost, to say nothing of the bird theme.

And he had leapt to save Potter. Thrown his arms around Potter to comfort him.

Naked.

Draco really couldn't decide which was worse: those four weeks as a dog or those four minutes as a man.

A naked man.

Draco had been changed, but not just into a dog. He'd learned things, both about himself and about who Potter really was. Meanwhile, Potter had only gotten to know a dog. He wouldn't see Draco any differently because of it. For all that he had that whole Voldemort-inside-of-him identity crisis, it wouldn't be Potter who came out of that experience and had to struggle with who he was now. Only Draco would come out of it a new man.

A new naked man.

The naked thing was really very worrisome.

Pansy, Millie, and Greg all made a field day of his adventures, too. Or anyway, Pansy would never let him live it down, she claimed because it was funny, but secretly Draco suspected she was hurt he hadn't been her dog, and was far too relieved he hadn't died to ever be serious about it again. Millie cried and hugged him and told him he was a stupid-head, which made everyone shuffle their feet and look at each other under lowered lids since Millie never cried or hugged, and her insults were usually unembarrassingly sharp and articulate.

Greg mostly couldn't get over how he had actually pet Draco. "Is it weird?" he kept asking.

"I was a dog," Draco kept saying—and then when Greg smiled, Draco glared, wondering if Greg just liked to hear about him being a dog. Speaking of alphas and betas.

This theory was borne out when Greg would follow up with things like, "Yeah, but you're not—you know—yelling at me. For petting you. You liked it. You're not trying to kill me, or anything."

"Just you wait," Draco breathed.

"And you watched those Muggle musicals," Greg added.

Draco was perturbed Greg had recognized the tune he'd breathed.

"You really liked behind the ears," Greg went on. "Here, boy," he said, and then he didn't have to wait for Draco to try to kill him.

Of course, Potter had to have a field day too. He showed up one day at the manor, as if Draco wasn't getting it rubbed in his face enough.

"It was you," Potter said, because of course, he had to state the obvious and tautological.

"Of course it was me," Draco said irritably.

Potter's eyes narrowed at Draco's tone. Which just went to show: they'd never had problems like this back when Draco was a dog, back when Potter had treated him like a human being, and Draco wasn't thinking about how ironic that was. "Of course?" Potter repeated. "You're the least likely—"

"I'm the most likely," Draco snapped. "I've seen you, Potter. I've seen you at your worst—"

"No one's seen me at my worst." Potter stepped closer. "You have no idea, the things I'm capable of. I'm—I'm a—this monster," he was trying to say.

"So you disemboweling me, that was just a lark." Draco scowled at Potter, who was close, now, and refused to move back.

"It was an accident," Potter breathed.

"Sure."

Potter's hand rose, slipping over Draco's chest, abdomen, the scars. Potter's other hand cupped Draco's neck, and it was so like many times Harry's hand had settled on his dog's back for Apparition, for a walk, for a serious round of petting and ear scratches and telly watching. Harry was touching him just like he had a dog and Draco really, really shouldn't be allowing it.

But he couldn't seem to stop it.

That tilt of the head into Harry's palm that was so instinctive—that had never been the Dog Brain.

Draco knew himself, now, but knew Potter too. He did know the things of which Harry Potter was capable. Draco had never been a friend; he had always been on Potter's bad side; he had seen the way Potter was toward Voldemort and Snape, and then there was the way Potter was towards him.

"Maybe I believe you," Draco said, jerking out of Potter's hands. "Maybe you didn't know what the spell did. But do you know, it doesn't matter? It's just like Crucio, any spell that really hurts someone: you have to mean it."

Potter frowned. "That can't be it. I didn't want to hurt you."

Draco melted a little.

"I didn't care enough to hurt you."

Draco froze back up. "Thanks."

Looking frustrated, Potter tried to backtrack. "I didn't say that hadn't changed," he pleaded.

"Oh, so you care enough about me to do me serious damage now, is that it?"

Potter blinked for a while. Then he started to smile, which caused Draco to scowl. "I was just thinking," Potter said. "How Black—how you would be looking at me now. If you were—the dog again, I mean. And it—it makes sense. He was always so sarcastic."

Draco was still scowling. "Of course it makes sense. That's what I've been telling you. The whole world, it thinks you're a hero. And all your little friends—well, they know what's wrong with you, but you really try with them. Me, you've never cared enough to show anything but your worst. So I know. I know who you really are, not the face you put on for the world. I'm might've just as well been changed into your glasses, your mirror. Because I see you all the time, the parts that no one else sees. Of course I'd be your dog."

"You don't have to say it like that." Potter's voice was going hoarse again. "I cared about—I care about you."

"About a dog!" Draco was pacing, now, a horrible habit he had picked up from Boy Wonder.

Possibly he was also shouting.

"You were a dog," Potter said.

Shouting was necessary when people insisted on never commenting on anything but that which was right in front of their faces.

"Oh, sure, and you liked it." Draco gesticulated wildly, which caused Potter to look badly startled.

Well, good. Hand-waving was also called for, in all probability.

Draco continued gesticulating. "Someone following you all the time, doing everything you said, getting their slobbering adoration all of you. You're used to that; you'd think you'd want something new."

"You were!" Potter shouted back. "You were also you! I mean—that chasing squirrels thing, that wasn't you, but the things I loved—I loved the way you wouldn't let me get away with being an idiot, the way you listened when I talked—"

"What was I going to do, bark?"

"You listened." Potter edged closer, and his voice took on that tone, that particular tone that was stiff and commanding but only because he was too awkward to be entreating half the time. "You're going to listen to me now."

Draco looked away, because he was.

"You were in a dog's body, but you always had a human mind. I think I always knew it, somewhere deep down, but I didn't want to face it. I knew I would screw up with a man. I thought I had a chance with a dog."

"Alright. Sure." Draco's voice was scathing. "I'll just pop right back to being a dog again, and go chase squirrels."

"No. I—I got pretty good with you, didn't I? By the end it was almost like we were . . . friends." He kept right on going over Draco's squawked protest. "Now I'm ready. To try humans again, I think."

"To try what?" Draco demanded. "You forget, Potter; you don't know anything about me. You know a dog. If you think I'm going to trot around and—"

"I don't want you to trot around," Potter cut him off. "I didn't, when you were—when you were Black. I wanted a—a friend. Someone to take care of, but who would also take care of me. And you did."

"I'm not—"

"I know you," Potter interrupted. "I know the worst of you, just like you know the worst of me, too. But I also know the best of you. You attacked that Dementor thing to save me, did you realize?"

"Not-Dementor."

"What?"

Draco rolled his eyes.

For a moment, Potter was silent. "I know you wanted to do that a thousand times with human eyes," he said quietly. "I knew every time you were annoyed with me, every time you were making fun of me." He stepped closer.

Really, he knew nothing about personal space.

Of course, the bloke also slept with a dog in his bed.

He was obviously unhygienic and weird and wrong about everything.

"I also knew the times when you—you sort of liked me," Potter finished.

Everything.

"And when you—when you turned back human—" Potter was very very close. "I know who you are. You're Draco. Draco," he breathed, "you put your arms around me."

Naked.

"Go away," Draco said.

Potter's expression was so earnest it should have been disturbing. "Why?"

Because Draco had seen Potter's every vulnerable moment, seen Potter's handicaps and failures, his dismal interactions with human beings, his failure, even, with a dog. He'd seen Potter's friends have to guide him into keeping it, taking care of it, even loving it. He'd seen Potter at his weakest and most private, and still Draco felt like the vulnerable one.

"Because I don't want you to see me," Draco said, and kicked Potter out.

* * *

Draco had been Potter's dog for four weeks, and with him as a human directly afterwards for four minutes.

It took four days of Potter being a bird for any sort of resolution to be reached.

Of course Potter's Animagus form would be a bird; it was the thrice-blasted avian theme at work again, and Draco knew it as soon as the blackbird arrived with his morning owl and the Prophet. With an article titled, 'MALFOY MUTT PINING FOR POTTER, PRIVATE EYE?'

"I'm not exactly daft like you," Draco told the bird. "I'm not going to live with an obviously sapienly sentient animal flapping about my household, and pretend it isn't human."

Potter made a squawking chirp sound, and hopped about on the sitting-room side table.

"I know it's you, Potter. Go on. Shoo."

But Potter wouldn't leave.

Draco remembered all the horrible things he thought he would have told Potter, had their situations been reversed when he was a dog—if Draco had been his normal self, and Potter had had to be the pet. Potter would have been witness to many private moments in which Draco enumerated everything he disliked about Potter and thought was stupid.

Actually, Draco thought he might have kept those lists somewhere.

"And," he added, many hours later, flipping through some old notebooks from school, "you really do stink, and Diggers really was the Hogwarts Champion. It's true; there's this odor about you. Sort of . . . seedy.

"Come to think of it, I suppose your natural affinity for the giant chicken was entirely due to your inherent avian qualities. Don't let's deny it, Potter. You and your feathered friend communed over your shared—I don't know—head bobbing tendencies while I, innocent I, was left to get mauled by that creature.

"And let's not forget your abnormal, girly fainting at the sight of a Dementor," Draco went on, very purposely ignoring the irony any mention of Dementors should have brought forth.

This was lambaste Potter time, not to be disturbed by logic.

It was only fair.

"And you cook bacon badly," Draco went on. "And you kick in your sleep, and your room is appalling, and you should have taken down old lady Black; she only yelled at us and was loud and obnoxious and made you miss Sir—" Draco cut himself off.

Potter, meanwhile, was nesting in Draco's hair. When Draco swatted him away, he nested among the old school papers Draco had dragged out, with all the lists of Potter's horrible qualities, drawings of Potter's horrible scar, horrible people Potter knew, horrible wardrobe choices Potter made, risk Potter took, rules Potter broke, Potter Potter Potter.

He may not have filled his home with Quidditch trophies and Prophet articles, but Potter seemed to rather relish building camp in the hollow, empty remnants of Draco's hate.

Potter also liked to sit on Draco's shoulder, and nip Draco's ear, and peck the gentlest of pecks at Draco's temple when annoyed. He liked to cock his head to listen whenever Draco talked, and harass the peacocks just as Draco had done when he was young, and fly before him on Draco's long walks around Malfoy grounds.

They were on one such walk, when Draco stopped and Potter cocked his head. Draco was busy planning how to ditch Potter and prevent him from somehow finding his way inside the manor again, but there were only so many chimneys you could block. And Potter was sitting there so patiently, so inquisitive, that Draco finally burst out, "I know what you're trying to do. I know what you're doing, and it's not the same!

"You didn't know it was me. It was different. When I was—before, when I was--with you—you saw me. You didn't know it was me, and you saw me."

"I don't know how much more of myself I can show you," came Harry's voice.

Draco's head jerked up, and Harry was there, finally, the man, open and waiting for Draco.

And naked, Draco's brain supplied helpfully.

"Is this what you have to see?" Potter asked.

It doesn't really hurt, Draco supposed.

Potter came towards him, slow and lithe and tall and warm, Draco felt, as arms slipped around him. "Or was it this?"

Draco stayed very still. Birds would sometimes land in your hands if you made no sudden movements.

No, really, he'd read it in a book somewhere. They thought you were trees or something.

Draco's spine was stiff, very branch like.

"You put your arms around me," Potter said, as he had once before. "You showed me who I was. Let me show you."

"How?" Draco felt his branch-like posture quavering. I'm a tree; I'm a tree; I'm a tree! he thought determinedly. "How can you, when you don't even know—"

He stopped because Harry Potter was kissing him.

It was warm and sort of wet, and Draco fleeting wondered one last time why he had had to be the dog if Harry was going to be slobbery. Then he thought about Harry, about working on cases chasing down culprits with him, about the evenings spent in quiet meals, mornings in long, misty walks, about Harry warm beside him in the bed and crying out in his nightmares because even if he was the hero that everyone worshipped, Draco saw the man hidden from the rest of them, the man that feared himself above all the rest.

Draco's hands were on Harry's shoulders, his hips, all that bare, warm skin, and for all that Draco had so easily loved and been loved all his life, he never thought he'd have this. Not from this person, not in this way.

Harry's lips were closed over his own, his tongue darting out to taste the corner of Draco's mouth, before they were gone.

"That's for all the times you licked my face," Harry pointed out.

Draco swayed. "You don't know me," he at last got out finally. "You think I'm a dog. You think—"

"I think you're afraid," Harry said firmly. "I've spent these past five years thinking I might be someone else, that something terrible might be living in my head."

"That's not who you are," Draco said automatically.

"I know," Harry said. "You showed me. Now let me show you."

Draco caught his breath. "I'm sure I have plenty to see," he said, and kissed Harry back.