Disclaimer: Anything that you recognise from the books is not mine. Pity though, because if I owned Draco Malfoy, he wouldn't be playing second fiddle to Potter all the time.

A/N: This was written before OoTP was released.

Those You Left To Fall

The seventh year Potions class was interrupted by the arrival of Professor McGonagall.

"You're required at the gates," she said solemnly, before exchanging glances with Professor Snape, who left the classroom with her.

Briskly, the seventh year Gryffindors packed their books; some of them simply left their books where they were. Harry Potter was one of the latter.

"Not packing your books, Harry?" Hermione questioned, clutching hers to her chest.

He shrugged.

"Doesn't make a difference," he replied flippantly. "If we live, we'll come back to lessons; if we don't, then I guess someone will clear our books for us."

Hermione adjusted her robes compulsively, uncomfortable at Harry's blunt remark.

"Come on," Ron broke in, "the battle isn't going to wait."

Somewhere along the line, Ron had come to play arbitrator between Harry and Hermione at times nowadays.

The trio fell into step right at the back of the group of Gryffindors, proceeding up to Gryffindor Tower. On their way, they passed the seventh year Hufflepuffs; all remaining four of them.

The seventh year boys' dorm was quiet as Harry, Ron, Dean and Seamus walked in. The other three put their books away while Harry looked out the window.

A large dark mass could be seen on the horizon in the distance.

"They're coming again," he murmured to himself.

Ever since the end of their fifth year, a full-out war between the sides of Dark and Light had been brewing.

When their sixth year had begun, the Slytherin table was half-empty.

That night, aside from the first years, the rest of the school were very sombre, occasionally casting glances at the Slytherin table.

That night, Harry remembered looking up, and catching Draco Malfoy's eyes.

What Draco had done then had somewhat unnerved him; he still remembered it in full detail.

§§§

Draco Malfoy was one of the few Slytherin sixth years who'd returned.

Crabbe sat on his left, but Goyle was absent. As was Pansy. And Blaise.

Harry watched as Draco mechanically pushed food into his mouth and swallowed, not saying a word to any of his fellow Slytherins, who for their own part, were just as silent.

The pale boy then reached for his goblet, and stopped. He looked up, feeling Harry's gaze on him.

Their eyes met. Draco looked away after a while, glancing at the empty half of his own House table. Then he met Harry's gaze again, and all the way across the Great Hall, Harry felt the emotions pouring out of Draco's cold, silver-grey eyes.

There was the animosity that he was used to receiving from Draco; sadness, which up till then, he wasn't aware that Draco was capable of feeling; and…an accusing look, which he didn't understand.

§§§

Draco had not returned to Hogwarts after the Christmas holidays in sixth year, and neither had the rest of the Slytherin fourth years and upwards.

When seventh year began, everyone knew that war was now inevitable.

At the start-of-term feast, the Slytherin table had been completely empty. The Sorting Hat did not sort anyone into Slytherin. When the Sorting Ceremony had ended, the Slytherin table had still been glaringly empty.

Everyone had taken this to mean that Voldemort was now massing his forces, and had been for quite some time, even recruiting children, which would explain why Slytherin had no first years…

Those that would have been sorted into Slytherin had not even come to Hogwarts.

Slytherin House had been disbanded.

The start-of-term notices had included an announcement that Hogsmeade visits were now no longer allowed; an almost dire predilection of things to come, for they had only been a month into the new school year before Hogsmeade was razed to the ground by Dark Forces.

After that, one day, the fifth, sixth and seventh years of all the remaining Houses were called down to the Great Hall, interrupting their classes.

Dumbledore had received word that a Dark army was marching on Hogwarts. Marching, because quite a few of their number were young ("about your age" had been his exact words), and had not learned how to Apparate yet.

§§§

"I need you to help us defend Hogwarts. You will be going into battle with the Dark army when they arrive here later today…and I want all of you to be prepared." He nodded at Professor Snape.

Snape brought forth a long, plain, wooden box, which he set upon the Staff table.

"Step forth, each of you, and hold your hand out over the box. A weapon worthy of you shall present itself."

Silence.

Harry finally got up first and walked up to the Staff table. His hand reached over the shallow oblong box-

And a ruby-encrusted sword hilt that he recognised flew into his hand, out of the box.

"The sword of Gryffindor becomes you, Harry," Dumbledore smiled at him faintly.

Harry remained silent as he walked back to his seat at the Gryffindor table; Ron passed him on his way up to the Staff table.

Metal was soon shining everywhere in the Great Hall; Ron had received a pair of long knives whose hilts were each set with a large sapphire, while Hermione had an enchanted bow and quiver. The quiver was self-replenishing, while the bow was made of a supple, milk-white wood; if aimed correctly, it never missed its target.

"Your attention please," Dumbledore spoke again. "I must ask you to remember…I am most sorry to say this, but you will be facing some of your old schoolmates." Here, he glanced at Snape, whose expression remained stoic. Some of the students looked over at the disused former Slytherin table.

"You will now return to your house dormitories, and your Head of House will let you know when it is time."

§§§

That first battle…

§§§

"What if we see people whom we know out there? What if we see…I don't know, maybe Malfoy out there, Harry? We're just supposed to kill him?"

"I guess that's the point of the weapons, Ron."

Pause.

"I really hate Malfoy's guts, but I've never wanted to kill him. Cause humiliation or serious bodily pain, yes, but kill him, no."

"Malfoy might not feel the same way. Remember that." He paused. "Just stay alive, okay, Ron?"

"You too, Harry."

The fourth years and lower were in the house dorms as the older students and the staff stood at the school gates. The Dark army appeared, and then loomed steadily larger as they drew nearer.

They stopped, ten metres of space between the two sides.

Voldemort was there.

Harry scanned the faces and found almost all the Slytherin students.

Pansy. Crabbe. Goyle. Blaise. Even Marcus Flint was there. Senior Crabbe and Goyle. Millicent Bulstrode. Lucius Malfoy.

And Draco Malfoy stood right in front, on Voldemort's right.

Like that night in the Great Hall a year ago, he and Harry stared at each other.

The accusing look was there in Draco's stare again.

And Harry suddenly realised that even after slightly more than a year…he still hadn't figured out why Draco stared at him in that way.

§§§

That had been in late October last year.

In that first battle, they lost Neville. Justin Finch-Fletchley and three other Hufflepuffs as well.

It didn't stop there, though.

Voldemort kept coming; it was all just a game to him, Harry soon realised.

Voldemort could kill them all, both sides, if he wished, but all this bloodshed only served to mentally and emotionally break those who opposed him. And all the blood that was shed for his sake only strengthened and further empowered him.

More battles. More victims.

The Patil twins fell in the same battle. Next, Hannah Abbot. Lavender Brown. Two sixth year Ravenclaws. Three sixth year Gryffindors. Five fifth year Hufflepuffs.

In the middle of January, Ron admitted to being the one who'd killed Gregory Goyle in their most recent battle. But he'd received no pleasure whatsoever out of doing it.

§§§

"I'll say the same thing that I said about Malfoy. I hated him. But I've never wanted to kill him."

"It's a war, Ron-"

"That doesn't justify anything, Harry! We went to school with these people! I know that we never liked them much, but we knew them once; we knew these people! And now we're out there slaughtering each other, refusing to acknowledge that we were once a part of each other's everyday lives!

"None of us wants to admit that this War is a large-scale version of those schoolyard fights that we used to pick all over school three years ago. D'you know why, Harry? It's because some of us know that this is final. There're no teachers to come along and stop it, and when one of us falls this time, the loser won't get up and glare at the other person and stalk off, silently cursing and swearing a rematch.

"This time, the one that falls won't get up. And we don't want to think of these…'enemies' as people that we once knew, because a normal day in our lives once included them. We used to talk about everything we loved to do to them, everything we planned to get back, because we were so sure that they'd always be there. But we can't have that normalcy anymore, can we?

"Normalcy is laughing in our faces because we can't get it back. So this is what we do: erase all thoughts of those we called schoolmates, and run out there on a battlefield to kill all those who remind us of what our life was like in the past; killing them, and at the same time, hoping to kill off the reminders of days when a face-off with them wouldn't have been fatal."

§§§

Maybe Ron really was smarter than he let on.

§§§

"We didn't start this."

"No. We didn't. But others before us did, and the War is only the end result of it all; the result of something that we've ignored and left to simmer for a very long time.

"I saw the look that Malfoy gave you back then.

"Don't you ever wonder why he looks like he's accusing you of something, Harry? Because we are guilty, you know. All the Gryffindors, Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, even those before our time, and even the teachers, except perhaps Snape. We're all guilty of what Malfoy's accusing us of. If you haven't figured out what our crime is yet, then think; I spent a month puzzling over it, anyway."

§§§

"Let's go," Dean Thomas said as he took his crossbow off the wall beside his bed.

Harry slid off the windowsill and made to follow.

"Ron." Harry caught his friend's arm and held him back.

"I know. 'Stay alive'."

It was late March. Plants were just beginning to turn green again.

Students and teachers gathered at the gates.

The Dark Army amassed themselves before them; many of the Slytherins that Harry recognised were still among them. Still teenagers.

Ron sighed.

"We're all-"

"'-too young for this'," Harry finished for him. "I know. 'Victims of circumstance'."

Silence.

"The Slytherins are victims too, Harry. Ours."

"Getting a bit bloodthirsty, I see."

"We forced them to this…" Ron trailed off and Harry gave him a bewildered stare, which he did not notice.

"Here we go."

The charge.

From a standoff, both sides rushed at each other, the distance between them closing, fast.

Metal rang as both sides met, light reflected off blades and knives, screams of the dead and dying and injured…

Harry wished that he could be somewhere else.

An arrow shot past him; buried itself in the throat of an unknown wizard sneaking up on him.

"Mind your back, Harry," Hermione said tersely as she turned her attention elsewhere.

He noted that the side of her face was already smeared with blood.

Not her own.

And not for the first time, he wondered what they were doing.

They were not even adults yet, and each and every one of them was bathed in blood and sweat; their hands and weapons had tasted the blood of many, and each time, only seemed to scream for more… Harry prayed that the day would never come when he couldn't stop killing.

'We're victims of circumstance,' Ron's voice sounded in the back of his head.

It was what Ron had said when they had returned from their first battle many months ago; Ginny had been crying then at all the blood on her hands, on her face, all over her robes…

Harry had thought it reasonable then, when he'd first heard his best friend say it.

Why did it sound more and more like an excuse now, with each passing day?

One more slash of his sword; one more body at his feet.

He stumbled backwards; felt his back bump against the trunk of a tree.

Looking up, he found the tree completely bare of leaves.

And vaguely, the question crossed his mind: had all the blood soaking the earth killed the tree?

More unknown wizards ran at him, swinging their weapons. A part of him was glad that he didn't know them; he doubted that he would be able to kill them if they were Slytherins that he'd known.

'Like Ron killed Goyle…'

And briefly, he wondered if Life did flash before one's eyes before Death; if Goyle had seen all the bullying that he done; if he'd thought it his come-uppance to die at Ron's hands… if he'd had enough time to think it was the end as the knife slid across his jugular.

He felled the one whom he was engaged in a skirmish with, and suddenly found himself at the edges of the battle, looking in at all the bloodshed and chaos.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" a familiar voice spoke behind him softly.

Harry spun around.

"Malfoy."

The blond Slytherin was standing there, blood staining the hem of his dark green robes, a sword sheathed at his side. The silver-blond hair was a shade lighter than Harry remembered it to be; there was more silver in it now. And Malfoy's skin was even paler now; something that Harry had never thought biologically possible.

"Potter," Draco calmly returned the acknowledgement.

Silence between them.

Ringing metal, singing arrows and screams.

"Why aren't you making your move, Potter?"

"Why aren't you?"

Draco smiled at him. His usual, mocking smile.

"Have it your way, then," he said.

His right hand moved to his sword hilt; metal scraped against metal, ringing as the full length of Draco's sword emerged from the scabbard.

Draco raised the sword to his face; a salute, with a deft flick of the wrist and fingers holding the hilt just-so—elegant, aristocratic fingers that spoke of old money and older blood and breeding and discipline. His sharpened delicateness against Harry's determined firmness, clutching his sword in a spasming grip, armed with barely more than his instinct and courage.

"Your move, Potter."

Harry watched the other boy, and then lowered his gaze to the ground, calculating the distance between them.

Draco's sword lowered; the tip touched the ground.

"We were supposed to graduate this year," he mentioned casually.

"Yeah."

They fell silent again.

"You can still graduate. Come back to Hogwarts. They still intend to give us a formal graduation at the end of this year, Malfoy."

Draco smiled wryly and shook his head.

"No. I left that life a long time ago, Potter."

"It's only been a little over a year since you and the others left. You can still come back."

"No. Coming back to Hogwarts means defecting to your side. I'll never do that."

"Why not? I don't want to have to kill you, Malfoy. Look, Snape turned back; Snape returned-"

"Not all of us are Severus Snape." He paused. "Not all of us can forgive you," he sneered.

"'Forgive'?"

Draco said nothing.

'Don't you ever wonder why he looks like he's accusing you of something, Harry?

'We forced them to this…

'The Slytherins are victims…

'Ours.'

"What do you mean?"

Draco fixed him with a calm stare.

"You're the ones who pushed us away. Now you're trying to make us come back?" He smirked. "The irony of it all, Potter."

'We forced them to this…'

"I don't underst-"

"You rejected us."

"Who?"

"You. All the other students and teachers, except Snape. All of you. Rejected all the Slytherins. The minute that damned Hat screamed out 'Slytherin', all of us were condemned. Condemned as 'evil', 'dangerous', 'not to be consorted with'. All of you were so obsessed with your stereotypes that you never bothered to see that we were not everything that you stereotyped us as.

"Think, Potter. After the whole lot of you rejected us, Voldemort offered us everything that we wanted. He offered us power, revenge against those who rejected us, and most of all, acceptance. He took us in when you spurned us. If you were a Slytherin, you'd have accepted Voldemort as well."

Silence.

'The Slytherins are victims…'

Ron did understand more than he did.

'Ours.'

Harry groped for something…anything to say, to fill the incriminating silence.

"I'm sorry."

Draco laughed.

Harry looked up sharply, flinching at the harsh sound.

"What are you sorry for, Potter? Don't say sorry just for the sake of saying it, and don't say it just to make yourself feel better. It's useless now.

"All of you had so much time to save us, to turn us away from the path that we're on right now, but all of you were too self-righteous to even see it! Why wait all these years and apologise now?

"Why now when it's too late?"

"I never saw it before."

"Of course you didn't. All your stereotyping blinded you. But I'm here to tell you something else as well, Potter. I've had time to think, and I'm here to tell you exactly why all of you hate Slytherin House.

"It's all because those many years ago, a young man graduated from that house and became the first Dark Wizard. When that happened, everyone else reasoned that something must have been wrong in our house to make him turn out wrong. They shunned us.

"All because we were from the same house as the one who turned out wrong.

"But the reason why all of you hate us…is because we remind you that you failed. We remind you that you failed to save that one boy so many years ago; hundreds of you couldn't save one boy. And we remind you of the fact that you foolishly allowed that failure to perpetuate itself.

"What goes around, comes around, Potter. This war is just the 'comes around' bit. The 'goes around' bit is the part where every Slytherin who graduated told their children about what it was like here, hardened their children against the prejudice, and made their children come to expect the stereotype that they would be given if they were sorted into Slytherin house.

"That's how you allowed your failure to perpetuate. Now you have an entire house of lost souls.

"Why condemn us for crimes that we didn't commit? Have you heard of that Muggle saying, Potter? I'm sure you have. 'The sins of the father are not my own'… Why make so many generations of Slytherins suffer for the wrongs of one boy whom they never even knew?"

Draco inclined his head to the side. He slowly took two steps forward, his sword trailing on the ground after him.

"Did you hear what I said, Potter?" he spoke again, in a quieter tone. "It's your fault that we've turned out this way. It's your fault that things are this way. It's your fault that you're even fighting this war. Of course, when I say 'your', I mean everyone who considers themselves oh-so-upright."

Draco took one more step forward and laughed a soft, bitter laugh.

"You must've blamed this all on us. You're wrong. It's your fault, see?"

He looked past Harry and nodded in the direction of the main battlefield behind them. Harry turned to see what he was looking at, and then looked back at Draco as he spoke.

"See? All lost souls that you didn't care to save. You didn't care. No one cared about the 'wrong house'.

"And when we all started to fall to the Dark…there was no one to catch us."

His gaze moved back to Harry's face.

"Remember this, Potter. If you win this war, you'll have killed and condemned those that you unjustly wronged. And if you lose this war, remember that you only have yourselves to blame for your plight. Either way, there's innocent blood on all your hands."

Harry stood silently, taking all this in and realising how much truth there was in Draco's words.

Draco stepped closer. Till they were only a metre apart.

"Now that that's all said and done, I want you to kill me."

Harry's eyes snapped back into focus as he stared at Draco, shocked.

"Wha-… no. No, Malfoy. I can't-"

"I'm not asking you, Potter. I'm ordering you."

"No." He paused. "No," he said in a firmer voice.

"Yes. You probably don't know yet, but soon, I won't really exist anymore. The only reason why I was born was so that I could serve Voldemort's purpose later on in my life."

"What?"

"Voldemort's decided that his old body limits his power. He needs someone else's. Someone younger, a younger, more vibrant body, able to accommodate more power."

Harry stared.

"Oh, Merlin's-… What, you!"

Draco nodded succinctly.

"Why you, of all people? There're plenty of other Slytherins, and they're all about your age-"

"Because Voldemort's the reason for my existence. My mother was unable to conceive, but He worked some Dark Magic that allowed her to have me. That was before you rendered him powerless, of course. He gave my parents a child, on the condition that the child would play an essential role in any of his plans in the future. Now he needs a new body, so we'll just have to bid Draco farewell while Voldemort takes over."

"How can you be so calm about it?'

"I've found a way out of it. The host body needs to be alive in order for the ritual to be conducted, and I'm willing to die if that's the only way I'm going to get to keep my body."

"Well, why do you want me to…? You can kill yourself, can't you?"

"Do you think Voldemort's stupid? He keeps me in a room; something like house arrest, really; and he doesn't allow anyone besides himself, and me of course, in it. My room is free of any sharp objects or poisonous substances, and he's performed a charm on me that's permanent and doesn't allow me to turn any weapon or wand on myself. And everyone on Voldemort's side is too afraid of him to do what I want them to.

"This brings us to the fact that since you're here, you might as well be the one to do it. Finish it."

Silence.

Ringing metal; ringing in Harry's ears.

Screaming, screaming arrows, screaming metal.

"I said finish it, Potter."

"Come to our side. Dumbledore will protect you."

"I told you, no. Don't force me to do this, Potter."

"Do what?" Harry challenged.

"Imperio."

To his horror, Harry's sword arm jerked up, still holding the sword, pointing directly at Draco's chest. He fought it, but found that Draco's mind was much stronger than his.

"You haven't seen me in a little over a year, Potter. That's more than enough time to master wandless magic.

"Look at it this way. You're doing both of us a favour." Draco smiled. "And you know something else?

"I forgive you.

"For all the wrong that your kind have done us, I forgive you, Harry."

Draco's body jerked forward; impaled himself on Gryffindor's sword; the sword entered his chest and exited out his back.

The moment Draco's life came to an end, Harry was released from the Imperius Curse, and he stumbled backwards, shocked; the sword slid out of Draco's body. Harry tripped over his own feet and sat down hard as Draco's body crumpled to the ground before him.

He stared at the fallen body.

Draco's face was peaceful. There was even a faint smile on his face.

He stared some more.

"Wake up…" he whispered as he reached towards the body. "You're faking, I know it, like that Hippogriff injury in third year, I know you are; wake up, Draco-"

Harry stopped abruptly, Draco's first name foreign on his lips. He'd never called or referred to him as anything but "Malfoy" before. Had Death somehow brought them to first-name terms?

Draco looked so peaceful…almost as if he were asleep…

His hand finally closed around Draco's shoulder.

"Draco? Wake up. Wake up." Pause. "Please, Draco?

"I'm sorry.

"I said I'm sorry.

"If you wake up, you can come back to Hogwarts; Dumbledore will protect you.

"We'll all be friends, all of us…

"I'm sorry."

Silence.

He remained silent until the battle going on behind them had ceased, both sides retreating in the light of severe losses; until the metal and arrows desisted in their shrieking; until human screams had been strangled in dead throats.

Soft footsteps padded across the ground, stopping just behind him.

"Harry?"

He knew the voice, but said nothing.

"You killed him," the voice stated softly, sadly.

Harry jerked and stared at the sword in his right hand. Blood was drying along the lower half of it.

He snatched his hand away from it, as if the rubies in the hilt were suddenly burning.

"I didn't want to," he whispered.

Silence.

"You were right, Ron. We forced them to this."

Ron knelt beside him.

"So you understand."

"Our fault, Ron."

"I know."

'All your stereotyping blinded you.

'Condemned us as "evil", "dangerous", "not to be consorted with".

'Why condemn us for crimes that we didn't commit?

'"The sins of the father…"

'All lost souls…

'…you didn't care…

'…innocent blood on all your hands.'

"Innocent blood…" Harry whispered.

He turned back, looking towards Hogwarts, at the bodies on the battlefield, at the wounded, the weeping, and those who stood around, looking at everything but seeing nothing.

He saw the dulled metal, the broken swords and arrows, the fallen weapons, the open wounds, smelt the copper tang of blood in the air and heard the silent sobbing of the lost souls of the battlefield.

Endless, pointless desecration…

Too many too-young soldiers…

And far more, blind, tainted weapons…

"Do you ever wonder about what would've happened if we'd accepted them, Ron?"

"Sometimes."

"What do you see when you think of that?"

A pause.

"Happier images. No war, most importantly."

"The war's our fault. That's what Draco said. It makes sense."

"It does."

Silence.

"I never thought of it that way before."

"Most of us still don't, Harry."

Silence.

"And 'sorry' doesn't help…" Harry trailed off as tears welled slowly in his eyes.

Ron's arm draped itself around his shoulders, squeezing comfortingly.

"I know," Ron whispered. "I understand. The thing that hurts the most is that we could've stopped all this, but we didn't."

"He forgave me, all of us, for what we did…"

"He did?"

"Yeah… but Ron, why? I wouldn't have done it-"

"Malfoy had a reason for doing it, Harry. He forgave you because he knows that you'll never be able to forgive yourself. He did that, knowing that we'll never be able to forgive ourselves for bringing this upon all of us."

Harry was speechless as he thought about it.

Ron was right.

"I guess it's poetic justice," he whispered. "Justice for leaving them to fall…"

Fin.