Chapter Fifteen: To Each His Own

He had been replaying the first Christmas at Hogwarts over and over again, smiling at the real feel of Mrs. Weasly's red Gryffindor sweater as he slid it over his head. Harry turned over, grunting when a sharp stone scratched his side, ripping him back to cold, wet reality. He opened his bleary eye to try and shove it away, then noticed Malfoy scrambling over the ground towards him, the hood thrown back. At first, he let the scream bubble up in his throat, but stopped at the look in Malfoy's naked eyes.

"Potter, get up!"

Harry's eye darted to Ron and he hissed at Malfoy, dragging the hood back up to cover the view he himself would not look at. He could smell what it looked like well enough. Drawing his hand back and groaning into his palms, he sat up straighter, arching his back. Malfoy was nearly bouncing beside him and so he looked over at the shadowed face. "What the bloody hell is it?"

"I've found the damned way out!" Draco shaped the words carefully, his teeth twanging with every word, and cutting into his tongue. But he ignored it, the excitement nearly tearing him apart. "Wake Ron up, we're getting out tonight!"

He immediately snapped to attention at Ron's name and caught the last of the sentence. "Tonight?" he repeated faintly as Draco grabbed the stone wall to get to his feet. Forgetting himself, Harry rose and yanked the boy up, turning and going to Ron, shaking the redhead awake. In moments he was grinning into sleepy brown eyes, the freckled palm going to rest against the soiled bandages.

The other two were already making their way to the far side of the cave as Ron pulled himself up. A scab was struggling over the wound on his head. He knew this because he felt it split as he rubbed his eyes. Gasping quietly at that quick sobering, Ron climbed to his feet, still groggy. He tried to call to Harry, but his voice was drowned out in a long and deep yawn, tightening in his chest. But it felt too good.

Ron came up behind them and Harry turned to help his friend forward, his smile feeling uncanny. "Ron, Malfoy's found a bloody way out! In this little crevice there's loose soil on the top, so that means we can get through." He paused, bending over to crane his neck under the rock. "It looks like we could dig our way out, but Malfoy thinks he can blast it." Harry looked uncertainly at said boy, unsure. "But we could just dig our way out," he repeated.

While Potter ranted to Ron, Draco was in the crevice of rock, prodding the ceiling with his wand and loosening more moist soil. Careful not to get it in his bare eyes, he put his head to the dirt and listened. Faintly, very faintly he could hear tiny whispers of sound. He leaned back. "It's raining up there," he said with bewilderment. The other two bent down to look at him. He stared back, thankful for the shadows. He could tell they were thinking what he was thinking.

"Water," Ron sighed.

They had all come back from the crevice, Harry pushing Ron behind him so that Draco could use all of the power he could to blast it without harming the redhead. Ron, as annoyed as he was, managed to get a clear view over Harry's crown to watch Draco approach the niche, wand raised.

Lifting his arm hurt. It made the blood struggle more to move, to circulate throughout his body and he could feel the pins and needles threading their way through the thirsting veins. Grimacing, Draco stepped forward, not looking back at Potter or Ron, but aware of their eyes on him. Letting their gazes wash over him, he focused inside his body, focused on the core of the oily, boiling heat which had sprouted inside of him. He fought through the yellow liquid, through the stench, and through the agony to pinpoint the greatest area of pressure. It was right in the middle of his chest. His eyes rolled up and he jabbed his wand forward, the core of tightly bound heat becoming more intense, pushing up through his lungs to burst out of his mouth in a sticky mass of yellow. Behind he heard Ron cry out and Harry blanche, but he kept his focus, building the frustration of the heat, building the rage that boiled beneath his crown, building the pain up and up until his whole body wracked with jagged shudders, breath puffing out through his mouth and baking the dead black tongue which lolled from between his lips. And it was from those multiple sources that he yelled, thrusting the wand point into the crevice and launching a shot of energy.

With the sound of a flooding river, the crevice collapsed, shooting out a rage of dirt that covered the ground, slopping over into the calm pools of water and turning the cool liquid to thick mud. Ron and Harry ran forward, pawing through the dirt to find Draco standing waist deep in the aftermath of his single spell. After Harry had checked that the boy still breathed, he ran forward to the devastated crevice, looking up into blinding wet light and yelling at the top of his lungs. Supporting Draco, Ron came after him, wincing from the intense gray light, the cloud of dirt thick and smelling of earth. The three of them crawled onto the shelf of the crevice and stood, the upper half of their bodies bathed in blessedly cool rain.

~*~

The other two boys felt very far away as Draco looked at the Manor's skeleton left smoldering in dust clouds and distant crashes of remaining walls. Its dark form stretched out before him like a storm cloud that had lain over the ground. The cave had been farther reaching than all of them had thought. Draco couldn't make out any details of the wreckage, only recognizing a dark shadow, turned ugly orange from the yellow liquid pumping over his eyes. As for the Manor itself, he didn't feel any sadness towards it, nor regret. As he stood there, wrapped tightly in the moist black cloak, he reflected on how the demolished Manor represented his own life. The house had always been living to him, living and breathing with some dormant soul pulsing in the walls. And as those walls lay shattered, Draco felt shattered, ripped, destroyed within himself. Suddenly he felt angry towards the desolate ruins, towards the memories that vied for his attention. The heat was seeping back out his pores, defying the cool veil of rain. He glanced down at his wrist, lip twisting. He could see the tiny rivulets of oily yellow running from his skin and it sickened him all over again. Unwillingly visions of what his face must appear like crashed through his mind and he wished to shut his eyes, just shut the sight away. But his lids were gone. He wanted to scratch his eyes out so that they could not see, but his fingernails were gone and the flesh left behind was soft, shriveled black and rotten. To breathe he must open his mouth and let his slimy stinking tongue trail out from between his teeth, pulling on the back of his throat, souring the air. He began to hate the Manor, blaming it. But his thoughts were broken as Ron and Potter came up on either side of him to look over the wreckage, and he was glad that the rain masked some of the decaying smell lingering over him.

Malfoy Manor had always been such a poisonous and lethal place in Harry's mind, a huge labyrinthian cavern ready to swallow him and anybody else up. Now it lay for what must have been miles, like some great dead dragon half sunk in wasted land. He glanced sidelong at Malfoy, noticing how the brim of the deep hood quivered. Then he glanced back at the hill stretching upwards behind them, at the top a gnarled old tree. He wondered what was on the other side with a tired, vague excitement. On the other side of Malfoy, he could hear Ron's heavy breathing, steady in the rain.

Ron only wanted to run from it; as if the Manor would rise in some evil form from its remains and crush them all. They were so close, and there was a dagger of fear running into his spine. "Let's leave," he whispered. Something was going wild inside of him, a blaring alarm of warning. He wanted to get out of this place now. The bandage on his head felt like a band of lead, pressing into his skull, trying to anchor him here forever. "Merlin. Let's just get out of here."

"Lucius," Draco rasped. The sound of his voice was thin and dark, slurring as his tongue bobbed wetly against his chin. That name made the heat arc into a crescendo, and the oily yellow liquid seemed to burst from his skin. "I hate you." He was tired, heavy. His words were sluggish and slow. Through a yellow haze he could see Ron's face, the red hair now an ugly orange and his skin as rotten yellow looking as Draco's. He rolled his eyes, aware of the oily thickness and how it clogged the edges of his eyeballs, as if fighting to overtake his vision. A sense of urgency chased over his skin, and the heat felt more centered, his breath sweating, evaporating the rain, souring over his black tongue. He became impatient, his hand curling at his sides, lips twitching as where his nails had once been split and throbbed.

"We can just get up over that rise and we'll be out," said Harry.

His limbs wanted desperately to be touching the grass at his feet. They were dragging him down; he was tired, fatigued. Shocks of pain laced his scalp, little needling stabs of agony that felt like his skin was splitting. Suddenly the rain's quiet descent flooded his ears like gunshots. The shocks over his head grew worse and he raised his hands to touch his brow, the bleeding split fingertips swollen and festering against his stinging scalp.

Ron didn't notice Draco lift his hand. He had looked back at the slope, next to him Harry craning his neck as if he could see over the tall hill. He didn't realize when Draco took his hand away from his face and stared at the thick roll of skin that had peeled off into it. And he didn't see as Draco began tearing at his face, silently, the robes stiff to comply to the boy's movements muffled by the muted rain.

The skin that couldn't be his stuck fast to his hand, burning onto them, stained with charred looking black blood, crusted and smelling, stinking of hot fetid rot. Draco tore at his face, black rage spilling with the black blood, the center of pressure in his chest coiling and tightening, pushing out his ribs, spearing them into his stomach and forcing a bubble of blood to spread up his throat and flood his mouth, dropping out and down his chin in black and rotten red hunks, bursting with a released odor as they struck the ground. He coughed sharply, spraying his hands with the dead blood, sharply tearing the middle of his tongue, the blood swarming the wound, mixing with heavy black liquid as it oozed from the break, burning like acid, eating at his teeth. His tongue pulled viscously on the back of his throat, as if sucking its black venom from his insides, pouring it out as the wound tore, his whole tongue expanding as it broke, than bursting inside his mouth, black acid scouring his throat.

The rage boiled up over his brow as the yellow liquid seeped over and under his peeling skin, pushing it, skinning his face as Draco's teeth cracked and his tongue lay shriveled on the wet ground. Dead grass, a moist yellow, marked where the acid had dripped from his mouth, a burned black trail of charred skin reaching over his cheeks and down his chin where it had drained or eaten through his cheek. And the pain reached a peak, the rain pounding him, shredding him. Draco dug his fingers into his palm, a voiceless scream filling his mind as the skin over his hands tore like paper, spilling more of the black acid, more of the yellow. Anger, centered and fierce shot into his eyes, rupturing the black veins and burning the sockets. Panic teemed his nerves and he bent double, coughing, coughing so that his head would explode every time. And his swollen fingers, covered in acid from his own hands, fluttered over his face, mouth frozen open as he brushed something smooth and hard over his forehead, where all the skin was gone.

Something about that hill was nagging him. He had stepped a little ways up it, shielding his eyes from he rain and tilting his head back to gaze up at the tree, his mind searching, thinking, remembering. Up further Harry was nearly bent over, his hand threading through the grass. Ron could hear him call back without looking round, but couldn't understand him through the increased rain. Shrugging, Ron began to turned around and call Draco up, but paused as Harry stood, shaking his head like a dog, a black lock of hair falling into his face. Then the boy turned around and grinned at Ron, the first openly happy grin Ron had seem from anyone in a long time. He held his head, where his cut had begun to ache from the cold. Just starting to take a step, he looked up and noticed that Harry was running down at him, mouth thrown open. Ron lowered his hand, eyebrows wrinkling together. "Harry-"

He could see Ron saying his name, almost hear it. Harry slipped down the grassy slope, shouting.

Something hot and tight had wrapped around his neck and Ron's fingers flew to grip a steaming limb, clawing at it desperately as he gagged for air. He could feel the heavy cloak's hood against his cheek, and he cried out as a slim fingered hand darted at his face, feeling hot pokers stabbing at his eye, trying to tear them out. He threw his head every which way, the air trapped in his lungs trying to fight its way out while his tongue lolled. Then he felt the fingers moving up, rain blurring his sight as the bandage was ripped from his head and thrown onto the grown where it lay in a small patch of dead grass. His legs kicked and he threw his hips, twisting and fighting, gasping as Draco's fingers found his wound and dug into it. Blood ran down his face, dripping off his open lips and into his mouth. It tasted bitter, and Ron felt himself being pushed down, breath like fire scorching his ear, something hot and thick melting the skin on his neck. The ground was cold and he kicked again, gagging harder, teeth gnashing as if to catch the air he needed to breathe. And then he heard the words, whispered like they were inside his own head, wrapping around his consciousness. His eyes widened as he heard them.

"I can feel myself dying..."

He threw himself onto Malfoy, hands tangling in the stiff wet cloak and yanking, throwing the boy backwards, watching him roll over and lie still, grabbing Ron and looking back over his shoulder as Malfoy rose off the ground, yellow eye dripping black tears while steam rose off of his shoulders. Blood bathed the boy's face, still buried under the hood, and Harry could only truly see his eyes, separating the rain and picking him out. Frantically he scrambled up the incline, shoving Ron ahead of him, watching as Malfoy crouched down like an animal and began to claw up the hill, his bleeding fingers gripping the wet grass, his eyes fixed on Harry's face, the rage palpable and Harry remembered in the Manor when Malfoy had gone off. Breath catching, he hauled Ron faster, dragging the redhead up as he faltered, swooning from the blood cascading down his face, rushing to the ground as rain bathed the wound.

Ron felt the ground level out, and his head spun. Lightheaded, he fell against the tree, his back striking the bark roughly. His eyes rolled up through the rain and he saw Harry suddenly with his fists up, and something coming up over the rise of the hill looking like a black beast, a wolf. It sprang at Harry and knocked him to the ground. Ron tried to move, his fingers running over the crags and indentations in the wood, and he heard a sound. Looking up, he saw a bird flying over. Squinting through the rain, shading his eyes he saw it was.... a pheasant.

Harry felt the fist connect with his jaw and he dropped like a stone after having managed to get up. And without a second to breathe, Malfoy was on him, beating his face, eyes never blinking, never moving, never letting his face go. Finally Malfoy drew back his fist, and Harry saw the black liquid seeping through his fingers. Green eye moving back to Malfoy's face, Harry saw the eyes turn away as the black fist hit his throat, shoving him back into the grass.

The rain came down in icy sweeps and far away waves of an ocean crashed onto the shore, and further, the sky was blue.

They looked at each other, both covered in their own blood while Harry lay stunned but breathing between them. Draco's chest heaved up and down, the cloak swinging heavily around his ankles, and he watched Ron's face, the rancid breath clouding before him and blurring his sight of the redhead's eyes. And Ron looked back, the wound on his head still pumping blood with the help of the numbing rain. Then he began to walk forward, his steps heavy in the grass, rain dripping rapidly from the curls of his red hair. His gaze held Draco's, they held each other.

He fell to his knees, his head thrown back, breath sweeping in and out of his mouth as rain cooled the mad heat beyond his lips. The hood fell away from his face and he could feel the rain stripping him, washing away the blood. And then he saw Ron standing above him, a halo of wet red hair surrounding his face and sad brown eyes. Draco shivered, looking down at the ground. And he felt a hand reach down and touch his chin. He felt a hand resting on his chest, right above his heart. But he didn't need any reason; he lifted his face and Ron was close to him. He stared into his eyes. "Tell me my name."

His hands spread over Draco's shoulders and pushed over his back, pulling the boy into his embrace. He felt Draco's face pressed into his shirt, small hands hesitantly resting on his knees. And Ron gently lay his left hand on the back of Draco's head, and pressed it there firmly, feeling the outline of Draco's eyes through to his chest. They were still wide open. Closing his eyes, he suddenly gripped the smaller boy tightly, his lashes shoving into the tops of his cheeks as he felt Draco struggle, shoulders pushing at him hard. He held tighter, laying his head over Draco's bare scalp, his arms tightening. The hands resting on his knees, clawing at him frantically, reached up to brush his face, brush his lips, before falling limply to the wet grass. Ron drew away from the staring eyes, those blank staring eyes, and lay him down on the grass. The rain pooled in the eyes. Ron took an icy still limb and drew it up, pausing to look into those eyes. Then he whispered, "Draco," and covered them from the rain.

*~FIN~*

~*Villain*~