Draco has always known.
It's why he hates winter. As a child, when it would snow, he would cry. He felt it in his chest, a kind of—tightening, as if something were gravely wrong. It hurt, and with each ragged breath he would take, he would know that it would only hurt worse with every passing year.
When he was six, his father told him that it was unbefitting for a Malfoy to be afraid of snow. He scoffed, and Draco tried to argue, but he was young, and his father knew best, and so Lucius made him spend the day outside in the snow. Each step felt like his feet were covered in cement. Each breath felt like he was breathing in fire. He knows, of course he does, that winter will be his end.
Draco wasn't claustrophobic, isn't claustrophobic, but tight spaces make his head hurt and his chest twist. He's not afraid, but discomfort settles within him, and he knows.
He aches, sometimes. As he grew older, went off to school, he only felt such pain in the summer. Sometimes it came otherwise, but it was never quite the same. Sharp pains came in his wrist almost randomly, and his fingers were always cramped when he woke up in the mornings. It was weird, maybe; unnatural, even in the wizarding world.
But, he knew.
He knows it well, now. He's seventeen. Winter leaves him hollow. Snow burns his skin. His wrist aches and his fingers cramp and he gets headaches. His chest tightens in small spaces and his stomach churns in social situations and he feels so completely grounded.
He's seventeen, and he doesn't know if he's afraid of living, or if he's afraid of dying.
A year ago, his mother wrote him a tear-stained letter and he took his own heart in his fist and he cracked it. Like glass. He was glass, fragile and sharp and dangerous, and he knew, then, that when winter came again, he would be gone.
That letter. He remembers it so well. Too well. He could recite it off of memory, he thinks, easily; and that scares him, maybe, that he knows it so thoroughly.
He's seventeen. This is a war. His father's been dead for a year. He's been hiding ever since.
Snow fell for the first time yesterday.
"I'm sorry," his mother said, then, watching from the window of the room her sister had offered to them. Andromeda had been hesitant to house her sister and nephew, but she had eventually welcomed them inside their home, a little over three weeks ago. Before that, they'd been in France, living in one of the Black family homes that had long since been abandoned.
Draco didn't respond to her. Couldn't respond. The coming of winter numbed his finger, his arms, his chest.
"I should have tried harder." She turned to face him, then, eyes unfocused. In the past year, Draco thinks she's snapped. Lucius's death weighed down on them both, but he worried more about his mother than he did for himself.
"What could you have done?" Draco whispered, and her hands shook as she left the room, even if she thought he couldn't see.
It's been snowing all day. Draco's felt his bones growing more and more exhausted, his body more frail, as the day has pressed on. Whether it's from the weather or the implications of it, he doesn't know. Nor does he particularly want to.
A knock on the door startles him, and he glances slowly away from the ceiling as it creaks open and Andromeda steps in.
"Your mother wants to leave."
Draco swallows the bile that rises in his throat and says, in a scratchy, hoarse voice, "Why?"
"I told her to stay until you weren't sick anymore."
Draco doesn't tell her she avoided the question. She knows as well as he does.
"That will be far too long."
Andromeda catches his eyes, curious. "It's simply a head cold, is it not?"
Head cold. Of course it is.
"What do you know about Potter?" Draco says suddenly, not even noticing the words slip between his lips until they're already out. He glances away for a moment so she can't see his eyes.
Andromeda is smiling when he looks back at her, but there's nothing humorous about it. "I can't tell you," she says after a moment. "Family though we may be, blood isn't as important as love, or even duty. And, I've never known you." Her gaze is sharp and severe, but he doesn't think she's looking at him. "I'm not entirely sure who I can trust."
"I understand," Draco mutters, bowing his head. "I'm sorry."
She takes a deep breath and turns to leave. Before the door, she hesitates.
"He's doing something with Dumbledore," she says after a count of seven, not turning around. "He didn't go back to Hogwarts in September. Nobody's seen him since his birthday. Dumbledore refuses to disclose details, and simply says that they're training."
She leaves, then, and Draco wonders if the way his heart is hammering is out of fear, or out of worry for someone he's not to supposed to care about.
Andromeda's husband and daughter exchange brief good-byes with Draco and Narcissa, but Nymphadora turns her head to hide something in her eyes when she speaks the stiff farewell, and she and Ted are out of the room before responses can be given.
Andromeda hugs her sister and whispers in her ear, something Draco can't hear. When his aunt approaches him, sorrow swims in her eyes.
"I'm sorry I never got to know you. And . . ." She swallows, then offers a weak smile. "I'm sorry for all you have lost. We seem to forget, that even those that oppose us on the battlefield can feel pain as well. Perhaps that is truly what makes war so cruel."
"Thank you, but I no longer stand on a battlefield." His voice is ragged and raspy, and he thinks his health is only declining. But his mother knows they can't stay in one place for too long, and as the days have gone by, he's decided what they need to do.
She nods slowly. "Do what you must to stay alive. The storm is growing. I can only imagine the pain it will inflict when the sky does open up."
Draco's fingers are numb. "Thank you."
"When all this is over," Narcissa says, putting a hand on Draco's shoulder and gazing steadily at her sister, "I hope we can be the family we never were."
Andromeda's smile is watery, maybe, and Draco turns away when she says, "I hope so, too.
Outside, in the dim light of morning, it's snowing. He doesn't say anything, and he wonders, for a moment, if he really needs to.
His mother turns to him, her eyes bright with sadness, and her fingers wipe away the tears that have fallen on his face.
He doesn't need to say anything.
She's always known.
Another week has them in a Muggle town Draco can't be bothered to learn the name of. He tosses and turns when he sleeps, and wakes up with a scream building in his throat. His throat burns, his chest burns, everything he is burns. The snow is falling faster, and he is growing colder, and he knows what he needs to do.
"Do you miss him?" he asks his mother when she wakes up. He has been awake for three hours, wondering if there's some alternate universe where things are okay.
She takes two deep breaths, then nods. "I do."
Maybe it's childish, but he can't help it. Narcissa smiles, sorrow painted across her face, and it's so painful.
"I don't miss the man that followed the Dark Lord without considering us. I miss . . . I miss the father of my child." Her face is hard, eyes unfocused yet steely. "I miss my husband. I don't miss the man that put us in danger to further his own ends. I don't believe the Lucius I loved would have done that."
She won't speak again. Draco doesn't think her answer is fair, not really, but he stays quiet and, after a moment, he slips out of the room.
They're staying in an inn in this town, and he knows that they're beginning to run out of money. If they go to Diagon Alley to access their account, they may very well be caught, but they don't have many other options.
Draco is sick, still, but he goes outside and listens to his shoes crunch against the snow. It's dark, and only artificial light shows him the fresh snow on the ground, untouched after hours of people being home.
It's beautiful, of course it is.
But beautiful things can be deadly.
It's the twenty-first day of December. The first day of winter.
He doesn't have much time left.
Snow lands on his skin, and he thinks that he should be shivering, should be cold, but he's not. And as tears begin to slip down his face, he thinks things never should have gotten this hard.
Everything is still. Everything is black and white and grey. He can feel where his hands should be, but his fingers refuse to move. He can hear his heart beating in his ears, but he isn't sure if it's there at all.
He doesn't know how long he stands there, but eventually Narcissa opens the door and leads him inside. Her arms are warm and her words are chocolate, but his mind is blank and his hands are shaking and he's so, so tired.
For the first time since they left his aunt's house, he doesn't dream.
He thinks he may already be dead.
Two days later, Narcissa Apparates them to Diagon Alley. She gives Draco a vial of Polyjuice and sends him to the Leaky Cauldron to wait until she comes back from Gringotts. He's panicking before ten minutes are past, and he thinks it shouldn't matter if he waits for her a little bit closer.
He goes into Diagon Alley, and waits outside for his mother, knowing it's the only thing he can do. He counts the minutes, but gets lost at three. He tries again, but stumbles after thirty seconds, and decides he'd be better off simply waiting.
Eventually, she comes back outside, hood drawn, and she nearly walks past him, but he reaches out an arm and brushes his hand against her cloak. She turns, grabbing his hand and giving him a smile. It doesn't reach her eyes. Draco wonders how long it's been since her smile has reached her eyes. "Let's go, Draco. We don't want to linger."
Some part of him does want to linger, but he lets his mother pull him down the bustling street, both of them keeping their heads down. It's safer this way, of course it is, and he knows that he needs to put his mother's needs before his own. After all, she'll live to see next winter, won't she?
He doesn't know he's dying. He doesn't. But—it's there. In the loud thumps of his heart, in his shaking fingers, in his shallow, ragged breaths. It'severywhere, and he wishes that things would just—end. What he wouldn't give, to be gone from this world.
He's seventeen. His father's dead.
This is a war.
Christmas comes, and by now it's become apparent that Narcissa is getting worn down. Draco decides this needs to end. He sits down with her in a Muggle Restaurant in London and tells himself that if he doesn't say this now, he never will.
"We have to ask for help."
She fixes him with an interested gaze, but doesn't say anything. He takes a deep breath, and nods a bit.
"We're running out of time. You're tired. I'm . . ."
"Hurting," she says gently. "Aren't you?"
No, not anymore. He says, "Yes."
"To whom could we appeal?"
Draco stares at his hands, unseeing, for a moment, then lifts his head to meet his mother's pained eyes. "Potter," he suggests. "Andromeda said . . . well, that he's doing something. He's, for all purposes, the leader of the war effort. And . . . he's the most forgiving."
Silence. Then: "Would he forgive you?"
The answer is without hesitation. He doesn't know Potter will forgive him. He doesn't know if Potter is forgiving in nature. He doesn't.
Yet, he does.
"Yes," he repeats. "And he's the only one I'm willing to trust with your life."
Narcissa closes her eyes, and for a moment Draco thinks she's going to cry. But she opens them again, and for the first time in a long time, she smiles. Really smiles. And it's absolutely dazzling.
Draco has to turn the other way so she can't see the way his eyes glitter.
Narcissa sends an owl to her sister, and Andromeda promptly sends one back, with the promise that she'll find what information she can. Draco thinks it's not enough, and asks Pansy to find out what she knows about Potter's absence from school. Sending the letter is dangerous, but he hopes it gets to her without troubles, and when he receives her response three days later, he can breathe easy again.
Her response is long, but the main point is that Weasley and Granger are both in attendance, but both look close to snapping at any moment, and they certainly don't talk as much as they used to. So, whatever Potter's doing—it's dangerous, Draco thinks.
She also explains that Dumbledore is in and out of the school. It's easy to connect that, wherever he goes, Potter's there as well, and she promises to look into it.
With her letter, Pansy sends the latest issue of the Daily Prophet. Sixteen people missing or killed in the past week. It's a big number, but he tells himself it could be worse and flips through the remaining pages. A circled article near the back tells him that Hogwarts is being threatened to be shut down, and has been for the past two months. Security has increased tenfold since the beginning of the year, since . . .
He feels sick, suddenly, and pushes the paper away. A cursed artifact, sent to a student? It was a kind of low that Draco could never have expected, and yet should have. It was, after all, something Bellatrix had suggested that he use to kill Dumbledore, the year before.
That had been the exchange. A life, for a life. But, then, the Dark Lord had grown impatient, and . . .
He tells himself it doesn't matter anymore. The past is simply—the past.
She isn't dead, he thinks, picking up the newspaper again. She was cursed, and released from St. Mungo's earlier this month. A Gryffindor, he reads, in her last year at Hogwarts.
He understands, of course, why this is the article Pansy has signalled out for him.
He won't send her another letter.
"She says that she knows where they are."
Draco doesn't believe her. He doesn't say anything.
After a moment, his mother sighs. "I trust her."
Narcissa shakes her head. "You wouldn't understand. Do you trust me?"
He thinks about it, but he's not sure he needs to. "Yes."
"Then trust her. Family is powerful, Draco."
He wants to snarl at her, but he remains passive. "Family can kill you," he says.
She doesn't say anything. He thinks she knows, too.
"I'm sorry," Draco says after a moment, and she doesn't tell him it's okay, because it's not, but she accepts the words, and continues.
"My cousins, Sirius and Regulus, were both rumoured to have been Death Eaters. Of course, it turned out they were very wrong about Sirius, but, well, Regulus passed so early on, nobody could exactly say if it was true or not. He was only nineteen, after all.
"But the Blacks own a large amount of property through Europe. One of those is in London, and where my aunt Walburga and uncle Orion lived, but they owned other houses, ones they never used, in other parts of the country, as well as France and Italy.
"Andromeda says that someone in Godric's Hollow saw Potter and Dumbledore, who mentioned they were simply passing through. They said they were going north, and north from Godric's Hollow is the direction of one of the Black estates."
"Sirius Black was Potter's godfather," Draco muses. "So, they could be using his houses as safe places . . ."
"Andromeda's assumption was that, as Sirius was technically the last heir, he left the houses to Potter. It's safe to say, however, that Sirius didn't actually know about them."
"But Dumbledore would."
"And Regulus did."
Draco nods. "If Regulus was a Death Eater, he may have used those houses to keep things safe for the Dark Lord. Which, of course, would be ideal to help Potter in training . . ."
"While keeping himself almost entirely hidden." Narcissa smiles, and Draco thinks that maybe she's just as excited by it all as he is.
"You know where it is?"
"Yes," she says, then her face turns grave. "But so does the Dark Lord."
"He'll never know."
She puts a hand on Draco's shoulder, and it shakes slightly, but her voice is strong when she says, "I need you to stay alive."
His heart sinks. She's already lost so much.
He puts his hand on top of hers and rasps out, "I promise."
Narcissa knocks on the door, and Draco is on guard, expecting some kind of trap.
Nobody answers, and she grimaces. "We'll need to get through the locking charms."
"Are they advanced?"
She nods. "Extremely. However, it should be easy enough. It may open to Black blood."
"You can't really—"
But she's already gauging her resources, and she moves around to the other side of the house and kneels down. Draco watches as she pushes her skin to the wall and slides her hand across sharply. He can see her make a small movement of pain, but she stands quickly and comes back to the door, a few drops of crimson leaking down her hand.
They hit the ground soundlessly, but something vibrates and—snaps.
She smiles. "I thought so."
A small wave of her wand and a spell she doesn't say aloud unlock the door.
"Be absolutely quiet, now," she breathes. "They'll have heard the door open, but if we can get in before they show up, we can act as if we didn't know they were here, if need be."
Draco ponders it, then nods. She's trying to keep Andromdea safe, after all, because Potter and Dumbledore will see them as a threat until they can be seen as otherwise.
Narcissa leads the way through the hall, and Draco's struck with the realization that she's been here before. He keeps his mouth shut and follows her.
A shout behind him makes him jump, and he stands in front of his mother, whirling to face the source of the sound.
It's Potter, eyes wide. His wand clatters to the floor, and he shakes his head. "Malfoy?"
"Potter," he says curtly, glancing around the hall, wondering if Dumbledore might came down the stairs next, or if he's returned to Hogwarts for now.
"How did you—"
"It's my family's house." Draco takes a deep breath, unable to say the words he wants to. His throat his tight. He feels warmer than he has in months.
"Mr. Potter," Narcissa says smoothly, sliding past Draco to face Potter. "We wished to speak with you. I'm afraid our situation is growing more and more dire by the day."
"I fail to see how I can help you with that," Potter says coolly, and Draco begins to shake. No, no, no, it can't end like this. He won't let his mother die in the war. He can't. He won't.
"Excuse me for thinking that maybe you might sympathize with my situation," Draco spits. "I don't want to lose both my parents to this war. I thought you, of all people, would understand."
"Draco," Narcissa mutters, "don't."
"Of course I understand." Potter scoffs. "But, Malfoy, this is a war. You've been opposing me since the beginning of it, haven't you? Why should I possibly trust you now?"
"Because I trust you," Draco says, not looking at Potter. "And, well, it's not—it's not for me. It hasn't been for me for a long time."
Potter says nothing, still, and Draco's eyes itch. He balls his hands into fists. Narcissa reaches out for one of them, and her hand trembles over his. He faces Potter, unafraid.
"Save my mother," he says, and he doesn't know if his voice shakes or if he ground shakes, or if nothing shakes at all. "This isn't her battle."
"It's not your battle, either, then."
The words surprise him, but Potter continues to watch him, as if the words he's just said haven't completely winded Draco.
"I'm fighting a different battle."
"What is it?"
Potter is different than he once was, Draco thinks, and the way his lips twist make his chest ache, and he says, "I don't know."
When Potter brings them to the kitchen and makes them tea, Draco's struck with the oddness of it all.
He feels calmer than he has in a long time. Potter's very presence seems to have repaired some snapped cord. His mother's hand hasn't left his, and every time he looks at her, she seems torn between six or seven different emotions.
"Why aren't you fighting?"
The words are out before he can stop them, and Potter freezes, but then slowly relaxes.
"Would you believe me if I said I was?"
Narcissa inclines her head, and Draco says, "Maybe."
Potter nods and smiles. "It's—I've been fighting for a long time. Some might argue since I was a year old, but I think it started when I was eleven. My mother protected me, and through her blood, my aunt protected me. But then, in the summer—things changed. Sirius has been dead since the summer after fifth year, for one. My aunt and uncle only found the death of someone who could potentially take care of me in their place to be a terrible thing for them. It meant that they had to live with me a little longer. It certainly made things difficult, to say the least." He smiles, but the look is grim. "But this summer, the protection of blood that my aunt gave to me snapped.
"Anyway, it wasn't—it was last winter, when things changed, I think. I felt like I really needed to do—like I needed to do more, you know?"
"The winter?" Draco asks, coldness washing over him. "What happened then?"
Potter eyes him curiously. "Nothing that I can think of. It was the middle of December, I think, when things kind of changed. I thought it was something to do with Voldemort, and since things haven't changed much since then, I think that must be it."
"The—middle of December?" Draco shakes his head. "That's quite a—ah, quite a coincidence."
Potter frowns, but doesn't say anything.
"That's when my father died," Draco answers quietly. "Last winter, in the middle of December. The Dark Lord murdered him."
"We've been hiding ever since," Narcissa says quietly. "Draco came back for Christmas, and I met him at the train station. We never stayed in one place for too long. Soon enough, one of us would grow anxious to leave, and we would."
"I see. So, it's been over a year, and you're running out of options."
"We're tired, Potter. I've been some kind of sick for almost a month. We could only chance one excursion to Diagon Alley, to get money. We haven't had a decent meal in over a year and we've hardly had time to mourn or grieve. This war isn't ours."
"The war is everyone's," Potter says quietly. "You've lost someone important to you from it already. Surely you must understand, that war isn't selective in its victims."
"You can still fight."
Draco can feel his hands beginning to shake. "The same way you're fighting? There are rumours you're dead, because you've been gone for so long!"
"I'm doing what needs to be done," Potter says stiffly. "You would hardly understand what I've been through."
Draco opens his mouth, furious, but Narcissa speaks before he can: "Can you offer us any kind of help?"
"Technically, this house is more yours than mine. I can't stop you from staying here. It's one of our safe houses, but it's hardly the only one."
"You keep saying 'our' and 'we,' but you're the only one here." Draco presses his palm flat against the table, raising his eyes to meet Potter's
"Even the best of war leaders don't work alone," Potter says softly, deadly. "People are inspired by me. They think I'm going to kill him. And I am, if I can. But we've gone further than he has, because he can't even trust his closest followers. Tell me, Malfoy, why did he kill your father?"
"My father was a good man," Draco says stiffly. "He did what he could to protect us. He died for the same reason your parents did. We just had the misfortune of a bad reputation behind us."
"War leaves pain, Mr. Potter," Narcissa offers quietly. "No matter who you may be, or whom you may work for. Each side has a reason for its cause. It's all a matter of morality. Of ethics. Surely, our thoughts on other things differ greatly."
"Killing will never be right," Potter insists. "No matter the motive."
"Yet," Narcissa says, and her voice is a whisper that wraps around the room like vines, "you are perfectly willing to murder the Dark Lord. Tell me, Mr. Potter, is that right?" She sighs and rubs her temple. "Either way, the Dark Lord's views on this matter extreme, even amongst Purebloods. In this situation, killing is not right. But there are two sides to every story, Mr. Potter, and you'd best remember that if you want to win this war."
Potter doesn't speak. He doesn't need to.
His eyes say everything.
Two days go by easily, and Draco finds that the security of having a place to stay has made him feel stronger again. He wonders if his mother feels the same way, but she watches Potter too analytically for her to possibly feel as though his presence is protecting them. Then, she'd always been cautious, hadn't she?
Snow falls outside, and Draco can't stop staring, as if looking at it will make it go away. As if, instead of it burning him, he might burn through it, for once.
"Winter must be harder than it used to be."
Draco turns to see Potter standing in the entrance to the sitting room, two cups of something steaming in his hands.
"No," Draco says. "I've always hated winter."
Potter hands him one of the mugs as he sits, and Draco doesn't question what's in the tea before he takes a sip of it. He's hardly fazed by the fact that it tastes the same as it would had he made it himself.
"I suppose I always hated summer," Potter says. "Winter's always felt closer to home."
Home. Draco scowls at the way his eyes prickle at the word.
"But you've spent the last six years away from home for the winter," Draco points out, his voice scratchy.
"No. That house wasn't home." Potter frowns. "Hogwarts kind of . . . was my home, more than anywhere else."
"We can't all say the same."
"No," Potter agrees. "I don't know if it would feel the same, anymore."
"They want to shut the school down, don't they?" Draco can't look at Potter. "That's what—that's what The Prophet said."
He can't force himself to think about Pansy right now. When will he see her again, he wonders? He hopes it's soon. He misses her dearly, the way one might miss a sister.
"That's what I heard." Potter seems to hesitate for a moment, and Draco glances back at him.
"How do you . . . do you feel like . . . you're better off?"
Draco raises an eyebrow. "Better off?"
Potter flushes. "It's just, well, you approach it so . . . casually. The death of a parent. How can you . . . ?"
Draco feels his throat tighten. He turns away again. "My father's death is my business."
Still, Potter's cheeks grow redder. "I understand. I just—wondered. You compared my parents' death to your father's, but they still weigh down on me and . . . I just wondered."
"You didn't know your parents. You're ignorant of the bad parts of them." Draco can't help the bitterness that sweeps up his voice. "People don't speak ill of the dead."
"They do if they've done something awful enough to be spoken of in such a way," Potter says softly. "I think you know that, just as well as I do."
Draco can't speak for a moment. He wonders if it's an apology, or if it's simply a mutual understanding. He decides it doesn't matter.
He shakes his head. "I haven't stopped hurting since I found out. It's neither made me better or worse off. I still loved him, no matter the things he'd done."
This, he knows, from the way he fell apart when he received the letter. From the way he stood in the snow, despite how it hurt him, how it snapped him in half. From the way he acted for years and years, the way he repeated his father's beliefs to anybody who would listen. Of course he loved Lucius. Lucius was his everything.
People love people who hurt them. It's a nasty, cruel cycle. It's human. It aches and it kills and it tears you apart, but nobody can choose who they love.
"I'm sorry," says Potter, and he sounds like he means it, but he's too far away for Draco to really comprehend the words.
Footsteps trail out of the room, and Draco buries his head in his hands, wishing very much that he could cry. But his eyes remain dry and his chest remains twisted.
He thinks he'll never be free of this pain.
At the end of the first week, Potter tells them that there will be people coming over. He also says he hasn't told said people that Draco and Narcissa have been residing in the house, for fear his owl may be intercepted and traced back to here.
"They'll understand," he reasons, but he doesn't seem convinced.
"And if they don't?" Draco challenges.
Potter shrugs. "Then they don't understand. They can't hurt you."
Draco thinks it's reasonable, and he keeps to the room upstairs when he hears a knock on the front door. He wonders, of course, who the visitors are, but he thinks that it doesn't matter, because he's cast this war off of his shoulders already. He won't worry about the war effort, if he's not going to fight.
But being alone for a prolonged amount of time brings up emotions and thoughts and fear, and he wonders if maybe he wouldn't be better off simply testing fate and approaching Potter's guests. He can hear whispers of their conversations, but no distinguishable words. His fingers twitch at the thought that they could be talking about anything—they could be talking about him, or his mother, or his late father. Two more minutes pass, and he can't do it.
He feels so sick. If he doesn't leave this room to get closer to the conversation, he's going to need to leave to sprint to the bathroom, and one of those things is going to be significantly more embarrassing than the other.
So, he breaks, and he opens the door slowly, praying it won't creak. When it doesn't, he thinks it's safe to continue one, two, three steps down the hall . . .
A chair slides against wood floor, and disappointment rises heavily in his chest. He's clearly waited too long. But, now, if he's caught sneaking around, he can say he heard people leaving, he thinks, and it's reassuring, but the pressure on his stomach doesn't seem to cease.
But then—that's four sets of feet, coming in his direction. The door is by the stairs, isn't it? If he just backs up now, he can avoid being seen, like Potter said he should.
"What are you doing, Malfoy?" Potter asks, and he's right there, and Draco tries to answer, but when he opens his mouth, nothing comes out.
"Honestly, you can't have thought we're that stupid, right?" Potter's staring at him, and it burns, almost, but—
The sick feeling still isn't gone.
He promptly vomits on Potter's feet.
"Oh," Potter says faintly, and Draco's mortified, but he still can't speak for some reason or another.
Someone behind Potter mutters a cleaning spell, and Draco's cheeks are so hot they sting. He doesn't know if he hasn't looked up because he's afraid of the reaction or if he's afraid of the consequences.
He's always had a nervous stomach, and it's just his luck that today would be stressful enough to trigger it. Of course, he should have expected it, but nothing's really made his stomach turn over like this in a few years. Hell, even his OWLs hadn't made him quite so anxious. The last time he'd gotten sick like this had been in the summer before his fifth year, and, then, that had been a matter of fate and future and you're just like your father.
Now, looking back on that particular memory, he heaves again, but, thankfully, there's nothing left.
"Where's your mother?" Potter asks, and his voice is surprisingly gentle. "Maybe it would be better to be with her."
It's almost like he knows, that loneliness causes these terrible thoughts to cloud up his head, to obscure his vision and his morality, and it's as if Potter knows that Draco hates the darkness and the winter and that he hates how snow slaps against the window panes and how he can't stand only having his own goddamned breathing to listen to. It's as if Potter knows, he thinks, and he wants to be angry about it, but he lets Potter push him back down the hall, to Narcissa's room.
"I'm sorry," Potter says, outside the door, and Potter's guests appear to have gone back down the stairs for the moment.
"What for?" Draco's voice is raspy, quiet, but Potter doesn't seem concerned by it.
"I guess I just thought that it was easier for you."
He knocks on Narcissa's door, not giving time for any explanations, and Draco can't tear his gaze away for a moment, before his mother opens her door.
"What's wrong?" she asks, and Draco knows it's ridiculous and he's seventeen, but he hugs her, and she hugs him back without question, and he hears Potter walk away behind him, but it doesn't matter because he can hardly remember what Potter said, anyway.
He thinks he's falling apart. He's just not sure where all the broken pieces are going.
"I'm leaving, for a few days."
Draco doesn't know why Potter trusts them to keep everything safe, here, but he doesn't ask. Instead, he says, "Why?"
"It's what I have to do," Potter explains, and he picks at the sleeve of his jumper. "Call it my duty, I guess."
"Why is it yours?"
Potter's eyes are startling. Draco has to look away, wondering if he'll get lost in a forest so deep.
"Because he chose me." And it's not really good enough, but Draco will accept it, because he knows that he told Potter he didn't want to fight this war, and he wasn't going to press Potter for his reasons when Potter had never pressed for his.
"Good luck, then, with whatever you're doing."
Potter's smile is too thin. "Thanks."
Cold covers Draco's skin, and he thinks his time is running out, but he lets Potter walk past him, and he doesn't say anything.
He wonders, really, if there's anything to say at all.
The days that follow are dull. The sky remains grey, and the ground is coated in an ugly white that makes Draco's fingers shake. Narcissa is quiet, and Draco never knows what to say, and it might seem like harmony, but it feels more like chaos.
He drops a glass on the second day Potter is gone, and he picks up the remnants with his bare hands, almost glad when they poke small holes into his skin and he's reminded that he's living and breathing, that he's fucking alive, no matter how things are going to turn out.
It only takes four days for Potter to come back, and he returns with a grin on his face and a gash on his cheek, but he's alone, and it feels like when he comes, he brings something like peace. Narcissa attends to the wounds he comes back with, and Draco offers him tea, and he asks about their days, and he says that the world is changing, but somehow it's still beautiful, and Draco wonders how he's held on to this kind of optimism for so long, when he must know this war can only end in cataclysm.
He wonders, too, what makes Potter himself quite so beautiful. Even in times of war, his eyes shine and his smile is bright. Something's different, though, Draco thinks, and it's not the way he carries himself or the way he talks, but the way he stares when he thinks nobody's looking, as if everything could be gone in an instant.
They could be, he realizes, and he lets himself stare, too, because he almost doesn't mind getting lost in Potter's eyes anymore.
The days carry on, small exchanges becoming big exchanges, but never anything back-breaking, for which Draco is beyond grateful. The next week and a half are easy, almost. "Potter" is eventually responded with "Call me Harry," and Draco doesn't miss his old life, but he misses Lucius, and he misses his friends, and maybe he misses himself, just a little bit.
But he knows that as the snow continues to fall, things are going to change. He can feel it, deep in his bones, tugging at his chest and his stomach and his mind, and he should be making the most of the time he thinks he has left, but something keeps him back, as if he is attached to strings, like those on a marionette.
"Would you change it?" he asks one day, because he can't help it, and because Harry is there and he doesn't know how much longer he will be.
Draco wiggles his fingers, keeping his gaze on his hands. "The world, I suppose. Who you are. What you are."
Harry shrugs. "Wouldn't anyone?"
Draco wraps his arms around himself, still staring down. "No," he says, and it's quiet but it's powerful, and he knows that he's right, even if he's never been sure before.
"Why not?" It's just—a question. It's not hostile, as it once may have been, but inquiring, as if it truly is a fascinating thing.
"Because . . . I am who I am." Draco looks up, now, but he finds a spot on the ceiling that doesn't mean anything and yet, in this moment, means everything. "And you can't change that."
He's small, suddenly, but when he brings his eyes down to meet Harry's, he sees a shimmer of understanding under the canopy of puzzled green.
"Someone's already tried, right?"
He remembers being thrown out into the snow, being taught what the difference between "Muggle-born" and "Mudblood" was, and why, either way, he would always be superior. He remembers being taught that he could be anything he wanted, with some money and some flattery, and how he could have anything he desired, should he so speak it.
He remembers taking it all in, accepting it, letting himself believe that these things were right. Letting himself be immature and childish for as long as he wanted.
"Yes," he says, and he's not thinking about Lucius. "But not anymore."
He's not like his father, he thinks, and it's not because he didn't let himself be branded with the Dark Mark or because he didn't bow to fear. It's because he let himself stand, and find something in the world that mattered more than power, and maybe their only similarity is that he let it tear him apart.
"I think people are allowed to change," Harry says. "I think some people take the opportunity, whereas others don't." He meets Draco's eyes, and something seems to snap. They're so close that, were Draco to lean forward, their noses would touch.
"Have you changed?" Draco whispers, and he wonders why he needs to be so quiet, but he thinks it might be because this moment is so sacred, that he'll remember this moment even once he's long dead.
"Everyone changes." Harry's voice is soft, too, and it's so close that it tickles Draco's skin. "Whether they do it on purpose or not. Whether theyrealize it or not. That doesn't always mean it's for the better."
They're so, so close, and Draco can feel heat radiating off of Harry.
"So have you changed for better or for worse?" he breathes.
Harry doesn't respond, but now he's even closer, and maybe it's an accident when their lips meet, but, then, maybe it's not. It doesn't matter, either way, because everything slows down and it's just them and there's fire and there's ice and Draco's burning, but he doesn't care, and he thinks that it's been so damn long since he's felt anything.
It's just them, and maybe they're living off each other, or maybe the way Harry's hand whispers across Draco's cheek is going to kill him, but for right now, he's alive, and winter has never felt so warm.
"Do you feel safe here?"
It's not as if he means to say it, but the words slip between his teeth before he can catch them, and Narcissa doesn't seem bothered by them, anyway.
"I feel safe with you," she says, and he can't help but stare, because he's so weak, and he still remembers how he used to cry when it would snow or how he tried to tear his own skin off his body because it felt like the only thing left to do.
So he asks, "Why?" and she smiles softly and says, "Because you're all I have left," and he doesn't think he's ever heard her sound so broken.
He holds her hand across the table, and two tears hit the wood between them, and he's not sure if they're his or hers, but he's not going to look away from Narcissa's eyes to look at where they hit the table.
"I'm sorry," he whispers, and he knows he's said it a thousand times, but he doesn't know if he can ever makes things better.
She says, "I love you," and Draco can't speak, but he hopes his eyes say how much he loves her, too.
The next two weeks are frantic. A knot of dread has permanently settled inside Draco's stomach, and all the warmth in life is beginning to seep from the world. It's losing colour, too, and Harry clearly notices, and Draco doesn't know what they're doing, but it doesn't matter because their young and Harry feels like home and he's never felt like this in his life, but he needs it.
It's the middle of January, and it's the dead of winter, and things would feel okay, if not for the fact that Draco knows it's going to change very, very soon.
It's on the fourth day of the third week when the wards go off, and maybe it's late at night or disastrously early, but he's hardly awake, and Harry is pushing him down the hall, and there's a portkey, and before he can even ask questions, they're gone, and the peace is broken.
Narcissa looks shaken, and Draco holds her arm, but he's terrified, too, and he's not sure what's really holding them up.
"I'm sorry," Harry mutters, and he's dropped the teacup that brought them here. His glasses are askew and he won't look up, and Draco wonders why he thinks it's his fault at all.
"It was keyed to Hogsmeade," Harry explains, and he sounds miserable, but Draco won't bother to say anything. "Near the Three Broomsticks."
"So, now what?" Draco asks. He looks around in hopes that maybe there's some easy way out.
"I don't know," Harry says, and alarm rises in Draco's chest when he sees the way Harry's hands are shaking. "I thought there was still time, but he knows and he's going to find me if it's the last thing he does."
Draco glances at his mother, tells himself she's always been strong, and reaches out for Harry. "Don't," he says firmly. "It'll be fine." And, God, he knows it won't, but the way Harry's eyes shine almost make it worth it.
They're in a room in the Three Broomsticks. Normally, this might not have been safe, but Harry reassures them that Hogsmeade, though it has been back and forth a bit, is currently very secure. "Although," he added bitterly, "it's hard to say how much longer that might last."
Draco and Narcissa have already agreed that they can't leave, after all Harry's done for them these past few weeks. They vow to help, as best as they can, even if it's simply from the sidelines.
"I have things to do," Harry mutters now. "I've been slow. It's been slow. There's still one more."
Draco doesn't know who he's talking to, but he shares a confused glance with his mother over Harry's head.
"It's the snake," Harry continues, still too quiet. "Nagini. She needs to die."
Draco frowns. "Harry, listen—I know what we've done, and—none of it's right, of course it's not—but we can help, if you'll let us."
"Basilisk venom . . . Fiendfyre . . . maybe the Killing Curse would work?"
Harry glances up, his eyes misty, and it seems like nothing could ever uncover the forest beneath these clouds. Draco's chest feels heavy. He can't meet Harry's eyes as he says, "Don't."
"Don't what?" And the way Harry's voice catches, Draco can't possibly keeping his eyes away, and the clouds are still there, but now they flash with lightning, and maybe that's a little bit better, or maybe it's a little bit worse. "There are people who are depending on me, and fucking Dumbledore makes sure know every second of every day that these things are happening for a reason, and that I'm damned anyway, because neither can live while the other survives, but still Dumbledore won't tell me everything and all I have left is that fucking snake, and I need to finish this war."
Draco can't help it. He stares. Harry's breathing is ragged. The storms in his irises are so intense, now, that Draco feels like everything has been shifted on its side. And, yet, he keeps staring, and, behind Harry, Narcissa respectfully looks away, but Draco still stares, as if Harry holds all the answered. Maybe he does, really, and the longer he stares, the more it seems right, and he wishes that, for all those years, he knew that this was what he's going to die for, these eyes are those storms.
He can't speak. Neither of them can. There's space between them that Draco only takes a moment to fill, and his hand is on Harry's cheek and he can't help it, how the words slip between his lips, and maybe he doesn't know, but, then, maybe he does, and he says, "I love you," and Harry doesn't move for a count of ten, but then he says, "I need you," and it's more than enough.
Hogwarts has never felt so dark. Harry holds Draco's hand, and Draco never takes his eyes off of Narcissa, and he knows that he's running out of time, that there are too many words left to say and he'll never get to say them and he hopes she can see them in his eyes, but she never seems to be looking when he can feel his emotions rising up inside of him.
"It's coming, you know." Harry's hand is sweating, yet his tone seems conversational. "It's going to—kill people, and it's going to tear apart families."
Draco's chest twists. He looks away from Narcissa. "What are we going to do?"
"I'm going to fight," Harry says, and it's so determined, but Draco knows that it's all he doesn't want.
"Then I'm going to fight, too," he tells him, and the words are ones he's never considered, but they don't surprise him.
They surprise Harry, though, and Narcissa, who seems to overhear their conversation from behind. Draco glances at her, and she smiles this sad, sad smile, and she knows, of course she does, more than anyone else ever could.
The sky is grey, and Draco feels like every step he takes is leading him somewhere he doesn't want to go. Every part of him screeches that he should turn around.
But Harry's hand is oh-so warm. It's tugging him forward, in a way that, perhaps, is not entirely physical. Despite what he knows, he feels almost—calm, maybe, as if the force pushing him on and the force calling him back are even, and he's in a state of absolute neutrality, caught between two sides of a war.
That's a metaphor, he thinks wryly, and, yet, maybe it's not. Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the one who killed the Dark Lord once and steps forward, now, to do it again, stands by his side, and maybe he's really only going onward at this point.
The halls of the castle are surprisingly bare. Few people seem to be awake, but, then, Draco thinks it must be a Saturday or a Sunday, and it's still somewhat early. It doesn't matter, anyway, because they're here, in the school, and one or two students have stopped and stared, open-mouthed and wide-eyed.
Hogwarts doesn't have the same atmosphere, not really. Draco notices Harry glancing around, an awful and pained expression on his face, and thinks he must be remembering the place he once called home, that's now overwhelmed by demons and shadows and nightmares.
Few people see them at all, but those that do are too shocked to say anything. And yet, the walk to Dumbledore's office seems to stretch on for an eternity.
The shocked students gather in a group, whispering behind them but not quite following them. Malfoy and Potter, they must be thinking. What an odd pair, and Draco doesn't notice his hand squeezing down extra hard on Harry's until the other makes a small, slightly startled noise.
Harry knows the password, clearly, and while Draco is facing the students, wondering what they're all thinking, Harry's pulling him up the spiral staircase, and Narcissa is ahead of them, now, but she looks back, as if to be certain both Harry and Draco haven't been lost.
"Mrs. Malfoy," Dumbledore says, and he's very surprised, but his voice is warm enough. "Harry, Draco."
Draco nods curtly at the old man, and takes the first seat he sees, beside his mother. Harry sits on the other side of him, but the chair seems far away.
"I'm sure you—"
"I know," Dumbledore finished gravely, and Harry looks angry, but he doesn't say anything.
"I thought we were going to die," he says, flatly.
"There was never any way you could have."
Draco bites back a laugh. Now, of course, isn't the time; you could cut the tension in the room with a knife. Draco exchanges an uneasy glance with Narcissa.
"And now?" Harry asks, not meeting Dumbledore's eyes.
"I admit, things have come far more quickly than I would have hoped." Dumbledore sighed. "To say that things could be better would be quite the understatement. As it is, however, I don't believe we can do anything but wait until they come to us."
"Until they come to Hogwarts? What happened to protecting the school?"
Draco's stomach turns. He knows the war changed him, of course he does, but to see change in people like Dumbledore hardly seems . . . well, it seems wrong, and he can't help but wish that they had never tracked down Potter in the first place.
"The school will always be safe," Dumbledore murmurs. "For that very reason, I suggest we wait until they come here. Our staff will fight, and our students will hide."
Harry doesn't say anything.
"Excuse me for asking, Headmaster," Narcissa says softly, "but what might Draco and I do to help with your war effort?"
He notices her careful wording, Draco thinks, if the way he looks her over, calculating, is anything to go by.
"Nobody here will want to fight beside us," she continues when he doesn't respond. "Our name has been tarnished, to put it simply. But we owe a debt to Mr. Potter and to you, and the fact is that I would be unable to rest easy knowing I've never fulfilled it, when this is all over."
"I would fight with you," Harry says quietly, and Dumbledore doesn't look at him, but Draco does. He remembers when Harry told him that Hogwarts was his home, before anywhere else, and when he meets Harry's eyes across the room, he's filled with anger.
"How do you know everyone here will be safe?" he demands.
"The castle has always protected its students," Dumbledore says calmly.
Draco swallows back a bitter, choking laugh. "Really? Like when a basilisk was petrifying students? Or when one of you professors was actually a Death Eater in disguise? Or how someone sent a cursed necklace to a student?"
Dumbledore's gaze is solemn. Harry makes an odd noise in his throat, then shakes his head.
"It doesn't matter," he says firmly, and he rises from his seat. "We should wait. We'll never find him otherwise."
Nobody speaks when he leaves the room, but as soon as he's gone, Dumbledore sighs. "Wars hurt people. You know this, of course, I'm sure. But as it is, this is the only way I can see this war ending quickly."
Draco understands, he really does, but he's not sure when ending the war quickly became more important than protecting Hogwarts and its students.
"There are things you can do, Mrs. Malfoy. When the fighting starts, as it very soon will, you'll understand where you fit in in all of it."
"And until that times comes?" Narcissa's eyes flash with something Draco can't quite comprehend.
"Stay in Gryffindor tower. I don't expect the Slytherins will be as understanding."
Draco doesn't think the Gryffindors will be, either, but he doesn't say anything. This way, he can be closer to Harry, and as his time continues to run out, he knows he's going to need to cherish every little moment.
Draco wasn't expecting Harry to go to Gryffindor tower. Some part of him has always known that that's never where he's gone to when he's been upset, for any reason. No, Draco finds him out by the lake, and maybe he's cold, but he doesn't seem to be shivering.
"How long do you think we have?"
Draco can't help the words. Maybe they're too quiet or too broken, but it doesn't matter anymore. Something about Harry makes things . . . easier. As if the things he needs to say are there, and he can understand Harry's emotions better than he can sometimes understand his own.
"A few days," Harry guesses. He pauses, then his shoulders slump slightly. "Listen, I—I'm sorry. I didn't want this to happen. I guess I was being sort of selfish, when I said you could stay. I didn't want you to leave. It just . . . it was starting to feel like everyone does, eventually."
"Why me?" Draco asks, sitting down beside him. "Why would you want me to stay?"
"There's something about you that I can't explain. I reckon it was always there, too, and I was just too stupid to see it. It's always been you."
Draco closes his eyes. "I don't know what to do anymore," he says, and it's so true that the words seem to scrape at his throat.
"Me either," Harry whispers, and Draco opens his eyes, turning to face Harry.
"I wasn't lying when I said I loved you," he tells him, as if it's suddenly an important thing to say.
"I know." Harry puts a cold hand to Draco's cheek. "I've always known."
And maybe Draco has, too, in the way he sometimes ached, the way winter burned and the way everything had always felt easier with Harry. Maybe it's something deeper, like fate, and maybe, maybe they're written in the stars, and maybe life and death and love don't matter all that much when all that's left is just—them.
"I love you, too, you know," Harry says, and Draco forgets about all of it and leans down to kiss him. And it's soft and it's slow and it's the kind of kiss that one remembers for a lifetime, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter, and Draco's happy, and the world doesn't matter anymore, because he's always known, too.
If any of the Gryffindor students weren't expecting to see Harry and Draco later that afternoon, they didn't show. Draco's sure they've been warned of their arrival, and, of course, news has always travelled fast in the corridors of the school.
Draco knows they don't mean to stare, but it prickles at his skin as soon as he steps through the portrait hole with Harry, and he's not sure he's ever felt quite so insecure.
That's Weasley and Granger, and they're pushing through their housemates to embrace their best friend, and Draco misses his friends, Pansy and Blaise and maybe he treated Greggory and Vincent poorly, but he misses them, too. He can't look at Granger, Weasley, or Harry, but, then, he can'tnot look.
"Dumbledore said you were back, and we weren't sure if we believed him or not for a bit, but, then, why would he lie about it?" Granger's beaming, and Draco's chest hurts slightly.
"I've missed you, too, Hermione," Harry says, and he laughs a little. "I'll tell you everything that's happened as soon as I can."
Weasley is looking Draco over in interest, not paying as much attention as Granger is to Harry, and Draco wants to scowl at him or something, but he's not sure he can.
"You look different, Malfoy," Weasley observes.
"Going a year where nobody in a place you've always called home wants you alive can do that to a person," he says stiffly.
Weasley considers this, then shakes his head. "I think it's something else." And he looks pointedly away, facing Harry again, a grin spreading over his face. Draco has never felt so shaken.
"It's been so different this year," Granger informs Harry, who nods, because he knows, just as Draco does, that everything is different. "The Slytherins all keep their heads down. Other houses have taken to . . . well, they're sort of nasty to them, aren't they? Hexing them in corridors and whatnot."
Draco freezes. "Hexing them?" he says, and he doesn't mean to say it, but Granger gives him a sympathetic look.
"People are dying," she says. "They need someone to blame, but they know they can't hurt the people who are really doing it."
"None of your friends are hurt, as far as I know."
"But they have been?"
"Most likely, yes." Granger rubs the bridge of her nose. "I think house unity is impossible, at this point."
He's sure she's right. The Gryffindors have all tactfully averted their gazes, but he knows that they can hear his voice, and that most of them would probably feel more contented were he not here. That's not an option, though, not really, because there are things that need to be done and words that need to be said and amends that need to be made.
Harry shoots him a reassuring smile, and he thinks that, for now, it's okay.
The library, Granger tells them, is mostly empty these days. People don't care much about their grades, the way they once used to. It makes sense, Draco thinks, but some part of it finds it humorous, really, because he remembers when he stopped caring, too.
"Dumbledore says we're going to fight here," Harry says quietly. "That we're going to wait until they come to us."
Weasley and Granger both are straight-faced and looking rather worried.
"Well, mate, he's been . . . he's been leading this war for a while," Weasley says, hesitantly. "I guess he knows what he's doing by now."
"Familiar places have always been places armies have claimed victory," Granger agrees.
"I still don't think it's fair," Harry mutters.
"I don't think we have a choice, this time," Granger says softly, reaching across the table to grab Harry's hand. "This way, maybe it'll be over sooner."
Harry doesn't say anything. He keeps his eyes down, but Draco doesn't think he's really seeing anything at all.
"So, what have you been doing?" Weasley says, awkward through the silence. "How did this—er, arrangement happen?" He gestured between Draco and Harry, and Draco almost wanted to laugh at the expression on his face, but something weighed heavily on his chest, and he couldn't even manage a smile.
"Well, there's just one Horcrux left," Harry explains, and Draco's already lost, but he doesn't say anything. "It's the snake, and I really don't know how we're supposed to kill her, but"—he glances at Draco, a small smile ghosting his face—"I think it'll be okay."
"And what about you, Malfoy?" Weasley drums his fingers on the table.
"My mother and I were beginning to run out of places to go," he says, not meeting Weasley's eyes. "We needed someone we could trust. It was—it was chance that we did."
That's a lie, of course, but he still remembers Andromeda expressing her hopes for their family in the future, and a great sorrow sweeps over him. Harry glances at him, concerned, but he doesn't meet his eyes.
"Someone you could trust," Granger echoes. "And you thought you could trust Harry?"
"Of course." Draco slumps slightly. "Since my father died, we've been doing what we can to survive. I thought I could trust him because there was nobody else left that I thought could keep my mother safe."
"When they found me, I offered them a place to stay. The Death Eaters found us last night, and we took a Portkey to Hogsmeade," Harry finishes.
"What changed, though?" Weasley presses. "You hated each other."
Draco looks at Harry, and he smiles, and he knows, of course he does, that it's never been hate. There's always been something there, like some kind of connection between them that made emotions rise in odd ways, still does, and Draco doesn't know what kind of magic it is, but.
He's always known.
"No," says Harry, and his eyes are shining. "We never did."
Weasley seems surprisingly satisfied with the answer, and Granger nods like she knew, too, but under the table, Harry reaches for Draco's hand, and Draco can't help but think that some things are a little bit bigger than even the universe.
Narcissa doesn't stay in Gryffindor tower. She tells Draco that she knows better than that, that she wouldn't mingle with people who won't trust her, let alone students, and she's offered a bed in McGonagall's quarters.
Draco knows why Dumbledore is asking them to stay near Gryffindors. He's not too worried about it—he knows, and he understands, because he wouldn't trust himself, either.
As night falls, Draco stays in the common room with Harry, and both of them feel very much out of place here, but for entirely different reasons, and maybe it's okay to not remember what home feels like or to not be able to go home again without being safe.
It's not okay, though, Draco thinks, no matter what he tries to tell himself.
"It's cold," Draco says, and his eyes are on the window, on the grey sky outside. It looks cold.
"It used to be easier," says Harry, and the sky isn't important anymore. Draco turns to face Harry beside him. It's late, and the fire reflects Harry's eyes. Like emeralds, but, then, maybe they're their own kind of green, and Draco loves them, either way.
"I'm sorry, you know. For everything."
Draco doesn't understand. This is the third time in the past few days Harry has apologized.
"I'm sorry, too," he tells Harry.
He glances outside again, then back to Harry. "When I was little, I used to cry when it snowed," he says, and he doesn't know where the words come from but they're there.
Harry simply looks at him. He can't hold his gaze.
"I hate winter."
"You told me that, before," Harry reminds him.
"My father used to make me sit in the snow for hours." He can't hear anything but the roaring of his own ears, now. "To 'fix' me, I suppose. But he didn't."
"What did he do?" Harry asks, but, then, maybe he doesn't.
Draco answers anyway: "He broke me even more."
"But he's gone."
"No," Draco mutters. "He's still here. He's the reason all of this is happening. He's the reason my mother and I can't even get a decent night of sleep, or why she wakes up in the middle of the night with fear in her eyes, or why I almost let myself freeze to death at Christmas."
Harry doesn't say anything. It takes Draco a moment to realize that Harry's hands are on his face, and they're wiping away tears.
"It's okay, you know," Harry says after a moment. "To hurt. Sometimes we need to bleed to know that we still can."
"I'm dying," Draco whispers.
Those green eyes are pained, the emeralds that maybe aren't emeralds after all, shattering with the weight of the world. "It's almost over," Harry says, choked.
Draco can't respond. He turns his eyes back to the window, and a few more tears slip down his face silently. It is almost over.
He just wishes he could live to see when it is.
Draco and Harry both keep themselves mostly in Gryffindor tower, in the common room. Sometimes one of them will say something, and the other will say something else, and they'll be caught with a sadness in their throats, and a weight in their chests, and they won't say anything else. But that's okay, really, Draco thinks, because Harry's company means more to him than words neither of them know how to say ever will.
Weasley and Granger bring food from the kitchens, and all four of them eat while Weasley and Granger talk about their classes. There's an old woman teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, who Dumbledore hired before the years last year had even ended, apparently. So no Death Eaters could get into the school, Draco thinks. Dumbledore must've known Snape would need to leave this year, when he hired whoever the new professor was.
Granger seems to care less for school than she perhaps once did. But, then, it's war, and if the rest of the school can't focus on their schoolwork, then why should Granger.
"You've both had a lot of time to yourselves this past few months, then?" Granger asks, and she's looking at Draco with interest.
"Dumbledore helped me manage Occlumency," Harry tells her, and she beams.
"That's great! I think that, now, more than ever, you really need it."
Harry frowns. "I dunno, Hermione. I think he still knows."
"But he knows less than he could," Granger pushes.
Harry tilts his head slightly, but he doesn't argue.
"I got to know my aunt, somewhat," Draco says when she turns her expectant gaze on him. "She and my mother made amends."
"Andromeda's nice," Granger says, nodding slightly. "She has a very happy family."
She does, doesn't she? Draco wants to laugh at the thought. He remembers Lucius telling him that wizards couldn't be truly happy living amongst Muggles. But, somehow, Narcissa and Bellatrix both wound up with unhappy adulthoods, and . . . Andromeda didn't.
He doesn't want to mention the other things that have happened to him in the last year. How he got that letter, the one time when he and Pansy snuck into Hogsmeade not long after that and drank themselves stupid, except that Pansy was changing all her drinks into water, and she'd done it all for him, so that when he was drunk enough that he started to cry, her shoulder was very solid and real and he hardly remembers, but, deep down, he really does. How he watched his mother fall apart and only try and put herself back together for him or how he had spent that last year wishing he were dead because everyone dies eventually, and his time is only getting closer. How he fell apart and how he fell in love and how he tore his own heart out because he couldn't stand to hear it beating anymore. He can't talk about. It's all there, on his tongue, but he bites down so hard on it that, for a moment, he thinks he might cry.
"Anyway, so, I've been meaning to ask," Weasley says, and Draco looks up, thankful for the sudden change of topic. "Are you guys like—friends, or . . .?"
Harry opens his mouth than closes it, and Draco can't seem to think of anything to say.
"We . . . kissed?" Harry tries, and Draco can't help but laugh at the look that comes over Weasley's face.
"You . . . kissed," Weasley repeats, looking as if he might pass out.
"More than once," Draco can't help but add, and Weasley's ears are so red they could be part of his hair.
Granger rolls her eyes. "Honestly, Ron, do you even understand the concept of respect?"
Harry exchanges a small smile with Draco, and he smiles back, and they're just two specks in the universe, lost in the moment.
It's three in the morning. Somehow, neither of them can sleep, and, here they are, two lost souls sitting on a sofa in the Gryffindor common room. There's no space between them, because somewhere between "we kissed a few times" and "we're in love," they found warmth in each other's skin, and a beautiful melody in the sound of one another's hearts that sings of a long and happy forever, even if it's just in this moment.
"Sometimes, I wonder if I just always missed you," Draco whispers, and he and Harry are a mess of exhausted limbs, tangled together in a way that reassures them that, right now, neither of them are really alone. "If every time my chest ached, it was because I wasn't with you."
"When winter comes, I always get sick," Harry tells him, and it seems like it shouldn't matter, but it does, and there's something much larger than both of them drawing their names in the stars, as if their very lives are constellation.
"I get claustrophobic sometimes."
"I spent the first ten years of my life living in a cupboard," says Harry, and Draco thinks he should be horrified, but, instead, things are just . . . clicking together.
"My right wrist gets cramped easily," Draco says, and it feels like they're playing some kind of game, like it's a challenge and every word spoken needs to be met with a new challenge.
"My cousin broke my wrist and it never healed properly. It's been bad as long as I can remember."
"I get headaches in silence," Harry continues.
"I'm sensitive to bright lights and noises. My mother thinks I get chronic headaches."
Their eyes meet. And, at the same time, they burst into this odd, kind of choked laughter.
"Maybe we're trying to connect things that don't matter at all," Harry says.
"Or maybe we aren't." Draco twists so his face is closer to Harry's. "There are all sorts of magical things people don't understand."
Harry's breath tickles Draco's lips. "Yeah? Give me an example."
"Love?" Draco suggests. "They say it's what kept you alive."
Harry's eyes meet his, and all he can see is green, but then Harry nods, and, before either of them can say anything else, they're kissing, and there's this kind of—fire, a roaring violence I their chests, and gold encircles them, but Draco's eyes are closed and he can't feel anything but the smooth caress of Harry's hands, of the softness of his lips against Draco's, of his leg rubbing against Draco's.
Harry pushes Draco back, and he's lying on the couch with Harry on top of him, moving a gentle yet intense hand over his cheek. His tongue touches Draco's bottom lip, and it's so, so frantic, but it's just them, and there are no stars in the sky to see where their names are splattered across the universe, and the strings on Draco's shoulders have snapped and it just them, wandering hands and shattered innocence and something broken that managed to become whole again, with just a touch.
It's just them, and that's all that matters, all that will ever matter.
The castle is tense. Everyone knows, can feel it in the air, and yet so many turn their eyes away and tell everyone that it'll be fine, in the end, when nobody can truly believe the words.
Draco knows that he's running out of time. Today feels so different. He can't force himself to let go of Harry's hand, and yet, somehow, his own hand still shakes rather violently.
It's seven minutes after midnight when people start yelling, from inside the castle and out, and Draco knows. It's snowing outside, a grey sky over an even darker world. Hogwarts's staff are assembled outside, casting protective spell after protective spell, and Draco grabs Harry's hand a little more tightly.
"Kill the snake," Harry says under his breath. "Kill the snake, then kill him."
"We'll get through this," Draco mutters, and Harry meets his eyes, and he knows his hands are shaking and he knows he's lying and maybe Harry does, too, but his eyes are bright and hopeful, and it doesn't matter, anyway.
"I'll come back to you," Harry tells him softly. "Find your mother. Keep her safe."
"I love you," Draco says, because he doesn't know if he ever will again, and Harry smiles and says, "I love you too," and then he's gone, before Draco can say anything else.
Hogwarts has never felt so full, with students racing through the corridors and people yelling at those that are underage, directing them to places where they can wait the fight out, even if it takes day, weeks, months, years. Protect and defend and fight to the death, because this castle is everything and every single person in it is going to fight in one way or another.
But Narcissa is waiting at the bottom of the stairs for him, and her eyes are shining with tears, and she takes him into her arms without a word.
"I'm going to do what I can," he tells her, and she nods and says, "I know," but, still, he can't let himself leave yet.
There are words to say that he can't ever force himself to vocalize, but Narcissa looks up at him with sad eyes, and he understands that he doesn't need to, because she's known as long as he has, and so he holds on as long as he can, and then he lets go, and he knows that it's the end, but maybe it also something like a beginning.
Tearing himself away hurts, so much, but he knows it's all he can do for now, and he does it anyway. Outside, someone, Harry's putting his life on the line, to kill a snake and to kill the man that killed his parents, and inside, Draco's staring out the doors and telling himself that it's time, even if some other part of him is screaming that he's not ready to die.
He doesn't think about it, when he steps into the fight. It feels like some kind of reaction, to whip out his wand and cast spells, both verbal and non-verbal, wherever he feels he needs to cast them, in order to be safe. He's going through the motions, but his heart his pounding and his skin is burning, and he knows what it's all for and pieces are falling together the same way that people are falling apart. Loved ones have been struck by curses, and wails of agony more terrifying than anything Draco can explain follow, and his heart aches because he knows that, when all this is over, these people will understand loss in some new, scary way, and amongst those people will be his mother. He wishes, with everything he is, that Lucius had never died, and that their family could be whole, if even a little bit. She doesn't deserve the pain she'll surely feel.
He understands, really, that things happen for a reason. People are tied to the world by their emotions, and those who aren't are already dead, anyway. For him, he's slowly losing feeling, his fingers growing numb and his mind feeling dull, and everything's changed, of course it has, and maybe it's just for now, but he knows that things happen for a reason, and . . . maybe somewhere they never happened at all, but here, now, they have. And he believes in the power of that change, in what it's done to him, to his mother, to Harry, to the students who are shouting hexes and curses to protect a place that maybe, just a little bit, is their home.
And, he thinks fiercely, his chest swelling and his heart burning, this is his home, too, no matter how he's denied it or how things here have been the past seven years. Things have changed, of course they have, and that's what makes it beautiful. Because last winter, he got a letter within the confines of the school, and last winter he fell apart, and now, a year later, he knows what he is and who he is and what he's going to die for.
Fate is, perhaps, not something that's really truthful. Perhaps it doesn't exist at all, and that people cling to things with no meaning because they need a way to explain the bad things that have happened. Every person's life is made up of moments, and maybe he hasn't made all those moments count, exactly, but he wants to believe that they will, in the end, because they say your life flashes before your eyes, and he doesn't want to regret his life anymore.
Yells come from behind him, and a witch with a startled look on her face throws a curse his way, and he knows he's not technically on anybody's side, but he also knows that this witch is one of Dumbledore's, and he dodges to avoid it and keeps going, even when someone else calls after him, shocked. He doesn't really care. He knows what he has to do.
His ears are pounding and so is his heart, and it's so, so cold out here, and he's shivering slightly, but whether from the cold or simply from trepidation, he doesn't know, and he doesn't care. The forest looms before him, eerie and dark, trees coated in glistening snow and shadows creeping around the edges, bleeding before him.
He takes a deep breath, steeling himself. He knows this is where Harry's gone. Can feel it in his fingers, in his chest, all around him. Maybe it's fate, he thinks again, and this time he almost smiles, because, yes, this part wasn't entirely his choice. But, then—it was.
Moments, he thinks, and he remembers loads of moments. Moments where he knew he'd fallen in love, moments where he'd known that nothing else was going to fit, that they'd been hand-crafted for each other and maybe, if things had been different, they would never be separate. He's not worried about the moments that define him, now, as he ponders it, a hand trailing the bark of a tree in front of him. He knows, burning with certainty, that he'll find Harry here, but as he takes his first cautious steps, he prays and hopes he's wrong.
But about fate and about moments and about life and death and love, no amount of crossed fingers and bated breath can ever redirect the pathway on which life has begun to move. Before long, Draco stands in a clearing, watching Harry's back, with his hunched shoulders and he's saying something, but it doesn't matter, because there are always going to be things to say, and, for now at least, there's time to say them.
"I'm sorry," Harry offers, and this time it's not spoken to the air in front of him, but to Draco. He turns, and even through the darkness, Draco can see his eyes shining with unshed tears. Time and moments and fate don't matter anymore, because everything stops and, not for the first time, it's just them and words are on Draco's tongue and he can't stop them from rolling off.
"Don't," he says hoarsely. "Don't. I . . . you need to understand, Harry, that all this was laid out in front of us and I've always known and I think, for this past while, you have, too." He swallows, and they're talking about two entirely different things, but the words need to be said, and he's here, now, and there's time.
"Draco . . ."
"Don't." Draco blinks rapidly, and he feels disastrously stupid for a moment before he remembers that this is the end and he's seventeen years old, and this war should have never been his. "I need to explain. I've always known, and it's now and there's nothing left to do. It's been so long, since my father told me it was unbefitting for a Malfoy to be afraid of snow, and when I look back on it, I sometimes wonder if he didn't know, too, because there are moments and there's life and there's death, and there's some kind of fucked up love, even where we don't always want it."
"I don't understand what you mean," Harry whispers, but he won't meet Draco's eyes.
And this is the moments, of the thousands, the millions, the infinities and the ends, he's calm. He feels more at peace with this than he ever did before, and only seconds ago he ached with it, but now . . . it doesn't hurt. He takes a moment, and he shakes his head and says, too quietly, maybe, "You do. As well as I do. I'm going to die, and I know you can feel it, because you've always been able to feel it, haven't you?"
"I . . ."
"Let me talk, Harry, please." Draco's mouth is growing dry. "There are things in this world we can never hope to understand. I want you to understand, here and now. I want you to know that I'm okay with it. I've known it for years."
"And you think you're not the only one who's known about their inevitable death?" Harry snaps. "As if you're the only person who's going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time tonight? Draco, don't, listen, I'm sorry. There's too much to say and not enough time and I didn't want to believe any of it, but everyone dies, Draco! This is a fucking war and I don't know what I expected, if I thought I wouldn't be moved around like some kind of—of chess piece, and it was always me and I didn't want to believe it!"
Draco freezes up. He thought, standing here beneath cold moonlight and burning snow, he would be the one to have the final word. "Harry, what . . . ?"
"Horcruxes," Harry says softly. "Seven of them, because seven is a powerful number. He didn't mean to make seven. I thought he'd only made six, and that's . . . He thinks the same." Harry's lips are tight and his hands are shaking, and Draco can't look anywhere but his eyes. "But the curse rebounded, and it wasn't supposed to, and his soul needed somewhere to go, because he was never going to die."
Draco doesn't speak. He can't speak.
"It was always me," Harry continues, his tone weary and sad and achy. "Neither can live while the other survives. Because his soul lives in me, and unless I die . . ."
"He never can," Draco finishes weakly, and his knees feel as though they might give out, but they don't.
Harry laughs, and it hurts so, so much, but Draco doesn't move an inch, instead listening to his breathing and to the rustle of wind against leaves, revelling in how the world is beautiful, but how life has cheated them all, even Harry, who deserves more than the best the world can offer.
"Two kindred souls," Harry mutters, and he's scowling. "I'm sorry," he says, and now he's talking to Draco, and his eyes are still shining, but his cheeks are, too. "I love you."
Fate, moments, time. It doesn't matter anymore. In a matter of seconds, Draco starts crying, too, and he doesn't know why, but his chest hurts and his head hurts and he knows that there are all kinds of little magics in the world, but this terrible, terrible thing that's happened to them both hurts more than anything.
"You deserve better," Draco mumbles. "More than me. I've always known, winter and—" He swallows hard. "I've always known how this would end."
"No, you don't," Harry says sharply.
"I'm sorry," Draco says. "I should have done more."
Harry takes a step closer, and he's shaking from head to toe and he's fucking scared, of course he is, and Draco knows that, because he's scared, too.
"You don't know how it's going to end," Harry says, so soft, so deadly. "None of us do."
There are more words, but they drift up between them, lingering in the frosty air. And while they far from warm the night, the words are gone, and they've needed to be gone for a long time.
Draco can feel the time running out. He reaches out for Harry, and he knows that it's now, this moment, and, fuck, he doesn't know how it'll end, but he can't bear to think that anything will be okay, and his fingers sear Harry's skin, and everything is out of focus and burning, and, somewhere, in the deep corners of his mind, he knows that Harry's never believed it would fine, either.
Letting go should be easy. It's strange to think, how his mother had once told him, with this odd little smile on her face, that "If you love something, let it go."
It's not easy. He forces himself away from Harry, and he leaves the clearing with a heavy heart than when he entered, but with less pressing down on his shoulders, and he knows that it shouldn't hurt this bad, but Harry has gone the other way, and it's a walk to his death, one he maybe hasn't quite accepted, but one he's going to accept, anyway.
Alone with his thoughts, Draco stares into the trees, and he can't hear anything, of course he can't, but he replays Harry's voice in his head, saying different things, and he thinks that such a short time shouldn't be quite so painful.
Mere months, really. That's all it's been, and yet it feels like a lifetime, some kind of story that Draco never deserved to have, and his breath turns ragged, his throat scratchy.
Everything's changed. Things used to feel almost easy, but now he knows that his mother is back in the castle, and she's thinking about him, about fate and moments and time, and he knows Harry is in the forest, and he's thinking about life and death and love, and he's out here, thinking about anything he can to tell himself that this isn't really the end.
But it is. It always has been. Fate and destiny and moments and time and life and death and love and everything else has decreed it as the end. This is how things have always been, how the world has shifted and how he has shifted, and this is how it's going to end, with nothing but regrets and fear and he's sure, more than he's ever been sure of anything.
When, at last, footsteps call out to him from the forest, he swallows back his rising emotions and hides, as best he can, in the darkness, hoping his cloak will be enough to keep him blending in with the shadows.
It's his aunt's voice he hears first, and his knuckles ache from squeezing his hands so tightly into fists at his sides. She saying something of no important, gloating, most likely, and he feels sick. Is Harry dead? He can't think about it, and instead stares down at his shoes, praying he hasn't eaten enough recently to vomit all over them.
But, then, she gets closer, and he understands. She's not gloating. She's anxious, her voice high and fearful, and she's speaking very fast—too fast for Draco to hear properly.
Something is wrong, he thinks, and he counts his blessings before standing and making his way through the trees, the way Harry went before.
He knows that, as soon as the high, cold voice starts speaking, he should regret this decision. But, this moment is one that is very out-of-character for him; he tells himself he needs to stay, no matter the consequences.
"You were not supposed to survive," the Dark Lord hisses, and he sounds like a snake, Draco thinks with a shudder. "But it appears as though I have now been too foolish twice over. I will make no such mistake again."
There's no response, and Draco doesn't understand, completely, but he knows—and maybe he's known, this entire time—that Harry is okay, and that maybe the promise of a somewhat happy ending are still possible.
But, then, after a few seconds, Voldemort's words register, and Draco's mouth opens, terror seizing him by the neck.
Even if Harry's alive now, if Draco doesn't do something very soon, he won't be for long.
One . . . two . . . three.
He takes a deep breath and he pulls out his wand. The first spell that jumps to mind is a blasting curse, and he doesn't know why, but as he yells out "Confringo!" it does the damage he wants it to.
Three voices call out, outraged and maybe one or two pained, even if he was sure that the blast hadn't made contact with the people, but—it had still done what it was supposed to.
He doesn't put his wand away, and he doesn't move, can hardly breathe. The wind whistles through the trees, and his heart pounds and leaps, but nobody makes a move for a count of three. Then, a high and cold laugh that makes Draco's ears hurt.
"You are just as foolish as your father, Draco," Voldemort murmurs, and Draco freezes up, because he's never known, and it's been more than a year, and it doesn't matter—this moment doesn't matter, when these words feel so alluring, some kind of secret that will hurt but that he needs to know.
He dares himself to step away from his hiding spot behind the tree, fists clenched so they don't shake.
"I'm not foolish," he says boldly, but he doesn't mean it.
Harry stands beside him, edging behind the tree. A Death Eater that Draco can't see the face of lies on the ground, sprawled out awkwardly and wand dropped far from his hand. Draco doesn't focus on him, though, nor does he focus on Harry, though his fingers tingle as he tears his eyes away from beside him and stares at Voldemort.
"Aren't you?" Voldemort doesn't hold his gaze, and Draco's secretly glad, but his legs still quiver beneath him. "Your father was all about nobility in the end as well. I wonder if, perhaps, you're even a Slytherin at all, Draco."
Draco doesn't say anything. He's not sure he can.
"All about family," Voldemort spits. "About love. It's what Dumbledore values." He laughs again. "He thinks love can destroy me! Gryffindors think with their hearts, and look where Dumbledore's little army is now."
Draco chances a glance at Harry, who's moved a few steps since Draco last looked. He knows, though.
They can't get away now.
"What about your army, then?" Draco offers, hoping his voice is steady but knowing it's not. "I daresay you've already lost."
Voldemort's lips flick upwards slightly, and Draco inwardly cringes, but steels himself and keeps his gaze from wandering.
"Do you?" Voldemort murmurs. "I wouldn't be quite so certain of that, Draco. I'm afraid the Malfoys have long since lost my trust. I hardly expect you to understand." He raises his wand, slowly, as if merely examining it, and says, with the air of someone who doesn't think twice about inflicting pain anymore, "Crucio!"
Draco tries to jump away, but his foot twists in a tree root, and he falls to the ground anyway. He remembers something his father told him, ages ago, about the Cruciatus Curse, and how to make it hurts less. But—it does hurt, and he wants to scream, but he knows he can't. Don't scream, try not to move. It's not really real, after all . . .
The spell lifts off of him after what feels like hours, but he can't stand again, with the way he's shaking. The inside of his mouth tastes like iron.
"I'm impressed," Voldemort says softly. "Such resolve . . . I suppose, the year of having nowhere to go must have been difficult." His eyes glint in the darkness. "No Lucius, no Dumbledore . . . I imagine, however, that it's simply a matter of you not having endured enough pain yet.
Harry stays frozen to his spot, eyes on Draco, and something in his eyes says he's going to do something a Gryffindor would do, something bold and stupid and something that the world would remember, because he's Harry Potter, and he is a Gryffindor.
But, just for a moment, Draco's eyes lock with Harry's, and five thousand words race between the, love and fear and concern, and they both understand, because it's always been winter, and "neither can live while the other survives," but there's still the snake, and maybe Draco doesn't know everything, but he knows enough.
"Crucio!" Voldemort calls again, and the motion is almost lazy, but Draco's not really watching, and this time it does force a scream out of him. Now, the pain is worse, and it shoots up his arms, through his spine, and he can't help the shaking of his body, the spasms of his limbs. He feels like he's on fire, and it's the worst kind of pain there is, really.
Voldemort laughs, high and gleeful, and Harry gasps slightly, as if he, too, has been hurt, but Draco can't hear any of it through the earth-shattering screams that he thinks are coming from him.
"Not so strong now, are we, Draco?" Voldemort says, lifting the curse once again. It's like it's some sort of game. Draco doesn't like his odds of winning. "Your father said he wanted to protect his family. You. And, here you are, making the same sacrifices for something as foolish as love."
Harry seems caught up between the words, and Draco wishes he would go, while he can still manage to get away, but there seems to be little hope of that happening.
"It's not foolish," Draco spits. "But you wouldn't understand that."
Voldemort seems amused, in such a way that makes Draco's stomach turn, but he doesn't bring his eyes down, no matter how painful it is to lift his head.
"Perhaps it's a lost cause," Voldemort muses. "But maybe I should keep you alive long enough for you to understand. Poor Lucius never quite did."
Then, something happens, and maybe it's just something Draco doesn't understand, will never understand, but Voldemort falls to the ground, holding himself as if pained, and Harry holds himself more stiffly than he has been.
"The snake," Harry whispers, and his face changes. "That's seven!"
Draco coughs, glancing at Harry, startled. "Harry, what—"
Voldemort stands, outrage lining his face. "I suppose I had thought it safer to keep her away from you," he hisses, "but now I see that I was wrong. But I have killed you once, Harry Potter, and luck can only save you so many times."
Harry's hands shakes as he holds his wand. "But it's just us now," he says softly. "Me and you, Tom. Face me like a man, as opposed to the coward we both know you are."
Voldemort's face contorts into a look of outrage, and Draco forces himself to sit up, then to stand, and his legs shake, but he backs away quickly as Harry steps force and yells out "Expelliarmus!" at the same time as Voldemort says, "Avada Kedavra!"
The spells hit, and there's something really wrong, Draco thinks, because the spells meet in the middle, but then they don't.
Red and green mix together, entangled, and Draco freezes, entranced by the way the colours mix and dance and it's like fire. It's beautiful and it's dangerous, and he doesn't know how it works, because the spells are completely different in nature, but, here they are, mingled together, the combined product making something entirely different, something new and even more dangerous, lethal and heading towards each respective castor.
Harry seems to notice it, and steels himself, pushing harder, as if he can make the spell hit Voldemort first, if his will is strong enough.
And this is what Harry's life has been for, for killing Voldemort, and he was ready to die before, so why not now, and as Draco stares and thinks he could do something, anything, the spell hits Harry's wand, and Harry drops it, but he holds his hand gingerly, as if it's been burned, but he's still standing, still alive.
His wand hits the ground, and Voldemort smiles coldly, raises his wand, and—
"Avada Kedavra!" but Draco is on his feet, and he grabs Harry's hand, pulls him away, and the curse misses, but Harry yelps out in pain, and it takes Draco a moment to realize he's grabbed his hurt hand.
There's not enough time for concern, however, and Draco takes a leaf out of Harry's book and shouts, "Expelliarmus!"
Voldemort turns a second too late, and his wand is gone, and, really, Draco learned this in his second year, but he takes his chance and he knows he can't force himself to murder, not the way he can think of how, and so he says, "Stupefy!" and Voldemort moves out of the way, but Draco turns and then it doesn't matter because at some point, Harry has picked his wand up again, and he's the one who bellows the next spell, and—
A tree falls, behind Voldemort, and he hears it falling and moves to get out of the way, but Draco calls out again, "Stupefy!" and it's too weak-willed to make him fall, but it's enough. The tree keeps falling, and Draco turns at the sound of a sickening crack, and maybe he's not dead, but he's stuck and he's wandless and he's tired, isn't he?
Harry makes a small noise of pain, and Draco looks at him, all thoughts of Voldemort whipped away.
"Are you okay?" he rasps, and the adrenaline that spiked through him is gone, and he feels as if he's suddenly very old, but he's alive, and Voldemort might be dead, but . . .
"I'm fine," Harry murmurs, moving closer to the felled tree. "I don't think he's dead."
Draco's fingers shake. "Cut his throat," he whispers, because he's too weak to do it himself, and he's always known it, since Voldemort told him to kill Dumbledore.
"What?" Harry blinks, looking lost.
"Cut his throat," Draco says again, more forcefully. "I can't think of any other way." He coughs, closes his eyes. "Just in case."
Harry swallows, and when Draco opens his eyes again, the other is nodding.
Draco turns and lets himself somewhat gently to the ground. Some people deserve to die, he thinks, and he remember what his mother said to Harry before, about how he was determined to kill Voldemort, and now . . . here they are.
Harry takes a deep breath behind him, whispers, flinches, drops his wand. But it's done, and Draco knows he's imagining it, but he thinks he can smell blood, even if Voldemort is so far behind him.
"No," Draco mutters, his throat tight. He looks up, and Harry's eyes are glazed over. "Your hand," he says, trying and failing to move his own. "What happened?"
"I don't know," Harry says. "One second it was just—two spells, and the next, my hand was burning, but I'm not . . ."
"Dead," Draco whispers, and he thinks that there are worse things to be.
"Yeah," Harry says, sounding sick. "It hurts more now that the threat it gone."
"Let me see," Draco says, reaching aimlessly until Harry puts his hand closer and Draco trails a finger along it. Harry flinches slightly, but Draco doesn't pull away.
"Oh," Harry murmurs, his hand shaking. "That hurts. A lot."
"How do you survive the Killing Curse three times?" Draco mutters, and he's so, so tired, but he manages a weak grin.
"Luck?" Harry offers, but it's half-hearted. "But—oh, ow, I don't—Draco," he says, loud and suddenly startled, "I think the pain is spreading."
"Spreading where?" Draco demands, heart beating faster despite the thickness of his own pain.
"Up my arm." Harry points, dragging a finger over his veins. Draco's mouth tastes like blood.
"Where is it now?"
Harry points to a spot above his elbow, and Draco's hands shake. "It's not the curse, do you think? If it reacted, maybe it's . . ."
"A slow-moving Killing Curse." Harry doesn't meet his eyes. "No, I don't—why would it—how could it. I dropped my wand. I don't—"
"Harry," Draco says softly, and every breath feels like agony, but Harry meets his eyes, panicked and glistening, and it doesn't matter. "It's okay. We'll . . ."
Harry doesn't speak, and Draco thinks he doesn't believe him, but Draco knows, really knows, what to do.
It's always been winter, he thinks grimly. It's winter and it's neither can live while the other survives, and it all makes sense, and Draco hates that it does, but he takes a deep breath and thinks of everything he is, and who he is, and how he loves and how he fell apart, and about fate and life and death and he understands, too well.
"I'm sorry," Draco tells Harry quietly, slowly, and his eyes blur, but he pushes himself forward and presses his lips against Harry's. It's the last time, he knows, the end, finality.
It's soft and it's hard and it aches, and everything in the kiss sings desperation, because all they are now are two people shattered by the world and they're both desperate, because it's all they have left, is their desperation and their loneliness and maybe, to some extent, each other, because it's over now, at least somewhat, but this is the real end, and Draco knows it.
He thinks of how he loves, how he lives, how he dies, how it's all written in the stars, as if his story isn't truly his to tell, but here he is, living out each moment as if it's his last.
And, he thinks solemnly, it is.
There's magic in love, in healing, in the little threads of life, and he pushes more, and Harry makes a small noise, surprised but not upset, and Draco knows it's all that's left.
They're like one, hands pressed against bodies and mouths pressed against mouths, and it's just them, and it will only be them forever, and Draco pushes one last time, because he's almost pushed too far, but then Harry pulls away, and stares, amazed, and Draco takes three deep, shuddering breaths.
"It's—" Harry stops himself, looks up at Draco, and the last of his energy is fading, blinking out, and he hopes Harry knows that there's a reason for everything, the way there's a reason for this.
He can't respond, but he smiles a little, and Harry holds his hand, too tightly, but he can't really feel it anymore.
"Don't," Harry says, hoarse. "You shouldn't have—why would you . . . ?"
His arm is fine, now, moving easily, and Draco notes this before his eyes flutter shut, and it should be dark, but ahead of him is light, and behind him is Harry's voice, and he knows where he wants to go, but his feet force him forward, because it's the way things have always been, how they've always supposed to be.
There's a light, and it burns and it sears, and it's beautiful, and he can't hear Harry's voice behind him anymore, but somewhere ahead of him, he thinks he'll find the same kind of solace as he would, were he able to turn around.
It burns, and it sears, and he's always known, at least a little, because he doesn't need to breathe now, and behind him, Harry is fine, and a little part of Draco has always lived within Harry, anyway, but now it's a bigger part, and neither of them will ever truly die.
He can feel, but he can't, and he understands, better than he ever has, that life is about sacrifice, and love and life and death and fate are just small things in something much, much bigger, and he's at peace, as he's never quite been at peace, and it's okay, really, because he always knew, and now, he can move towards this light with ease, knowing that somewhere behind him, Harry is going to keep on living, and that Draco will neverreally die, as long as Harry is still there to keep him living.
And that? It's the order of things, he thinks, and he lets the light envelope him, accepting that there's fate and there's love and there's life and there's death, but that humanity can only really be measured in the moment, ands right now . . .
Right now, as the light wraps around him, he's never been more pleased with the moments he's had.
Somewhere behind him, they'll both live on, and it's enough.
He lets himself fall.