Expiry Date: Part the Seventh (And final)

By Green

Warnings/Rating/Disclaimer: Please see Chapter One

Notes: Well, here it is, finished at last and I'm sorry it's taken so long…I've really enjoyed writing this story and it's worked out a lot of mental images I've been wanting to fit in for a long time.

Mental images, however, are well-complemented by actual ones - there is a truly *fantastic * piece of artwork for this fic by the ever-amazing Lizard, go check it out. I was going to paste the address here but it seems to interfere with the upload process so I'll put it into a 'review' for this fic…

As always: please r/r and I hope you enjoy it….. * g *

~~***~~

The music for the next dance starts and I hold out my hand to him, waiting to see if he will take it…my hand reaching out into that huge space between us…I can see it's shaking and I flush, but I stay staring at him.

He hisses at me under his breath:

'Weasley? We've had the first number - it's time.'

'Not yet.' It's all the excuse I can come up with for wanting a few minutes more with him, * with * him, near to him, let him read my words how he wants, I can't think of anything else to say.

He stands still a second, undecided, then bites his lip and puts his arms round me again, like he doesn't want to, and yet somehow does it anyway. I feel my breath catch as I smell the sweetness of his hair.

The music plays, soft and aching. We slowly sway to it like all the others, the lights trickling off us. A 'fish' floats past him and I brush it away, then find my hand holding his as he reaches at the same moment. Slowly I clasp it in mine, as we turn around and around, so softly. I'm close enough to feel his breathing on my skin, but I don't quite dare look up. I don't feel like we've argued and fought and fucked and argued some more - I feel like I'm seeing him for the first time.

As the song continues I raise my head, slowly, softly, feeling the burn of his gaze…raising until we're barely separated, then, feeling like this is the first time, the first real time, taking the initiative and kissing him.

At first he puts his hand to my head, playing along, but he can tell, somehow, from the way I'm too shy to pull him to me, from the tentative hand in his hair, from my hesitant but eager mouth, that this is * real *.

He breaks away from me with an angry gasp.

He yells, without thought of scripts or plans.

'Haven't you done enough? You want more of this? Want to make sure I really hurt?'

'What? Draco?'

Smooth, Ron.

He starts, as though only just realising he's spoken in a Hall filled with attentive listeners. He hisses at me:

'How much longer can it last, Weasley? How much happiness do you think you really deserve?'

In my mind's eye I can see the corridor again, and my locker, and the two of us bantering, and I can almost remember my calm confidence that the status quo would always be the same, and yet at the same time the undercurrent that was always there, drawing us further and further in.

But I can remember more too - the hurt, the sneers, the way he made me feel like dirt around him for all those long terms. And here he is again, messing me up, playing with me, confusing me and spoiling my good times. I'm damned if he's going to make himself out like a victim here.

'Yeah Draco, like you never hurt me! Like you never ruined my whole day!'

'When?' God, he actually sounds innocent. Stupid wide-eyed confusion - like all the times he escaped punishment only to land it on me and my friends.

'Oh I don't know, all my school life perhaps? All those digs at my family, at Hermione and Harry? The time you wrote a song about my Quidditch skills? The times you've run to Snape about us, the way you treat us like we're second-class!'

'When did I last go to Snape?' His voice is very quiet, barely controlled.

'What?'

'When? When did I write that song?'

What the hell is he on about? Well I remember that well enough, it's etched onto my brain.

'In the fifth year.'

'When did I last call someone a mud-blood?'

I cast my mind back, and am surprised by the answer.

'In the…in the fifth year.'

I suddenly realise what he's saying.

His eyes glitter and flash as he replies - I've never seen him like this, apart from once, in a cold house and a green room, where he tore things apart.

'People grow up, Ron. Maybe you should.' He doesn't shout, he doesn't shake, he just speaks in that soft, quiet voice and then bites his lip so hard I want to go up to him and make sure it isn't bleeding.

But he strides out of the room - the people clearing a path for him instinctively - at the door he reaches out and grabs Stanley - one of the third-year Slytherins I'd seen talking - by the collar:

'Tonight.' He spits. Stanley looks overcome with awe, but squeaks

'The message?'

'Yes.' Draco lets him go and leaves the Hall.

And so the entire room turns to look at me. Pity, disgust, worry, laughter, confusion and anger all flitting round the room at me.

So I follow him out, because it's the only accessible door, but there is no way in hell I'm going after him.

~~***~~

I hate to rush to my room and sprawl on my bed, burying my face in the pillow, because it feels like something a jilted heroine of the Victorian novel would do, but I don't seem to have the energy to do anything else.

I blew it, didn't I? Of course I did. I've handled this entire thing like an idiot and I'm not afraid to say it. I'm angry - furious in fact - but I don't know if it's with him or me or both of us. I think I'm angry primarily so I can't be sad, because once I start that I'm never going to stop.

I don't want to re-play the whole disastrous scene in my head, but of course I do. I can see his point; I can see my point. We needed to say those things, but not like that.

And my plan's more or less screwed, of course, but who cares? I can barely remember why it mattered.

And after a few minutes I start to wonder - what was he talking to that Slytherin about anyway? Message? Tonight? Why did the kid seem so surprised?

Into my mind float the other unanswered questions that have been building up over the last few days, questions I've been pushing to the back of my mind. Like what were those third-years were talking about when they said he'd missed his chance? When he called himself a 'toyboy' what did he mean by saying by tonight he'd have all the 'accessories'?

Why was he late for the dance?

Holy * shit *. He wouldn't. He * wouldn't *.

Would he?

Oh no, oh fuck no. He's such an * idiot * and it's all my fault. If I had explained it all to him instead of yelling he would have called it off, I know he would - I…

…But he hasn't done it yet. There's still time. I just have to find him and…

And what? Hang onto his legs so he can't move?

*Anything *. I'd do anything, Even if it means becoming a Deatheater myself, I have to stop him.

~~***~~

The corridors are more or less deserted, the older years are at the Ball, the others tucked away into their nice segregated Common Rooms. I rush across the paving stones, panting, trying to organize my mind and plan the most logical route.

Cellars, I'll start there. I dash down stairs, almost tripping and breaking my neck. The cold rooms are empty and echoing - he isn't here now and if he ever was I can't reach him from here. Panic streaks through my chest, but the adrenaline gives me the energy to rush back up the stairs, back up to the corridors and then along to the Hall.

I glance through the door. No Stanley. But I see Ferdinand standing by the fruit punch, chatting to some girl. I run up to him grab him by the shoulder:

'Where's Stanley? Where are Stanley and Draco?'

'Hey, how should I know?' He tries to fend me of with his hands but I'm not having any of that - I clasp his shirt and shove him back against the wall, not caring about the stares, the shouts from the Teachers.

'Where. Are. They?'

He looks genuinely afraid, and splutters helplessly:

'I don't know, honest, but they went upstairs when they left the Hall.'

Of course. I'm stupid; I should have gone straight there. I've wasted so much time.

I drop Ferdinand and race out of the Hall for the second time this evening. Every frantic beat of my heart means another second gone, another minute wasted, means I'm closer and closer to being too late. I scale the stairs two at a time, short of breath now but racing on, fear driving me.

I guess if they hadn't been passing I would have tried to break through the Slytherin Tower portrait-door with my bare hands. But four Slytherins enter just ahead of me, and I catch the portrait - forcing it to stay open as I step into the Common Room.

They all yell of course, all those superior Slytherins roused from their chairs, which are in fact precisely like the ones in Gryffindor Tower after all. I don't care, I practically can't even see, I just make for the staircase for the boys' dorms.

Surprise gives me an advantage - they're too shocked to try and stop me for the few seconds it takes me to the reach the stairs. I'm sweating now with fear and exertion, and my hand is slippery on the rail. I realise I have absolutely no idea with room is Draco's and so I open several doors - disturbing even more people - before I enter a room that I know is his from the Malfoy crest hung over the bed.

I lock the door behind me, then turn to the room. Beneath me I can hear shouts of rage, people running to fetch Snape, Dumbledore even. Whatever.

The bed is neat, nothing hidden in it. The bedside table has a drawer filled with the paraphernalia of Draco Malfoy - old trading cards, sweet-wrappers, packets of paper tissues, wand polish, ancient homework, postcards of Siberian Mountains from his parents. I feel terrible rooting through all this stuff, all this petty, banal mess that we never want others to see. The top of the table boasts a large variety of hair-care products and I grab each one before casting it aside onto the floor. None of them give my fingers the faint tingling of a portkey.

I have to find it. He has to have two. He would have, for back up, surely?

There is a pounding on the stairs of the avenging party reaching the room. It sounds like they got half the staff. I've got barely seconds. I frantically scrabble through every object I've found. The floor's littered with old photos, reading books and parchments and I still haven't got it.

Handkerchief. Throat sweets. Painkillers. Soap. Bertie Botts Every-Flavour Beans. Hair Gel. Firebolt: A users guide. Owl feathers. Bookmark. Miniature dragon…

Yes! I remember these, they were free with the Botts Beans if you collected the tokens and sent off, funny to think of Draco collecting tokens for anything but nonetheless here it is and I can tell it's the other portkey…

The door flies open to admit the angry Slytherins. But I grasp the small model tight, and feel the now almost familiar sensation of the world dissolving around me…

~~***~~

The disorientation is worse this time, because to begin with I don't have a clue where I've ended up. Before I've always had him to tell me where we were, now I'm alone. On the other hand, alone is good, there was every chance I might end up in a room full of people, which could have turned nasty.

I look around - the room is dark, with the curtains drawn across the windows, the only sources of light the faint glow of the moonlight through the gaps.

It doesn't even look green in this light.

Yeah, I'm back in the bedroom. I grit my teeth. I can remember this room so well, the pictures, the furniture, the bed. So much of that night is lodged in my brain forever in perfect detail, just not any of the important bits, the good bits. But I can't think about that now, I have to think about the present, not the past.

Good idea in general, actually.

The bedroom is in total silence, which seems strangely amplified by its total neatness. The houselves obviously did their job well.

Very carefully I open the door into the corridor, praying it won't squeak. The corridor is also in darkness, but I can see a figure at the end of it, standing outside the door to the Drawing Room, waiting.

I'm surprised how my heart catches in relief when I realise it's Draco.

He's near to the closed door, but the chink of light coming from it indicates that he's got it open and is listening in. I creep along the corridor, treading as softly as I can, but suddenly I freeze.

There are Aurors in that room already.

Harry always says he can feel their thoughts when he's near them - well, I can't do anything as swish as that but I * know *. We all do. That coldness, that hunger. You can feel it like a draft or a terrible smell.

It takes every nerve I have to carry on walking, but I do, clenching my fists to try and ignore the urge to turn and run. I have to reach him, now more than ever.

Finally, I come close enough. I place my hand gently on his shoulder as he faces away from me, praying he won't yell and jump around. If he does I'm dead.

Literally.

Thank-god for Mr. Composure Draco Malfoy. He twitches slightly in surprise, and then turns slowly to face me, obviously preparing in case he needs to fight whatever just came up behind him.

When he sees me, though, his composure drops in a second. His face pales, and I see genuine fear race across it for the first time in ages. He looks like I must have when he and Harry plummeted to Earth like fallen angels.

'What the fuck?' He daren't speak either, so he mouths the words at me, but the sentence is clear. He puts a hand over my mouth before I even try and reply and listens intently at the door to see if we've been detected.

Voices waft into the corridor:

'The boy has always been one of us, my Lord, you know that.'

'Then why is his entrance to the Order delayed? I have heard he has moved away from you, Lucius.'

The voice is chilling, terrible, even worse than the Aurors. I glance at Draco, but he is still listening, straining to catch every word.

'My Lord he joins us now because he is angry. He thinks I do not know it, but I can tell, someone has hurt him and he turns from that ridiculous world Dumbledore strives to create to Us. He will use his anger for us, and, if it ever leaves him, the remorse and shame will drive him further and further into your service.'

Now Draco looks back at me, anger and pride burning in his eyes, daring me to say anything, to look at him with pity or disgust or any emotion at all. I can see the thought reaches him at the same time as it does me, that he could walk in there now and hand me over, and the last of....that person's….doubts about him would be gone.

He grabs me by the arm, and pulls me down the corridor, away from the stream of light and terror and back into the bedroom.

~~***~~

'Are you insane, Ron? You have to leave here now, you could be killed.'

He's holding me by both shoulders, shaking me, fear still etched into his face.

He could never be one of * them *. Why couldn't you see it before all this mess began?

I put my hands over his, a calming gesture, nothing more:

'I'm not letting you do this Draco. I'm not letting you go in there for…that.'

'That's noble of you, isn't it?' His tone is deeply sarcastic. 'You brought me here, Ron. You told me you understood, that you'd help me get away, and then you left me like I was a piece of dirt you'd trodden in by accident.'

'What? When did I tell you that?'

'After I went down on you.' His tone is crude, the words are cruder, he throws them out at me, trying not to let them mean more than an act.

I shiver, feeling a race of heat through my body - I can't help it. All the times I wondered, maybe hoped a little, about what happened, * that * particular arrangement never occurred to me. And now he's saying it I'm discovering all over again why I'm crazy about him.

'I don't remember that, Draco.'

'What! You…'

I cut him off:

'I don't remember anything that happened after we got into…onto, bed. Just waking up. I've never really been that drunk before. I just can't remember any of.'

He looks at me blankly for a second, then frowns:

'So everything you said, that was just drunkenness was it?' The tone is aggressive, but also slightly wistful.

'I don't know.' My tone is full of the exasperation and just plain exhaustion I feel from trying to piece together reasons for his behaviour, and mine.

I meet his eyes levelly, knowing that I have to convince him of the truth of my words.

'You're right, you know, I wouldn't grow up, in my mind, and I wouldn't let you. I wanted you to be the enemy and Harry to be my best friend and for nothing to change. It's taken me a long time to figure out that this isn't about Harry, or the House System or anything else other than Us. Maybe there isn't an Us, maybe I completely screwed it up, but please don't do this Draco. Please don't go back into that room. If I'm not good enough for you, * they * certainly aren't.'

It's quite a speech given that I'm whispering, and tense and I can't see any reaction on his face at all. He's staring at me, his hands have loosened on my shoulders he seems almost frozen into position.

'How…How did you know I would be here?' He sounds a little dazed, trying to regain his composure.

'I heard you ask Stanley for the message, it didn't take long to figure out what it was for. I've been thinking about you a * lot * recently, you know.'

He looks at the door and back:

'They'll want me soon. They're all in there, thrashing out the details.' His voice is expressionless.

'So come with me. I've got the portkey.' I hold it out to him. 'I'm not leaving without you.'

We're both aware of our surroundings. How ironic it is for me to be in this room and saying this. I'm still reeling myself. I knew there were things I wanted to remember from that night, but I never thought I'd want to remember a conversation so badly. I wonder what he told me, how I can possibly gain enough trust from him that he'll tell me again.

'And why should I believe you this time?' He hisses. 'How do I know this isn't your good deed for the day, or that you haven't got someone watching somehow in one of your great image-boosting schemes.'

OK, I guess I deserve that.

I think carefully as I reply:

'You asked me once how long I thought it would take someone to figure something out.'

He raises an eyebrow.

'Well, I've figured it out. God knows it's taken me long enough, and it's not like you've always been helpful. I've had accusations to contend with, my best friend's disappearance and all my schoolwork, but I've figured it out.'

I take a deep breath:

'You like me. And I like you. A lot. Maybe more than like.'

I stroke the side of his face with my hand, thinking Hey, if these are famous last words I'm glad there not anything else. 'Can't we just start from there?'

He gazes back at me for a second, reading my face, taking in my words, then - just slightly, around the edges of his lips - I see him begin that beautiful, heart-stopping smile. My knees feel weak all of a sudden.

He can hear the sound of the Drawing Room door open and the footsteps as his Father walks out, calling for him in a harsh hiss.

But he turns to me, and reaches out to grasp my hand around the portkey.

It feels like magic.

~~***~~

Epilogue:

The sudden reappearance of myself and Draco Malfoy - holding hands - in the Slytherin dormitory caused enough confusion to prevent me getting into serious trouble over my breaking and entering. We never told anyone where we'd been or what nearly happened.

Draco's portkeys were swiftly confiscated, but it hardly mattered, as there was no way he could go home again. Dumbledore has been very good about helping him organise a place to stay over the coming summer.

I'm talking to Harry again. Harry and Hermione are openly dating. We're all friends, but I understand that can't be how it was seven years ago. People change, for good or bad…

Like Draco and I…

We met today after lessons near the Whomping Willow. We still have a lot of talking to do, but unfortunately talking seems to suddenly slide low on the agenda when we see each other. I can make him smile, still, and he makes me feel…loving…

I'm lying happily on the grass, watching the sun through the branches of the tree, and half-dozing when he sits up and bends over me.

'How much longer can this last, Ron?'

I look at his face, at skin unmarred by the Aurors, but touched here and there by a mark from me. I raise a hand and bring him closer to me, whispering the words before his mouth reaches mine.

'As long as we want, Draco. As long as we want.'

~~FINIS~~