Author's Note: Hmm… This was supposed to be a short epilogue, and it turned out longer than the last chapter. Oh, well, here we go anyway…
Enjoy! -- Claire
Harry pulled his Firebolt around in a long, sweeping turn, craning his neck to look back over his shoulder. Draco must have spotted the snitch, because he had gone into a screaming dive that left Harry breathless. The Nimbus 2001 did not have nearly the speed of a Firebolt, but Draco had a reckless, neck-or-nothing style to his flying that squeezed every particle of power from the broom and then some. Watching him, Harry would never guess that his own broom could out-perform Draco's without its rider breaking a sweat.
The slanting afternoon sunlight gilded the upper benches in the stands and threw much of the pitch into shadow, but there was no mistaking the fluttering glint of gold dancing around the base of one goal hoop. Harry tightened his turn and sped down the pitch toward the opposite goal, anxious to be there when Draco made his catch.
"Hah!" Draco shouted, as he pulled up sharply and rocketed skyward again. Then, to Harry's dismay, he screamed, "Bloody Hell!" and made a wild snatch at the golden thing that now fluttered tauntingly away. Before he could grab it again, the snitch disappeared.
Harry arrived in undignified haste, swooping up in a spiral around Draco to shed some speed before he could fall in beside him. From the look of thunderous rage on the other boy's face, he could guess what had happened.
"The blasted thing squirmed out the side of my hand!" Draco snapped, sparing Harry the need to ask. He held up his adamant hand, fingers spread, as if in silent accusation. "How does it bleeding know that I haven't got all my bleeding fingers! It's just a sodding ball with wings!"
"I told you…" Harry began, but Draco cut him off.
"I know, I know, catch it in my palm, not in my fingers. You've said it a hundred times."
"Well, then, do it."
"I'm trying, you insufferable git! It doesn't fly into my palm. It flies into my fingers, then it wriggles like a two-Sickle whore and flies out again!"
"Calm down," Harry said, laughing at Draco's colorful outpouring of rage. "It's a question of aim, that's all. And what do you know about the wriggling of cheap prostitutes, anyway?"
"Oh, shut up."
Harry laughed again and nudged his broom closer, until his knee pressed against Draco's. They were hovering fifty feet or more over the pitch, automatically looking everywhere for the snitch even as they talked, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to lean over and drop a kiss on the down-turned corner of Draco's mouth. The Slytherin grumbled sourly in his throat and threw Harry a sidelong glance full of mock annoyance – not that his frustration with his performance on the pitch today was in any way feigned. He was thoroughly disgusted with himself and the snitch, and if Harry gave him any encouragement, he'd happily spend the next hour fuming about it. But even an outraged Draco Malfoy couldn't blame Harry for his failure to catch the snitch, and Harry knew perfectly well how to defuse his anger.
They had been practicing nearly every day for weeks now, honing Draco's skills as a Seeker and trying to imprint the necessary changes to his reactions and style into his nervous system. In a burst of generosity that said more about her faith in Harry as a teacher than in Draco as a pupil, Madam Hooch had given them permission to use the school's Quidditch equipment for their practices, including the real snitch. This had opened up a whole new world of problems for the frustrated Draco.
A pine cone, no matter how skillfully maneuvered by Harry, had no wings to flutter and no impetus to escape once Draco had caught it. The snitch, on the other hand, was as slippery as a greased eel, when it sensed a vulnerability in its captor. Harry didn't know when, exactly, the snitch considered itself thoroughly caught and stopped struggling – he'd never had any trouble hanging onto the tricky little ball, so it invariably went passive in his hand the moment he snatched it – but clearly a half-grab with three fingers did not constitute a catch.
Once Draco got the pattern of striking the snitch with his palm and locking it in place with his fingers, he'd have no trouble. The problem was in training his brain, limbs and digits to do it without thinking. And in the meantime, his frustration mounted with every practice.
"Let's have a rest and wait for it to come back," Harry suggested, nudging Draco again with his knee to guide him toward the tallest seats in the stands.
Draco grumbled something under his breath and sped toward the high benches, leaving Harry to pelt after him. He was moving too fast for a clean stop when he reached the stands, but at the last second, he pulled the nose of his broomstick sharply upward and executed a tricky sort of stalling technique that resulted in his broomstick flipping out from under him and his feet slamming down on the uppermost bench. Draco caught the broom easily, swung it to his shoulder, and turned to watch Harry make a more conventional landing in smirking silence.
"Very pretty," Harry remarked, as he stepped off his Firebolt. "But what happens if the broomstick hits you in the face and breaks your nose? Or you misjudge the landing, overshoot, and end up in midair with no broom under you?"
"I never misjudge my landing."
Harry didn't bother to respond to this. Calling Draco on his arrogance only goaded him to greater, more expansive heights of self-congratulation. Besides, Harry liked watching him fly that way. His own recklessness on a broomstick was instinctive – brought out in him by the demands of the moment and the unparalleled drive to win – never calculated. When not competing for a prize or fighting for his life, he was a fairly restrained flyer. Restrained for someone who could fly circles around the rest of the wizarding world, that is.
Draco, on the other hand, enjoyed pushing the limits just for the fun of watching them crumble beneath his onslaught. His flying was perfectly and precisely calculated, insane but always controlled, and he virtually never slipped. Harry suspected that Draco could have beaten him at Quidditch, at least once, if he had let go of that control for a few moments and let his instincts take over. He certainly had the skill; all he lacked was that little flash of inspiration that turned skill into magic.
As he settled onto the bench next to Draco, the Slytherin groused, "Where's that snitch? If we lose it, Madam Hooch will have our arses on toast." He cast a sidelong glace at Harry. "Or mine, at any rate. Yours she's more likely to pinch."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Honestly!"
"You sound just like Granger when you do that."
"Well, I should hope I've learned something from Hermione, in all these years."
"Yes, like how to be an insufferable know-it-all."
Harry let that one pass and said, reasonably, "The snitch will come looking for us, once it figures out we've given up the chase. They hate being ignored."
"It's a ball with wings, Harry, not a house cat. You make the bloody thing sound like a pet."
"A snitch would make a fairly decent pet. It wouldn't chew on your sheets or drop feathers in your porridge."
Draco chuckled and leaned back on his elbows, tilting his head to let the sunlight fall directly on his face.
"Of course," Harry amended, thinking of Hedwig with a twinge of guilt for his ungentlemanly remark about feathers, "a snitch can't bring your mail."
"I don't get mail, anyway," Draco remarked without opening his eyes. "Maybe I'll wheedle a snitch out of my mother for my next birthday. If she's speaking to me by then."
Harry said nothing, only stared straight ahead and struggled to hold his face neutral. Draco slitted his eyes open to cast a sidelong glance at him. Neither moved for a long moment, then Draco closed his eyes again and resumed basking in the warm sunlight.
They had both grown used to these silences, painful as they were, and chose not to widen the gulf between them with questions or demands. Draco fumed at the continued refusal of Dumbledore and Madam Fox to let him revisit his memories in the Pensieve. Harry knew of his deepening anger, knew all the details of his past that were denied to Draco, and could do nothing to hurry Dumbledore's change of heart or ease Draco's frustration.
Draco had to heal. It was that simple. Until he did, no one, least of all Harry, would consider letting him see the horrors in the Pensieve. But every week that went by without Dumbledore softening made Draco's healing process more difficult. Harry sensed that they had reached an impasse. Draco could not take the final step into health and acceptance with that terrible abyss of fear and forgetfulness yawning in front of his feet, but he could not fill the hole with memory until his mind was strong enough to bear it.
"Did you talk to Dumbledore about your exams?" Harry finally asked, breaking the long silence.
"Hm. He said that I can get caught up on my class work over the summer and take the exams before the start of Fall term. I have to stay at Hogwarts anyway, and most of the professors are staying as well to help with the invasion. McGonagall's already collected a great heap of assignments for me – bless her tartan heart."
"It'll keep you busy and out from under the feet of all those disapproving parents."
"How many families is Dumbledore figuring will actually come?" Harry asked.
Draco opened his eyes again, turning to face Harry. "You're asking me? I'm not Dumbledore's confidant, or his Shining White Hero. He's not going to tell me about his precious plans."
"You know," Harry mused, "you really ought to give Dumbledore a chance. He likes you, Draco."
That earned him a snort of disbelief. "And flobberworms sing madrigals."
Harry sighed and slumped back against the higher bench behind him. Sometimes, trying to make Draco see reason was just too exhausting to be believed. "Okay. I'll ask Dumbledore myself. I know that more than half of the Gryffindors are staying – the ones from wizarding families, anyway – but I haven't asked about their parents."
"The Muggle-borns are leaving?"
"Well, their folks don't really know much about Voldemort, do they? And they don't have the Daily Prophet feeding them horror stories over breakfast everyday. The war probably doesn't feel too real to them."
"You'd think their children could educate them." He looked away, his face hardening. "After all, it's the Muggles who are going to suffer the most."
"I know." A familiar prickle of apprehension moved over Harry's scalp, and he frowned. "I've been trying to convince Hermione to stay. She, better than anyone, should understand how dangerous it is out there for anyone allied to Dumbledore. And to me." He leaned sideways until his shoulder touched Draco's, and he added, softly, "I'm just glad I don't have to worry about you."
"You'll be here to keep me in line," Draco quipped, but his eyes did not sparkle with their usual wicked laughter.
"For as long as I can, yes."
Draco's head whipped around, and his eyes narrowed with suspicion. "What does that mean?"
Harry swallowed painfully. "Uhh…"
"I thought the whole purpose of opening the school to students and their families for the summer was to keep Wizarding Britain's most valuable assets safe! You can't tell me that all those dimwits up there," he waved in the general direction of the castle, "not to mention their families, are more valuable to Dumbledore and the war effort than you are!"
"No. Well… maybe, but…"
"Harry, you are the war effort. You're our only viable weapon against the Dark Lord. Dumbledore would be a fool to risk you by sending you back to those idiot Muggles for the summer. I may not think much of Dumbledore, but even I know he isn't a fool!"
"It doesn't look very complicated from where I'm sitting. You're safe at Hogwarts. You're in danger if you leave it. How much simpler can it get?"
"It's got to do with protection magic. Something Dumbledore worked out years ago, when he first took me to the Dursleys as a baby."
"Sounds like rubbish to me."
Harry threw a pleading look at Draco and saw, instantly, that the seething anger in his eyes masked something much colder and more painful. Draco was afraid for him – afraid that if he left, he would not come back. "Dumbledore would never risk my life." He slid a hand up Draco's back to clasp his neck, and he leaned closer to murmur in his warmest voice, "I'll stay as long as I can. And if I have to go, you know I'll come back."
"How do I know?" Draco sounded surly, but with an edge of fear to his voice that betrayed him.
"Because I promise you I will."
Their gazes locked for a long, burning minute, while Draco tried to drag Harry's soul out of his eyes and Harry tried to give it to him – to give him whatever he needed to calm the demons lurking in the dark places of his mind. Then Harry bent to kiss him.
Their lips touched lightly, gently, but with no reservation. Theirs was the kiss of lovers who knew every secret and every nuance of each other's bodies, every hidden wound, every subtle delight. They did not need to do more than touch – the simplest caress – to set power and passion flowing between them.
Draco's mouth opened, inviting Harry to deepen the kiss, and his shoulders twisted until his head tilted back into the hollow of Harry's shoulder. In answer, Harry looped his arm around Draco and bowed his head to lock their mouths together. An adamant hand slipped up behind Harry's neck, pulling him inexorably down into the kiss, into the bottomless well of Draco's passion and the emotion he could not name.
A sudden whirring noise interrupted Harry's concentration and brought his eyes open to find a small, golden, winged ball hovering a couple of inches from his forehead. With an irritated grunt, Harry broke the kiss and raised his head. The snitch backwinged, widening the space between them so quickly that Harry did not actually see it move, and it continued to hover. Harry could almost hear it scolding them for their lack of attention.
Draco leaned his head back, over Harry's supporting arm, to glare at the offending snitch. "Come back to gloat, have you? Filthy little…" His adamant hand shot out and grabbed the snitch. Harry heard the ball strike his palm squarely, then saw the three glittering fingers close over it, pinning it firmly in place. The snitch's wings slowed abruptly, until they were merely fanning the air.
"Nice catch," Harry said, warmly.
Draco pushed himself upright, pulling out of Harry's arms, and opened his hand. The snitch sat demurely on his crystalline palm, wings still waving gently. "Hah. That'll teach you to interrupt a pair of Seekers in mid-snog."
Harry laughed. "So what do we finish first? The practice or the snogging?"
Harry followed Draco's suddenly hard gaze to where two figures could be seen walking down the long slope from the castle. He could not make out their faces, but they were clearly headed straight for the pitch, and one of them was dressed in a truly eyeball-searing lime green robe. The other wore black robes that flapped ominously, like crow's wings, with every stride.
"Auntie Genie," Draco murmured, "and Professor Snape."
"What do they want?" Harry demanded, a trifle petulantly. He'd been enjoying his afternoon with Draco, especially the last bit, and he didn't relish an interruption by two people virtually guaranteed to put Draco in a bad mood.
"You can bet they aren't here to watch me catch a snitch." His eyes flicked to Harry for a moment. "Or snog you."
Harry sighed and reached for his broomstick. "We might as well go meet them. Get this over with."
Draco tucked the snitch into his pocket and climbed onto his broom. His face had closed up tight, and Harry had no idea what he was feeling as he soared away from the stands. Harry followed, letting Draco set the pace and choose their flight path.
They made straight for a point some fifty paces ahead of the approaching wizards. By the time they had alighted on the grass and dismounted from their brooms, Snape and Madam Fox were within hailing distance.
"Hullo, Nevvy!" Madam Fox called.
Draco did not return her courtesy, but demanded sourly, "What are you doing back here so soon?"
Madam Fox shook her head and made a clucking noise that reminded Harry strongly of Aunt Petunia when she'd found a spot on her kitchen counter. Then, bluntly ignoring Draco's rude question, she turned to Harry and nodded. "Good day to you, Mr. Potter. Trying to teach Draco not to fall off his broom, eh?"
Harry grinned at her. "Yes, Ma'am. He's a slow learner."
"Thank you for that, Potter," Snape said dryly, "but we came down here for a reason – nothing to do with you, as it turns out – and I'll ask you to spare us any more of your rapier wit."
"What reason?" Draco had his sullen face on that told Harry he was genuinely upset. He had spent a large part of yesterday shut up in the hospital wing with Madam Fox, undergoing one of her lengthy examinations, and while Harry couldn't believe she had found anything worrisome, he could understand why Draco was shaken by her appearance today. "If it's about me, then tell me and be done with it."
"It is about you." Snape pinned him with his piercing, black gaze, brows drawn together in a brooding frown. "We've been talking to Dumbledore…"
Draco stiffened. "Wait, let me guess. He wants me to sleep in a padded coffin, so I won't fall out of bed and hurt myself."
"That's enough, Malfoy." Draco's mouth tightened in annoyance, but he held his tongue, and Snape went on, "Dumbledore, Madam Fox and I agree that it's time you were given access to your own memories."
At his words, Harry felt as if he'd jumped naked into the lake in the dead of winter. His entire body went numb, and the air rushed out of his lungs as his ribs contracted painfully. Rolling wide, disbelieving eyes in Draco's direction, he saw that the Slytherin had gone very still, very white.
"You may go into the Pensieve whenever you're ready," Snape said, his voice unaccountably gentle.
"But…" Harry began to protest, only to have Draco override him.
"That's it? I'm well?"
Madam Fox answered him. "No, you are not well in the sense you mean it. That kind of healing takes years, my boy, and yours has only begun. But you've made a good deal of progress, and you've proven to me – to all of us – that you're intent on healing, not on hiding. You are very unlikely to suffer another emotional collapse, at this point."
"I can go into the Pensieve," Draco repeated, dully. To Harry's surprise, he didn't look eager or triumphant; he looked as though he might be sick.
"But Madam Fox," Harry broke in, "how can you be sure that his memories won't… do to him what they did the first time?"
"We can't be completely sure, of course. We can only use our best judgment." She eyed Harry thoughtfully, her wise, wrinkled face full of understanding. "The fact is that Draco will not be able to come to terms with what happened until he knows what happened. And his growing resentment of those of us who stand between him and his memories is slowing his progress." Her eyes shifted back to Draco. "You're fighting me, Draco, instead of letting me help you."
"I've done everything you asked," Draco rasped out. "I even went back into the dungeons, and I've stayed there, even though…" He broke off and bit his lip, his hands clenched unconsciously into fists against his thighs.
"The Slytherin dungeon is where you belong," Snape said.
Draco shot him a swift, sideways glance but said nothing. Harry knew exactly what he was thinking. Not anymore.
The Healer laid a hand on Draco's arm. "I know how frustrated you are. That's why I've recommended this step. I feel that it's time you knew the truth. Do you still want it?"
She nodded her acceptance and gave his arm a reassuring squeeze. "Severus has volunteered to go into the Pensieve with you, if that's what you want. Or Mr. Potter. Or me. It's entirely up to you, but you must have someone with you who's already seen those memories."
Draco turned to look at Harry, and Harry felt his stomach twist painfully. He desperately wanted to go with Draco, to protect him from the violence of his own memories, but he just as desperately wanted to avoid ever seeing those memories again. And the thought of watching them with Draco was absolutely terrifying.
What if Draco panicked while inside the Pensieve and had a relapse? What could Harry possibly do? And how would he forgive himself for letting such a thing happen twice? He couldn't bear to think of it, nor could he face the possibility that he might break, himself, and leave Draco without any support in the midst of his worst nightmare. But he was equally appalled at the thought of letting Draco go into that nightmare without him.
He blinked, forcing himself to concentrate on the moment, and on Draco's white, rigid face. He's so frightened, Harry thought. This is all he's wanted for more than two months, but now he's scared out of his wits.
"Whatever you want, Draco," Harry heard himself say.
Draco opened his mouth, shut it, then blurted out, "Professor Snape!"
A fist clutched at Harry's heart, wrenching a low sob from him, but whether of pain or relief he couldn't yet tell.
"I… want Professor Snape to go with me." Draco stared at Harry for a long, agonizing moment, then whispered, "I'm sorry. I can't."
Then, to his own amazement, Harry laughed. It wasn't much of a laugh, more of a croak really, but it loosened the hold of the fist around his heart and allowed him to take a deep, painless breath. "Neither can I."
Ignoring the Potions Master and the Healer watching them so intently, Harry stepped up close to Draco and put both arms around him. Draco shuddered and leaned against him, his arms slipping around Harry's waist. Harry held Draco until his shudders stilled and his breathing evened out, then he bent his head to inhale the familiar scent of Draco's hair.
"I promised you I'd take you into the Pensieve," he murmured into the soft, silver-blond strands, "and you know I never break a promise. So if you change your mind, and you want me to come, just say so."
Harry nodded and let go of Draco, stepping back. Snape, who had been glaring at the grass as if he could set fire to it with his eyes, moved swiftly up to loom at Draco's back. He dropped both hands to rest on Draco's shoulders, clasping them strongly, and fixed Harry with a repellant stare.
"Anytime you're ready, Malfoy."
"Let's do it now," Draco said, "before I lose my nerve."
Snape turned immediately for the castle, propelling Draco ahead of him, leaving Harry, Madam Fox and both broomsticks behind, apparently forgotten. Harry snatched up the brooms and jogged a few steps to catch up with Snape and Draco.
"You're not needed here, Potter."
Snape came to an abrupt halt and turned his fulminating glare on Harry. "Wait for what? More of your heroic posturing? I think we've all had enough of that for one day."
Lifting his chin defiantly, Harry gave Snape back glare for glare and said, through his teeth, "I'll go, but first I want you to put some of my memories into the Pensieve."
Snape's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Which memories would those be?" he hissed. "The scene at the Wizengamot, perhaps? Precious Potter to the rescue? You wouldn't want Malfoy to miss your greatest performance."
Harry stood his ground, refusing to back down from the venom in Snape's voice. "Yes, the trial. And the ambush of the Knight Bus. If he's going to see it, he should see it all."
Madam Fox and Snape exchanged worried glances, but Draco took the matter out of their hands. "If Harry remembers things I don't, then I want his memories too." He looked hard at his aunt, then at Snape. "You said it was time I knew the truth."
Madam Fox raised an eyebrow and quirked a familiar, ironic smile at the Potions Master. Snape threw Harry one more vicious glare, then spun on his heel and began marching toward the castle again. "All right, Potter, have it your way. You always do."
Harry scrambled after him, not sure if he had just made an incredibly noble gesture or the worst mistake of his life. Only Draco could tell him that, and only after it was too late to change his mind.
Harry sat slumped in the overstuffed chair, his eyes fixed on the fire, staring blankly at the dancing flames. All around him, the Gryffindors were celebrating the end of term at full tilt, shaking the very stones of the tower with their noise, but Harry did not hear them. He was lost in contemplation of his own stupidity and didn't notice Colin Creevey snapping pictures of Seamus and Lavender snogging, or Neville smoking at the ears from one of Dean's bungled hexes, or Ginny trouncing Dennis so thoroughly at Gobstones that he was soaked from head to foot with foul-smelling goo.
So intent was he on his private misery that he did not look up when Ron dropped into the chair opposite him. No one else dared come near him when he was in this mood, and a short time ago, Ron would have run as fast as his legs would carry him in the opposite direction. But the events of the last few months had cemented a new kind of understanding between Harry and Ron, one that allowed for the occasional man-to-man chat, when the situation was dire enough. Harry wasn't in the mood for one now, but he didn't have the heart to openly repulse Ron, so he merely sat, staring at the fire, hoping he would take the hint and go away.
A long silence stretched between them, and still Ron did not go. Hermione came sidling over, but Ron waved her off and hissed, "Get out of it, Hermione," a sentiment Harry heartily agreed with. She stomped off, and Ron shifted forward in his chair, clearly ready to talk.
"Aren't you supposed to be practicing with Malfoy?"
Harry answered without lifting his eyes, "I was."
"What went wrong?"
The quiet concern in Ron's voice finally brought a response from Harry. He turned to stare at his friend in surprise, his eyes wary and pleading at the same time. "What makes you think anything's wrong?"
Ron rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Because you haven't looked like that since Malfoy got his marbles back, and you only ever do when you're worried about him. So logic tells me that something is wrong with Malfoy and you're stewing over it. Either that, or you flunked your exams and are afraid you're going to be expelled," he amended, cheerfully.
"I didn't flunk."
"It's Malfoy, then."
Harry shifted uncomfortably in his chair, his gaze sliding back to the fire and away from Ron's earnest face. "Would you go away if I said I didn't want to talk about it?"
"All right." Harry's voice went flat with the effort of controlling himself, and he still could not look at Ron when he said, "Draco's going into the Pensieve."
"You mean, to remember?" Harry nodded. "But I thought Dumbledore didn't want him to remember."
"He just didn't want him to try until Madam Fox said he was strong enough."
Ron frowned in thought, mental gears turning, then he ventured, "That's good news, then. They figure Malfoy's got all his oars in the water. Right? So, what's the problem?"
"Nothing much," Harry retorted bitterly, "except that he may lose his mind again, or hate himself, or hate me."
"Don't be daft. Malfoy isn't going to hate you."
"I put some of my memories into the Pensieve with his, Ron. I thought… I thought it was only fair that he know the whole story, including the part where I used an Unforgivable Curse on his mother."
"Okay," Ron conceded, "that's a bad one. But he's also going to know that you saved him from the Wizengamot and Azkaban, and that his mum didn't give you much choice about the Curse. Trust me, Harry. It's going to take more than one little curse to turn the Ferret against you."
"I wish you wouldn't call him that."
"It's a compliment. It means that he and I are related – the Ferret and the Weasel – which I guess we are, if you count fourth or fifth cousins seventeen times removed. Isn't my mum a Black, somewhere high up in her family tree?"
Harry shrugged. He knew that Ron was trying to distract him from his brooding, but his mind would not cooperate. It kept drifting back to what he knew was happening in the hospital wing this very moment, and each time it did, his nerves stretched a little tighter and his spirits sank a little further into gloom.
Ron looked at him in fond exasperation and sighed. Dropping his attempt at humor, he asked, "Are you really afraid he's going to lose it again?"
"The things he's seeing in the Pensieve drove him crazy once. What's to stop them from doing it again?"
Ron considered that for a moment, then leaned a little closer and dropped his voice another notch to shield their conversation from the Gryffindors crowding the common room around them. "Look, Harry, I haven't asked you what happened to Malfoy, because I figured you'd tell me when you're ready. And if you don't want to tell me now, that's okay, but you have to know that you can. I won't blab it to anyone else, and I won't say anything stupid to you or to Malfoy. I promise."
"I know you won't blab it, Ron. That's not why I haven't told you."
Harry swallowed nervously. "You've… started treating Draco better. You don't call him names – most of the time – and you even talk to him occasionally, like he's a person."
"Isn't that what you wanted?"
"Yes! It's exactly what I wanted, and it makes everything so much easier."
Harry lifted his eyes to Ron's face, meeting his gaze squarely at last, letting Ron see the doubt and fear churning inside him. "I can't go back to the way it was before."
"Why would it?"
"I'm afraid, if you know everything, you'll start hating him again."
"Come on, Harry. I'm learning to forgive Malfoy just for being Malfoy. There's nothing he could possibly have done that's worse than what he was."
"He killed two people." Harry's quiet words brought silence in their wake, while the two boys stared at each other and the din of the party flowed around them, intruding on their notice. They both heard Lavender squeal with laughter and Hermione request, acidly, that she spare their eardrums. Harry dropped his voice, forcing Ron to lean in closer to hear, and said, "He used the Avada Kedavra Curse. That's why they took him away and put him on trial."
"So tell me, is that worse than simply being a Malfoy?"
Harry blinked at him, taken aback. "On what?"
"On who he killed and why."
"The one he got with the curse was his father."
Ron gave a low whistle. "Draco was on trial for killing his own father?"
"The only lucky thing in this whole mess is that Lucius was a known Death Eater, and if anyone in that dungeon was actually sorry he was dead, they kept it to themselves. But if they'd found out about the other one…" Harry broke off and shuddered.
"Who was it, Harry?"
Ron's mouth dropped open. "Pansy?"
Several heads swiveled in their direction at his shout, and Harry glared furiously at him. Ron flushed and muttered, "Sorry. But why would Malfoy kill Pansy Parkinson?"
"It was an accident. He was running from the Death Eaters and he stumbled across her. Literally. She'd been… she was…"
"What?" Ron demanded, his voice cracking with alarm.
"They gave her to the dementors, because she tried to help Draco. He had to watch her get the Dementor's Kiss."
Ron sat back abruptly in his chair, his face going white beneath the freckles. "I don't think I want to hear this."
"She was gone," Harry went on in a fierce whisper. "Sucked out of her own body and left… empty. He couldn't stand to watch it, knowing she was being punished for trying to save him, and that's when his mind started to go queer."
"I'm sorry, Harry. I really am." The utter sincerity in Ron's voice brought an unwelcome lump to Harry's throat.
"He didn't mean to do it, Ron, I'm sure of it. He was holding her face between his hands, then he moved so fast… there was a Death Eater coming at him, and he had to get away, and he… he snapped her neck. At least, I think that's what happened. His mind was so badly fragmented by then that it was hard to tell."
"Is he going to be able to figure that out from what he sees in the Pensieve?"
"I think so."
"Bloody Hell, Harry. Bloody, bloody Hell. No wonder you're so scared."
"He wants to remember. When Snape told him he could go into the Pensieve to relive it, he didn't even hesitate. But what if he can't take it any better this time than he did before? What if he…"
"Don't say it."
"I'll go mad, if I lose him again. I know you don't want to hear that. I know you don't understand. But it's the God's honest truth, Ron. I'll go mad."
"I know. Can I ask you something?" Harry nodded. "Why didn't you go with him?"
"He wanted Snape."
"He's probably right. It'll be easier with Snape there, and I don't know if I could stand to see it all again."
"And you trust Snape to bring him out in one piece?"
"Yes, oddly enough, I do."
"So what are you going to do? Just wait? Again?"
Harry shrugged and tried to smile. "As usual, that's all I can do."
"Boy, Harry, I wouldn't have your life on a bet."
"I thought you were jealous of me. The Famous Harry Potter."
Ron shook his head somberly. "Not any more, mate."
"Why not? Because I'm in love with Ferret Boy?"
"No. Because you never seem to catch a break. You never get to sit back and be happy."
A brooding darkness filled the tower room. The earliest stars glimmered faintly in the sky beyond its many windows, and a new moon rode above the topmost branches of the Forbidden Forest, but these distant lights only served to thicken the darkness within the stone walls. Even the many portraits hung about the room and the phoenix on his perch by the door remained silent, so as not to disturb the old wizard wrapped in thought as deep and impenetrable as the shadows about him.
Albus Dumbledore sat behind his massive, claw-footed desk, his elbows propped on its polished surface and his fingers steepled beneath his chin. He gazed out at the stars as if he could see the answers to his many questions written in their bright patterns, but the gift of reading portents in the heavens was not given to him. He had to rely on other eyes to decipher their mysteries.
Whom did Lord Voldemort consult in such matters? he wondered, not for the first time. Did Voldemort have to rely on the powers of others, or had he learned to interpret the stars for himself? As a student, Tom Riddle had shown no particular skill at Divination or the reading of portents, but Dumbledore could not rule out the possibility that Voldemort, at the height of his powers, had exploited talents unsuspected in the boy, Tom. Perhaps his enemy gazed at these same stars tonight, seeing in them things that Dumbledore could not, weaving his plans in the belief that the very heavens promised him victory.
That Voldemort considered himself destined for victory was clear. His words during the ritual at the Giants' Dance proved as much. But Dumbledore had a few more years' experience with the vagaries of portents than his adversary, and he would not rush to any conclusion. Nor would he despair of his own victory. Let Voldemort orchestrate his plans to force his own interpretation on the stars; Dumbledore could afford to wait, let events unfold as they would. After all, he had both Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy safely under his eye.
With an abrupt, decisive motion, Dumbledore passed his hand over the candles on his desk, and they sprang instantly alight. A flick of his wand produced a number of useful items, all placed neatly on his desktop where he wanted them. He unrolled a fresh piece of parchment, dipped a quill into a pot of purple ink, then closed his eyes and made a steeple of his fingers again.
The quill hovered over the parchment, poised, waiting. Dumbledore sank once more into deep thought for a long moment, while the ink started to dry on the quill's tip. Then, suddenly, the pen dipped and began to move across the page in swift, sure strokes. It wrote in Dumbledore's own large, looping, ornate hand, and it finished with his habitual flourish. After a long moment, he opened his eyes and gazed intently at the words his mind had conjured.
Hated and loved.
Coveted and spurned.
The trophy all seek though none value it.
The spoils of war ere the battle is fought.
His is the sacrifice brings victory or death.
A typically oblique utterance, precisely what one might expect from the centaurs, Dumbledore thought. Fiendishly easy to bend to one's own purposes. It really came as no surprise that Voldemort had read his own victory in this, and it explained much that the Dark Lord had done of late.
Poor Draco. Dumbledore could not read these lines without seeing that slight, pale, aloof young man, with his wary, wounded eyes and his broken hand. The image saddened him, because he knew that he had failed in some essential way to win the boy's trust. Now, if the stars spoke true, Draco Malfoy was destined to be used as an instrument of war, perhaps of his beloved Harry's destruction, and Dumbledore had no means to aid him, no guidance or support to give him.
If Dumbledore read the portent aright, Draco was the 'spoils of war', the prize for which Harry would launch the final, decisive battle of this shadowy war. The entire wizarding world despised Draco Malfoy, and yet he was jealously guarded by those who had him, furiously sought by those who did not, treasured only for the power he held over the heart of Harry Potter. And now he would pay for that power.
His is the sacrifice.
Voldemort had clearly read Draco's death in this, but Dumbledore found something else in the words. He found hope – hope that Draco did not have to die to satisfy the stars.
His is the sacrifice. Not he.
But this begged the question of what price he would inevitably pay to end the war. He had already sacrificed his hand, his father's life, his freedom, self-respect and sanity. And yet the war ground on, proving to those who watched the heavens that Draco had not yet made the necessary – one might say the ultimate – sacrifice. What, then, would he be forced to give in the end?
Perhaps Voldemort was in the right of it, and Draco would pay with his life. Or perhaps it was his heart the stars demanded, and Harry would be the one to die. Either way, two extraordinary young wizards would perish.
The very thought brought an ache of sorrow to Dumbledore's chest. He could not change the shape of the world, to lift Harry and Draco out of the eye of the rising storm, nor could he stand forever between them and their fates. But in the privacy of his own room, behind the lined and smiling mask of his face, he could suffer for them. And just maybe, the help of one batty old wizard would turn out to be of use to the wizarding world's bright, young heroes. Just maybe, they would all have a surprise or two for Voldemort, when the time came.
With a sudden, decisive gesture, Dumbledore swept the piece of parchment up from his desk. He rolled it into a neat scroll, then held a stick of purple sealing wax to the nearest candle to light its wick. The wax dripped thickly onto the parchment, forming a deep violet blob that gleamed darkly in the flickering light. Dumbledore pressed the seal of his ring into the wax, murmuring the words of a spell as he did so and producing a number of gold sparks. He casually ground out a the spark with his thumb that had landed on a spare bit of parchment.
Brandishing his wand, he sent the scroll sailing up to the highest shelf behind his desk. It flew into a dark pigeon hole and disappeared. With another wave of the wand, he swept away the writing paraphernalia on the desk, leaving only the branch of candles. He gazed at these for a long moment, then leaned over and carefully blew them out.
In the darkness, Dumbledore pushed back his chair, got to his feet, and crossed to the nearest window. The stars had thickened while he worked, and they now blazed with a fierce, cold brightness that seemed to taunt Dumbledore for his lack of understanding. The old wizard leaned his shoulder against the window embrasure and cocked his head back, letting the starlight fill his field of vision. And there he stood as the heavens wheeled above him, watching, waiting for the stars to form themselves into patterns he could understand. Waiting for them to give him the answers he needed.
Draco walked quietly down the corridor, his footsteps echoing slightly as he went. He was alone. The rest of the students were safely in their common rooms, enjoying a few hours of relaxation before going to bed. Only Draco still haunted the castle hallways – Draco and his memories.
He did not know how long he had spent in the Pensieve or in the Room of Requirement afterward. There, alone in his erstwhile prison, he had pondered everything he'd seen and tried to make sense of it. Tried to find himself, the person he had known as Draco Malfoy all his life, in the rubble that was left to him.
His father was dead. His mother was… where? In Azkaban? He wondered, but he knew it did not really matter. If she walked through the door at that moment, he could not go to her. She had made her feelings about him clear when she told the Wizengamot that she would rather have him dead than in Harry Potter's bed.
Draco shivered at the memory of his mother's face as she spoke those words, cold settling into his chest as the loneliness about him thickened into visible, clinging shadow. Harry was all he had, now. Draco could no more leave him than he could stop breathing. But what did that make him, if his love for Harry had killed him in his mother's eyes? A nameless ghost, who did not exist if his lover did not see him?
He had always identified himself as a Malfoy, even when that name brought him nothing but trouble. He had taken his place at Harry's side, where he knew he belonged, and proudly declared himself a Malfoy for all to hear. But now his mother had taken that name away from him with her love, and he was nothing. Nothing but the Famous Harry Potter's ghost-lover.
He was a prisoner in Hogwarts castle, trapped here by the threat of Voldemort and the will of Dumbledore. He was a murderer, with his father's blood on his hands. He was a traitor to the Dark Lord and an outcast from the wizarding world. He was no longer fit to be called a Malfoy, but he had no other identity, no other place in this world. Except with Harry.
It was the need to find Harry that drove him at last out of the Room of Requirement and into the darkened hallways. Harry, he knew, would help him find his way out of this perilous maze. Harry would stop the ground pitching beneath his feet, or at least help him find his footing before he dashed himself to pieces on the rocks. The need to find Harry, to see and touch him, was a horrible, hot pain inside him.
He did not understand how Harry could still love him, but even at his darkest moments, Draco did not doubt him. Harry had seen everything – lived much of it – and had never wavered in his devotion to his despised, outcast lover. Harry, who always made the right choice, always fought for the light, never felt the darkness calling him the way Draco did, had seen the worst in him and forgiven it. Harry had fought for him, for Draco Malfoy, had stood up in front of the Wizengamot and told them that he was proud of his love affair with Lucius Malfoy's son. Harry had used an Unforgivable Curse to save him. And after all of this, knowing what Draco had done to his father and to Pansy, Harry had taken him up to the roof of the North Tower, wrapped him in a warming spell, held him in his arms and loved him.
Draco climbed stairs and walked down endless corridors, moving mechanically, letting instinct guide him when his mind was too dazed and battered to think clearly about which hallway led where or how many staircases he needed to climb. He had walked the path to the Gryffindor common room so many times that his feet could find it all on their own. At the top of a flight of broad marble stairs, he saw the statue of Lachlan the Lanky and knew that he'd reached the seventh floor at last.
He did not let himself run down the last, long stretch of hallway. Nameless and homeless he might be, but he still had some pride, and he would not arrive at Harry's door panting and red-faced. Lifting his head at its usual, arrogant angle, he straightened his shoulders and paced calmly down the length of the corridor until he reached the Fat Lady's portrait. She regarded him with a pursed, sour face, telling Draco that she knew precisely who he was and did not approve of this brazen assault on her domain.
"Password, please," she said, loftily.
"I don't know it," he answered. He did, of course, but he was not about to open the portrait and step into the Gryffindor common room.
"Well, then. You'd better run along back to your dungeon, hadn't you."
Ignoring her frigid manner and the affronted look she threw him, he stepped up close to the portrait and knocked firmly on the frame. There was a long pause, then the painting began to swing outward, and Draco stepped back from the rush of noise and light poured from the opening. There, standing in the portrait hole, was Neville Longbottom.
Longbottom's jaw dropped at the sight of the boy standing outside. Malfoy did not strain himself by trying to guess how he must look to the Gryffindor. It didn't matter whether Longbottom was shocked by his appearance or simply by the fact of his presence. Nothing mattered, except that he find Harry. Now.
"Is Potter here?" he asked, quietly.
Neville closed his mouth with a snap, hesitated, then nodded. Turning back into the common room, he called, "Harry! It's for you!"
A burst of laughter answered him, but Draco did not hear Harry's voice in the general noise. He took another half step backward, distancing himself from all that life and hilarity. Longbottom stayed in the portrait hole, staring at him, his round face full of doubt and something that might have been concern if it had been anyone other than Draco Malfoy he was looking at.
Finally, the voice he had been aching to hear came from just inside the room. "Who is it, Neville?"
Longbottom nodded toward Draco and moved to one side. Another figure appeared in the portrait hole, and Draco felt a piece of himself slip back into place at the sight of him. Harry. Beautiful, rumpled, distracted, frowning Harry. Predictable. Dependable. Always where Draco needed him to be at the crucial moment. Always with that flare of light and hunger in his eyes when he looked at Draco.
Harry climbed through the hole in a flash and took a step toward him. Then suddenly, maddeningly, he stopped. He just stood there, hands hanging at his sides, waiting.
For what? Draco wondered. Why didn't Harry come to him? Why didn't he take him in his arms and tell him that everything would be all right? Why did he just stand there with that terrible longing in his face and tears in his eyes? Why, why, why didn't Harry hold him?
And then it occurred to Draco that Harry was waiting for him to make the first move. Harry didn't know what Draco would allow, didn't know that the need to feel those arms around him sat like molten lead in his stomach, weighing him down and tormenting him, that the memories burned in his head 'til he wanted to scream, and that nothing would be right again until Harry touched him.
Harry – dear, stupid Harry – was waiting for Draco to give him a sign.
Slowly, as though he were fighting the world's strongest leg-locker curse, Draco took a step forward. Only one. He couldn't manage any more than that, but it brought him close enough. With Potter's desperate eyes still on him, he leaned forward until his forehead rested in the hollow of the taller boy's shoulder. Then he closed his eyes and let out his breath in a long, soundless sigh.
Potter's arms came up and around him, drawing him close. Warmth wrapped him like an invisible blanket. Lips rested against his hair. It was everything he needed, everything he wanted, his entire life right here, in the circle of Harry Potter's arms. He did not move, did not speak, and gave Harry no sign of what was happening inside him. But in the endless silence, his heart quietly came unstuck.
The clasp of Harry's arms tightened fractionally. Draco let his weight settle against Harry's body, pain and fear draining out of him in the realization that he was safe. He was home.
Final Note: Well, here we are at last. The end of the story. I hope you all enjoyed it, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read it! Your comments, reviews, nagging and encouragement kept me going through the rough bits and made this story a joy to write.
I am now working on Part Three of the epic, which deals with the centaurs' portent and Draco's role in the war. The working title is Sacrifice, but I'm hoping to come up with a better one.
I don't know when I'll be ready to start posting it, but I'll be happy to let you know when it's up. Just drop me an e-mail and tell me you'd like to be on the notification list (you can get my e-mail address from my profile).
Thank you all again. It has been a pleasure sharing Harry and Draco's tribulations with you!
All the best,