Title: Casualties of War: Endings and Understandings
Rating: R for graphic violence, mention of sexual violence
Summary: When the Second War begins, Remus Lupin and Draco Malfoy are its first casualties. In which secrets are revealed, decisions are made and friends avenged.
Notes: And now we come to the end ... it's been an incredibly long and strange journey for me, and I'm so honored that anybody bothered to hang around with me through it. My list was beginning to look like an Oscar award speech, so I've stuck it down in the bottom so not to clutter up people's flists or comms. But thank you, everybody. And thanks to my betas, lildove42, aralias, frogslayr and lilchickadee.
Harry was out of bed and on his feet almost before he was even awake. He swayed and nearly stumbled, hazy and uncertain of what woke him and why his heart was hammering wildly against his ribs. Then Draco screamed again, and explanations ceased to matter.
Harry grabbed his wand off of the nightstand and was out the door in an instant, not bothering or even thinking of grabbing shoes or a coat. He skidded as he hit the bottom of the stairwell, sliding in his socks, nearly crashing into the front door. His arms flailed, seeking balance, and Sirius hit him from behind, materializing and catching Harry under the arms, propelling him forward. They hit the back door at the same time.
The first thing Harry saw was Draco, running blindly towards them. Beside Harry, Sirius growled, and Harry looked beyond the other boy's figure to see the dark shapes moving towards them.
Draco barreled into him at the same time Harry's scar exploded with pain. They went down in a tangle of limbs, and Harry's skull knocked painfully against the doorframe. Dimly, he heard Sirius shouting, his words unintelligible over the prey-animal beat of Draco's heart.
Voldemort and his Death Eaters advanced on them, a low chuckle rumbling in his chest. With every step, the sunshine and warm air that protected the Farmhouse melted away. The grass grew black and died under his feet. An icy wind burned its way towards them, chilling Harry immediately but clearing his head. He grabbed Draco by the shoulders and forced him to his feet, pushing him into the house. "Sirius?" he asked, not taking his eyes away from Voldemort.
"Yeah," Sirius grunted. It was a reply to everything Harry couldn't find the words to: I'm here, I'm ready, I'm with you. Sirius stepped forward, off the stoop and onto the grass, already growing thick with snow. Harry's eyes burned.
Voldemort halted some distance away. He chuckled softly in what had been his throat, and at the sound of that shrill, satisfied laughter, Harry felt Draco's left hand grab his shoulder and clench painfully.
"Harry Potter," Voldemort said. His lips drew back to reveal sharp, yellow teeth. "How wonderful to see you again."
Harry gripped his wand tighter and said nothing. He was vaguely aware that Sirius had moved to shield him in the same way that Harry was shielding Draco.
"So you've finally crawled out from your hole," Sirius rasped.
Voldemort glanced at him with mild interest. "We're here to take back a few items that ... belong to me," he said. "Step aside, Black. Certainly there are more worthy causes to defend than a puling child."
"Sirius," Draco said urgently, still gripping Harry's shoulder. "Sirius, we have to get help. The Floo is disconnected. That Muggle thing in the den doesn't work. How can we reach help?"
Sirius didn't even turn to look at them. "We can't."
"Your isolation works against you, Black," Voldemort purred. "I was delighted to hear that you had taken young Malfoy into your home after we had finished with him, and even more so to hear that Potter here would be joining you as well. It was more than I had hoped for, to be able to gain more power than I had ever dreamed of, and be rid of my greatest enemy in a single move."
"Afraid we don't follow," Sirius said through his teeth. He moved forward half a step, his wand ready. Voldemort smiled indulgently, the black-robed creatures behind him forming into a loose half-circle, boxing them in. A tight band of terror seized Harry around the chest and squeezed. He fought to breathe, the lines of memory blurring with the present: he had been encirled just that way in the graveyard, bleeding and pushed to his feet and told to fight as shadowy robed figures looked on.
"Every god demands sacrifice of his followers," Voldemort said. "Sacrifices of their most treasured things. Even though the Christian god recanted and spared Isaac's life, he still made the demand. I am not as weak, to allow my followers to indulge themselves. Lucius was more than happy to give his only son over to me."
One of the Death Eaters detached itself from the circle, drawing close to Voldemort's side. "Yes," Voldemort continued. "It was a curse, as I believe you have guessed by now. A rather ingenious one, if I may say so. I'm afraid you're not likely to have heard of it, Black ... they don't teach it in Hogwarts, and you've been rather unfortunately prevented from higher learning, haven't you?"
"Enlighten me, then," Sirius said. The snowfall was soaking through his clothes, matting down his hair. "I can tell that you've been dying to share your evil plans at your moment of triumph."
Voldemort nodded, still smiling. The snow and wind seemed not to touch him at all, though the servant beside him clutched his own robes close against the wind. "It touches me to see someone who can still appreciate a bit of melodrama. Lucius has cast the charming Brond Atol curse on his son. It is a thing of beauty, Black; you create an experience of absolute human suffering, seal the wound with fire, and the body acts as a living hot house, nurturing the seed we've planted with every emotion that the soul feels. When you pull the seed out, it brings everything that it has collected with it. I'm told it is quite a spectacle to witness."
Harry reached behind him blindly, groping for Draco's hand. Draco's palm was sweaty and his fingers trembled, but he stood his ground behind Harry. "You're going to have to get through us first," Harry said.
Voldemort's thin lips curled back, revealing sharp teeth. "I was rather hoping that would be the case. Tell me - where is the werewolf? Was it his demise that finally broke the seal of the seed? What a pity. I was looking forward to ... renewing our aquaintance."
Sirius launched himself forward with a roar, and Harry hesitated, torn between protecting Draco and helping Sirius. A greedy sort of sigh rippled through the ring of Death Eaters. Voldemort lifted a hand to hold them back, as the Death Eater at his side rushed forward to meet Sirius. Jets of light ricocheted harmlessly as they blocked and attacked. Sirius' voice was raw as he shouted spells and dodged a jet of green light.
Draco's fingernails clawed suddenly into Harry's palm, and Harry bit back a yelp and tried to pull away. Draco's terrified, pale face floated ghost-like in the corner of his vision. "Dad," Draco whispered.
"Dad!" he screamed, and as one, the combatants turned. The Death Eater's wand twitched towards them, but even before Harry could convince his body to get Draco and himself out of the way, a jet of light hit the Death Eater on the shoulder, spinning him around and flinging him bonelessly into the snow.
There was a hushed, sudden silence. Harry's breathing was harsh in his own ears. Sirius looked over his shoulder at them, his wand still extended from where it had struck the Death Eater down. "Alright?" he panted, and Harry nodded. He was still looking into Sirius' eyes when the beam of red light hit Sirius directly in the chest.
Sirius' eyes widened, just a little bit. He fell without a sound and lay unmoving, face down in the glittering snow. The Death Eater he had been dueling had recovered, and stood unsteadily in the snow, his mask askew. With an impatient gesture, he tore it off, revealing long blond hair and furious grey eyes.
Voldemort began to laugh. It started as a quiet hiss in his chest and escalated, growing louder and louder until Harry could feel it splintering his skull apart, right underneath his scar. He squinted his eyes against the waves of pain sending shocks rippling through his spine, his eyes trained on Sirius' body. He couldn't tell if Sirius was alright - if he was still alive.
Gradually, he became aware of a curious vibration building just behind him, a sort of yellow-green behind his eyelids. It hurt, almost, to look at: vibrating waves of hot light. Even Voldemort seemed to sense it; his laughter grew even more crazed, and he extended his arms wide, as though welcoming the sickness that was hidden at the heart of that light. Harry stared in confusion, his brain realising where the colour could only be coming from a fraction of a second too late.
Draco snatched Harry's wand from his hand and darted around him, his voice lifted in a howl. "I will kill you!" he screamed. Harry took off after him, running hard, shouting desperately for Draco to stop. Lucius Malfoy faced his son head on, his face a mask. Harry's heart clenched the closer Draco got to Voldemort, who stood almost passively between the father and child, and he spurred himself on faster, his hand outstretched.
"Suspendo!" Voldemort shouted, when Harry and Draco were only yards away. Harry felt himself violently yanked off his feet, his hands pulled upward over his head, wrists locked together. He hung helplessly, his feet mere inches from the ground. A short distance in front of him, Harry could see Draco kicking and thrashing at his own invisible bonds. He was still screaming, his voice breaking, foul words that Harry had never heard him use spewing out of his mouth.
Voldemort approached, Malfoy close behind him. His wand was loose at his side; his posture relaxed and confident. He drew close to Draco, whose screams ceased abruptly. He tried to pull away as Voldemort reached for him, grasping his chin in a bony claw.
"Leave him alone!" Harry shouted.
Voldemort paused, and drew a fingernail down Draco's cheek in a thoughtful caress. "Why Potter, I had no idea you felt so tenderly towards the boy."
Draco began to cry, softly, little gasping sobs Harry's only clue. He could only see Draco's face when the other boy twisted a certain way, or flung his head back; each faintly muffled sniffle or gulp drew a haze around his vision. "Now, now," Voldemort said soothingly, ignoring Harry's outrage. "Don't fret. It will all be over in just a moment." His fingers clenched around Draco's chin and he twisted Draco's head around. "Watch closely, Potter," he said. "I'd like for you to see this."
He tightened his hold on Draco's jaw, forcing his mouth open. Draco's eyes clenched shut, tears flowing freely down his cheeks. Dimly, Harry heard himself shouting, threatening Voldemort, but the Dark Lord spared him only a single, victorious glance as he dipped skeletal fingertips between Draco's lips, probing the boy's mouth deeper and deeper. Draco choked, nearly convulsing.
"Ah," Voldemort purred contentedly. "Lucius, I have found it." He withdrew his fingers, glistening with mingled saliva and blood. Draco coughed violently, his eyes still shut tight. Harry struggled against his bonds, desperate to be free, to hurt Voldemort as much as possible for what he'd done.
"Let him go, Voldemort!" Harry shouted again. "I won't try and fight you - just leave him alone!"
Voldemort turned towards him, surveying Harry with a cold eye. "You're in no position to bargain. I will deal with you as soon as I've destroyed this child."
In his hand, he held what he had referred to as his 'seed,' implanted within Draco's body months ago. It was the size of a peach pit and similar in texture, slightly corroded and a mottled silver in colour. It glinted and shone even as the snow grew thicker in the air. Harry could see Draco track its movements as Voldemort withdrew from them, holding it aloft. The other boy was trembling all over. Harry could feel his shoulders beginning to ache; his fingers were tingling painfully.
"Draco," he called. "It's ok. You'll be ok. I'm right here."
Draco twisted his head around, looking at Harry over his shoulder. His face was stained with tears, flecks of blood and bile dotting his mouth. His lips looked as though they were turning blue in the cold. "Harry," he rasped. "Tell my mother. I want her to know what happens."
"You tell her yourself," Harry replied, struggling to remain calm. "Don't give up on me, alright?"
Draco's mouth twitched. It could almost have been a smile. His eyes searched Harry's face with a frightening intensity, as though he was trying to memorize Harry's features. Harry stared back, trying to reassure with his eyes. Time felt frozen, dependant on a madman, and they hung helpless in the wind and snow, not even daring to breathe. Harry's lips parted; his breath misted in front of his face. Panic rose in a choke-hold, and he realised abruptly that there was a very real possibility that all of them would die that day. Remus' body lay upstairs, Sirius could already be dead for all that Harry knew. Harry and Draco were helpless. Would Voldemort's Brond Atol Curse kill Draco instantly? Or would it leave him alive but lifeless, as though he had been given the Dementors' kiss? Harry could see the uncertainty, the terror on Draco's face reflecting his own. He felt it spiraling out of control, a living force that grew and breathed, and he fought madly against it. He had survived Voldemort three times before, and he'd be damned if he'd give up now. There had to be a way out.
Voldemort was chanting, the seed oustretched towards Draco. The wind gathered and danced around him, its howl building into a crescendo. Harry's eyes flickered back and forth between it and Draco, whose gaze was still turned towards him.
"I don't -" Draco said softly, his voice stuttering over the words. "I - Harry, I don't want to see it."
"Look at me then," Harry said. His throat closed, and he had to swallow before he could speak, tears pricking his eyes. "Look at me instead. You'll be ok." Draco blinked rapidly, his eyes glazed.
Abruptly, Draco stiffened. Harry's eyes darted back to Voldemort. The seed was held a few inches from his face, his other hand stretched towards Harry and Draco, fingers splayed. Slowly, his cheeks hollowing, he drew in another long breath. Draco went rigid, his eyes shut tight and his teeth bared. Grinning freely now, his delight turning into a hammer inside Harry's skull, Voldemort breathed in the faint glow of the seed, igniting that glow into a silver, blinding flame.
Draco's skin bulged, bruises blossoming in the instant before it split apart, thin cuts appearing in hundreds of places across his face, hands, ankles, every visible part of him. Dark stains began to blossom through his cloak and run through his hair. Slowly, as blood flowed down his cheeks, streams of light squeezed out of the wounds, moving through the fabric of his clothing, drawn to the seed that the Dark Lord held. Draco's fingertips stretched towards the sky, his spine contorted in an angle that was painful even to see, but even though his mouth was stretched wide, his lips pulled back over his gums, blood coating his teeth and lips, he was completely silent.
And so Harry screamed for him.
Over and over, until his throat was raw and the Death Eaters were howling with laughter and Draco's head hung bonelessly on his neck and he was limp and unmoving, and Harry's head felt that it would explode with the triumph that swelled from Voldemort and washed over him.
The seed's flame leapt up and around Voldemort's right arm, coating him in silver light. He was as silent as Draco, his arm stretched taut. Lucius Malfoy had taken up his place at Voldemort's side again, his eyes on his son, the wind whipping his long hair about his face. Harry felt frozen, the muscles in his shoulders turning to screaming agony. He couldn't tell if Draco was still breathing, blood dripping from his bare feet in fat, frightening drops to pool in the snow beneath him. Harry's wand lay just outside of the rapidly spreading stain, dropped by Draco's numbed fingers. Sirius' wand was likely still near his body. Draco had never had a wand since he had come to the Farmhouse. They were defenseless.
Voldemort exhaled in a long, pleasured sigh. The seed's flame had enveloped nearly his entire body, obscuring his form in sinuous twists of light. "Centuries of history in this blood," he purred, drawing his wand again with his free hand. He turned towards Harry. "What shall it be, Harry? Would you like to watch me kill your friend? Or would you prefer to sacrifice yourself first? Shall we make it quick, or would either of you like to suffer heroically?"
"Go to hell," Harry spat. Did he hear Sirius stirring, behind them? Or was that only a foolish hope?
Voldemort smiled. "Suffering it is, then. Why don't we see if the young lord can withstand Cruciatus as well as you can." His wand lifted, wreathed in the fire that had lain dormant in Draco's body.
"No!" Harry screamed.
"Crucio!" Voldemort shouted. The light of the Curse shot towards them. It cut through the snowflakes that drifted in the air between them. The Death Eaters swayed forward, their wands lifted, hands spread. The skin of their palms was red in the cold air. At the Dark Lord's side, Lucius Malfoy's fists were clenched, his face white.
All of this Harry saw and absorbed in the fraction of a moment it took for the Curse to reach them. The drip of blood onto snow was deafening in his ears, drowning out all hope of hearing Sirius stir or come to their rescue. He forced his eyes to stay open, some part of his brain insisting that he owed it to Draco, to see what was done to him, to catalogue every hurt that was done to the Slytherin.
It never came.
For an instant, the world became a bright, violent crimson, resolving into a shimmering barrier as Harry, startled, tried to blink it away. The light of Voldemort's Curse struck the shield and bounced away, scattering the Death Eaters that encircled them. Voldemort took a hesitant step back, surprise written in his eyes.
There was a sickening wrench in Harry's torso, and it seemed almost that something passed through him: an enormous red shape that passed through the barrier, breaking the bonds that held Harry and Draco above the ground as it did so. They fell hard to the ground, Harry tumbling ungracefully to his knees. Beside him, Draco moaned as he hit the snow, his fingers digging fitfully into the white powder. Harry crawled to him, unspeakably relieved. He turned Draco over and wrapped both arms around him, unmindful of the blood that smeared onto his hands and face.
Voldemort screamed, high and long, and the red wolf - for that was indeed what it was: a red wolf made of light that was easily triple the size of a true wolf - charged him with terrifying speed, knocking him to the ground. There seemed to be Death Eaters everywhere, shouting and running to their master's aid, but too afraid to cast a spell. Harry held Draco tighter, still protected by the bubble of light that had appeared without warning when Voldemort had cast the Cruciatus curse. Draco stirred weakly in his arms, gulping air like a small child about to cry.
"Harry," he cried, over and over, "Harry Harry Harry -"
"I've got you," Harry whispered harshly, gently laying a trembling hand to Draco's cheek, afraid to press too deeply on the wounds that covered his face. Dark robed figures began to surround them, hovering as close as the barrier would allow, wands pointed directly at the boys. Harry shifted Draco closer, unconciously lifting a hand to shield him from seeing what was going on. Beyond the ring of Death Eaters, Voldemort had partially regained his feet; the wolf had backed away, poised to attack once more. Voldemort was crouched, wand ready, and Harry saw with astonishment that the right sleeve of his robes was torn and empty. A thick and clotted red substance was oozing from the place that his arm had been.
Draco jerked hard and nearly tore himself from Harry's grip. Startled, Harry glanced back down. Draco's eyes were wide, his pupils dilated so wide that his eyes were nearly swallowed up with black. Blood was still leaking from the wounds that covered his whole body, sticky against Harry's hands. "Fuck," Draco said distinctly. "What - Harry - why are we laying in the snow? I am freezing."
"Don't move too much," Harry said, when Draco tried to sit up. "Are you alright?"
There was a glitter in Draco's eyes that was quite unsettling. "Peachy," he said, his voice raw. "I'm still breathing, after all. That counts for something, I'd imagine."
Harry felt an oddly hysterical bubble of laughter rising in his chest, and kissed Draco on the mouth before it could escape. "We're still in trouble. My wand's out there, with them."
Draco's brow furrowed. His eyes squeezed tight, as though he was fighting exhaustion, and opened again. "Where is my scarf?" he demanded. "Is that out there with it?"
"I guess so," Harry said slowly. "There are Death Eaters too, though. We've got more important things to worry about, Draco. And you shouldn't be going anywhere. Stay here. I think maybe I can - make a break for it. Grab my wand. It's right outside the bubble thing."
Draco studied him closely. Absently, he reached up and twisted his fingers through Harry's hair. Harry tried not to flinch away. "What is this red thing? Do you think that it would move with us?" he asked thoughtfully, looking up at the dome above their heads. The rising chaos from outside their sanctuary didn't seem to bother him.
"I don't particularly want to chance it," Harry replied. He had spotted his wand, lying not a yard away from where the red shield came to an end. It was half-covered in snow, and as he watched, was kicked a little closer to them by a Death Eater, fleeing from the wolf. "Draco, can you sit up? We need my wand."
Draco's eyes shut tight again, and this time it took longer for him to open them. He frowned into Harry's face, not replying, as if he had forgotten where they were. "What?" he asked irritably. "Let me up, you ponce. I can sit up on my own."
Harry moved back slowly, letting Draco get his hands up and push himself to a kneeling position. He kept one eye on the battle as he did so, trying not to look in the faces of the Death Eaters around the barrier, who were screaming and cursing them. Draco didn't appear to even notice them; he was grumpily murmuring to himself, picking bits of dirt off of his sleeve. He trailed off abruptly, and Harry looked back, concerned.
Draco was staring at his hands, his eyes traveling over the fine cuts that mutilated his skin as though he hadn't realised they were there. Harry watched him, apprehensive, and jumped when a hollow boom shook their protective shield. Curses were bouncing off the barrier, shaking it down to the ground. "Alright, Draco?" he asked, without taking his eyes off the Death Eaters.
"Don't be daft," Draco muttered, and Harry paused, unsure if Draco was speaking to himself. Directly behind Draco's head, there was a brief struggle as the spectre of the red wolf charged down the Death Eaters that had gathered around them, knocking the whole lot asunder. Harry saw his opportunity.
"Stay put!" he called to Draco. Draco only looked at him, and in the split second before he dove through the barrier, Harry saw awareness return with frightening speed to Draco's grey eyes, coldness settling over his features.
Harry landed in a crouch on the other side, and stretched for his wand. A great cry rose up from the Death Eaters, and he bit back a shudder, not wanting to see whether they were shouting about Voldemort or himself.
His fingers grazed the wand, chill from lying in the snow, and relief rushed over him in the moment before he was knocked to the ground, and strong hands wrapped around his throat. He kicked violently, instinctively grabbing the grip around his neck, wrenching futilely. Lucius Malfoy was straddling him, his aristocratic face distorted and purple with rage. His teeth were bared, but he was completely silent as he slowly strangled Harry. Black spots rose in Harry's vision; what was all that noise about? Where was Draco? Where was Sirius? Didn't anyone see that he needed help?
They must have gotten Draco, he thought, his struggles weakening. Picked him off easily - he wasn't in any condition to fight. His eyes burned, but he kept fighting, steel rising within him. Even if this was going to be the way he died, he wasn't going to make it easy for Lucius bloody Malfoy to do it.
A pale blur broadsided Malfoy, knocking him sprawling. Air hit Harry's lungs in a shocking, painful amount, and for a moment it was all he could do to gasp. His vision swam, his throat felt as though it'd been cut wide open as oxygen passed through it to his lungs. His brain screamed at his body to get up, get back to safety or get his wand or do something. His wand had vanished, snatched out of his hand at some point. Coughing, he rolled over onto his side - and discovered what had hit Lucius Malfoy.
They had rolled several feet, and had come to a stop with Draco on top of his father, Harry's wand in his fist. Harry struggled to focus on them, Lucius' growls echoing in his ears. Locked together, Harry's wand clutched the wrong way in Draco's hand, they became a hideous parody of familial resemblance, their teeth bared, their eyes flashing in the identical shade of grey. Even their skin - normally the same anemic pallor - was red and blotchy: Lucius with exertion, Draco with the blood that even now dripped into his father's upturned face.
"You knew," Draco snarled. His father's hands snatched at his wrists, seeking purchase and slipping down his arms, trying to hold Draco at bay. "You knew it would come to this!"
"If you had any spine -" Lucius bit out. Harry pushed himself up onto his elbows and tried to shout to Draco. His voice came out in a whispered croak. Around him, the noise was deafening. The world was monochromatic, black robes and glistening snow blinding and confusing him. A trail of blood marked Draco's trail from the protection of the red shield to Harry's right hand and to where the Malfoys had come to rest. He couldn't seem to focus on anything but father and son, nearly close enough to touch. Somewhere, he thought that someone was screaming his name.
"How could you do it to me?" Draco screamed. His left hand slipped from Lucius' grasp and fell hard. The butt end of Harry's wand struck Lucius on the mouth, splitting his lip cleanly. It rose and fell again and again, choking off whatever Lucius was trying to say, blood splattering on his face. Harry's mind shut down, stopped trying to convince his body to move. There was the taste of iron in his mouth. He was soaked through from laying on the snow, and shaking with cold. What he was seeing before him felt as alien as watching Draco twist under nightmares that first week they came to live with Remus and Sirius, as listening to stories of plans for Borneo and orang-utans.
All Harry could do was watch, mesmerized, as Draco beat his father, mercilessly, as though some terrifying, animal violence had taken over the boy he'd never before thought was broken beyond repair.
"Shut up shut up - you're a monster - I don't want to hear you justify it, I don't care what your reasons were I'm your son - you deserve to die -"
Lucius' hair was stained with blood - like Draco's hair. His face looked mashed up and bruised - like Draco's had in St. Mungo's. His right hand was lumpy and deformed from trying to fend off the blows - but still whole, like Draco's hand was not.
It was only when three Death Eaters pulled Draco off of Lucius, and he disappeared under their attack, that Harry finally moved. He was on his feet and launching himself at the nearest black-robed figure before his brain had even registered that he was off the ground. The man went down with a yell, and Harry caught a glimpse of Draco - nearly unrecognisable, but fighting like a wild animal against Voldemort's servants - before a heavy body slammed into him from behind. They fell in a ludicrous pile, knocking down the two that held Draco as well. Wands were forgotten; magic was forgotten; and fists met skulls and stomachs and Harry kicked and twisted and -
The man on top of Harry, fist pulled back, froze and fell over into the snow. For a moment, there was shocked hesitation, and then strong hands were pulling Harry free from his assailants, wizards appearing from nowhere to Stun the Death Eaters that had them pinned to the ground. "What?" Harry asked, dazed. For the first time since he had made that thwarted dash for his wand, he looked out over the battlefield and realised what all the shouting had been about.
The Order of the Phoenix had arrived.
Voldemort was nowhere to be seen, but all around Harry there were unfamiliar witches and wizards dueling with the remaining Death Eaters. There was Snape - and Merlin, was that Professor Moody? - and the battle seemed to be drawing to a close. Harry swayed on his feet, dizzy and too sore all over to determine where he'd actually been injured. At his side was a tall black wizard with a gold hoop through one ear, who apparently had been the one to pull Harry to his feet.
"Alright, Harry?" he asked in a slow, deep voice. Harry nodded, too dazed to ask how the wizard knew his name. The man turned away and lifted Draco easily out from under a tangle of Stunned bodies. "Good god," Harry heard him say under his breath when he got a look at the boy. Draco stumbled, and Harry and the other man moved forward instinctively.
The wizard caught him gingerly around the shoulders, stooping to peer into his face. "Draco Malfoy?" he asked. Draco winced and nodded, twisting to pull out of the man's grasp. Harry stepped up, opening his mouth to intercede when a shout cut him off.
It was Snape, calling Draco's name. He was running to meet them, his face bloodless and grimy. "Draco," he said again, moving between the black wizard to face his student. "What happened?" His voice was urgent, strained. Draco shied away, avoiding Snape's eyes. Harry restrained himself from moving between them, as Snape had done to cut off the other wizard, to shield Draco from that searching gaze.
"There was some kind of curse -" Harry started, and Snape cut in with an icy glare.
"I wasn't asking you, Potter."
Draco glanced up at that, looking startled. His eyes were still lit with that unnerving energy: nervous and angry and savage. He met Harry's gaze and looked away quickly, down at his hands, clearly taking silent stock of his appearance. His robes were torn and singed and hung at a crazy angle from his shoulders. It exposed the pale column of his throat, which was a patchwork of oozing wounds and flaky areas of dried blood. There was a livid bruise on one cheek, which made Draco seem even more flushed than he was. He seemed to be hesitating, still not looking into Snape's face.
Snape reached for Draco, as though he wanted to brush back the hair from his godson's face. His hand hung between them, motionless, caught between the words that Draco refused to say.
At a glance from Snape, the wizard moved off, heading towards the pond whether some of the Order had gathered, hauling the unconscious Death Eaters into a large pile. When the Potions professor tried to give him the same brush off, Harry stood his ground, staring Snape full in the face, daring Snape to order him to leave As if Snape had more right to talk to Draco anyway, he thought huffily.
"Draco," Snape said finally. He spoke as though every word hurt him. "I need to know what happened."
"He put something inside of me," Draco said at last, jerking his chin in the direction of where his father lay, a crumpled heap in the snow. "You-Know - Vol - he - pulled it out of my mouth - " At this, Snape's eyes closed suddenly. " - and I don't know what happened after that. It gets hazy. It hurt - I - I don't remember. I remember this big red thing ... it protected us." He glanced at Harry, as if for confirmation, and rubbed a hand over his stomach. "It felt a bit as though it came out of me."
Snape gasped. Harry's attention snapped to him. "What was it?" he asked quickly. "Do you know what happened?"
All the colour had drained from Snape's face, and he looked close to fainting. "Was it - " He hesitated, his voice as soft, as human as Harry had ever heard, "Did it look like a wolf?" Slowly, Draco nodded.
It was as though every bone in Snape's body broke, just a little bit. His face did not crumple, and he did not beat his breast and tear his hair, but it was though some small part of him was torn apart to die, without any sound at all, in the heartbeat that it took Snape to recover himself.
"When - " Snape began, and that was when Draco cried out.
It jerked Harry out of the stupor he hadn't even noticed falling into, a noise of anguish and shock. Draco stepped back, his eyes wide, and Harry followed his line of sight.
Lucius Malfoy had managed to turn himself onto his side, and had promptly pitched over, his right hand stretching for his wand, inches out of reach. One eye bulged grotesquely out of its socket, staring blindly into the snow, not quite smashed apart by the blows that Draco had rained upon his father's face. Blood leaked from Malfoy's nostrils, and when Draco cried out, everyone turned to look: the wizards from the Order, the Death Eaters who had regained consciousness, Harry, Snape and Lucius Malfoy himself ... and so it was that all of the witches and wizards who had come and fought so fiercely on their behalf - and the Boy Who Lived - became witnesses to the murder of Lucius Malfoy.
Father and son looked into each other's eyes and Lucius screamed, his teeth bared like an animal, his words garbled and nearly incomprehensible. "I knew you wouldn't have the guts, boy," he hissed, spitting flecks of blood and meat from the bloody hole that had been his mouth. Draco's cry of horror became a howl, and he was running forward -
shouts rose up around them, and Snape had caught Draco around the waist but Harry's wand was still clenched in Draco's hand -
and Harry, in a moment of decision that he would wonder about for the rest of his life, remained silent and unmoving, the voice of a young boy's love for his father washing over the horror of the wand, outstretched, and -
because on some level, Harry knew that Lucius Malfoy deserved it.
Entrusting Draco to Potter - as though the very idea of trusting Potter with anything wasn't ludicrous - Snape headed back outside. The house smelled nauseatingly of old books and sage, and the silly trinkets that were littered about, the remains of last night's dinner still cluttering the sink, made his skull feel pinched. He passed Black on the stoop, sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest. Black didn't look up.
Dumbledore had arrived at last, and was looking gravely over his ragtag Order. He met Snape's eyes as he approached, and nameless things passed between them, images and emotions too subtle for most of Snape's acquaintances to appreciate:
Hasn't he been through enough?
let him recuperate, talk to someone he trusts.
It's unnecessary to involve the Ministry - you know that if it was Potter ...
A ghost of a smile creased the corners of Dumbledore's beard, and he inclined his head slowly to Snape, acknowledging the point.
It isn't so simple, Severus. You know that.
The Curse -
Only time will tell if Voldemort is finished with Mr. Malfoy.
With a snort and a bit of a flourish, Snape turned his back on the Order and went, cursing himself with every step, to Sirius Black. He stopped before the other man, and after a pause, Black looked up, his eyes betraying only a flicker of surprise. Snape hesitated, and then seated himself as gracefully as possible on the stoop beside Black. They stared out into the snow for a long moment, surveying the destruction that Voldemort and his followers had brought to the Farmhouse. Beyond the frozen pond, Snape could see a few of those ridiculous creatures that Remus kept, cautiously returning.
"When did it happen?" Snape asked, keeping his voice even.
Sirius' voice was quiet and nearly peaceful in tone. Some species of awe was written across his face. "Last night. He ... passed quickly."
Snape studied the ground, counting pebbles and strands of grass, struggling through the snow. "The wolf?"
Black nodded, his eyes distant. "It ... stood over me, and revived me, somehow. Maybe healed me, I'm ... not sure. But I looked up into its face ... I touched it ... I think he was saying goodbye." His hand stretched out, as though yearning for the muzzle of the wolf to reappear.
"It was supposed to be a last resort," Snape said bitterly. "I only brought him what he asked for."
"In case of his death," Black said softly.
"Yes," Snape said, his voice barely a whisper. "The Tutela Charm ... a very advanced form of the Patronus Charm. It is only activated after the caster's death ... a way of safe-guarding loved ones left behind. Re - Lupin remembered it - he and I were in an advanced Defense Against the Dark Arts class, seventh year. It's far more powerful than a Patronus, because a portion of the caster's soul is absorbed, forming a living barrier against the most devastating spells. It will ... be with them always."
Sirius' eyes closed, a strange, tight smile crossing his face. It cut a bright, humilating sort of pain across Snape's chest to see it. "I want him back so much," Sirius whispered harshly.
Snape's throat drew tight, choking him. Say it. I do too. Reach out. I would give anything to have him back. His hand clenched on his robes. He felt sixteen again, angry and embarrassed and knowing that it would never, ever be appropriate for him to speak like that - to open himself to vulnerability.
Silence stretched taut between them, and neither spoke. The span of years, the same bitterness and fear that had kept Remus from sharing with them the death that he knew was coming, welled up with unexpected quiet, an almost gentle knowledge that was reshaped and changed as they sat on the stoop and Snape knew that the two of them would never be the same again. They were the most unlikely and unworthy survivors of their generation, passed on and abandoned by the man that both of them had loved ... but the light of morning as it turned to chilly afternoon whitened and made bearable the realisation, the loss, and Snape found that he could breathe again.
Black's head dropped, one dirty hand reaching up to scratch his head. "Is Draco alright?"
Snape looked at him, his eyes flinty. "Hardly. But, I believe ... eventually, he will be fine, yes."
Black nodded. "He's a good kid. We - were lucky to have him with us." Snape said nothing. He could feel Dumbledore's stare on his bowed head, and knew he was needed for some matter or other. He stayed where he was, on the stoop with his childhood enemy, and the words he had swallowed sat heavy and painful in his stomach. He lifted his face to the light and wished that he could have seen the red wolf as well ... could have said goodbye.
Draco was shaking uncontrollably as Harry coaxed him inside, one arm wrapped around Draco's shoulders. His teeth were chattering - from cold or trauma or both, it was beyond Harry to guess.
"Come on," he said softly, turning his head to speak directly into Draco's ear. His hair, matted with blood and dried into prickly spikes, tickled Harry's nose. "Let's get cleaned up."
Draco only sighed in response, a long, ponderous intake of breath. His eyes were faraway but clear, and he followed Harry willingly through the kitchen and up the stairs to the bathroom. They hesitated only a moment: the bathroom was opposite the open door of Remus and Sirius' bedroom, but strangly, the rucked-up bed inside ... was empty. They stood still before the yawning darkness of the bedroom, eyes wandering over folds of blankets and pillows. Absurdly, Harry had the sudden urge to make the bed. But even clean, Harry thought, it wouldn't have the look of something anybody could ever sleep in again.
It would be days yet before they would understand what that empty bedroom meant. As they stood, arm in arm in the hallway, all that mattered was that beyond all odds, they had faced Voldemort yet again and bested him. Later would come explanations, regrets, questions. They leaned heavily on one another, their shivering slowly abating as they shared heat. Silently, they turned away from the empty, shadowed bedroom. Harry abandoned Draco at the sink to turn on the shower for him.
"Er," he said, "You should probably - get out of those clothes, they're all ... dirty," he finished lamely, colouring a bit. He tested the tap with his fingers, checking the water's temperature. "I'll go get you some other things to wear." He stood, shaking droplets of water from his fingertips.
"No," Draco said suddenly. "Can you - stay with me?"
Harry nodded slowly. It was the first thing Draco had said since the battle had finished. His face was a confusing mixture of emotions. He stared into Harry's face as though searching for something, and Harry shifted under his heavy gaze.
"Do you need help with your clothes?" Harry asked. The shower roared in his ears. Draco blinked, as though he had forgotten why they were in the bathroom at all.
"Harry," he said slowly. "Harry, I killed my dad."
Harry looked at him and found nothing to say. Instead, he stepped forward, reaching out to tug off Draco's cloak. He folded it carefully and set it on the toilet. Dried blood rained off its surface as he bent the stiffening fabric, scattering about on the neat stone floor. Draco had worn a patched, long-sleeve shirt and a pair of pajama bottoms to bed. They clung to his skin, sealed to his body. Harry thought of a pair of old knickers he'd found while emptying the Dursley's kitchen bin once, when he was nine or so, a dark, embarrassing stain right in the crotch of it. He'd known what it meant, had picked up snatches of explanation from boys at school, but to see the discarded remains of that mysterious, female blood had been embarassing and obscurely frightening.
He pushed the image quickly out of his head, and reached for the bottom of Draco's shirt. He didn't know if Draco was in any shape to undress himself, as weird as it would be to do it for him. He tugged experimentally at the hem, and Draco winced.
"It's stuck," he said, brushing Harry's hands away. "It's dried on to me."
"Oh," Harry said uncertainly. They looked at one another silently. Draco looked away after a long moment, one hand reaching out to briefly entangle his fingers with Harry's own in an apologetic squeeze. His grasp felt dry and faintly itchy.
"I'll just wash the way I am," Draco said, with a wry, absent smile. "I don't want to save these rags anyway."
Harry nodded. It was dizzying, to be thinking about such mundane things as folding or cleaning clothes. He looked down at himself, and found to his surprise that he was also completely filthy. His pajamas were soaked through with blood and dirt and snow. He studied the waistband of his bottoms and tried to count the minutes since they had faced Voldemort and won. His body felt strangely unharmed. It would be hours yet before he felt like himself again, before the aches and bruises that covered him made themselves known.
Later, Harry would feel almost ... grateful to Snape for passing Draco so brusquely off to him and giving them the time to be clean again. Outside the cottage that they had fought, danced, laughed and lived in, decisions were being made: where they would go from here, what could possibly be done with Draco, the future of the Order of the Phoenix, Harry, Sirius, Voldemort. Within hours, a dozen Death Eaters would be dumped at the Ministry of Magic's doorstep, swearing under Veritaserum that Voldemort had returned, and the wizarding world would change.
Harry and Draco knew nothing of this. Draco climbed, fully dressed, into the shower, bowing his head under the spray. Pink-tinted water cascaded down his cheeks and off his chin. A warm, animal smell washed over the room as blood ran from his hair, his clothing. Slowly, Draco began to strip off his clothing.
Harry swayed on his feet, exhausted and strangely too aware of the fact that he'd never seen Draco naked before. Although Harry often slept only in shorts on hot nights, Draco seemed to prefer to be dressed at all times. He would change his shirt in front of Harry, but never everything else.
Harry could have kicked himself for thinking of a thing like that at a time like this ... when he should be trying to be nice and understanding and it would be so much easier if he had Hermione here, telling him what to do. Even if she wouldn't want to see Draco naked, and Harry did, and that seemed to be the issue. It remained heavy in his mind as Draco peeled his pants off his body, nudging them with his foot into the corner of the tub. He looked up at Harry, his grey eyes startling in the wash of blood and dirt across his face, and Harry drifted closer, helplessly.
"You're not a bad person," Harry said, stepping into the shower and pulling Draco close. "He deserved it and you're a good person."
Draco's head dropped onto his shoulder and his arms went around Harry. His skin was slippery and superheated under Harry's hands. "He's really dead, isn't he?" he asked wistfully.
Harry ran his hands down Draco's back, washing away the blood that had dried there. His clothes were heavy on his own body, uncomfortably hot but vaguely frightening to consider removing. He pressed his lips to Draco's neck carefully. There were wounds all over Draco's body that broke open again and began to bleed sluggishly, but Draco didn't seem to notice.
"I forgot to tell you something," he murmured in Harry's ear, and unexpectedly giggled.
"What's that?" Harry said.
Draco leaned against him, forehead to forehead, pulling Harry's glasses from his face where they had fogged up and blinded him, tossing them onto the floor. His smile was lopsided, his eyes the colour of the sea after a storm.
"When they were sixteen - Remus and Sirius and your father and Wormtail - they were big troublemakers. I suppose you already know that. For your dad's sixteenth birthday, they made all these cookies and such with gillyweed baked into them. Remus said that if you cook the gillyweed into something - oh, thank you ... is my hair clean yet? - it's much, much more potent. They didn't know that, so they ate the whole lot between them. Here - you've got dirt on you. Take your shirt off."
"So there were a lot of embarrassing little details - later on that night, Sirius nearly killed himself with a toilet - he had the brilliant idea of using a Reductor Curse to try and get the Sneakoscope out that Wormtail had thrown into it, and had a big shard of porcelain lodge in his stomach when it exploded, but they convinced Remus to put on a strip tease for them. Ow. What was that? I didn't even notice that ... I can't believe there's so much - damage - I barely feel it. I'm numb all over but I'm ... warm with you - Harry - thank you for staying with me ..."
There was a long silence, broken only by the sound of water on flesh and tile, the air becoming cooler as they were washed clean, blood swirling down the drain and passing into memory, and Harry brushed the tears from Draco's cheeks and wrapped his arms around him, slender limbs winding around his own body, indistinguishable where one ended and the other began but for skin tone.
"So Remus gave Sirius a lap dance, I think he called it ... might have done the same for your father, but he was a little unclear on that point. He was so concerned about what he had done afterwards, but being sort of out of his head, all he could do was sing this song over and over - and that was the song we listened to, about that girl who strips to the polka."
Harry's eyes were closed, the darkness overwhelming and comforting, Draco's face buried in his neck, his voice muffled. He felt like one giant being of light and heat, washed clean of everything but the slender, naked boy in his arms, the water that ran between their bodies and over their faces. "So that's what Remus refused to tell us? It's not so bad."
Draco laughed, faintly. "That's what I said. He made such a stink about a little story. Although Sirius nearly dying by toilet was hilarious." He lifted his head. "I think the water is getting colder."
Harry only wrapped his arms around Draco tighter, squeezing briefly. "How long d'you think we've been in here?"
Draco smiled. "Doesn't matter. Nothing matters."
"Yeah," Harry said. The rightness of it spread through his body and he could have laughed and howled and thrown his hands up in the air and kissed Draco because god, it was over and they were safe. "That's right. Nothing matters. You're with me and we're safe and you're home."
I want to say thank you so much to all the people who have supported this story and me personally throughout its very very long lifespan. Your comments, reviews and friendship have meant the world to me over the past year and more, and this story wouldn't be half of what it is without you. Special thanks to aralias, who was the very first fan this story ever had; lilchickadee, who was instrumental in helping to shape this fic into what it became; lildove42, who is probably the reason that it's been finished at all; resmiranda, who gave me this journal because of it; frogslayr, who has helped me understand the story itself better with her lovely lists; gryffinjack and Max who beta'd; everyone who has left such kind reviews, everybody who popped in to ask for updates, and everyone who remembered about this little fic. Thank you all so much.
Also, there is an epilogue, which I'm not able to upload onto because it's rated NC-17. But I'm quite proud and still wanted to share it, so anybody who would like to read the epilogue can find it at my LiveJournal, hansbekhart, under my memories (Casualties 13 epilogue). I really really wish I could provide a direct link to it, butFanfiction dot netseems to really hate me tonight. If anyone knows a way I could do so, please let me know.