Disclaimer: Harry Potter & Co belong to JK Rowling. None of the characters or places mentioned belong to me, only the plot.

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Harry groaned and opened his eyes, cursing himself for a fool. The ambush had come in the middle of the day, at the very edge of the Hogwarts grounds- almost within sight of the castle itself, for God's sake! In short, they had been caught completely off guard.

Not only that, but they had walked- or rather, flown- straight into the Death Eaters' trap. They had fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

They had been ranging out over the Hogwarts grounds on their broomsticks, trying to outdo one another with spectacular dives, feints and rolls, bantering good-naturedly all the while; the both of them being superb flyers, this had become one of the favorite pastimes of their fledgling friendship. When, as they had passed low over the Forbidden Forest, daringly skimming the treetops, they had heard the cries for help, it had been second nature for Harry to descend and investigate. What they had found in the little clearing, however, had not been a student in distress, but six Death Eaters ready and waiting for them, who had immediately Accio'd their broomsticks right out from under them, cutting off their escape.

Still, though they had been outnumbered six to two, they had managed to fight off Lucius Malfoy and his cronies, and Voldemort's second-in-command had not succeeded in his mission, which had been, of course, to capture back his son. Draco had refused to take the Dark Mark at the beginning of his seventh year, and had been under the protection of Dumbledore, and his mentor and head-of-house Severus Snape, in the months since.

Worse still, from Voldemort and Lucius' standpoint, was the fact that Draco, who was Head Boy and role model to a lot of the other Slytherins, had led a great many of his housemates away from "the cause," pointing out, quite reasonably, really, that it was entirely possible for one to be clever and ambitious without necessarily being evil. Nor was that all; he had then gone on to commit the ultimate, unforgivable sin in the opinion of the Death Eaters; he had forged a friendship with Harry Potter, the boy-who-lived himself. As a result, though he did not bear the Dark Mark as he had been intended to since birth, he was, in another very real sense, a "marked man"; his name occupied the very top slot on the list of those Voldemort wished to capture, torture, maim and kill. For the time being, he had surpassed even Harry in this regard; the Dark Lord had zero tolerance for traitors.

But Lucius had failed in his attempt- hadn't he? Harry suddenly realized how very quiet the clearing was. "Malfoy?" he said tentatively, pushing himself, wincing, into a sitting position. There was no answer. Panic began to take him. "Malfoy!"

"Over here, Potter," came a weary voice from behind him. Harry's head snapped toward the sound. Draco was there, and still on his feet no less, leaning back against the thick trunk of a tree. His pale eyes were regarding Harry intently, and the expression on his face- it unsettled Harry, though he couldn't put his finger on just why. "You all right?" Draco asked quietly.

"Yeah," Harry said with a rueful grin, trying to banish his misgivings. Draco was here, he hadn't been taken; he was ten short feet away. "Not as good as you, though, apparently. You always were better at dueling than me, I guess. I'm glad you're all right, anyway- I can't believe you're still on your feet!" He realized that he had begun to babble in his growing relief.

But then-

"Not exactly," Draco said.

"Not…exactly what, Malfoy?" Harry asked, climbing slowly to his knees. The budding relief he had felt was vanishing, to be replaced by a cold, sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. Something wasn't right. Not bloody right at all. It suddenly occurred to Harry that Draco was leaning very hard on that tree. "You…you are all right- aren't you?"

"Not…exactly," Draco repeated, his voice now barely more than a whisper, and as Harry watched, aghast, the silver-haired boy's legs abruptly gave out and he slid down the side of the tree, landing hard in a sitting position at its base.

"MALFOY!" Harry would later have no recollection of exactly how he had crossed the distance to the tree; in the next instant he was simply there, gripping Draco hard by the shoulders. "What the hell-? Malfoy? Malfoy?!?"

Draco's head was bowed, his shock of white blond hair falling forward to obscure his face. Harry could make out just enough of the hard line of his jaw to realize that he was grimacing. He was breathing in short, shallow gasps through tightly clenched teeth.

"Malfoy, look at me."

Draco slowly raised his head, leaning it back against the tree. His gray eyes were wide, and wore an expression of deep shock. "Not…feeling so great right now…Potter," he said.

"Shit, Malfoy, what happened? Where are you hurt? Aw…aww fuck. Oh, bloody, bloody hell."

"Yeah," Draco whispered hoarsely, "that about sums it up, mate."

For there was, Harry now saw, blood seeping through Draco's black robe; a lot of blood. Oh God, a fucking river of blood. He hadn't noticed it from across the clearing; it had been lost against the dark fabric of Draco's school robe. But now, right up close- Harry felt tears spring to his eyes and blinked them back, hard.

Shit, but this was bad.

"How- what- what the fuck kind of spell does this?" he croaked, horrified.

"No spell, Potter." Draco looked characteristically disgusted. "Over there. On the ground." He gestured vaguely off to his left.

Harry's eyes followed in the direction indicated and caught the gleam of light on metal. His stomach turned over. "Accio," he whispered, and the object rose up and flew into his outstretched hand. It was a small, ornate silver dagger, with a hilt wrought in the likeness of writhing, intertwined snakes and liberally studded with emeralds. The entire length of the blade glistened with blood.

"Oh. Holy. Shit." he said sickly, turning the weapon over in his hands. "Malfoy…who-?"

"Who do you think?" Draco asked bitterly. "It's a fucking Malfoy heirloom. Thousand years old, at least. Father always said he'd give it to me one day." He tried to laugh, but all that came out was a strangled sort of cough. Blood flecked his lips, and he wiped it away with the back of his hand, glaring for a moment at the red smear, as if angry at the blood itself for being outside his body, instead of in. "I guess this is the day."

"That unbelievable bastard. I am going to kill him. Rip him limb from bloody fucking limb." Harry's voice was flat, uninflected, and utterly certain. He was not making a threat; he was stating a cold, hard fact.

Draco raised one eyebrow. "That so, Potter? I didn't know you cared."

"Don't be a git, Malfoy. You're only one of my best fucking friends!"

"Oh…right. Sometimes I forget about that." The barest hint of a smile on his lips told Harry that he was playing with him, even now. "Old habits die hard, and all that, eh, Potter?"

But Harry's thoughts had become sidetracked. He was staring, once again, at the dagger in his hands, and remembering the Muggle first aid class he had taken over the summer. It had been offered, free of charge, at the Little Whinging community center, and he had attended it more as an excuse to get out of the house and away from the Dursleys than for any other reason.

"You…pulled this out?" he asked slowly, eyes still fixed on the bloodied weapon rather than Draco.

"Damn straight I pulled it out," Draco said, sounding annoyed, "what the fuck would you have done? It bloody well hurt!"

"I know, I…fuck. I know. It's just that- if you'd left it in, at least you wouldn't be bleeding so much. Standard Muggle first aid. And when you think about it, Malfoy, it only makes sense. You leave the weapon in; the blood doesn't come pouring out." He sounded exasperated; it was just the way in which his worry-verging-on-panic was starting to manifest itself. Lucius wasn't around to take his anger out on at the moment, so he found himself venting it, instead, on Draco- who had, however unwittingly, made the situation worse.

"Oh. I see. Well, poor, ignorant, pureblooded me. Guess I'm just a walking fuck-up." Draco's voice dripped with biting sarcasm. "Tell you what- if you think it'll help matters, why don't you just stick it back in there; plug me right back up. Or better yet, here's a thought…try sticking the damn thing in your own chest, and see how long you last before pulling it right the fuck OUT AGAIN!"

This last outburst brought on a full-blown coughing fit that doubled him over for several long, agonizing moments. When he lifted his head again, leaning back against the tree once more, his chin was scarlet with blood and the light behind his pale eyes was beginning to fade.

"Goddamn it! Malfoy!" Harry cried, frantic. "Don't DO that! Christ. I'm sorry. Of course it hurt. That was a shitty thing for me to say. I just lost it, I-" his voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. "I've never been so scared." Draco regarded him silently for a moment- then the silver eyes slipped shut.

Reaching up to his throat, Harry yanked off his scarlet and gold Gryffindor tie, and used it to gently wipe the blood from Draco's chin. He paused for a moment, trying to collect himself, to think what to do next. It was hard to concentrate; nearly impossible. It seemed as if half of his mind was drowning in numb horror at the sight of all this blood, while the other half was a flurry of random, semi-coherent thoughts; all the things he'd been wanting to say to Draco for weeks now, things concerning their friendship; things concerning his feelings, which had, for some time, been tending toward slightly-more-than-just-friendly.

Jesus Christ, he had to get a grip. Draco was dying right in front of him. He'd better fucking do something- or he'd never get a chance to tell him anything, ever again. Dropping the bloodied tie to the ground, he ran both his hands through his short, untidy hair, gathering his thoughts. Then, abruptly, urgently, he spoke.

"We have to get you out of here. Back up to the school. Can you stand if I help you?"

Draco's eyes blinked slowly open; there was a far-off look to them now, and it took him a minute focus properly on Harry's face. "You're joking, Potter," he whispered at last. "Do I look like I'm in any in any condition to just up and stroll on back to school? You go. Bring someone back here. Bring…bring Snape."

"Bugger that, Malfoy, I'm not leaving you! If I go back, you go back. We can- wait- I know…Accio Firebolt!"

Both boys had been on Firebolts before the attack, and now both broomsticks came to Harry's hand, from the far edge of the clearing, where they had been tossed by the Death Eaters. Harry's plan had been simple enough; maneuver Draco onto one of the broomsticks, sit behind him to hold him steady, and fly back up to the school. Firebolts were strong enough brooms to easily bear the weight of both boys.

Unfortunately, each broom came to Harry in two pieces; the Death Eaters had apparently, unbeknownst to Harry, who had after all been rather busy fighting for his life, snapped them both in half. "Shit!" he swore vehemently; "shitshitshit." No simple Reparo spell could mend this damage- not and have them fly reliably. And the very last thing Draco would need in his current condition was for Harry to lose control and fly them straight into the side of the castle. Wouldn't be too great for Harry either, come to that.

"I can't fix this," he muttered distractedly aloud, then, "Malfoy, we have to walk. You can lean on me; I'll help you. We'll make it. Or- or I can float you, I can…Wingardium Leviosa-"

"No! I won't be floated along like some bloody inanimate object!"

Harry could see a flash of anger in Draco's quartz colored eyes. Damn Malfoy and his bloody stubborn pride! "So you'd rather sit right here and DIE?"

"No, Potter, I'd rather you listen to reason and go get some fucking help! What is wrong with you? Stop wasting time and go already!"

"Not a chance." Harry's tone was final. It never occurred to him, of course, that he was being every bit as stubbornly unyielding as Draco himself. "I told you once already, I won't leave you. We're going back together."

"I don't understand," Draco said with weary frustration. "It'll be faster for you to go. It just makes sense. WHY won't you see sense?"

"Because it would be beyond wrong to leave you here like this; it would be inhuman. I wouldn't leave my worst enemy in this state. I wouldn't have left you here even back when I hated you. You need help, and I'm the only one around to give you any, so Malfoy, will you please let me help you?!?"

"Oh."

This apparently was not the answer Draco had been hoping for, if he had, in fact, been hoping for any particular one. Indeed, until that moment, Harry would not have believed it possible for a person to cram so much bitterness into one short word.

"So that's it then," Draco continued, "it's just your hero complex acting up again, that's all. I need help, and you're the Gryffindor wonder boy in shining armor, here to save me same's you would anyone else. That's all I needed to know- just so we're on the same parchment."

"Wha- no. NO! Shit, Malfoy, I…"

Out of the jumble of his thoughts, a single one emerged, bright and clear, and it was this; that Draco could not be allowed to think that, because it simply wasn't true. Yes, he would help anyone he found in this situation- anyone at all, barring Draco's father and Voldemort himself- but he wouldn't- God, he wouldn't be so damn scared for just anyone else. He wouldn't be buried under this mind-numbing sense of horror and impending loss; he wouldn't be feeling as if there were some great black weight on his chest that was making it very difficult to draw a good, deep breath. He might be this scared if it were Ron or Hermione bleeding to death before his eyes, but there was no one else- since Sirius had died, there was no one else he loved enough to frighten him this badly.

Except now, apparently, Draco.

There was nothing else for it. It was time to tell the truth.

"I won't leave you here, Malfoy, because I… I can't leave you here. I need you; I…"

He trailed off, then, sucking in a deep breath, tried again.

"I've lost too many people already. I won't lose you too. Not when I'm just starting to realize…that…I…" His next words came out all in a rush; "I love you. As a friend, and as…more, too. I can't lose you now; not now!"

And, tilting his chin almost defiantly in the wake of his admission, he stared into Draco's startled eyes; eyes that had, quite suddenly, darkened from silver to gunmetal; darkened with pain. And not just the physical pain of his wound, either; that was some of it, but not all of it. Not by a long shot. But before Harry had the chance to study his former enemy's eyes any further, they slammed shut defensively; Draco even turned his head a few degrees to the side, as if in a further attempt to escape Harry's penetrating gaze.

"Malfoy-"

"Why now?" Still without opening his eyes, Draco spoke in a voice Harry had never expected to hear from him; the small voice of a lost child. Just hearing that voice made his heart ache.

"I…what?"

"Why now, Potter?" Draco ground the words out between clenched teeth. "Why are you telling me this now, when it's too- bloody- late?!?"

"It's not too late! You're not going to die; I won't let you!"

Now Draco opened his eyes and looked at him again, and Harry saw that the shutters behind those silver portals had been slammed shut once more, denying him access to the emotions that dwelled there. They were cold and distant now, and faintly amused. The barest hint of a smile touched the Slytherin's lips.

"What an utterly asinine thing to say, Potter. As if it were up to you- as if you controlled such things. How typically Gryffindor."

Harry was cut to the quick. It was his turn now to look away. Hence, he missed the lightning quick flash of emotion behind Draco's eyes; an emotion that bore an uncannily strong resemblance to remorse.

"Shit," Draco whispered, under his breath. Then, "Potter, I-"

"Forget it." Harry's voice was flat; his composure regained. He still avoided Draco's eyes. "Doesn't matter. I shouldn't have said anything. Of all the stupid times to- I guess I just thought that maybe you- but clearly, I thought wrong."

Finally, he turned fully back to Draco, and his face was grim and set. "All that matters now is getting you back up to the school. See, I still intend to take you there and the thing is, Malfoy, you're not bloody strong enough right now to stop me. So you don't get a say in the matter!"

And without waiting for a reply, he stood, slinging one of Draco's arms about his shoulder as he did so and hauling the wounded boy up with him.

"Unngh!"

Anyone else would have screamed outright; Draco only made a small, muffled sound of pain from between tightly clenched teeth- and for him, Harry knew, even that much of a lapse in his iron self-discipline meant failure; meant shame.

"Malfoy?"

Draco's head was bowed forward, his silver-blond hair hiding his face again. His breath was coming in harsh, ragged gasps, and the arm not slung over Harry's shoulder was pressed protectively against his wound.

Harry gave him a minute, at the same time adjusting himself to Draco's substantial weight. He hadn't expected him to be this heavy- he supposed that it was Draco's innate, almost feline grace that had misled him; the fact that the blond Slytherin always seemed so light on his own feet. But now- now that he was just sagging against Harry like so much dead weight…NO! Don't even think that word! Don't even THINK it!

"C'mon, Malfoy," he muttered, his own breath labored. "Let's walk."

"Whatever you say, Potter…" Draco's voice was exhausted; defeated. "Since you're calling…all the shots." Still, he put forth a good effort to walk. Harry knew that his pride would not allow him to be carried or dragged, not so long as there was one single ounce of strength left in his body that he could apply toward putting one foot in front of the other.

In this way, they cleared the trees and passed Hagrid's hut. Harry wished fervently that his friend were there to offer some assistance, but Hagrid was away on Order business; his little house was closed up and had an empty, neglected look. There was no help to be had there; they needed to get up to the school proper. As they started slowly up the long, sloping incline of the lawn, Harry thought the castle had never looked so far away; so very unattainable.

"Malfoy," he panted, "you still with me?"

"Mm."

"It's not far."

Draco raised his head for just a fraction of a second, his eyes meeting Harry's in a quick flash of silver. He gave him a look that as much as said, I'm not going to dignify that with an answer, before his head drooped forward again.

They had just come abreast of the lake when the inevitable happened; Draco's last reserves of strength gave out. Harry felt the difference instantly; he had thought Draco was dead weight before; it had been nothing to now. He went completely limp and Harry quite suddenly found that he couldn't walk another step; it was all he could do lower Draco slowly and gently to the ground, slipping one hand beneath the silver blond head as he eased the wounded boy to the lush grass. Draco's soft hair spilled over and through his fingers like silk.

"Malfoy? Malfoy! Stay with me, Malfoy! Shit. SHIT!"

Raising his head, he stared about wildly, searching for anyone- anyone at all- who could help. It was a beautiful afternoon; there should have been students out sunning themselves by the lake. Where the hell was everyone?? Finally, just as despair was overtaking him, he saw the massive double doors of the school swing open. A group of four students appeared and began making their way down the front steps. They were young; second or third years, perhaps, and wore the colors of Hufflepuff.

Harry propelled himself to his feet so fast that he very nearly pitched forward and went sprawling beside Draco. Then he regained his balance and was off and running toward them, frantically waving his arms. The second he got within shouting distance, he began screaming at them to go, get Snape, get Dumbledore, get Madam Pomfrey- get somebody- tell them there was a student wounded by the lake. For God's sake, go NOW! The four youngsters fled back into the castle, and he returned, stumbling, tears now running unchecked, unnoticed, down his face, to Draco.

Whose pale eyes were open, disoriented, staring questioningly up at him as he fell heavily to his knees in the grass.

"Potter…what happened?" he whispered.

"S'okay, Malfoy. You just…I couldn't hack it anymore. I had to stop. Rest. What…what the fuck have you been eating lately, anyway? You weigh about as much as a bloody Hippogriff!" He was trying to keep his voice light, reassuring, still unaware that he was weeping openly, until-

"You're crying, Potter."

"I…what?" He reached up slowly, almost wonderingly; brushed the tears from his cheeks and then stared uncomprehendingly at the wetness on his hand. "Yeah," he said slowly, at last, "I guess I am."

"Why?"

It seemed as if time itself were slowing down as Harry dropped his hand back to his side and locked gazes with Draco. Gone was his earlier resentment born of Draco's cold words; gone was any lingering sense of pride that might have kept him from, once again, baring his soul to the one that, he was now quite certain, he loved. It had begun to dawn on him that anything he had to say to Draco, he had better say now. It was time to speak, or most likely lose his chance forever.

"Because," he said, his voice coming in a choked rasp, "because you can't leave me, Malfoy. You can't. I'll go mad. I told you before, I need you; I…fuck. I don't know how to say this, I'm no bloody good with words, I just know that if you leave, I won't survive. My body might, but I- the real me- I won't. Please, Mal- Draco- don't go."

"Because you love me?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I do."

"When?"

"When what, Draco?"

Draco actually rolled his eyes. "When did you know that you loved me, you prat?"

Harry fought to concentrate; to think back. When had it clicked? "I think- I think it was on the day you caught the snitch," he said at last, "snatched it right out from under me, and won that match for Slytherin. I'd never seen you so happy; you were like a different person when you smiled. Not smirked- smiled. And you didn't gloat at all. Yeah, I think that's when I knew."

"Then you've been loving a lie," Draco whispered, his lips quirking ever so slightly upward into a shadow of that very trademark smirk; "you should have bloody well seen me gloat when I got back to the Slytherin common room."

Harry laughed despite himself, laughed through the tears that continued to pour down his face.

"Just say you'll try to hold on, all right?"

"What the fuck…do you think I've been doing? I've been trying to hold on…since it happened. I don't want to die. I have too…too much to answer for. Too much that I wanted…to atone. But I'm tired, P- Harry. I'm so bloody tired right now."

Even as he said this, Harry could see that the light behind those silver-gray eyes was dimming. Each word seemed to be a struggle as Draco continued.

"I'm suh…sorry for what…I said back there. I was an arse. It was a…defense mechanism kicking in…but I don't think…I need it anymore. I think…there's very little I need at this point…except to tell you…"

The light- dimming, dimming, almost gone.

Far away, Harry heard the front doors to the school slam open, and was aware that several figures were racing toward them. Snape, who had come to see Draco almost as an adopted son over the course of the past year, was in the lead, black robes billowing behind him as he approached at a dead run. It all seemed very distant and unimportant to Harry at the moment though. All that mattered was what Draco was trying to say.

"Tell me what? You can tell me anything, Draco."

"…that I love you too."