Chapter 1: Potter's Field

The scratching rasp of a boot scrapping over stone echoed sharply through the silence as Draco came to a staggering stop at the end of the path. On his wild flight back to the castle, he had been unable to breathe; all of his concentration was focused on the simple act of running. Now, as he stood there, he could not breathe for the sheer horror of the landscape stretching out before him.

He hadn't recognized where he was, initially. In fact, Draco would have kept running, determined to reach the grounds, had he not glimpsed the carnage strewn as far as the eye could see and realized that this was Hogwarts. At least, this was where Hogwarts used to be, before the castle had been blasted from the earth and the ground littered with the bodies of attackers and defenders alike. Name of the gods…

Eyes wide, Draco could only look upon the desolation with surreal astonishment.

The ground was blackened and bare, the trees and shrubs that dotted the surrounding area were charred and leafless, as if a raging wildfire had swept over the land, burning everything in its path. The lake was laden with dirt and debris, its surface murky and still. And the Forbidden Forest… Draco couldn't believe his eyes. The Forbidden Forest was gone, vanished as if it had never been.

Somewhere above him came the long, mournful trill of a phoenix.

My gods, what happened here? What had happened, that had withered the land? What had happened, that had caused the Forbidden Forest not to burn, as had the rest of the vegetation, but to disappear completely? What had happened, that had destroyed the world?

"It's gone."

Draco did not turn to face her, as Hermione stepped up beside him. He had not been aware of her approach. He hadn't even known that she had followed him.

"It's all gone," she repeated in a breathless, disbelieving voice.

"Did you think he was joking," Draco replied, his voice sounding brittle to his ears, "when he said he was going to destroy the castle?"

"Can't you feel it?" Hermione demanded sharply.

I can't feel anything. Draco shook the thought away. "What are you talking about?"

"Everything is dead."

Draco rounded on her furiously, the angry rebuke for her callousness dying unspoken on his lips as her words penetrated the veil of shocked horror that had damped his senses. The air was still, without the hint of a breeze. The land itself was desiccated, silent and empty. And everything magical was gone. The magic was gone.

Draco felt his eyes widen even further, as he instinctively cast about himself, looking for even the smallest shred of an answer. But that's not possible! The magic can't just disappear! It's magic! It doesn't run out. It damn well doesn't go away! Only, apparently, it had. And as it had passed from the world, it had erased everything that had ever relied on it for survival. This just isn't possible. What in the nine hells is going on?

"We should go, Malfoy."

Draco blinked away his thoughts. "We can't." The words slipped out of their own volition. I can't leave. Not yet. Not until I know if… A wash of icy numbness swept over him, drowning out the disbelief.

"The wards are gone," she persisted, her words sounding too hollow and forced to be normal. "We can Apparate away now."

"We have to look, Hermione."

"They're dead!" Hermione hissed in a voice broken with fear and grief. "Anyone who could have gotten away would have. There isn't anyone left alive here."

"We don't know that!"

"Damn it, Malfoy-"

"Stay here, then!" Draco snarled, his tumultuous emotions finally finding an outlet in anger. "Wait here for me, if you're too damn scared!" Spinning on his heel, Draco stalked off without another word, heading off the path and across the grounds.

He had barely put any distance between them before he heard the hurried steps behind him, before he felt a hand grab his arm and jerk him to a halt.

"Wait."

Draco did not turn to face her. Instead he stood stiffly where she had stopped him; his eyes focused blindly on some distant point in front of him. "I have to know, Hermione," he told her quietly, his words forced out through clenched teeth. "I know that… There's no chance that… I just can't walk away. If I don't see for myself, the 'what if' will haunt me the rest of my life. What if I had looked? What if I had gotten there sooner?" Draco shook his head. "I don't want to see. I don't. But I have to."

"I know," he heard her whisper. "I just… I don't know if I can bear it."

He tilted his head to the side, giving her a sidelong glance from the corner of his eye. "You can bear it."

"How would you know?"

"Because there is no other choice." Because I have lost as much as you.

After a moment, Draco felt her hand slowly relinquish its grip on his arm. "I'll come with you," she murmured softly. "I don't want to stay here alone."

The slight inclination of his head was all the acknowledgement Draco gave her as they began to walk again. There were no enemies left lurking on the grounds – everything was too devastated to supply a safe harbor in which to hide. And no matter how far he sent his mind in search of the smallest spark of life, all Draco could feel was death echoing back to him. There was nothing to fear, nothing left but empty places filled with the tattered ghosts of the past.

I wonder if she ever imagined that she would find comfort in my presence? Draco mused as they moved among the dead. It was easier if he thought about something else, anything else, than what he was searching for in the faces of the nameless Muggle corpses. Who would have thought that the two of us would ever find ourselves on the same side? Funny, the things that bind people together. Draco wished that he could laugh at the irony of it all. His younger self might have, if he wasn't too preoccupied with being violently ill at the notion of what just what it had taken, to tie the Mudblood and the pureblood together. Draco's eyes scanned the panorama before them. How the mighty have fallen, indeed.

"Malfoy!" Hermione whispered urgently, grabbing his arm again and startling him out of his thoughts.

Ever so slowly, unable to breathe, Draco turned his head to see what it was her shaking finger was pointing at. His breath left his lungs in a rush of horrified relief.

"We must be near the greenhouses," Draco murmured a moment later, glancing up from the bullet-riddled body of the late Professor Sprout. "Come on. There's nothing we can do for her."

Draco moved away impatiently, feeling the anxiety building up inside him. It was clawing at his mind, screaming at him to hurry, hurry before it was too late. His pace quickened. Still clinging to his arm, Hermione had no choice but to stumble after him. Draco paid her no notice.

They found others, as they scoured the grounds: Flitwick, Sinistra, Hooch, Vector. Even Trelawny. But of Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall, there was no sign. Draco needed only to look back over his shoulder at the cracked and blasted earth where the school once stood to know that they would never be found.

"I myself will be remaining behind, both to provide a distraction to the army until I am ensured of the success of the children's flight, and to destroy the castle."

"Albus will not be alone in this. I will be staying behind as well."

The anxiety grew, as they made their way past the site of the Forbidden Forest and approached the lake. It was the only place they hadn't yet searched. If they found nothing here… They're dead, Draco told himself harshly, abruptly cutting off that particular train of thought. You cannot afford to start indulging in hope. They're gone. By now you ought to know better. There are no happy endings.

It was as they were cresting a rise that Draco happened to look to his right and saw, some distance away, a crumpled shape lying on the ground where it had fallen. When he heard no outcry from Hermione, he risked a quick glance at her out of the corner of his eyes. She was still gazing about to her left, oblivious.

Twisting around, Draco came to a stop in her line of sight, keeping her back to the corpse that, thus far, only he had seen. "Hermione," he began at random, drawing her attention. "We're wasting too much time like this. Why don't we split up? We'll cover more ground that way. And maybe…" He shook his head, annoyed with himself for faltering, for hoping. "Look, why don't you search over there-" Draco pointed behind him in the direction that she had been looking, "-and I'll head over the other way."

"Are you sure you don't…" She trailed off as her eyes cast about warily, frightened trepidation written plainly across her face.

"Take Fawkes," Draco suggested smoothly. "That way you won't be alone."

Just do it. For once in your damned life, don't argue with me. Hermione's eyes searched his intently. After a moment of Draco returning her stare blandly, the Gryffindor nodded.

"Fawkes!" Hermione called, waving a hand in the air to attract the bird's attention and gesturing him to her side. Her eyes drifted back to Draco's. "If I find…"

"Yell. I'll hear you," Draco smiled a weak, humorless smile. "And I'll do the same."

Hermione nodded again and then set off in the direction that Draco had indicated without another word or backward glance. Draco remained where he stood, watching her until she had disappeared over the top of a hill. Only then, when he was certain that she wasn't going to change her mind and come back, did Draco turn, take a deep breath, and hurry toward the broken, battered shape that had once been Rubeus Hagrid.

At first glance, Draco knew the half-breed was dead. No one could be covered with that much blood, be punctured by that many bullets, and still be alive. He had not expected the giant to be alive. But he had still wanted to make sure.

"It's nothing personal," Draco told the groundskeeper quietly, as he stood there looking down at the body. "But I couldn't waste the time she'd take to weep over you. Afterwards, when I know, I'll bring her back so she can say goodbye. But right now…" He looked up, scanning the sky before looking back down at the man he had once despised. A bitter smile tugged at his lips. "Your magical creatures are gone, Hagrid. I'm glad you're not here to see it."

"Draco!"

Draco froze, his eyes widening as Hermione's cry reached his ears. No. Oh gods, no… Not this. He wasn't aware of blinking; he didn't notice his sharp intake of breath. Draco wasn't aware of spinning around, of running back across the distance that separated them. He wasn't aware of anything but a mind-numbing cold, a horrified denial that started screaming in the depths of his mind and would not stop. It took an eternity to reach Hermione's side. It took nothing more than a heartbeat.

"They're dead," Hermione whispered, before beginning to sob. "He's dead! Oh god… He's dead! Harry!"

Draco could barely hear her. The screaming in his mind, the rushing of blood in his ears, the pounding of his heart, the simple act of breathing was drowning out Hermione's voice. He couldn't speak. He couldn't move. Air was moving in and out of his lungs, but his chest was so tight, Draco felt as if he could not breathe. All he could do was stare helplessly, futilely down at the bodies lying discarded on the withered ground.

Harry lay on his back, his eyes mercifully closed beneath the crusted blood that coated his face. The scar that he had always hated, that had set him apart from everyone else, was gone; shattered by a gaping, gory hole that marked the entrance of a bullet. Next to his head, a bent pair of glasses lay forgotten on the ground, a starburst crack radiating from the corner of a lens.

Severus lay sprawled on his stomach where he had fallen, his back a sodden mass of blood and torn robes. One arm was flung out into the space between him and Harry. A pale hand lay half buried in the dirt, thin fingers inches from Harry's shoulder. He had obviously tried to reach the Gryffindor. He had failed.

Beside him, Hermione fell to her knees with her head in her hands. Draco did not notice her. Long minutes ticked by in an eternity frozen by grief.

Movement caught at the corner of his wide, staring eyes. Slowly, dragging his gaze away from the bodies of Severus and Harry as if he were in a dream, Draco turned.

It was a Muggle, struggling out from underneath the fallen body of a comrade. It had been injured, though from what, Draco could not tell. It was covered in blood, and while some of the blood must have come from the comrade, the halting movements of the Muggle attested to its own injuries. After a moment's struggle into a sitting position, the Muggle noticed Draco standing there.

Their eyes met.

"Help me," the Muggle croaked, clutching at its side with one hand. "Please… Help… me…"

Draco's eyes widened, as images flashed rapidly through his mind. Hogwarts, as seen from a broomstick high in the air. A blackened crater, where once the castle had stood. Piles of Muggles, lying haphazardly where the Killing Curses had felled them. A pale hand reaching futilely out into an impossible distance. Hagrid's body, contorted in the dirt. Emerald eyes, sparkling with mirth. Glittering obsidian, looking thoughtfully into the past. The devastated land. A pair of cracked, bent glasses.

Draco's eyes narrowed as something deep within him snapped.

Without consciously willing it, Draco's wand was in his hand.

"Malfoy, no!" Hermione shrieked behind him.

Draco ignored her.

The Muggle reached out its other hand.

Time seemed to grind to a halt.

The scream, when it ripped its way out of his throat, was like nothing Draco had ever heard before. He didn't recognize it as his own.

"Avada Kedavra!"

A blinding flare of viridian light lit up the sky. Draco stared unflinchingly into the heart of the glare, heedless of the tears that began to stream from his watering eyes when he refused to look away.

The Muggles would die. One by one, he would hunt them down. Men, women, children, it made no difference. He would find them all, wherever they might hide. And for every life that had been extinguished, for each moment that had been lost, for every broken dream, he would cut them down; he would extract payment for everything that had been lost with their lives, until there were no more to take. Only then, when all the Muggles everywhere were dead, would he stop.

The green light faded away. With the afterimages still dancing across his vision, Draco glanced dispassionately at the now lifeless husk that had once been a Muggle with the audacity to live, when everyone else was dead. Though he saw nothing, Draco felt movement behind him and he instinctively whirled around, bringing his wand to bear as the words to the Killing Curse wrapped around his tongue.

Hermione stared at him down the length of the wood, her blood-shot eyes flat. "Are you going to kill me too, Malfoy?"

"You're not one of them."

"So you're going to play at being Voldemort now?" Hermione demanded, knocking the wand away from her face.

Draco smiled a lazy, predatory smile. "I care nothing for this world," he replied, drawing the distinction between himself and Voldemort. "And I'm not going to waste my time torturing them."

"Stop it!" Hermione hissed, grabbing his shoulders and giving him a shake that made his teeth come together with a clack. "Just stop it! It's not going to help, Malfoy. Killing Muggles won't bring them back. It won't change anything. It won't bring Harry back!"

"Let go of me," Draco said with deceptive mildness. "Right now."

"Or what?" She challenged hotly. "You'll kill me too?"

"If you get in my way."

Her eyes narrowed. "I'm in your way right now, Malfoy."

Draco shrugged negligently. "Your choice."

"Take care of her, Draco."

The words cut through the haze of hatred that had swept Draco's reason away, halting him in the middle of shaking off Hermione's hands. In its wake, it left behind an odd sensation of expectance and the vague impression of a vision, only partially glimpsed, of a spark lying dormant and forgotten beneath the ash, waiting for the wind to ignite it into a blaze. What was…? Draco blinked, suddenly feeling adrift and confused.

He looked down at his hand, startled to see that his fingers were clenched so tightly around his wand that his nails were cutting into his flesh. I… He raised his head, looking blankly into Hermione's puzzled eyes. What am I…?

"Draco?" Hermione asked hesitantly, her voice sounding as if it were coming to him from far away.

Shaking his head, Draco ignored her, shrugging out from underneath her hands and turning around. The bewilderment vanished abruptly, as his eyes were drawn to fingers that looked as if… As if they had just…

"Draco? What are-"

"Shh!" Draco snarled as he stepped forward, his eyes focused on those fingers, willing them to move, hardly daring to breathe. Again… One more time… Show me that I'm not hallucinating… Prove to me that I haven't gone insane… Just one more time…

The seconds ticked past with agonizing slowness. And then, just as he was about to curse himself for a fool, Draco saw them twitch. His breath left his lungs in a rush. Dropping down to his knees next to Severus, Draco twisted around to look up at Hermione.

"Help me!" he told her urgently. "He's alive, Hermione. Severus is alive."

By the end even Draco, with his mediocre healing ability, was exhausted. The whole endeavor had been touch and go. But Draco knew that if Hermione had not been there with her seemingly unending knowledge of spell craft, Severus would have died. As it was, between the both of them they had managed to repair not only the superficial wounds on the man's back but the internal damage as well.

Draco glanced over at Severus, who was now lying on his back and cleaned up to the best of their faltering magical abilities, but the man was showing no signs of regaining consciousness. "I don't suppose you've got enough energy left for an Enervate?" he asked, turning to look at Hermione.

Hermione shook her head, the combination of grief, exhaustion, and horror making her face look wan and haggard. "Did we do the right thing?"

"What?" Draco asked, unable to believe what he was hearing. "How can you-"

Hermione's eyes skittered briefly to the left before they returned to him. "Do you think we've done him any favors?" she interrupted his outraged tirade wearily. "If we hadn't… He would have never known about…" Hermione swallowed unsteadily, not yet ready to give words to reality.

Draco's mouth opened and closed soundlessly as he groped for an answer. It had all been so clear a moment ago. But now…

Now he wasn't sure.

They had saved Severus. The man had been inches away from death. And they had repaired his injuries and had brought him back. Surely that was the right thing to do. Wasn't it? It was right to save the life of a dying man. Because now he could… He could…

Oh gods… Draco's eyes widened in dawning horror. What have I done?

In that timeless second, when he had seen the man's fingers twitch for the first time, Draco had felt a surge of hope, had known that all they needed to do was heal Severus and then he would make it all better. Because once he was healed, he could...

He could what? Draco demanded angrily of himself now. He could what, you damned fool? He could see that his home was gone? He could look down and see that… My gods, you've taken the only peace he could have ever had away from him! You were fucking scared and you forced him to share your nightmare with you! How could you have done this to him?

Draco stared down at his hands in horror. They were shaking. And they were stained with something darker than blood. Something worse. He had saved a body, and in doing so, had murdered a soul.

"Draco!"

He looked up, ignoring Hermione completely and focused instead on the body lying in front of him, on the thin chest that was steadily rising and falling. There was only one thing he could do, only one thing that would right what he had done. And it was the one thing he could not do.

There were many things that Draco Malfoy could say to Severus Snape. Many things that he had said, many things he would say, many things he only dreamed of saying to the man. But no matter what happened, the one thing Draco knew he could never say to the man was "Avada Kedavra."

"Oh gods, Severus…" Draco whispered, looking down at the closed eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm so very, very sorry."

As if his words were an incantation to a spell, the eyes opened.

"Severus…" Before there had been anger and horror, shock and grief. Now there was only a raw, bitter ache. Looking into those dark eyes as the mind behind them struggled through a chaotic haze of confused recollection only made the ache worse.

Severus winced as if in pain, though the only movement he made was to blink a few times as he focused his eyes on Draco. "Draco?" he asked hoarsely, as if his throat had gone dry. "I thought that…" His gaze sharpened as he studied Draco's face. "It was not a dream."

Draco couldn't even pretend to misunderstand him. "No. It was not."

The dark eyes shut briefly. "It is over?" Severus asked, opening his eyes slowly.

Draco felt his own throat go dry. "The castle is gone."

"Severus?" Hermione asked timorously. The older man's eyes shifted to her. "How are you feeling? Are you in any pain?"

Long moments passed. For just a second, Draco thought he saw something flicker deep within Severus' eyes. He felt his chest tighten.

"No," Severus answered finally. "I am merely very stiff. How long have I been lying here?"

Hermione glanced askance at Draco before looking back at him. "I'm not sure. It's been a while."

"How bad was it?"

There was a surreal quality about all of this that made Draco's skin prickle uneasily. They were sitting in the middle of a battlefield. The dead lay all around them. Next to them… Next to them was… And their voices: they were all being so damned detached. As if nothing had happened. As if…

He knows, Draco realized suddenly, watching Severus' face as Hermione told him about his injuries and what they had done to repair them. He knows. Oh gods, he knows.

"Severus?" Hermione's voice cracked as she looked helplessly between him and Draco. "Severus, I-"

"I remember," Severus replied, his voice cool and controlled. Too controlled. "And your eyes speak the words that your voice cannot."

Draco flinched and looked away, unable to meet the man's gaze.

"I have laid here long enough."

Severus did not protest as Hermione and Draco helped him into a sitting position. He reached up and rubbed at his forehead, as if trying to wipe away dizziness. As he sat there, collecting himself, Draco noticed that Severus' eyes, when they were open, were always focused on Hermione or himself. Since he had regained consciousness, Severus never once looked anywhere else.

"There is no help for it," Severus murmured, lowering his hand, his eyes straight ahead. If he saw the carnage, Severus gave no indication. As he watched the man's face, Draco saw a muscle twitch along Severus' jaw, saw his lips thin. And he knew, without asking, that Severus was preparing himself. Severus turned his head, and the dark eyes were looking deep into Draco's own.

His chest constricted. The air in his lungs turned to ice. I'm sorry, Draco thought futilely, guilt and sorrow flooding his mind as he held Severus' eyes. I'm so sorry. He wanted to say the words, but he could not speak past the lump in his throat.

There was no emotion in Severus' eyes. They were hard and cold, twin black mirrors that reflected everything they saw and gave nothing back. His face was impassive. And yet it seemed to Draco as if he saw a question in those eyes: Where?

Wishing that there was something, anything, he could do to prevent Severus from seeing what he himself had seen, Draco felt his eyes move of their own accord, glancing off to the side for a fraction of a second. The dark eyes followed and Draco was released from Severus' stare.

It seemed to Draco then as if the dying of the world had shattered time itself, breaking it down into frozen fragments tenuously held together by a trickle, a shadow of the once great river the had had the power to batter down the defenses of ages. They entered into another motionless moment, as Severus looked down at the body of Harry Potter.

"I don't want to be the Boy Who Lived! I want to be the Boy Who Died With Everyone Else!"

The words ran circles through Draco's mind, a dark presage, taunting him with his own helplessness to forecast the future, to prevent the nightmare from occurring. I should have done something. Anything. There must have been something that I could have done.

Draco looked at Severus, who was still looking down at Harry. It should have been me. I should be the one lying there. He should be here. Not me. He should be here with you, Severus. If it were within my power to trade places with him, if I could give my life in exchange for his, I would. Without question. Without regret. You do not deserve this. He does not deserve this. What I would give, to go back in time and change all this.

Severus said nothing, as he stared down at Harry. He did not move. He barely seemed to breathe. And then, after many minutes had passed, he reached out a hand and touched his fingers to Harry's cheek. He sat like that for a long time, his fingers lightly caressing what Draco knew had to be cold, unyielding flesh.

I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. The words were a litany of pain that had no outlet.

The fingers stilled. Slowly, Severus turned to look at Draco.

Draco's breath caught in his throat.

It should not have been possible for him to feel any more horror, any more grief, than he already felt. But what Draco saw in Severus' eyes wrenched at his heart in a way he had never believed himself capable of feeling; tore to shreds the last bit of cool composure that he had kept locked away from the terror of the day's events. It was one thing to come upon the man's body and believe him to be dead, it was quite another to look into his eyes and watch as everything that made him Severus Snape withered and died.

For as long as Draco could remember, there had always been a spark of fire that burned in the depths of Severus' eyes. Even when he had been shackled to a chair, awaiting the Dementor's Kiss, Draco had seen the spark of defiance for all that life had done to him glittering malevolently in Severus' eyes. You can beat me, Severus' eyes had always snarled at the world. You can even kill me. But you can never break me.

As he watched, the spark guttered, wavering in the roil of emotions that surged in his eyes, the only spot of life in an otherwise pale and blank face. And then, without so much as a flicker, it died, snuffed out by the pain that spread like a wave over the surface of his eyes. And such pain…

It was a haunted, broken pain that spoke more eloquently than words of the death of the man's soul. They were the eyes of the dead, forced to continue in a mockery of life. It was the most terrible thing that Draco had ever seen.

Another pair of eyes abruptly flashed into the vision of his mind's eye. Grave, helpless eyes. Eyes weighed down with a burden that was too heavy to bear, yet could not be laid down. Blue eyes.

"I know what you saw in that corridor."

"What was it?"

"That I cannot tell you."

"Headmaster…"

"I am afraid that you will understand with time."

Startled, Draco stood staring at Severus as the recollection washed over him. Dimly, he felt himself begin to shake. He knew… Good gods, all this time, Dumbledore knew!

"Oh gods… I don't believe it," Draco whispered, the words flowing out of his mouth unheeded. "All this time, he knew. He knew and he did nothing! All this time. I don't believe it. I can't… How could he do nothing?"

"Malfoy!" Hermione's voice, silent until now, cut through his nearly hysterical rambling. "What are you talking about?"

"Dumbledore knew!" Draco turned to her, his voice rising. "He knew this was going to happen! Goddamn him to the darkest level of hell, he knew!"

"What?" Her eyes were wide. "How do you-"

"I went to talk to him! Over a year ago! H-Potter-" he faltered over the name, his angry yell momentarily cutting off before he pulled himself together, "-and I, we saw Sever-…" Draco's mouth snapped shut.

"Your eyes were dead. It was as if you had seen something so terrible, so painful, that you just gave up."

Draco turned back to look at Severus. Oh my gods…The implications were terrifying. And yet… Draco's mind shied away from the tendril of hope that began to uncurl. It isn't possible. It just isn't possible.

"Draco Malfoy!"

"It was you," Draco murmured, looking wide-eyed into Severus' dead, empty gaze, ignoring Hermione's impatient snarl. "All this time, it really was you."

Severus stared blankly back at him.

"In the corridor that morning," Draco continued, searching the emptiness for something, anything, that told him that Severus was hearing him. "You said you hadn't been out of the dungeons. You said that it wasn't you. But it was, Severus. It wasn't you then. It was you now."

Why? Why is it always me who is left behind? Why is it me, who must stand back and watch as everyone that I love leaves?

Even now, after all this time, there was no answer to be found.

I do not know how to do this anymore. I cannot do this anymore. I cannot keep going. I do not know how. I do not know how to keep breathing, when all that lies at the end is loss.

It should not have hurt so much. How could it hurt so much? How could he still be there, alive, breathing, when it hurt so terribly?

When Lucius had betrayed him, Severus thought that he would never again feel something as wrenching and terrible as that searing pain had been. He did not believe that anything worse was possible.

He was wrong.

I just cannot do this any longer. It was too empty, too cold.

"Severus!"

Draco was talking to him. Severus did not care.

"Damn it Severus, listen to me!"

Perhaps if he laid down and closed his eyes, he could sink down into the darkness. Perhaps he could get lost in the nothingness. Let me close my eyes. Let the world stop. Let it disappear. Let me go.

"All this time, Severus, it was you! And Dumbledore knew!"

I do not want this anymore. I just…

Time.

Severus' thoughts came to a meandering halt.

Time.

Time…

Time…

The world blinked out. Severus found himself standing alone in darkness.

"In time, Severus, you will find all of the answers that you seek."

The words floated out of the darkness, riding on the voice of a ghost.

An image appeared before him, wavering out of the emptiness. An old man, sitting across from another man, a younger man rapidly approaching middle age. There was something familiar about them both.

"I do not understand." The younger man spoke, sounding as if he were speaking from a great distance.

"You will in time, Severus." That was the older man.

"I recall you saying that before, Albus."

"You will remember it again." Albus and Severus. Ah, yes. Now he remembered. This had happened before H…before the end of the world.

"There is still time, Severus."

No. That was not true. Time had run out. Time had gone. Gone and left him here, lost and alone in the emptiness.

"In time, Severus."

The world blinked in.

What was…?

Severus gave Draco a detached, dispassionate stare. The younger man looked as if he were on the verge of having a breakdown. "What?" It took a few seconds before Severus realized that the flat, empty voice belonged to him.

"Come back, Severus," Draco pleaded quietly. "Please, Severus. Please come back from wherever you are."

I do not want to.

"Please. I don't know how to do this without you."

Something about the raw, painful request drew Severus away from the edge of grief's raving madness. Pain assailed him again, battering at the defenses he had thrown up in the face of Harry's blood-streaked face. Gritting his teeth against the searing, icy, hollow ache, Severus focused on Draco's eyes. "What were you saying?"

Draco looked searchingly into his eyes. "Do you remember when I came to you that morning, asking how you were because I had seen you in the hallway?"

"Are you all right? You know, mentally, physically, emotionally?"

"Do you require a visit to Madame Pomfrey's, Mister Malfoy?"

"Just answer the question."

"Yes."

"It was you. It was you now."

"I do not-"

"In time, Severus, you will find all of the answers that you seek."

It was as if a door that Severus had never known existed had just opened in his mind.

"The future is what we make it to be. Do not forget that, Severus."

"I went back." It was not a question.

Severus looked over at Hermione, meet her widening eyes, then he looked back at Draco, who was nodding. Of their own volition, his eyes dropped to the ground, to the one person who he had hated, who had managed to get beyond all of his defenses, who he loved more than he had ever wanted to admit.

"I do not understand."

"You will in time, Severus."

In time.

Severus looked back up into Draco's grey eyes. "I went back."

"But how?" Draco asked, shaking his head. "How did you get back there? How did Dumbledore know?"

"A Time Turner."

As one, Severus and Draco turned to look at Hermione, who was looking more than a little terrified.

"You can go back in time with a Time Turner," she repeated.

"And where do you find those?" Draco demanded. "Surely you can't just go into a shop and ask for one."

"There's a room in the Ministry," Hermione said softly, her eyes faraway in memory. "We went there once, during our Fifth Year. There was a cabinet full of them that got broken, and it just kept repairing itself and falling apart."

Severus turned away from her and knelt down next to Harry, ignoring them both as he brushed a shaking hand across the dead man's cheek. This should never have happened. And Albus… he was trying to tell me. I am going to go back, Harry. I am going to stop this. I will not let you die.

He reached down, fumbling with trembling fingers at the ring he had given Harry on a night that seemed to have happened ten thousand years ago. Slipping it from Harry's hand, Severus placed it on the tip of his finger, watched as the griffin altered its shape so that it slid down until it fit snuggly around the finger's base. I promise, Harry. I will stop this. And I will tell you… I will tell you what I should have told you long ago.

Draco watched Severus, his thoughts in a whirl. He went back in time. He went back in time. Dumbledore knew this was going to happen. And I bet he knew about Severus going back. Which means… He hardly dared to hope. But it was there nonetheless. He can stop this from ever happening.

Severus stood up suddenly, his back to Draco and Hermione. Long moments passed as the older man stood there, staring out across the grounds. Finally, he turned back to them.

"I am going to change this." Severus' voice was flat and empty. His eyes were still as lifeless and dull as they had been since he had first looked up from Harry's body.

"I'm coming too," Draco replied immediately.

"You-"

"No!" Draco cut him off impatiently. "No, Severus. I'm going with you. If something can be done… I will not let it end like this, Severus. I can't."

"Wait a minute," Hermione interrupted anxiously. "Wait a minute and let's think about this."

Draco turned to her with disbelief. "What's there to think about?"

"You don't know what could happen!"

"You can't be serious. What in the nine hells could possibly be worse than this?"

"I don't know, but there are rules!" Hermione explained, looking upset. "I know, I've used one before. In Third Year, Professor McGonagall gave me one to help with my studies. And she warned me. Messing with time is very dangerous! We shouldn't just go off without thinking about this."

"What have we got to lose?" Draco demanded bitterly.

"I-"

"Stay here or come along as you see fit," Severus interrupted coldly. "I am going."

Draco felt it then, magic rolling off of Severus in great waves, spiraling out from him. He had never felt anything like it. Looking into Severus' empty eyes, he understood why. Never before had he seen the Death Eater that Severus had been, never before had he felt the power that the man was capable of summoning. But now the power was unchecked, as grief and determination obliterated everything else from Severus' mind.

Draco stepped up beside him, not about to be left behind. There was a rustle, and a crackle at the edge of his hearing, as Fawkes landed on his shoulder. Draco started in surprise, both because he had forgotten about the phoenix in the revelations of the afternoon and because Fawkes had deigned to perch on his shoulder.

"Wait! Don't leave without me," Hermione crossed over to them quickly.

"I thought altering time was dangerous," Draco snapped harshly.

"It is," Hermione replied coolly, leveling a stare at him. "But if you think I'm not going to try and bring Harry and Ron and everyone back-"

"What about your objections?"

"Just because I want to think before I do anything doesn't mean that I object to doing it in the first place," Hermione snapped.

Draco raised an eyebrow. "Okay, whatever. Women."

Severus looked at them both, and then turned his attention back to the land in front of them. The magic swirled around them, stirring up the air. Draco's eyes focused on Harry. It won't end like this. I promise you. No matter what, I will not let it end like this.

The magic wrapped around them.

Severus raised a hand.

A ring of fire flared up around them. It rose higher, and then flooded back away from them, flowing out over the ground, consuming everything it touched. For one last instant, Draco saw Harry, lying where he had fallen, and then the Gryffindor's body disappeared behind a curtain of flame. Deep down, in some hidden place inside himself, Draco felt an echoing flicker of heat, a brief resonance with the flames.

The magic tightened its hold.

Draco felt a jerk.

They vanished.