Chapter 10: Through the Glass, Darkly

When he had stood before the blasted earth that had once housed Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Draco thought that he would never see anything so horrifying in all of his life. The devastated wreckage of his life, culminated in a barren wasteland of emptiness and pain. It had ripped through him, cutting to pieces parts of himself that he never knew existed before they had been rent asunder. The image was burned into his very existence, and he knew it would haunt him through the remainder of his days.

There was a certain sense of relief, as Severus had overturned the Time Turner. To have that memory obliterated, to be free of the aching in his heart, to know that the day would come when he would close his eyes one last time, to never experience the loss of those he held dear. To be unchained from the burdens he had never wanted to carry.

It was a relief. It was also incredibly painful.

Nothing came without a price. There were no gains that came without loss, no happiness without sorrow. There was no life without death. All he had come to know, all that he was, sacrificed and wiped away. He could not mourn for his immediate self, but he did mourn for his other self: the one who would likely never know the depth of his capacity to feel, the unfaltering determination he could bring to bear, and just how strong he could be, if such strength was needed. He couldn't help but feel, completely without arrogance, that the Draco Malfoy who would rise in his place would be the type of spoiled, worthless git for which he had never cared.

But flip the Time Turner Severus had, and Draco had looked on with mingled relief and regret, waiting for the moment when consciousness ceased. The colors had dissolved into light, yet the darkness and unknowing did not come. The light had faded, resolving into a place and time, and still he continued to know and remember. The confusion and fear began to mount in his mind, declaiming their failure. And then he had seen what it was that lay beyond Severus, acknowledged what it was that his senses had been trying to tell him since they had arrived, and the horror he had believed unmatchable paled against the chilling, creeping terror that fell over him.

Dawn was approaching and the sky was lightening, the deep black they had seen all night giving way to a muted grey. In the dim light, Draco could see the castle beyond the line of trees in front of him. He could see a stretch of the grounds, the beginning of the Forbidden Forest, and the edge of the lake. He wished that he could not.

Gone were the graceful towers of the castle. Instead, it had become a twisted, misshapen thing, sprawling over the grounds like a malignant tumor. There were wings branching off from the main body of the castle that Draco had never seen and towers rising crookedly in spaces that had always been empty, while places that Draco remembered were gone, worked over with stone in some places, simply demolished in others. As the light got brighter, the shadows on the castle remained. At first it was puzzling, until Draco realized that they were not shadows at all, but scorch marks that only magical fire could have caused.

The vibrant green grass of the lawn was gone as well. In most places the earth was bare. In others, brown, withered weeds remained, the long dead roots still tangled in the soil. And what trees dotted the landscape were stunted things, blackened and gnarled.

Always slightly sinister, the Forbidden Forest had become a wall of inky darkness that seemed to repel the light. The trees had grown taller, though their color had darkened to black and their leaves had fallen off. There was a sense of foreboding emanating from the trees that was unlike anything Draco had ever felt from the Forest. If it had been unsettling before, it was downright deadly now. Nearby, the lake remained an oily splotch on the ground, and Draco had a suspicion that even were the sun to shine at its brightest, the lake would only reflect it back.

It felt like he had spent an eternity longing for a glimpse of the castle that would not be marred with the knowledge of impending destruction. They had done what they had set out to do; they had found the source of their world's collapse and they had stopped it from beginning. Now that he was getting the glimpse he had desired so badly, Draco found himself wanting nothing more than to close his eyes against it.

Yet that was not the worst of it. Worse than the grotesque parody of his home was the magic with which it was imbued. Before the Muggle-led war, the magic of Hogwarts had been alive and whole. It wove its way into everything on the grounds, enhancing all that it touched and exuding a feeling of comfort and peace. Following the war, there was only emptiness. The magic was gone and what was left behind was nothing more than dead, cold earth. Now there was magic again, wrapping around the trees and flowing through the ground. But it was a dark, poisonous thing, malicious and cruel, that prickled the flesh and whispered horrors at the edge of the conscious mind. It spoke to the primordial part of Draco's psyche, to the fear of the dark and what it contained, and it promised that what it would reveal would be far more terrifying than his darkest imaginings.

"Name of all the gods…" Severus' barely audible oath brought Draco back to himself and shifted his focus to his companions.

Hermione's face was ashen, her eyes wide and staring. It was difficult to tell in the wan light, but Draco thought he could see her shaking. He believed that he understood why. If he concentrated on it, the whispering of the magic filled his mind, promising pain and torment. When his attention was diverted away from it, the horrible promises faded until all that remained was a sense of presence, like a hovering cloud of nightmarish moths brushing at his mind with greasy, slime-covered wings: too fleeting to catch, yet too immediate to completely ignore. From her expression, Draco guessed that Hermione was concentrating on it a bit too much.

Reaching over, Draco grabbed her upper arm and gave her a shake. "Hey! Hermione look at me."

Hermione jerked as if startled, but when she fixed her eyes on Draco's own, he was relieved to see that the blind panic was starting to drain out of them.

"Don't listen to it," Draco told her. "If you ignore it, it gets easier to deal with."

"It feeds off of your fear," Severus added, joining the conversation. Draco turned to look at him and to his surprise he saw none of horror that he knew was clearly visible on his own face. Instead he saw recognition, and somehow, that was far more disturbing than anything else he could have seen in Severus' eyes. "The more you succumb to it, the greater its power becomes, until you cease fighting against it and allow it to overwhelm you."

"What is it?" Hermione asked, shifting to face him. "Some kind of spell?"

Aware that he was still holding onto her arm, Draco quickly let go.

Severus shook his head, his eyes moving to look at the castle. "Magic is like a mirror; it has no intent, no nature that is either good or evil. It just is. But as it encounters things in this world – people, places, events – it reflects that with which it comes into contact. The longer the contact lasts, the stronger the reflection becomes. The school was created with a specific purpose, and the magic around it came to represent that purpose. The presence of the headmasters, each of whom became a part of the castle and the experience that is Hogwarts, added to that purpose, enriched it and further defined it until it became what you are used to associating with the school. The stronger the headmaster, the greater the influence has been on the magic."

We change what we touch.

It was a fact of life with which Draco was becoming intimately acquainted.

That's how you changed Dumbledore, isn't it Fawkes? Draco asked the phoenix. Fawkes had not taken flight when they had returned to this time that was not their own, instead choosing to remain perched on Draco's shoulder. He couldn't blame him for that; he wouldn't have wanted to fly up into these trees either. That's how you'll change me.

'Yes. I told you that Severus was wise, did I not?'

You weren't telling me anything I didn't already know, so you're not getting any credit for being right.

"You know what happened here, don't you Severus?" Draco asked softly.

"I do not know the events that led to this," Severus responded, making a short gesture that encompassed the grounds. "But I do know the cause."

The three of them looked at each other in silence. Nothing else needed to be said. With those six words, Severus had confirmed their worst fear; they had woken from the nightmare, only to find that reality was far worse.

With a shake of her head, Hermione broke the silence. "This doesn't make any sense. We prevented Cate from exposing our world; when we went back, we should have emerged in a world where that hadn't happened. This wasn't our world before Cate exposed it."

"And she's an American Muggle," Draco added, for once in his life in full agreement with Hermione. "That's two marks against her if you're going to suggest that they're connected somehow. Can't imagine Tall, Sickly, and Psychotic joining forces with some American Muggle."

It was a testament to how deeply ingrained fear of him was that after all they'd been through, they still danced around the issue of saying his name. Superstitions were stupid, and it galled Draco that such a thing had so much power over them. Were it not for the feeling that to speak his name now really would bring his attention down upon them, Draco would have defied that fear, would have said his name as dismissively as he said the names of everyone else. But the trees seemed to be listening, almost as if they were waiting for those three syllables to be given voice, and though he could see no one, Draco could sense that they were being watched.

"There must be a connection," Severus disagreed quietly, studying the Time Turner for a moment before raising his eyes to focus on Draco and Hermione. "Thus far, we have encountered no problems with the Time Turner. It is asking too much to believe that it chose now to malfunction."

"No, Malfoy's right. They-" Hermione's voice died mid-sentence and her eyes widened in fear. All around them the trees began to stir, branches twisting as if they were caught in a gale. But the air was still, without even a hint of a breeze.

"What is it?" Draco asked as he withdrew his wand and whirled around, expecting to be attacked. There was nothing there. No shadowy presence lurked within the trees, and no monstrosity was rearing up behind him.

Yet the trees continued to thrash as if even they were afraid. And on the edge of his mind, Draco heard the magic whispering unintelligible gibberish.

"I do not know," Severus murmured quietly as he looked around, wand at the ready. "However, I can assure you that it is not him."

"How can you be sure?" Hermione asked, watching the castle warily.

Severus held up his forearm and pushed the sleeve back far enough for them to see the Dark Mark standing out vividly against his pale skin. "I would feel him."

Well, that's not the least bit comforting, Draco thought grimly. It was all very well and good that they were not about to be confronted with the Dark Lord in all of his insane, murderous glory. However, the fact that the Dark Lord was alive, and thus able to confront them in the first place, rather diminished any sense of relief Draco could have felt at Severus' words. How much worse can all of this get?

'I can show you.'

Draco cocked his head so that he could look at Fawkes out of the corner of his eye. That was one of those rhetorical questions, Fawkes. I really don't want to know what's worse than all this.

'You misunderstand me. I can show you what it is that the trees fear.'

Do I really want to know? Draco asked, recognizing as he did so that that was also rhetorical.

'Do you wish to know what has happened here?'

Ask a stupid question... Yes.

Viewing the world through the eyes of the phoenix was an experience unlike any Draco had ever had. The human mind made comparisons and judgments; it filtered the world into manageable perceptions, giving structure to chaos so that the information gathered by the senses could be easily processed and understood. Fawkes saw the world as it was. There were no perceptions, no explanations or beliefs. There was only truth.

The human mind, Draco knew, was never meant to understand the truth. It was not capable of that, anymore than it was capable of knowing the color of magic. But when he entered the mind of the phoenix and looked through unfettered eyes, Draco could see what his eyes had never been able to see. He knew the truth. And very clearly, he saw the color of magic.

In the roiling fires of Fawkes' mind, the lines of light and power coalesced into something Draco recognized as a room inside the castle. With a bit of searching, he discerned the shape of a man standing before a mirror. It was difficult to see, to make sense of things his brain was not capable of understanding, but Draco felt a nagging sense of familiarity as he stared at the man's back. Something about him, the aura of malicious hatred, the way that he stood, the length of his hair… Recognition came at last. It was his father, alive and well within Hogwarts. Draco was already pulling back from Fawkes, intent on warning the others, when the man turned around and Draco realized that he wasn't looking at his father at all.

Draco tore himself out of Fawkes' mind, disturbed by what he had seen and not wishing to look on it any longer than necessary. Not me! A small voice was screaming in the back of his mind. That was not me! But it was, and all of the denial in the world wasn't going to change that. He wasn't aware of how hard he was breathing until he felt a hand grip his arm and shake him out of his daze.

"Draco," Severus was saying, peering into his face intently. "What is it?"

He tried to meet Severus' eyes, but all Draco could see were the trees, bending away from him.

'Now you understand what it was that your father was grooming you to become.'

Everything he would have been, had Voldemort won the war.

He had seen the disfigured landscape, had felt the touch of the diseased magic, and had seen the Dark Mark gleaming on Severus' arm. On a cognitive level, Draco had known what that meant. But that sort of knowing wasn't certainty; wasn't nearly enough to eradicate the belief that this was all just a mistake, some sort of dream from which he would surely awaken. In the end, it was a moment's look into eyes glittering with sadistic malice that made it all real; for Draco to feel it in the very core of his being. Somehow, despite everything that had happened, Voldemort had won.

We need to know how it happened, Draco thought, staring past Severus to the castle behind him. We can't stop this from happening if we don't know what caused it. There was no question in his mind that it needed to be stopped. They hadn't come all this way, through the death of their world, to leave it in the grasp of Voldemort. They needed answers, and much as he would have liked there to be another option, Fawkes had shown him the way to get them.

Will you protect them? If I leave them here, will you see that they don't come to harm?

'Would it not be better for me to come with you?'

You can't. That castle is going to be heavily warded. And for all that you're made of magic, I doubt even you'd be able to get in there undetected.

There was no phoenix in that place. He didn't know what sort of magic would be needed to kill a phoenix, to unravel the creature's ability to resurrect itself, but Draco instinctively knew that Voldemort had done so. Fawkes had been the symbol of Albus Dumbledore, and the Dark Lord was too insecure in his power to allow any such reminders of the wizard to exist. As a psychological weapon, it was awfully ineffective. Had he been in Voldemort's place, Draco would have made a point to leave them; after all, there was nothing worse for the subjugated and downtrodden than to constantly be reminded of better times, to never be free of the cycle of false hope and despair.

A tendril of nausea curled in his stomach; the knowledge that he could not only identify Voldemort's mistakes but also improve upon them made him ill. It went to show how very thin the line was that separated who he was from the man inside the castle. But for the vagaries of war, I would be wearing the Dark Mark now.

'You do not give yourself enough credit.'

Credit for what? Draco shot back, disgusted with himself now more than he had ever been. Being a coward and throwing my lot in with the winning side is hardly something for which I should be proud. That's me up there, Fawkes. Those were my eyes!

'You gaze for long in the wrong direction, Draco,' Fawkes replied, unfurling his wings. Feathers brushed against the side of Draco's face and ruffled his hair, the sensation very much like a draft of warm air. 'You cannot find the answers you seek at the bottom of the abyss.'

Draco frowned, momentarily forgetting about Severus and Hermione and the twisted caricature of his home. What are you talking about?

'All that ever was, and all that will ever be, is written in the sand behind you.'

He thought he understood, in that instant when the words burnt their way into his mind. But the understanding faded with the fire, and all that remained was the cold, empty darkness that was left whenever the light receded. He could have asked for clarification, though he was aware that such a thing was unlikely to be forthcoming. If there was even a remote possibility that he would puzzle out the answer on his own, the phoenix would not explain. Draco had accepted that now, just as he accepted the fact that Fawkes was the greatest teacher he had ever had.

I will take your words to heart, Draco promised solemnly. And then, because some things never change, no matter what becomes of the world, he added, Just as soon as I figure out what the bloody hell you're on about.

In the ensuing pause, Draco could hear the crackle of flames, banking and flaring as if caught in the same non-existent gale as the trees around them. With the trees, it was ominous and unsettling. With Fawkes, it was the only sign of laughter Draco could recognize. 'I will keep them safe.'

The matter decided, Draco focused on Severus and Hermione. In a matter of expediency, there was nothing more aggravating than someone who insisted on stating the obvious. Now, it was the fear, and the avoidance of the issue, that rankled. Draco was done being afraid. "He won the war."

Severus simply nodded. There was no fear in his eyes, just weary resignation and a hurt so deep it cracked the surface of the icy armor he had used for so long to keep the world at bay. It was one more wound on a heart already tattered and scarred.

It will not end like this, Draco vowed for what must have been the hundredth time. I promise you, Severus. Whatever it takes, I will not let it end like this.

"What are we going to do?" Hermione asked, when it became apparent that Draco and Severus weren't going to say anything else.

The question roused Severus from wherever he had gone. "We will find out when. We will find out how. And then we will stop it." There was the same steely determination in his voice that had always been there, but the iron-strength was starting to weaken, and Draco could hear the beginnings of hopelessness.

"We've got to get into the castle," Hermione began, already formulating a plan that would undoubtedly work if they followed through with it. "So first, we'll have to-"

"We aren't going anywhere," Draco interrupted, not wanting to waste time on developing a plan they would never carry out. "The only one of us going into the castle is me. You two are going to stay out here with Fawkes, where it's safer. Theoretically, anyway."

Hermione stared at him with wide, disbelieving eyes. "Have you gone daft? You don't know what's in there!"

Not entirely accurate there, Hermione. "I know that you're not," Draco retorted sharply. "I don't know how all this came to be, but after all these years I know you, Hermione. I know you were there, fighting at his side as you always have been. And I know-" His voice cracked, the words lodging in his rapidly constricting throat. But they needed to be said, and Draco forced them out in a voice that sounded as if it had been shredded by broken glass. "I know he lost. After everything, he fell. And so did you. Maybe before. Maybe after. But you died in that battle. And if you walk into that castle now, you will die again."

For a moment, Hermione gave him a level, emotionless stare. Then she hit him. The blow was so hard and so unexpected that he stumbled back and probably would have fallen if not for Severus' steadying hand on his back. Fawkes, displaced by the staggering and not wanting to touch the trees, chose Severus' shoulder as his new perch.

"Right, guess I deserved that," Draco muttered, as he regained his footing and twisted back around to face her. There was blood leaking out of the corner of his mouth. He ignored it.

The emotionless stare was gone now. In its place were blazing, furious eyes. "You bastard," Hermione hissed, taking a step closer and closing the gap between them. "How dare you?"

"Hit me again, if it'll make you feel better," Draco said with quiet sincerity. "Hit me until you can accept it. But you know I'm speaking the truth."

"And that makes it all right?" she demanded, curling her fingers into the front of his shirt and jerking him down until his eyes were level with hers.

Unperturbed by her anger, Draco leaned forward. "It's not for you to die for him," he whispered in her ear. "Your place is at his side, where it's always been. I'm sorry, Hermione, but you've got to be alive for that."

"What about you?" she returned, and though her voice was subdued, it had lost none of its anger.

There were a dozen different answers he could have given her; so many words to say exactly the same thing. Some were flippant and others serious; each and every one was sincere. But there was only one answer he could voice. So he inclined his head, touched his forehead to hers, and delivered it with all of the dignity and formality the last scion of a centuries' old family possessed. "Morituri te salutamus."

"Don't," she whispered, the anger draining out of her eyes as she translated the Latin. "Please don't. I can't take losing you, too."

They were teetering precariously close to the edge of melancholy's bleak precipice, and Draco knew that there wouldn't be any coming back if they slipped. "Can't have you saying stuff like that," he drawled, giving her the smarmiest grin he was capable of producing. "People'd think we were friends or something. Be a right shame to waste all that bitter rivalry and hatred, don't you think?"

At his most insufferable, Draco knew that he was impossible to take seriously. And from the way Hermione smiled in spite of the way she was going all wobbly, he knew that was still the case even after the world had gone to hell. "Don't be so stupid," she said, finally relinquishing her grasp on his shirt. As he straightened back up, she threw her arms around him. "Oh Draco, I'm so sorry for hitting you!"

Over the top of her head, Draco met Severus' eyes in mute appeal. Little help here, he thought, hoping that Severus could read the panic on his face. Apparently he could, for he just cocked an eyebrow in Draco's direction and smirked. Draco scowled back.

"S'okay," Draco attempted for reassuring and got discomforted squeak for his trouble. "Might want to tighten your grip a bit more, Hermione. I can still get enough air to wheeze."

She let go immediately, stepping back with a look of chagrin. "Really Draco, I am sorry. I don't know why I did that."

Free at last, Draco shrugged dismissively and wiped at the blood on his face. It was drying now, making him have to scrub to get it off. "No worries. If you bottle that up for too long, it turns into poison. I'd really rather you hit me, if it means you won't turn bitter and cold."

Hermione shook her head. "No, that isn't-"

"Let it be, Hermione," Draco cut her off gently. "Besides, this isn't exactly the place for heartfelt explorations of our thoughts and feelings." He looked back and forth between her and Severus. "If care-and-share is over, I'd best be on my way. Sooner I find out what's happened, the sooner we're out of here and fixing it. Right?"

Hermione nodded, even though she looked miserable about doing so.

"No," Severus disagreed, surprising them both. "It is too dangerous for you to go alone."

Draco hadn't been expecting opposition from Severus. Of them all, Severus should have been the most reckless, the one most willing to do whatever it took to bring Harry and the world back. He should not have been objecting to what was possibly the best plan Draco had ever had. "What? You're going to leave Hermione out here by herself?"

"I'm not a child!" Hermione snapped, the insult to her ability to take care of herself causing the anger to flare up again.

"No, you're not," Draco agreed, and then turned to Severus to repeat himself. "And no, you're not. Decades ago, you might have been the worst of them. But you're not anymore, and chances are pretty damn high that you weren't in this world either. If your counterpart was anything like you, he fought on the losing side and died out there with everyone else."

Unlike Hermione, Severus made no move to strike him. Instead, he just narrowed his eyes. "Hermione was right; we have no idea what the castle holds. The risk to you if you go alone is far too great."

"Too great?" Draco repeated in disbelief. "What bleeding difference does it make whether I die in there or not? When we turn this world back to normal, we won't even be here. So I might go out a little sooner than expected. So what?"

"I will not lose you to-"

"You will lose Harry, Severus!" Draco interrupted angrily, trying to return the man's focus to the reason they were here in the first place. "Unless we set this right, you will lose him. To the Muggles, to the Dark Lord; he will be lost either way if we don't figure this thing out." Severus was opening his mouth to speak, but Draco would let him have none of it. "I appreciate the concern, Severus. Truly I do. But I've had all the years of my life to get used to meaning nothing to everyone. So don't you dare start giving a damn about my life now! Not when you'd put everything that matters in jeopardy because of it."

Severus was silent for a moment. There were emotions swirling in the depths of his eyes that Draco couldn't name. It didn't matter anyway. There was no argument Severus could make that would change his mind. "Draco," Severus began slowly.

"I'm in there, Severus," Draco pointed a finger at the castle. "Fawkes lent me the use of his eyes and I saw me, alive and well and strutting around like I own the place. It won't matter if anyone sees me because I'm already there. I can get in, and I can get the information we need. The two of you will only slow me down and increase the chance of getting caught."

Like with everything else in his life, this outpouring of concern was coming at precisely the worst possible moment for it. It would have been fantastic had it come ten years ago, when he had been doing all sorts of stupid things for the sake of acknowledgement. It hadn't mattered, that late in the game, whether the feelings his presence engendered in others were positive or negative. Just so long as he was the cause of them; so long as it was his life, leaving a mark on the life of someone else. All he had ever wanted was to matter; to be something other than his father's shadow and his mother's trophy, to be seen for who he was instead of what he was. But that had never happened, and now hardly seemed the appropriate time for belated sentimentality.

"I've got to try," Draco told them flatly. "It won't take long; I'm guessing two hours at the most. And I'll stay in contact with Fawkes so that if something happens, he'll be able to let you know somehow." If something happens to me, Fawkes, bond with Hermione and pass along the information that I was able to gather. Between the two of you, you should be able to come up with a plan. Hermione would be more suited to being Fawkes' companion than him anyway. After all, she was the one with the brain and the thirst for knowledge.

'You should not go into a battle expecting to lose.'

I'm not expecting anything, Fawkes. I'm making provisions. There's a difference.

For a moment, there was only the crackle of fire. When Fawkes spoke, it was with solemn sincerity. 'I will do what needs to be done.'

That the promise was intentionally vague and noncommittal about a course of action was a fact not lost on Draco. But instead of pressing the phoenix for agreement to what he had suggested, Draco chose to just nod his acceptance. It wasn't as if he was planning on getting himself killed anyway.

"Are there any more arguments you'd like to raise?" Draco asked, glancing at Severus and Hermione. "Because I'd really like get this over with. The less time we spend in this place, the better."

Hermione looked like she wanted to argue. There was a mule-headed glint in her eyes that Draco had always associated with her stubborn refusal to leave well enough alone. It was the same look he had seen when she had been trying to foist SPEW badges off on unsuspecting classmates. And it was what he'd seen the moment before she'd punched him, all those years ago on the grounds overlooking Hagrid's hut. But she just shook her head, somehow managing to look both thoroughly miserable and furiously angry.

There was anger in Severus' dark eyes as well, but Draco understood the older man well enough to know that it was directed inward, at Severus' frustrated inability to take the risks upon himself and spare Draco the task of playing double agent. Beneath the anger, where it was hidden from those who didn't know how to find it, Draco could detect a sliver of fear. Yet Severus said nothing more; instead he simply held Draco's gaze with his own, and by doing so, said far more than mere words would have been capable.

Though maintaining eye contact was hard, it was harder still for Draco to break it. It should not have been so difficult to do, but he had grown accustomed to life being other than what it should have been and was hardly surprised. In fact, he imagined that it was rather like what Potter had felt standing before the Mirror of Erised; looking at what he had longed for all his life and knowing that he had no choice but to walk away from it.

You'd better be out there somewhere, and you'd better be deliriously happy. Because if I've gone through all of this for nothing, I'm going to be sorely put out, Draco thought peevishly, wrenching his eyes away from Severus. It was pathetic, idealistic nonsense, but ever since Severus had told him about his childhood beliefs, Draco had been giving far too much credence to the possibility of another version of himself; a happier, less dysfunctional Draco Malfoy who wasn't perpetually cast as the one standing outside the circle. Now that he'd caught a glimpse of this world's malicious, cruelly distorted Draco, the idea of a more pleasant life seemed a lot less pathetic. It also seemed possible, regardless of how convincingly experience had taught him that the world preferred misery and pain to peace and happiness.

Draco started forward, only to pause after a few steps. "If Fawkes tells you to go," he warned them severely, glancing back over his shoulder, "Go. There won't be anything left to save." Then he turned and continued on toward the castle. He didn't look back again.

Scene Shift

"To survive in this world, Draco, you must learn how to conceal yourself within plain sight of your enemies. They are all around you – some wishing only to see misfortune befall you, while others seek your death – and if you are to evade them, you must become them. Learn to wrap society around you like a cloak, become the world in which you walk so that none find your presence threatening until you wish it to be. Lie with the truth. Reflect everything. Give nothing back."

As he walked across the grounds, Draco recalled the undesired advice of his father and allowed himself a cold, humorless smile. If he only knew how his dubious wisdom was being put to use, Draco had a feeling that Lucius would be rolling in his well-deserved grave. The irony of this is not lost on me, father. Your greatest hope has become your greatest disappointment; it's such a shame you can't see it for yourself. Such sentiment was petty and beneath him, but Draco didn't care. As far as he was concerned, the man deserved it.

Lucius Malfoy had spent many years attempting to fashion his son into the perfect successor to his position as Voldemort's right hand. Having never aspired to anything greater than the ruler of the world's second-in-command, it had not entered into Lucius' mind that Draco might not be content with the status of an underling. That instead of teaching him how to be a servile toady, he should have been teaching him how to be a leader. However, even if Lucius had thought it beneficial to groom Draco to someday overthrow the Dark Lord, Voldemort himself would have intervened, most likely fatally, and put a stop to it. For his own part, Draco had absorbed the lessons that he'd seen the wisdom in and feigned acceptance of the ones that he rejected. Now he brought each one out from the depths in which he had stored them, weaving them together into an impenetrable mask that slid over him with disturbing ease. It should have been ill-fitting; a nauseating and distasteful affair that made his skin crawl with disgust. But it wrapped around him like a second skin, suppressing who he had become these last years as if that had been the true mask all along.

He should have been afraid. What he was doing was incredibly dangerous; perhaps the most dangerous thing he would ever do, considering how quickly he was approaching the end of life as he would know it. To work against the Dark Lord and entertain the possibility of daring to confront him was hazardous enough that the majority of the Wizarding world, while not agreeing with his tactics and philosophy, had chosen to stand idly by and allow him to come to power instead of trying to stop him. To walk into his domain at the height of his power with little-to-no knowledge of how his reign had come to pass or the layout of his stronghold was veritable suicide. Yet as he walked across the grounds and approached the castle, Draco was only mildly surprised to find that he felt no fear. He was a dead man already, had been since this whole nightmare began, and with each minute that knowledge grew, spreading out from his subconscious like a glacier, plowing over residual cells of self-preservation and burying them beneath the weight of surety.

Better to die on one's feet than live an eternity on one's knees, Draco thought, smiling with bleak humor as he twisted the old axiom to suit his own deplorable situation. Despite having everything handed to him as a child, Draco had always hung precariously on the verge of self-destruction. It had been the only way to cope with the place his family had created for him in the world; a prison with walls constructed out of the fear of others, and chains forged of tradition and greed. Watching the world die, coupled with the subsequent need to revert back to what he had been, brought that trait to the forefront of his personality once again and filled him not with terror, but with dark anticipation. If he was to die this day, Draco had every intention to taking the whole damn castle with him.

He met with no opposition upon reaching the entrance to the castle, and there was no one awaiting him when he stepped inside. Sparing only a quick, disinterested glance around, Draco started forward, moving with a determined pace completely at odds with the unfamiliarity of his surroundings. The interior bore no resemblance to the one that Draco had known, making him feel as if he had just walked into an entirely different place. Where there had been doorways branching off to other wings, there was now only an empty hallway, stretching out into the gloom. Gone were the decorations with which he had been familiar; no longer did the portraits and paintings adorn the walls, the antiques that had furnished the more heavily trafficked parts of the castle had disappeared, and torches flickered in iron sconces where candles had once provided light.

Fools, Draco thought with disdain, choosing the first stairway that looked vaguely like something he might have seen once before and starting his ascent to the second floor. So eager to erase the previous inhabitants that they discard the amenities that would have made this place tolerable. The dank, slightly fetid air was hazy with the smoke from the torches. The hallways were gloomy and far too dark. Draco assumed that he was supposed to feel suitably awed; instead all he felt was annoyed. Here was yet another example of how the Dark Lord had missed the point. This is the man the Wizarding world fears. A little power and they bow down like craven Muggles. No vision. No finesse. Just power. And you, father, are the worst of the lot. This world could have been yours, yet you allowed yourself to be cowed by a man with the mentality of a child. Perhaps it is I who should be ashamed of you.

It was so very easy to kindle the hatred; it was the foundation upon which he had built his life. Hatred of his family, who had stolen his childhood and tried to make him become something he had no desire to be. Hatred of the Dark Lord, who had the power to make the world right and instead had plunged it into darkness for the sake of his petty vengeance. Hatred of the Muggles, who despite their weakness, the Wizarding world feared. And hatred of himself, for being unable to do anything about the numerous things that had gone wrong in his life. In this world of the Dark Lord's making, hatred was power, and that was precisely what Draco required. He allowed it to flow through him now, watching impassively as it consumed the last vestige of himself that was appalled by the way in which he had so easily slipped back into his former self.

Walking openly through the castle as if he had every right to be there, Draco knew he ought to be afraid of being seen. His robes were tattered, his hair unkempt, and he made no effort to conceal the scar that stood out so vividly against his skin. Anyone with the slightest bit of sense would take one look at him and know that he did not belong; Draco Malfoy never went out in public looking like a disheveled vagabond. But the hallways were empty; Draco assumed that the majority of the inhabitants were still asleep. And even if they hadn't been, he doubted that it would have made much difference.

Fatalism, when used in the proper setting, could be surprisingly useful.

Time seemed to pass slowly, as Draco moved through the castle, searching out stairways that would take him ever higher. He had given up relying on his memory of the castle shortly after entering it – the structure of the building had been altered too much – and instead settled on navigating by instinct. Had his quarry been anyone else, he knew he would have been in trouble. Yet if there was one thing he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, it was Draco Malfoy; the world and the buildings within it could change a hundred thousand times, but Draco Malfoy would always be the same. He knew that his other self would have demanded the highest room the Dark Lord would allow him, the better to look down on the world and enjoy his arrogantly misguided feeling of superiority. The task only remained to find that room.

Had he been able to do so, Draco would have asked Fawkes for a detailed description of the castle's layout. It was one thing not to care if he was seen due to a certainty that he would soon be ceasing to exist anyway. It was quite another to be careless because of stupidity. But the phoenix had withdrawn from his mind the moment he had emerged from the woods. The link between them remained; he could feel it in the back of his mind, like the fragile strands of a cobweb woven of light, yet the presence of fire had vanished. Draco was glad for the absence.

There were some things that needed to be done alone.

Even as the dark, predatory grin began to crawl over Draco's lips, he became aware that he was standing motionless in front of a door; an ordinary, unadorned, and unremarkable door that looked as if it was as likely to lead to the kitchen as it was to the broom closet. He did not need to wonder about what lurked beyond it. He could feel him, the other Malfoy's presence coursing over him like a draft of air, prickling his skin. The grin melted into a feral snarl, an unconscious baring of the teeth that spoke of a time ages past when the line that separated the two-legged creatures from the four-legged was very thin indeed.

Draco pointed a finger at the door. The mirror breaks now.

It was an ordinary door. Unadorned with distinguished markings or gaudy ornamentation. Unremarkable wood that had not been treated with spells or charms. It was an ordinary door. And it disintegrated as the wizard's power broke over it.

Stepping through the doorway, Draco moved into the outer quarters of his counterpart, his eyes sweeping over the objects and furnishings scattered about, uninterested in the evidence of the life he could have been living. There was only one thing he sought. And then, as the shadows rippled in the archway of the sleeping quarters, he found himself looking directly at it: grey eyes, wide with shock and confusion, which looked exactly like his own.

"What is… How can… W-who are you?" The words emerged haltingly, stumbling out of a mouth so disarmed that it forgot about its pretensions of elegance.

By contrast, Draco's voice was honeyed poison, sliding between his lips with the smoothness of silk. "The reflection in the shattered mirror."

"W-what?" Naked fear flashed across a pale, gape-jawed face.

Draco's words were tinged with a scorn he did not attempt to conceal. "I am you, Draco Malfoy. I am what you would have been, had the Dark Lord lost the war."

It was those words, the implication that the current regime was not as powerful as it pretended to be, that drained the surprise out of the icy eyes. Offended anger quickly moved in to take its place. "The Dark Lord didn't lose!"

"Not in this world, you complacent little fool," Draco snapped harshly. "You sit here, secure in the hall of our most hated adversary, and you speak as if I lack the eyes with which to see it. I can see your victory. I speak of my world. The one in which Dumbledore reigns and the wretched Brat Who Lives ever hunts us."

The eyes narrowed thoughtfully, the anger fading into a semblance of shrewd contemplation. "You truly come from another world? This isn't some kind of trick?"

"Perhaps I should be pleased that we were defeated," Draco sneered, his lip curling in derision. "Else I might have grown as soft and mindless as you. Have you forgotten how to sense the power? In your freedom, have you become as blind as those who follow Dumbledore?" He flung open his arms. "Is this an illusion created by a dose of polyjuice? Or am I real?"

Head cocked to the side in a manner as familiar to Draco as the sensation of breathing, the Other took a step toward him. Then another. Soon he had crossed the space separating them, gaze roaming over Draco's body, taking in the features that he saw every time he looked into the mirror. His movements grew more confident as his uncertainty disappeared, and soon he was circling Draco with the grace of a hunting cat. The difference between them, so obvious at the beginning when shock had made the Other clumsy, was gone.

"Remarkable," the Other whispered as he came to a stop in front of Draco. His eyes traveled back up and met Draco's own. Reaching out a hand, the Other ran his fingers over Draco's cheekbone and down the side of his face. For his part, Draco bore the unwanted touch stoically, staring coldly into the Other's eyes. A moment passed as they stared at each other, and then the Other's eyes slid down to rest on the scar at Draco's throat. "What happened?"

Without consciously deciding to do it, Draco caught the Other's thin wrist. "Do not touch it."

The Other's eyes widened, first in surprise and then with teasing levity. "What is it? A badge of honor?"

"I mean it," Draco hissed, his hand tightening on the Other's wrist in warning.

A small smile playing over the corners of his lips, the Other stepped back and held up his free hand in surrender. "Of course. I meant no insult."

Draco's eyes narrowed, but he released his grip and pushed the offending hand away. His arms dropped to his sides, a gesture that clearly spoke of his lack of concern about the possible danger his counterpart might pose to him. He knew it did not go unnoticed.

The Other's smile sharpened to a razor's edge. "This world of yours…"

"Is not for you to conquer," Draco finished brusquely, knowing all too well the way in which his mind worked. "They overcame the power of the Dark Lord. You would be no challenge to them. No, it is my world. You already possess what I seek."

"And what is that?" The question was condescending, as if the Other had figured out what he believed to be an embarrassingly transparent plan.

"A world where we are free. A world where the Muggles have learned their place under our heel. A world where we are the masters. A world without Harry Potter."

"So you have come to take mine?" the Other asked in arrogant amusement. "Did you really think you could replace me? That no one would suspect?"

Draco stared at him in silence before breaking into laughter, the sound so harsh and eerily high that the Other's superior smile faltered and faded away. "Out of all the worlds, you truly think I would want this one? Your hauteur is unbecoming, Draco. I want my world. So I came here to learn how it was that you succeeded where we failed."

The Other's gaze grew suspicious. "How did you know this world existed?"

"For every choice, there is an outcome. For every fork in the path, a destination," Draco told him mockingly. "Were you not paying attention in class during the topic of time travel?"

"We didn't have a class about-"

"Do you think we gave up?" Draco cut him off sharply. "Do you think we pledged our allegiance to Dumbledore as soon as the Dark Lord was defeated? No! We carried on! We discovered a way to ensure that the Dark Lord triumphed! And so I am here, on behalf of those loyal to the cause, to ask for your help. Help us do what you have done here. Tell me what happened. Tell me how the Dark Lord won. Save my world, as your world has been saved."

As a child raised to believe that he was entitled to his every desire, that the world should bend over backward give him everything he wanted simply because he wanted it, Draco's pride was susceptible to flattery. As an adult who had found himself on the winning side of a war and received the spoils heaped at his feet, Draco's pride was still vulnerable to those who came to him in supplication. A look of benevolence settled over the Other's features.

"Of course I'll save your world for you," the Other said magnanimously, moving closer and placing a solicitous hand on Draco's arm. "After all, we are the same, aren't we?"

Draco gave him a small smile that was two parts gratitude and one part relief. "My world is a terrible place. We skulk through the shadows, fearful of discovery. Your help will allow us to regain our pride and our freedom. We will be in your debt."

"Oh?" The Other's eyebrow rose in feigned surprise. "Well then, perhaps a small exchange can be made, hmm? Just a little something for making you a hero?"

Without having to ask, Draco knew exactly what the Other was implying. "Of course," he responded easily, flashing his counterpart a dangerous smile that he knew would be misunderstood. "We do have to look out for ourselves, don't we?"

"Quite so," the Other replied, looking thoroughly pleased with himself. "Though I should warn you, the battle was not as great and glorious as you might expect from the tale of the Dark Lord's triumph."

Draco's eyebrow rose. "I don't understand," he responded, puzzled. "In my world, there was fierce fighting here. The Dark Lord himself led us as we attacked the school from without and within, seeking to destroy Dumbledore's bastion of strength. Dumbledore's people, instead of being terrified and disorganized by the assault, were prepared and the fight ranged from one end of the grounds to the other. There was a great deal of damage and many casualties on both sides. It was here that the Dark Lord fell to Potter."

The Other was nodding along with Draco's recitation of the conflict. "And so it happened here as well. But in those final moments, when he was confronted with the Dark Lord in all of his magnificence, no longer weak from his resurrection, Potter hesitated."

In the ensuing silence, those two words – Potter hesitated – seemed to echo deafeningly.

"What?" Draco finally managed to ask, the question sounding more like an exhalation of air whispering over his lips than a consciously constructed response.

"Pathetic, isn't it?" the Other patted Draco's arm in commiseration. "After all the fuss over the prophecy and the Boy Who Lived, you'd have thought the little idiot would have put up a fight. All the hiding, the secret meetings, and the planning, and for what? Potter just standing there like a half-wit, not even bothering to defend himself."

"But why?" Draco demanded, shaking his head in frustration. "What was the difference? In my world, he fought. And here, he didn't. It doesn't make any sense. And it doesn't help me. How am I supposed to change the past when I don't know why he acted in one world and not in the other?"

The Other shrugged. "As far as I know, no one knows what happened. I suppose I could've asked him, convinced Potter to tell me while he was still alive, but it wasn't until a few months later that I started to wonder about it. By then, Potter was dead. And even if he hadn't been, I doubt there would have been anything left to answer my questions." The Other's eyes took on a faraway gleam and a pleasure-filled smile lifted the corners of his lips. "Ah, but that was a wonderful two weeks. The things we did to him. The Dark Lord went first, of course, took his revenge on the brat for nearly killing him all those years ago. And when he was finished with him, the Dark Lord gave him to us. I'll have to tell you the details, give you some pointers on what to do with him once he's been broken."

"That isn't going to happen if that's all the information you can give me," Draco snapped harshly, giving the Other a shake that brought him out of his reverie. "I need to know why Potter hesitated."

"I don't know why," the Other retorted irritably, sounding as if he did not enjoy the rough treatment. "All I have is speculation."

"Speculation is better than nothing."

The Other seemed to wither slightly at the frigid tone of Draco's voice. "Most of the Death Eaters think it was because he was just weak, that the stories about his power were lies told by Dumbledore to try to scare us. Maybe there's some truth to that. But I always thought it was because he didn't expect the Dark Lord to kill Snape."

"The Dark Lord killed Snape?" Draco repeated softly.

"You mean he's still alive in your world?" the Other inquired curiously.

"Yes…" Draco answered slowly.

"The Dark Lord let the traitor live?"

"What are you talking about?"

The Other's eyes were wide. "You didn't know! Snape was a traitor. He claimed to be loyal to the Dark Lord, but he wasn't. He was a spy for Dumbledore!"

Draco snorted dismissively. "Of course he was. That was the point. By pretending to be on the other side, he was able to get close to Dumbledore, he was able to get the old man to trust him enough to let him into his circle of followers. He couldn't very well do that if Dumbledore suspected that he was really working for the Dark Lord."

"That's what he told us," the Other argued, shaking his head. "But it went one step further. In reality, Snape was spying on us for Dumbledore. He would attend our meetings, he would listen to our plans, he would convince us of his loyalty by revealing what we now know to be trifling bits of inconsequential information, and then he would report back to Dumbledore and his Order of the Phoenix. We were betrayed."

Plausible though the explanation was, it did not account for Potter's behavior. Draco regarded his counterpart skeptically. "Perhaps he was a spy for other side. He is a clever man; I would not put it past him to orchestrate such a charade. Yet the connection with Potter escapes me. Thus far, our worlds bare a striking similarity to one another and I can only assume that your version of Potter hated Snape just as much as mine did. I can't believe he gave a damn that Snape died."

"Oh no, I don't think it was concern. I think it just surprised him. Either he didn't know that Snape was connected with the Dark Lord and found out during the battle, or he knew and he thought Snape was on the Dark Lord's side. Just like everything else that surrounded the Brat Who Isn't Living Anymore, I think it was an accident."

"The Dark Lord killed Snape. Potter was so surprised that he just stood there and let the Dark Lord capture him. Is that what you are telling me happened that night?" Draco's eyes were narrow slits, his voice calm and flat.

"That's the difference, isn't it?" the Other answered, not appearing to notice Draco's tone or if he did, not thinking anything of it. "The traitor's alive in your world. He's dead in mine. He died on the same night Potter did nothing in his last fight with the Dark Lord. He didn't die in yours, and Potter won. If you ask me, all you have to do is kill Snape."

There was silence then, as Draco scrutinized his counterpart closely, searching his eyes for the truth of what really happened that night. The Other returned the stare with bland indifference, secure in the knowledge that he was not lying. At least, not this time. Finally, the ghost of a grin flickered over Draco's face.

"You have given me the means to save my world," Draco told him as he reached out and touched the face that might have been his had he chosen a different path. "For that, I give you my thanks. And I give you the gift that only I can."

Too late, the Other sensed that something was not quite right. A flash in his eyes? The tone of his voice? Something he had said that only now did not ring true? Draco did not know. Nor did he care. His grip tightened, holding his counterpart in place even as the Other struggled against him. There were many things Draco could have said to him then, many things that he would have wanted to say if only the situation had been different. But it was not. And there were so many 'if onlys' piling up in Draco's life that one more, especially one so small and unimportant, was not enough.

Looking into his eyes one last time, Draco smiled.

"Avada Kedavra."

A flash of green light so bright it temporarily blinded him, and the mirror shattered. The sound of the shards dropping to the floor was a muffled thud.

The spots fading from his vision, Draco looked down at the body that lay at his feet. It felt as if he stood there forever, staring at himself, unable to move or speak or think. A minute passed. Another. And then the paralysis vanished. The tremors started slowly, barely felt as they moved through his limbs and his spine, growing stronger with every repetition until he was shaking so badly he could not move. In his mind, he could see himself walking toward the castle, going inside, and wandering down the halls. He watched as he spoke with himself, each word bringing yet another horror. He felt the hatred rise until it threatened to smother him. He saw the world explode into viridian light. And still the hatred did not recede.

As if it had been him, Draco watched as the Death Eaters swarmed over Hogwarts. He felt a vindictive flush of triumph when the news came that Severus had been struck down by Voldemort and Potter had been captured. He watched with pleasure as the Dark Lord exacted his revenge, listening to Harry's screams with the enjoyment of one who hears a masterpiece of musical accomplishment. He felt his satisfaction when the Dark Lord gave Potter to him and he paid his former classmate back for shunning him as a boy, for mocking him, for getting in his way, for working against him, not caring that by the end of it, Potter's eyes were more dead than alive. And he heard his voice, negligently telling himself what he needed to do to create the life he had just lived.

"All you have to do is kill Snape."

The hatred roiled through him like a wildfire. He would erase this world from existence, this place that had been bought with the blood and the pain of everything for which he had ever cared. He would burn it from the past. He would not let it grow to become the future. This world and everything in it would be ash.

The hatred flared.

Draco hissed. At first, it was an unintelligible sound of anger. Later, as the sound began to die away, it resolved itself into a word.


The world erupted in flame.

Author's Note:

First and foremost, I would like to apologize to everyone for allowing so much time to pass between the last chapter and this one. A great deal happened in my life and I was unable to find the energy necessary to write. The rest of Written in the Sand will be finished much more quickly.

Secondly, I would like to thank everyone who has had the patience to stick with this story for so long. I know I started it years ago. If at all possible, I would like to finish E&A by the end of this year. Whether I manage to do that or not, I do know that I will be much further along by the end of the year.

Thirdly, I wanted to place a translation for the Latin that I used in the middle of the chapter. Morituri te salutamus – we who are about to die salute thee.

And lastly, I take full responsibility for all of the errors, grammatical or otherwise, in this chapter. Due to how long it took me to finish it, I thought it best to forego asking someone to beta it.