Shade of Mercy

"Who is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark..."

I remember these woods well; it isn't easy to forget where on earth the trees are so tall and their branches are so thick. And even tonight, with a full summer moon, virtually all the moon- and star-light has been filtered out of the air, leaving behind the deepest dim patched darkly in places with the slight shadows of a myriad of flat leaves. The last time I was here I could at least light my wand, but tonight my sole aid for navigating my way around fog-shrouded tree roots and slowly winding my way out is the man moving stealthily ahead of me, keeping in sight but always one turn ahead.

I almost want to stop, to throw down my wand, end the chase, and yell out into the void that it's over, that I'm not playing any sick cosmic games anymore... but I can't. If I do, the darkness will envelope me, like it did my father, like it did my mother. But not me—not yet. So far, I've somehow managed to shrug it off, to slip away, and I don't plan on letting that change.

My guide picks up his pace, his cloak whipping dangerously around trunks as he moves silently between them, and I gratefully follow suit—there is something to be said about paranoia. It is a strange thing. Every snap of a twig or intake of breath comes sharply to my ears. With each passing second the feeling of being cornered, tricked, grows stronger. I somehow resist the urge to look over my shoulder for the dark terrors that I know are undoubtedly there, and the Mark burns fiercer. I sometimes think that I might fall into a black hole of despair.

But I've heard it said that it must get darker before it gets lighter.

...maybe it doesn't.

My mind keeps replaying the same old scenes, each which has been burned into my brain with white-hot pokers of emotion. I see a boy, scared and pale but trying not to show it, wince as the Mark is burned onto his skin; a boy growing thinner and weaker at his failures, crying his heart out to a ghost because that's the only place he can find compassion; a boy, a fool, gripping the Hand of Glory with one fist and clutching the arm of a Death Eater with the other, guiding him; a boy staring into the eyes of a dying wizard, realizing that he, the boy, is dying also.

"...or a man afraid of the light?"

That boy no longer exists. He did die; he died as the hand of a mentor carried out the one task that the boy could not do and then led the phoenix-child, still warm from the embers, to safety.

I'm following that man again, now.

We have wounded our way to the edge of the forest, it seems. The distance between trees is increasing, the darkness has lifted somewhat, and I feel like I can breathe again. Small wonder—I can see sky, even if its touch still eludes me. There is a break in the tree line ahead; my guide slows... and, finally, stops. As I reach his side, I understand why. We have stumbled upon the edge of a precipice; to our right, glittering serenely hundreds of meters below, is the lake. To our left, darkness; above us, sky. But before us—

It is like a punch to the stomach, seeing it again so peaceful, like nothing had ever happened there. But something did happen, I want to shout. I died, I died, I died...

One look into Severus' eyes, and I know he feels the same way. For a moment, neither of us can do anything but stare at the castle that had so drastically changed our lives.

"Come, Draco," he says quietly. He doesn't even need to finish the statement, I reflect sourly as the two of us set off at a near-run to our sanctuary. I know that we aren't safe until we reach the hall...

My eyes lock onto the gray towers of Hogwarts castle, and suddenly it's hard to walk, let alone breathe. I can't believe the mess I've gotten myself into. I'm not supposed to be a double agent for the Order; I shouldn't be in any war. I should be lying awake in my bed, both parents asleep in the room next door, happily contemplating the thought of catching the scarlet Express in a few hours' time and beginning my last year of school.

But I'm not. I've learned the hard way that life doesn't care what is supposed to happen, it only cares about what is happening. And right now I'm sneaking into school, the last haven, to be inducted into the Order of the Phoenix, half of whose members trust neither my companion nor myself. And I'll be on that platform at 10:45, waiting to catch the Hogwarts Express at 11:00 o'clock sharp, beginning my life as a spy.

Hell, I have no idea what I'm doing.

At the foot of the steps leading up to the front doors of Hogwarts, I pause. It was just there... and to the right. My spine tingles as I stare at the patch of grass where the most brilliant, perhaps the most foolish, wizard of the age had fallen, only two months before. Strange, that the spot looks so... normal. Strange, that it's taken me two months and a journey through the deepest dark for me to realize that it really was I who was at his mercy. Strange, how perceptions change when you grow up.

Severus might have saved me, but he was my savior.

"Give light, and darkness will disappear of itself."

AN: Well, there you go, another one-shot! The quote "Who is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark or the man afraid of the light?" belongs to Maurice Frehill, and the quote "Give light, and darkness will disappear of itself," belongs to Desiderius Erasmus. Of course, Draco, Severus, the Hogwarts Express, the Dark Forest, Hogwarts, etc., all belong to JK Rowling! Heh, I disclaim ownership of anything but the plot of this one shot. Have fun, everyone!