A/N: Draco in Half-Blood Prince interested me, especially the crying-in-the-bathroom scene with Moaning Myrtle (and, naturally, the scene upon which this ficlet is based). I think what actually inspired me, though, was LesserKnown's story "Power," and I thought, if that's Canon!Draco pre-HBP--which it probably was, or at least pretty closely--how might Draco's frame of mind changed when he really had to deal with death? Here's what came out of it. I think I wrote it in two sittings, which isn't bad by my standards.

He didn't know it would be like this.

He thought it would be easy. It's only two words, after all, only two words. He thought he would enjoy this. He thought he would delight in this power, the intoxicating rush that would come from holding a life in his hands—so fragile, so full of possibility—and pinching it out forever. He has seen this power before, and he's wanted it as long as he can remember.

He didn't know about the fear.

He doesn't even know why he's afraid, and he hates himself for it—despises the trembling he can feel that's ready to take him if he once relaxes his iron grip on his wand and his stubborn focus on the man before him.

He should not be afraid.

He should raise his wand, say those two words—only two words—and blast this fool into the void. Instead he starts talking, bragging really, babbling, hoping that somehow—surely out of all these words—he will say those two words and it will be over.

Just two words.

He doesn't even know what he's waiting for. He has to do this, has to do something, he can't just stand here with his wand beginning to shake. He'll never get another chance like this one—alone with his prey, completely alone, the old man weak and weaponless and utterly unable to call for help.

Dumbledore deserves this, anyway, for fighting them, for thinking he could stand up against the Dark Lord's might, for thinking he could defy the Death Eaters. Dumbledore deserves this death, in his beloved school, at the hands of this student, an ultimate sign of his failure.

But this is only bravado, and it withers in the light of the other's gaze. If Draco believed it once, it's different now.

The tip of his wand is quivering.

So is his voice, he hears the shake start as he talks on and on, and he wants to stop and finish this, and he can't do it.

Because he's afraid, and he still doesn't know why. Draco Malfoy is afraid.

Only two words.

He can't do it.

And he realizes, with a final stab of self-loathing, that he is weaker than Harry Potter. Because Harry Potter has seen death. Harry Potter has tasted it, his own death at others' hands, over and over again, and he has not shattered. Harry Potter knows what death is like.

Draco Malfoy doesn't have a clue.

All he knows is that he'd rather be anywhere but here, his fingers slicking his wand with sweat, his heart throbbing in his ears with a dread he doesn't even understand.

And then shouting punctures this bizarre bubble of time between him and Dumbledore, and feet pound up the stairs, and someone shoves him aside. He has to do it now, has to or they'll let him die, he knows they will, but he can't do it. He can't do it.

Then there's more shouting, and a new figure bursts through the Death Eaters, and a new hand points a wand at Dumbledore's heart. There are more words, but Draco doesn't hear them, not until a different voice shouts the words he couldn't.

"Avada Kedavra!"

The world changes.

It's such a little thing, but he sees it happen: green fire leaps from the wand's tip, and the light goes out in Albus Dumbledore's eyes.

That's all he sees before the same hands grip his arm and make him run, down the steps, into the grounds, half dragging him across the grass. He doesn't feel relief or gratitude or anything at all, really. His mind has gone as blank as if someone's wiped it with a Memory Charm.

Draco Malfoy knows what death is like now.