DISCLAIMER: THE USUAL.
The first thing he was aware of was the pain. It was a deep, grating pain everywhere he could feel that left him feeling bruised and beaten. He could feel in his bones, pounding against his skull with a dull throb.
He groaned, and tried to open his eyes, but he couldn't, at least, not yet. He heard excited voices around him, but couldn't really understand what they were saying at all. He didn't really understand what was going on, nor could his muddled mind think of, or recall, the circumstances that got him here.
He was positive he recognized the voices above him, but he couldn't place them. He tried so hard to think, but that throbbing wasn't going away, but only getting worse. He groaned again, trying desperately to dispel this blasted headache.
Someone touched his chin very gently, the fingers very skilled and careful. The touch eased him somehow, allowing him to focus a little better.
"Here, drink this. It will help." Something cold, like glass touched his lips, and he obeyed the voice, allowing the warm liquid to pass through his throat down into his empty stomach. Already, he felt so much better.
"Can you open your eyes for me, little one?"
Feeling like he could trust this voice, this person, he tried. His eyes opened slowly, almost resisting his efforts, and the lights were dimmed, making it easier for him. He remembered that he needed glasses, but at the present moment he could count three blurry shapes around him.
One of the shapes settled his glasses on his face, bringing everything into a much sharper focus. The men around his bedside were all achingly familiar, but at the moment, with his mind still trying to cast away the fog.
"How are you feeling?" One of the men asked, his black eyes unreadable. He definitely recognized this man, but couldn't exactly place him yet. He was more than familiar, though.
"Groggy. Can't really think yet." His voice was raw, unused. "What happened?"
"You fell in battle. We have ascertained why it happened as well. How much do you remember?"
He knew who they were, right then. It was like flicking a switch, and the sudden recollection was almost too much for him. He closed his eyes and groaned again at the oncoming headache.
"Everything. Thanks for reminding me. I was blissfully unaware until just now." Even shaky, his voice managed to ooze sarcasm.
"Leave us." Harry looked to his right, to Voldemort, as he commanded Draco and Severus to leave the room. They bowed and left without another word. As the door clicked shut, Harry took his first real look at the Dark Lord, really looking at him.
He had regained his youthful visage, losing the frightful snake face from the war. His eyes were still the deep crimson, but they had lost the hate from before. He looked at ease in his more human appearance.
But Harry could also see beneath the lines and saw that Voldemort wasn't faring too well. There were bags under his eyes, and his skin was pale and drawn across the bones. He looked as bad as Harry felt.
"What happened? I just remember all the blood. I think I had started to fall, too." He watched carefully, trying to read Voldemort as he considered his response.
"I... you startled and scared a lot of people that day. Almost three months ago, actually. Your knees gave way, and I caught you before you could hit the concrete. It was very sudden, very abrupt. I brought here, to my stronghold, and I have had Draco and Severus look for a way to help you." He could barely look at Harry, instead focusing on his own hands.
Voldemort gave a careless shrug. "I truly have no idea. It was as sudden as your extreme decline in health. I just knew that I had no inclination to fight with you anymore. The only thing I wanted to do was getting you to safety."
"So what happens now?"
"I'll be leaving that up to you. But before you make your decision, allow me to inform you of exactly why you collapsed that day." He settled into a chair at Harry's bedside before continuing. "When you were bitten by one of young Mr. Malfoy's Furies, you were infected. We still don't know exactly how, since they never attacked anyone else like they did with you. But something did infect you, and it was a slow acting agent. You should have started showing signs of infection months before you collapsed, or so Draco says at his best estimate, and knowing you as I do, you more than likely concealed the signs."
"I did. I remember starting to feel ill at odd times, or short of breath late at night. There were also times where I would get spasms of sharp pains deep down to my bones." Voldemort nodded as Harry spoke, and the two of them seemed oddly comfortable with the other. "No one ever really noticed that anything might be wrong, not that I allowed myself for them to notice. I wasn't sure of what to make of what was happening at the time."
"No one would have been able to help you, either. The only progress we have made is because of Draco. Since he was the one to create the Fury Vampires, and is a brilliant Alchemist, he was the only wizard I could think of that would be able to help you. While he was creating his vampires, I had all of his notes, and from them, I was able to alter myself into something similar. But I don't think the Furies were entirely stable. We didn't have them long enough to know for certain, but I assume they were destined to fail inevitably. Because of this, since they infected you, well, to put it frankly, you're dying." The Dark Lord said nothing more, waiting for Harry's reaction.
To his surprise, Harry just smiled, barely. "That bad, huh? What about the war?"
"As far as I'm concerned, you won our war when you collapsed. I could have killed you when you showed weakness, but I didn't, and I see taking you from the battlefield as a means of terms of my surrender." He smirked. "As an added bonus, I even delivered many of my own Deatheaters to the Ministry shortly afterwards, with the exceptions of Severus, Draco, and a few minor ones in really excellent locations."
Harry nestled into the blankets of his bed, getting more comfortable. "Do you know how long I have?"
The Dark Lord shook his head. "We don't know for sure. At few months at least, now that you've been stabilized. I will still have Severus and Draco look for a cure, but that doesn't seem to be the course of things. The way that you are deteriorating makes it less likely that a cure will be found for you in time."
Harry's eyes darkened and he looked downed at his hands. "I see."
There were a few minutes of silence, tense and awkward. Voldemort sighed, rubbing at his eyes with one hand. "You know, for someone who's taking the news of their impending death pretty well, you seem depressed at how much time you have left. You really confuse me sometimes."
Harry grinned at him wryly, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Only sometimes? I must be losing my touch."
"Don't avoid the question, little one."
He didn't answer right away and sighed. "I've always... I always knew that I was going to die at a young age. I always figured my death would be before I hit my thirties. Before my late twenties, actually. I also knew that I would die before the war ended, but you have proved me wrong on that end. I have accepted the fact that I would die before many of the people I know and care for, and I never expected to survive our last confrontation. But now that our war has ended, and I'm still dying, it just... it just seems like so little time to say goodbye."
There was silence again, but this time it felt more... comfortable. "You've thought about this."
Harry peered at the Dark Lord, a frown creasing his brow. "In my position, wouldn't you have done the same? I was just a child when we fought the first time. I also knew then, in my heart, that I would have to be the one to stop you for good. I hadn't realized it fully back then, but I knew that I would not survive the inevitable. How could I? You were my opponent, my life-long enemy, all powerful with plenty of years of experience, and there I was, stumbling and learning as I went along."
"You do have a point, but I shall make sure that you have enough time to say your final goodbyes. You deserve that much at least. As soon as you are able to stand on your own two feet without help, I will escort you back to the rest of the wizarding world in order for you to get your affairs into order." Voldemort stood from his chair and walked over to the large window that filled the room with sunlight. "After that, you won't even need to return here, if you don't wish to."
Harry watched him; head cocked to the side a little as he considered the man before him. The Dark Lord had changed tremendously over the past couple of months, and the evidence was staggering. Harry had even noticed it during their most recent encounters, just a slight shift in the way he worked, the way he held himself and also in the way he managed the things within his control. The Dark Lord had become less... insane and reckless, and had become more controlled.
Even now, standing at the window, the Dark Lord wasn't Voldemort, per say, but instead it was like he had become a younger Tom Riddle again. He was intelligent, and human, vulnerable. Even now, he seemed resigned that when Harry left the Manor, he would never return.
Harry had two options, really. On one side, he could return to his friends and the wizarding world, and most likely suffer through the pity and anguish of those who viewed him. There would also be many people who would be angry with him for dying, and he would have to suffer through that as well, with no help from his friends. While he considered Ron and Hermione, and Ginny too, to be his best friends, and he loved all dearly, he knew that they didn't see things the way he did. They would worry, and when they thought he wasn't looking there would be pity and sorrow, and even anger. They would try to justify the wizarding world's anger and outrage and it would be a tragedy with so many tears should he die without fighting, without searching for a cure until his last dying breath.
It would be a truly miserable way to live his final days.
And on the other side, he was being offered hope. He could stay with the Dark Lord, who neither worried obsessively about him or pitied him, and be comfortable. He could finally relax, and while he knew that Voldemort wasn't telling him everything, he could be content here. There would be no pressure for anything, and he would have the support he had so desperately needed his whole life during the final moments of his life. if a cure was found in time, then great, but there the actual reality that there wasn't likely a cure. Also, he was very curious about this aspect of the Dark Lord that he had never seen before. It intrigued him, and he seemed to be the last great mystery of any importance left in his life, and he wanted to at least seek after it while he could. Here, he could have no regrets, and be truly content for once.
So he made his choice.
"And what if I decided to stay here?" He asked quietly, a small gentle smile flitting across his face.
Voldemort turned from the window, an unreadable look in his expression, but his eyes glimmered. "You would choose to remain here with me?"
Harry nodded. "Yes. Is it so hard to believe?"
Voldemort had the grace to look guilty. "Actually, yes."
He snorted. "Glad to know you think so highly of me. Despite our history, I feel safer here than I would be elsewhere. Sure, I would have been with those I care about, and those I would die to protect, but I would die sooner there with them than I will here with you. Here, there are going to be no expectations, no pressures for anything. While you said you'll still look for a cure, you know that one won't be found in time, and you have accepted that. They wouldn't be able to accept. I seem to be immortal to most, if not all of them."
He relaxed, his features softening. "I understand what you're saying. I am... relieved that you feel that way. Not many people would say that about me, or the environment I provide."
Harry smiled. "No, I don't suppose many people would."
"Are you sure about this? I mean, staying here?" When Harry nodded again, Voldemort's expression softened and he came back to Harry's bedside. "Good, then start by getting some more rest. It will be a few days at least, maybe a week or two, before you're going to be ready to even try getting out that bed."
At Harry's disgruntled look he laughed softly and left the room. A few moments later, Draco reentered the room with a few things in hand. He placed a few books on the small table, as well as a journal, with a few pens.
Harry studied his old rival as he puttered about the small room. It occurred that Draco and he had not seen each other face to face since their school days, and it surprised him how much the blond had changed since then.
Draco had always been lean, and fit, in shape, but now he seemed gaunt, more skin and bones than anything else. His hair had lost its shine, its luxury, and now it just hung lank on his head, thin and discarded. While still as imperious as ever in his manner, Harry could see that Draco had suffered in the past couple of years.
"Why so curious, Potter?" Draco's sharp, intelligent, gray eyes were fixed on him as he stared. "Why do you stare so, as if viewing a stranger?"
"I feel like I'm seeing a stranger. You resemble the person I knew, but you, I don't recognize you." He said in return just as sharply, watching as Draco's gray eyes dimmed. He wondered exactly what in his words caused the reaction.
"Potter, the answer will always be the same; you happened. Everything in the world changes when you're involved, and that is no different with me. I had created my crowning achievement, and there you were, still invincible, and reducing my work to dust. One thing led to another, and my reason for living was suddenly gone, a by-product of your destruction of my Furies." Draco approached his bed, emotion flashing through his expressive, blank eyes.
"But when disaster finally fell upon me, I wasn't even lashing out at you; I wasn't even thinking about you! Gone was the composure worthy of a Malfoy, and I found myself in a dark, damp cell in Voldemort's dungeons!" Draco waved his hands about in angry motions as he stalked towards him. Harry could only watch him as he raged. "Two years spent in a cell, Potter, until you were brought here and I was released, but with an ultimatum; save you or die. Well, I have gotten you conscious again, but will I be able to save you? To find the cure that you need? I don't think I will be able to."
Harry glared at the blond, sitting up in his bed. His arms shook as he held himself upright, but he ignored it. "So you blame me for your hardships? Well, I'm sorry for whatever loss you've suffered, but at least you'll live through it. Even if you find a cure, it may be too late, I know that, but you'll be able to live for it. I won't. I'm dying, no matter what anyone else wants, including me, and this time, my luck has run out."
That brought Draco's rage to an abrupt halt, and without another word, he slumped heavily into the chair that Voldemort had occupied only minutes before, and he sighed, the sound also heavy. His gray eyes had lost their familiar fire.
"We're quite the pair, you and I," The words were quiet and resigned. "Both of us, we are mere shadows of our former selves. You know, Potter, you are really a great wizard, and I think it infuriates me more now, when you are dying. I am no better, barely, if at all, worthy of the title of Malfoy."
Draco's attitude was starting to irritate him. "Well, how do you define what is worthy of that title you hold so dear? You're the last Malfoy; it's up to you on what that means. You, and you alone, can change the definition of Malfoy if you so desire. No one else matters in that respect and no one should. You're still obscenely rich, you could have so much influence in the world, politically, if not scientifically. You're brilliant, so smart, and you could do whatever you want."
"What's with the speech?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "You're basing your 'failure' as a Malfoy on the definition other Malfoys before you created. You can change the definition of what it means to be a Malfoy to suit you. I did it with my family name, I'm sure you could do the same."
"So how did you change your family legacy?"
"I don't know about my grandparents, or the Potters before them, but I learned early on that my father was supposedly a great man. Purely the epitome of Gryffindor and all it stands for. Every Potter was a Gryffindor, an Auror, or something with power and always the pinnacle for Light. I learned later that this was not exactly so. My father was a bully, cruel and heartless at times, especially when he was attending Hogwarts. He was arrogant, and reckless, just as Snape always said he was." While Harry had accepted that little family fact for himself, it still hurt to mention it in front of others. "My mother was the one person who changed him, made him into the great man people remember, and so I choose to live in her example, although she was not a Potter by blood. The way she lived is the way that I choose to define the Potter line."
"And you think that I could do the same?" Draco asked quietly, contemplating his words.
"Of course! You're the only one that matters, so take matters into your own hands. And about what you said earlier, about how your life depends on my survival, well, I'll see what I can do to get that changed, since my survival isn't guaranteed. Because, if there is no cure, then I don't want anyone else to die because of me." He looked away from the blonde wizard, to the sun setting outside the window. "That's the last thing I want in my pathetic life."
Draco laughed. "If you want to think that your life was pathetic, then let me tell you something. You're wrong. You're one of the better people in the world, but if you tell anyone, I will deny every word. I have to go, research and trying to save your life, and all."
He made to leave Harry's room, and paused just inside the doorway. "Get some sleep. You've got a long way ahead of you yet."
A/N: SIXTH CHAPTER. FINALLY. WORKING ON THE NEXT ONE, BUT IT MAY TAKE SOME TIME, AS I DO HAVE REAL LIFE ISSUES TO WORK THROUGH, AND A JOB, AND SCHOOLING TO THINK ABOUT. PLEASE HAVE PATIENCE. THANK YOU FOR READING.