I've been working on this story for quite a while, and it's almost completely done, but I really wanted to post it before the seventh book comes out, so I decided I'd better get on that...
Shades of Truth
"Stop, Harry." A young woman with painstakingly maintained wavy brown hair rushed out into the corridor, reaching a slender hand out toward the only other person in the vicinity.
"Hermione," he sounded weary, and there were rings underneath his brilliant green eyes that confirmed this. Roughly pushing his hand through messy black hair, he turned to face her as though even that took a great deal of effort. "I'm doing this. I've got to."
"Harry, this is so stupid of you!" Hermione stamped a high-heeled foot down, making a sharp, satisfying noise that elicited a blink from her tall companion. "You are the last person who is qualified to do this. The tension between you two has always—"
"I've got to." His assertion was much clearer now, as though the tired voice before had only been an affectation. "Besides," he reverted to a softer tone, his face turning from her, "I've done it all properly. You can check yourself; I've got permission to do it my way."
"We both know how you got that permission." Hermione hissed at him, "Using your fame like that, what would your parents think? What would Dumble—"
"He'd think it was about time I took control of the situation." Harry cut her off sharply, "And if you think I'm really so emotional, stop trying to make it worse. Just—just go home, Hermione. Let me do this."
"I shouldn't have…" she trailed off, and he resumed his journey toward the end of the corridor. "Wait, Harry, please. What's the point? He can't get much lower, and you aren't one to gloat. What's the point in trying to get more information? He'll rot in Azkaban as it is." He paused then, his hand on the doorknob, and let out a long sight.
"Justice." He told her, and his voice was hard, intractable, and so full of power she realized as though she had never known before, how this skinny young man had been the Hero of the Wizarding World. "Because I believe that everyone should have justice." He left her in that corridor, worried for him and strangely concerned for the prisoner he was about to confront for the first time in a long time.
"Potter," the prisoner was slouching horribly, but as soon as he saw he had company, he did his best to appear dignified. His back became straight, he folded shackled hands in his lap, and pained eyes full of horrors that would not stop replaying became vacant and unreadable. His long unused voice was no more than a croak, and so he elected to remain silent after hearing it, rather than appear weak before someone who was so clearly, so thoroughly, his enemy.
"Malfoy," the greeting was engrained in Harry, something neither friendly nor really spiteful, just and acknowledgement, something that both of them had somehow needed since they were children. "I'm here to talk…to question you, that is."
The prisoner blinked silver-grey eyes at Harry, accepting his introduction, allowing him to continue. However, Harry waited for a while before going on. He knew Malfoy as someone who never missed his chance to insert a snarky comment, and this silence was rather disconcerting.
"I have recently come across some evidence against you." Harry continued eventually. Silence greeted this announcement. "And I am determined to find out the truth. So…don't make things difficult for me."
Finally, Malfoy opened his mouth, but he did not speak. He let out a long, horrible racking noise that was his best attempt at laughter. As he continued, his voice began to return to him, and finally, by the time he stopped completely, the hacking cacophony had transformed into a low, musical chuckle.
"You think this is a joke, Malfoy?" Harry demanded, annoyed at his former rival's behavior.
"Is it?" Malfoy countered, "Only you would care enough to pin a few more charges on a damned man, Potter. Still bitter about Hogwarts? Grow up."
"The joke's on you, Malfoy." Harry leaned across the table then, so close he could smell the rank, musty stench of Azkaban on the other's skin, in his pale blonde hair, on his prison robes. "I'm here to get you out."
There was a moment of shocked disbelief that evaporated into desperate laughter once more. "Nice one, Potter, but I'm almost positive the world is a piece of cake to save next to me. You can't always be everyone's hero."
"I can save the people who are innocent." Harry replied. "I just need your help. Don't be a martyr, Draco."
"Malfoys create martyrs, they never become them." Draco shook his head slightly, a knowing sneer on his lips. "So then, I trust in your sickening goodness and you get whatever additional confessions you're looking for. I think not. Besides the fact that I feel quite damned enough, thank you, I'm going to tell you that I honestly don't remember whatever else you think I might have done. If I ever did, you must have knocked it out of me when you apprehended me so enthusiastically. I had a lump on my head for weeks, you know."
"I didn't recognize you then, Draco." He sighed deeply, "there were Death Eaters everywhere, and curses flying every which way, and you looked—"
"Like my father?" Draco beamed at him in a way that made Harry feel sick with guilt and the worry that this was all too little, too late. "How were you to know he was dead? It was an honest mistake."
"Casualties of war aren't always the names on a memorial, or the etchings on a gravestone. Many of them walk among us."
Harry gasped slightly at the words floating to the surface of his memory. He had thought he understood them then, but he realized now that he hadn't a clue.
"Are you a casualty?"
Did I kill Draco Malfoy that day? Can I still save him, or is he already gone? Can he ever be more than the damaged shadow of an unwanted memory? Will he hate me for trying to help? Will Ron?
"Are you a casualty?"
"Life is not meant to be a punishment, Potter, it's an opportunity. Dumbledore taught me that."
"Draco, don't you wonder why you killed him?" Harry's voice was so soft that Draco wondered whether he had heard the other man correctly or not.
"My father?" Draco's voice cracked on the second word, and he hated himself for showing such vulnerability. "Why wonder? He was an utter bastard, and he wasn't going to win any Loving Father awards, I can tell you that. He made me what I am."
"But you loved him." Harry tacked on, and Draco looked at him as though he had lost his mind completely.
"I killed him, Potter." He spoke slowly, as though he wasn't sure Harry understood that bit of things.
"But you loved him." Harry insisted.
"So what?!" Draco slammed his manacled hands on the table. "Doesn't that make me more horrible, more cold-blooded, that I killed my own father?!"
"Your mother swears you never could have done it." Harry felt himself calm down now that Draco was getting worked up. He had been afraid emotion would have abandoned Draco utterly at this point.
"My mother has no one else left. Of course she would want me free, want me declared innocent." He rolled his eyes. "She can convince herself of anything if she wants it badly enough. Why do you think she never divorced my father?"
"Do you honestly believe you could have killed him?" Harry pressed onward. "Malfoy, think about it. You know it wouldn't be the first memory ever modified. Yes, he was an asshole, and he might not have been a great father, but he was your father. Can you tell me why you killed him? You remember doing it, but do you remember why?"
"I…" this seemed to confuse Malfoy quite a bit. "I just did, okay? It isn't as though I'd be the first evil bastard to kill his father."
"I have a hard time believing that the boy I knew, the one who couldn't bring himself to kill an enemy, even to save his neck and his family and win himself all the glory he ever craved, could turn around a year later and become a ruthless Death Eater who killed a dozen people, not the least of which was your own father." Harry shook his head slowly. "You were never a saint, Malfoy, but you never had it in you to kill someone."
"How…how did you?..." Draco had gone even paler than usual at the reference to his botched murder attempt.
"I was there, Draco, under my Invisibility Cloak. Dumbledore had the full-body bind on me, so I got to watch it all, but I couldn't do a thing." Harry suddenly felt twenty years older. "Look, I'm going to be back tomorrow. I want you to think about what I've said."
"Potter?" the voice was suddenly unsure as Harry turned to leave. "Can I ask…why are you doing this? I thought you hated me."
"I suppose I may have, once. You certainly gave me a hard time at Hogwarts." Harry shrugged as he turned to face Draco, his hand resting on the doorknob. "But I've forgiven people for much worse. And the night that Dumbledore died, I realized that we aren't so very different. What would I have done if Voldemort was threatening my parents, or the Weasleys, or anyone I care about? And now, I think that Dumbledore knew what was going to happen that night. I think he froze me so I could see, so I could understand, because he knew I could help you, and he knew you would help me as well." And Harry left as Draco puzzled over the question of exactly when he had ever helped Harry Potter.
"Harry," Hermione was waiting for him as he reached the bleak entrance of Azkaban. Her tone was soft, but her face told him she wouldn't be deterred this time. Sometimes Harry wished she would simply trust in him to know what he was doing, trust that he would do what was right. But that was Ron, the friend that questioned him rarely, and who could almost always be satisfied with "because I said" as a logical line of reasoning. Hermione needed more. Harry supposed that there were times when she had saved him from making horrible mistakes. Times when she would have as well, if he had only listened to her. And that knowledge was the reason he listened to her even now, when he knew he was right, but also knew that if he began to explain, she would ask questions that he could not give her answers to. Not now. Perhaps not ever.
"Hermione, I'm sorry I was short with you, but I wish you could just believe in me enough to know that I know what I'm doing is right." He told her wearily, knowing it would have very little effect on her at this point.
"Harry, you always have good intentions, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're doing the best thing. Think of Ginny." Hermione said it as gently as she could, but the blood still drained from Harry's face as he froze mid-stride.
"Hermione," he said her name in a warning tone. He didn't want to fight this battle right now.
"Do you really think you were protecting her? Do you think they didn't know how you felt?" she pushed onward recklessly as Harry was forced to bite back the impotent rage that always rose within him when he thought of his failure to protect the one person he had most wanted to.
"This has nothing to do with Ginny." He clenched his fists so tightly he felt his nails bite into his palms painfully.
"Don't be stupid, Harry. If it isn't about her, who is it about? He did horrible things, we all know that. He killed people we cared about like it meant nothing to him. He killed people he cared about. He lost it, Harry. I know he seems the same to you, but there is no way he would ever have done those things otherwise. I don't think we'll ever know what happened to make him go so wrong, but you're going to have to see you can't bring any of them back now. They're gone. And Draco's already received his punishment. Move on, Harry, you're better than this." She had tears in her eyes as she spoke.
"Hermione, I just want the truth. If Dumbledore were still here, he'd be doing the same thing." Harry sighed deeply, hoping she'd accept his vague explanations, because he'd never be able to lie convincingly, and she'd hate him if she knew the truth. Not to mention what Ron would think.
"If you'd just tell me what this is about…we could work it out together the way we used to." She looked at him hopefully, and for a moment, all he wanted was to tell her everything and to have her support. If she knew the whole story…
But no, he'd sworn he wouldn't. And he couldn't break his word. He couldn't.
"You'll know once it all comes together." He told her. "But I'd rather do this alone. Alright?"
Hermione stared at him for a long time as he tried to deflect her gaze. It was clear that she was trying to read the truth in his face, as he'd always had such a hard time hiding his emotions. But that was a long time ago. He'd learned a lot since then, and this wasn't something so simple as anything he might have concealed in the past.
Finally, she turned away from him. "I just wish you'd stop being Harry Potter, Lonesome Hero, and remember Harry Potter, Trusting Friend. I'm still here for you. So is Ron."
"I know," he shook his head abruptly, "But once in awhile, I have to remember not to drag you two into every mess I stumble into." And with that, he turned and walked away.
To be continued…