"Harry Potter! Harry Potter! Wake up, Harry Potter!" The high, squeaky voice was sharp with urgency, and Harry forced his eyes open, feeling as though they weighed hundreds of pounds each. Liquid green eyes as bright as his own and the size and shape of satsumas filled his vision, and Harry yelled, jerking upright as his fingers scrabbled at his nightstand.
"Accio wand!" His wand shot towards him, jabbing him painfully in the side of the head, and Harry rubbed blearily at the spot with one hand as he snatched it up, pointing it at the little figure which had tumbled off the bed at his sudden movement.
It was a house-elf, green eyes swimming with tears and bloodshot with exhaustion over an upturned, piggish little nose and small, pursed mouth. Her bat-like ears quivered as she stared balefully at him, wringing her thin hands together. Harry saw that she was clad in the usual Hogwarts tea towel, but he thought bemusedly that he had never seen them in house colors before he realized that the crimson which colored the towel also spread in streaks and spatters over the spindly arms and legs. The elf looked utterly miserable and her voice shook as she spoke. "Moppet is sorry, sir, so sorry to wake Harry Potter! Harry Potter needs his sleep, said Headmistress, but Moppet must, Harry Potter, sir, there is no time!"
"What's wrong?" Harry asked, trepidation filling him as he took in the red spatters scattering the large ears, the grey cheeks, even the elf's bare feet. "Is that blood?"
"Yes, sir…." The elf paused, trembled, and recognizing what was coming, Harry threw back the bedclothes and barely managed to seize her as she flung herself, thrashing, to the floor of the dormitory.
"Moppet!" Harry roared, "I order you not to hurt yourself, and to tell me what's going on, now!" He wasn't sure if he had any authority over the Hogwarts elves, but the creature's struggles stopped immediately.
"Moppet has failed, sir!" She wailed, "The house elves are helping Madam Pomfrey with the wounded. Moppet tried, she did everything she was told, Harry Potter, but it was bad magic, sir, a bad dark Hemorrhaging Hex, and it was too long before he was found. Moppet has been giving the potion and giving the potion, but he's dying, sir, and he sent Moppet to get Harry Potter."
Harry felt as though the floor had vanished from beneath his feet and he was falling headlong into a dizzying, sickening cold. He had allowed himself to think it was over, to rest, to lower his guard, and now someone was dying. Images swirled through his mind's eye too quickly to separate themselves into any kind of sense, the faces of those he had lost and those he had been so grateful not to lose blurring together in a cavalcade of fear. When he spoke, he didn't recognize his own voice, a hoarse, high whisper, almost a choke. "Who?"
"Terry Boot, sir." Moppet blurted, and a wave of guilty relief flooded over him so strongly that he felt his knees give way, and he barely managed to catch himself on the edge of the bed. He knew it was wrong that he wanted to laugh or maybe cry with delight that it wasn't anyone who…but no, of course Boot mattered. They all mattered. Terry was still someone's son, someone's friend.
He shook his head, standing again, and realized Moppet had her hands outstretched to him, the gesture odd until he saw that she was holding his glasses. He took them, slipping them onto his face as he ran a hand shakily through his hair, trying at once to dispel both the last traces of sleep and of shock. "Right," Harry said, "Let's go, then."
The elf led the way through the shattered corridors with a speed and surety that made it seem as though the piles of rubble, the demolished staircases, the gaping holes that yawned down though several floors at a time were obstacles as normal as a trick step. As he followed, Harry racked his mind desperately, feeling his cheeks heat as he was forced to admit to himself how very little he could remember about the fellow student who had asked to see him as a dying wish.
Boot was in the DA, he knew. A Ravenclaw who had come in with Michael Corner and Anthony Goldstein. Harry recalled dark blond hair and a pleasant, slightly rounded face exclaiming over Hermione's Protean charm; a silvery falcon bursting from the tip of a wand; a gleeful grin over the distorted forms of Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle on the Hogwarts Express. They were little more than fleeting impressions, and Harry wondered how many had died for him about whom he knew even less.
Panting slightly with the effort of following the far more nimble elf as she sprinted down one twisting passage after another, a horrible thought came to him. "Is there anyone else since I left, Moppet?" he asked, "found, or turned for the worse, or…you know."
"Not many since Harry Potter went, sir. Only three." She planted her foot on the face of a stone statue that had fallen across a gap in the stairs, ignoring its howl of protest as she hauled herself easily across. "Everyone thought Master Boot was dead, but he began moaning when they tried to take him off with the others, and Master Wood had been Confunded so badly that he didn't find his way back for hours."
"Oliver Wood?" Harry asked.
"Yes, sir. He lost an eye, but he says it will just improve his concentration on the Quaffle." Moppet paused a moment and cast him a look that showed a gravely sympathetic doubt for the sanity of Harry's old Quidditch captain. "Moppet thinks he may still be Confunded a bit."
Harry found himself almost grinning. There was something wonderful that even as he stood here in a world that had been literally blown apart, portraits vacant and shredded, walls scorched with spells and stained with all the horrible detritus of battle, the basic priorities of Oliver Wood hadn't changed. Then he frowned. "Who else, you said three?"
"Miss Parkinson. That one is very strange, Harry Potter. She didn't fight, but she was still jinxed." They had reached the entrance hall now, and Harry was able to pull up even with the little being and look down at the genuine confusion in the huge eyes. "She must go to St. Mungo's, they say, because Madame Pomfrey could do nothing."
Harry's brows drew together. As much as he didn't like Pansy Parkinson, he didn't want her seriously hurt. "What happened?" he asked, guardedly.
"Bat-Bogey Hex with a Permanent-Sticking Charm." The elf replied solemnly, "Fifty people were there, sir, and no one saw anything. Perhaps someone else has a cloak like Harry Potter?"
"I don't think so." Despite himself, Harry smiled as he took hold of the double doors, bracing his heels to haul against the warped hinges. He would have a word with Ginny later.
The Great Hall was far less crowded than when Harry had left only a few hours before. The sun was high now, streaming through the enchanted ceiling with the bright, clear light of a nearly cloudless early afternoon in June. It was exactly the sort of day where students should have littered the grounds in happy, chattering knots, pointedly ignoring upcoming exams in the bliss of warm weather and sweet green grass. Instead, most had gone back to their dormitories to sleep off the exhaustion of the battle, returned to devastated rooms to salvage belongings, left with family to pick up the pieces of lives torn apart by loss old and new, or been whirled away through the fireplaces in the waves of Healers bound for St. Mungo's. Only a few small clusters of people still sat together here and there, and Harry was relieved to see that no one seemed to have noticed him enter as Moppet led him across the hall to where the teachers' table had once stood, now cracked down the middle to sag like a giant open book in front of the toppled chairs.
A few empty beds were still clustered there, but one was occupied, and Harry's stomach gave a sudden lurch, a sour gob of sick rising harshly in the back of his throat as he saw Boot. Every inch of skin Harry could see was the rich, hideous purple of a fresh black eye. Blood, both dry and crumbling, and fresh, wet scarlet trickled from his nose, mouth, ears, and the corners of his eyes, even standing out like sweat in tiny drops on his forehead. He opened his eyes as Harry approached the bed, and they too were red, though not quite like Voldemort's, the blue irises stained an odd maroon, the whites brilliant crimson. It was not their color which made him shiver, though. They were still clear, still very much alive in the ravaged figure, and Harry felt his chest tighten with remorse for what he had put them all through.
Sinking to his knees at the side of the bed, he started to reach for Boot's hand, then saw the blood seeping around the edges of the fingernails, pooling in little lines where the skin had split at the knuckles, and he placed his hand awkwardly on the red-stained sheets behind the other boy's head. "I'm so…" His voice shook, almost breaking. "I'm so sorry, Terry."
"Don't be." When he spoke, a trickle of blood ran out over his lips, his teeth crimson, and there was a horrible gurgling undertone to the words, his breath coming in quick, shallow pants that sounded terrible wrong in a way Harry knew without wanting to was the sound of someone whose lungs were filling, drowning them in their own blood. He thought of the moment in the forest pool when the last of his air had seemed to constrict away, of the agonizing distance to the surface after his gills had vanished during the Triwizard Tournament, and he wished he didn't understand what it must be like. There were several more bubbling breaths, and then, incredibly, Boot smiled. "Don't be…sorry. Get to…die…hero…not some…accountant…in some…little office…"
Harry shook his head fiercely. "I should have – "
"No!" It was actually shouted, and Harry was struck dumb by the vehemence. "Don't…blame…yourself. You…shouldn't have…none of us…should have…Harry." Boot paused, gathering a few more thin mouthfuls of air. "Maybe when…you're older…you have…too many…real things…to lose…maybe we…just have futures…and that…is worth less…to the people…who decide…who dies."
Thoughts of Dumbledore intruded cruelly into Harry's mind, but he forced them down and changed the subject. "Why haven't they taken you to hospital?"
"Just take…a bed…nothing…to be done." Boot coughed, and a violent gush of blood soaked his chin and neck. Moppet hurried forward, wiping his face with her thin-fingered hands, and Harry was startled to see the blood vanish as though a soapy cloth had been used. "Should have…paid more…attention…when you…taught us…to duck." His eyes closed tightly, and a shudder went through him, clenching his fingers on the sheets, and when he opened them again, scarlet droplets very much like tears had welled at the corners, and froth was coming at his lips with each still-shallower breath. His once-blue eyes met Harry's, and they seemed not afraid, but utterly naked. "Harry…did you…die?"
Harry hesitated, unsure whether he himself quite knew the answer to that question. "Well…" he began.
Instantly, the image of Sirius, young and whole and handsome, flooded Harry's mind, and he felt as though his godfather was standing with him again even without the Resurrection Stone as he placed his hand deliberately over Boot's, his tone one of complete confidence now. "No. It's like falling asleep."
Boot's eyes had become unfocused, glassy, and Moppet turned, burying her face in her stained towel, but Harry felt no urge to look away. A relaxation had come over the Ravenclaw's features now, a kind of peace that made sense of sick injustice that had been curled in Harry's chest ease a little. It wasn't all right, but it was better somehow, and he felt strangely like he had when Lupin had asked him to be Teddy's godfather, like he had been asked a favor that was really an honor as he watched Boot let go. When he spoke again, the words were barely audible, but the sense of being forced through the gurgling was gone, and now they came on the thick bubbles like the natural speech of water on the rocks of a streambed. "Then…I…won't…be…afraid…"
There was a last, thick rattle from somewhere deep in Boot's chest, and he was gone.
Harry sat there, he didn't know how long, his hand still wrapped around Boot's, feeling no urge to let it go, to move, to do anything, really. He stared dazedly at his feet, realizing numbly that they were clad only in socks. He had forgotten his trainers upstairs, and now there was blood on his socks.
His trance was broken as a shadow fell over him, but he did not look up until a slim, white arm reached past him, the delicate fingers scattering torn leaves and violet, bell-shaped blossoms over Boot's lifeless body. Harry was not surprised to see Luna Lovegood standing there, her blonde hair still disheveled, but her face as serene as always. She took another handful of greenery from the bundle in her arms, strewing it on the sheets in a loose circle around Boot's head. Without looking at Harry, she answered his unspoken question. "Foxglove," she said, "it repels Hemowrights."
"Hemowrights?" Harry asked.
"They feed on spilled blood," Luna explained matter-of-factly. She regarded Boot between handfuls, tipping her head slightly. "I don't suppose he'd mind now, really, but it seems like the right thing to do. He never liked things he couldn't see."
"So they're invisible." Harry couldn't quite keep the exasperation from his voice, and she shot him a surprisingly Hermione-like look.
"Of course they are. ..but you had Hagrid for fourth year Creatures. We had Grubbly-Plank. Not your fault, really. They're a main food source for Red Caps, and what most people think draws them to battlefields and so forth…" She smiled at Harry with the unmistakable expression of someone humoring a good friend's eccentricities. "Of course some people believe that Red Caps just haunt places where bad things have happened out of more supernatural reasons. To each their own beliefs, you know."
Harry felt incredibly awkward and looked away, trying to change the subject. The only topic directly at hand was morbid to say the least, but the odd burst of scholarship from Luna had also reminded him that she and Boot had been in the same house and only a year apart. He nodded towards the bed. "Did you know him well?"
She scattered the last of the foxglove, then took her wand from behind her ear and began moving it rhythmically back and forth over the bed. It was so casual that it could have been just an idle gesture, but she was murmuring a quiet incantation, and the blood was disappearing as the wand passed over the bedding, leaving the sheets as clean and white as if they had been freshly laundered. Just when Harry thought that she had completely ignored his question, she spoke. "Not really. He thought I was strange." There was no bitterness in her voice. "He was in the DA of course. Terry did most of the hard magic after Hermione left. He was very smart."
Harry watched as she ran the wand over Boot's face, transforming the horror mask into the waxen face of a boy who looked painfully young to Harry, even though he knew that Boot was at least within a few months of his own age. If he had been considered smart in Ravenclaw, he must have been bright indeed, and Harry wondered if he would really have wound up as an accountant tucked into a desk somewhere at the Ministry, or if he would have gone on to something more. How many of them could have gone on to great things if their lives hadn't been cut short? Was it even right to mourn things that could only maybe have happened? Was Boot right that potential was somehow less valuable?
"Luna?" Harry asked. She looked up, raising one pale eyebrow a fraction, and Harry continued. "Do you think he was right? That we shouldn't have…that we were too young?"
Luna paused. She pursed her lips, crossing her arms and tapping the tip of her wand against her shoulder thoughtfully. "I think we're Snikkett birds." She said finally.
Harry blinked. "What?"
"Snikkett birds." Luna seemed deeply satisfied with her choice of metaphor, and she explained casually as she returned to tidying Boot's robes and arranging his arms over his chest with no more reluctance than if she were making a bed. "They're very rare. No surprise, really. When they start to hatch, their parents fly the eggs out over the rocks and drop them. The fledglings have to peck their way out and learn to fly before they smash. Most don't." She paused and considered her handiwork. The nightmare Harry had seen when he had first arrived was gone; instead Boot looked as though he were simply napping, yet somehow the formal tidiness gave a finality to his death. "I suppose," Luna continued, "it's because by the time they have their heads out and know they're falling, the rocks aren't very far away."
Harry considered this, and to his surprise, found himself agreeing. He decided that it really didn't matter in the least if the creatures actually existed, and he started to tell her that she had a definite point there. At that moment, a voice snapped his name from what seemed like only inches away. "Potter!"
Heart pounding, Harry let out a yelp of surprise and spun around on the spot, nearly jamming his wand up Madam Pomfrey's nose. Seeing who it was, he yanked back, tripping over his own feet as he flushed fiercely. "I…"
The plump little witch did not seem the least flustered, though her face was drawn and tired, her mouth set in a thin, pale line. "I wasn't going to wake you, Potter, goodness knows you need rest, but since you're awake now," she flicked her wand, and one of the empty beds slid over to bump Harry in the back of the legs. "you can strip off and let me have a look at you."
"But I'm fine," Harry protested.
"I've sent thirty-one 'fine' students to St. Mungo's already." She informed him brusquely, wagging her wand in his face. He cast a plaintive look at Luna, but she merely shrugged, tucking her own wand back into her hair and moving off to a nearby table where she sat silently next to Anthony Goldstein, who was hunched forward, face hidden in his folded arms on the tabletop. Harry looked back at Madam Pomfrey, who showed no signs of budging. "I didn't hesitate to use a Full Body Bind on Malfoy when he wouldn't cooperate," she said, "and I have no qualms about doing the same to you."
"Malfoy?" Harry repeated, "Is he…?"
"Strip first." She cut him off with a tap of her wand against the collar of his robes, and Harry sighed, unfastening the neck and resignedly beginning to strip off his robes and jumper. "The burns and the black eye were nothing," she went on, as Harry pulled his t-shirt over his head, "but the Flagellus Curse was rather nasty, and they'd been completely unattended for weeks. I cleared up the infection, but they've scarred quite a bit, and there's nothing I can do for that, I'm afraid."
Harry frowned, thinking unpleasantly of the screams from Malfoy Manor that had echoed distantly in his head as he dug Dobby's grave at Shell Cottage. He had never heard of the Flagellus Curse before, but he had an awful feeling he knew what it did. "Where is he?"
Madame Pomfrey began to move her wand up and down slowly across Harry's torso, the tip vibrating slightly, and he felt an odd tickling sensation, as if invisible fingers were gently probing him, not only against the surface of his skin, but deep inside him as well. "Now listen to me," she said firmly, "I know all about you Potter men and your feuds. I patched up James and Severus for years. Hair-loss hexes, blood-boiling curses, every jinx and anti-jinx in the book…even Sectumsempra a few times…" She fixed him with a stern look, "Oh, I had a perfectly good idea where you learned it, yes, Potter. And you and the Malfoy boy have sent one another through my hospital wing more times than I care to think about. So if you intend to start something…"
Harry shook his head. "No, ma'am, really." He wasn't actually sure why he wanted to see Malfoy, but as he raised his arms and turned at her wordless command, the invisible fingers continuing to poke and prod, he felt something sharper jab him in the hip, and he thought suddenly of the hawthorn wand still in his pocket. "I have his wand." It was true, and though he didn't know yet if he had any intention of returning it, it seemed to satisfy the healer.
"All right." The invisible fingers withdrew, and she let out a deep sigh. "Well, you've picked up a few new souvenirs, and it would appear not even You-Know-Who can keep a teenager from growing like hackleweed, but otherwise, you seem to have come out of this…just fine." Her voice quavered, and Harry was surprised to see that her round cheeks were flushed, and her eyes were shining behind the little cobweb of lines at the corners. "Really quite all right." She sniffed. "Goodness…"
"Ma'am?" Harry asked, gingerly. She was reacting as though he had been given some kind of reprieve, and he began to wonder if her even more brusque than usual attitude had been because she was trying to steel herself to find something horribly wrong with him, some kind of terrible final price Voldemort had exacted on him.
She batted at her eyes quickly with the back of her hand, gathering herself, and muttering a quick "never mind." Her eyes fixed on his, and he saw a painfully intense gratitude here. He'd seen that look many times this morning, but it still made him squirm and look away, gathering up his clothes and pulling them on quickly so he wouldn't have to meet her gaze.
"You did a wonderful thing this morning, Potter," she said quietly, "but I suppose you've probably heard that already." She paused, then went on, her tone gentle. "Malfoy's over in the corner there. I've put a security line around the bed. The password is Mandragora, but don't go passing that around. According to the Minister, there were a lot of children of Death Eaters who were enlisted one way or another, and they'll be granted clemency if there is reasonable proof coercion was involved, but there are quite a few people who lost children today and would call it good enough justice to see Lucius Malfoy lose his son without bothering the Wizengamot about it. I'm a Healer, Potter, not a judge or an Auror, and if you so much as lift a wand against him while he's in my care…"
Harry shook his head, meeting her eyes so that she could see the sincerity there. As much as he had often thought vividly of ways he could take vengeance against Draco Malfoy, the thought of cursing him while he lay wandless in a hospital bed after Voldemort's defeat was repellant. "I promise."
"Good," she said, slipping her wand into her belt. "You can go then, Potter, and…" she smiled wearily, "…thank you again." Then she turned and bustled off, the many bottles in her apron pockets clinking.
Pulling his arms through the sleeves of his robes and fastening them again, Harry looked towards the dark corner where Madam Pomfrey had pointed. He could just make out the bed in the deep shadows, a single figure lying motionless beneath the blankets, a silver line, thin as a pen-stroke, gleaming faintly in a circle on the floor. He hesitated, fingering the handle of the hawthorn wand in his pocket and wondering suddenly what it was he wanted to say. What do you say to someone after seven years of trying to make each other's lives hell? They had been fighting so long before Voldemort's return; did his defeat even matter?
As if in answer, Madam Pomfrey's words seemed to echo in his head. I patched up James and Severus for years. He thought of Sirius and Snape standing across from each other in the kitchen at 12 Grimmauld Place , of the palpable waves of hatred that had filled the room, and how Harry had held Snape in contempt for his inability to just put down a stupid schoolboy rivalry. But wasn't that what this was, a stupid schoolboy rivalry?
No! The voice in his head was appalled. It's not at all the same. Draco's a bully, a pompous, arrogant… Then there seemed to come another voice, one that Harry hadn't quite gotten used to, his own, but quieter, more mature. Grown up. So was James. What has Draco done that your own father didn't do? The answer came quickly. Dark magic. But really, said this older voice, what is Dark magic? Is it Dark magic to use spells to humiliate and torture someone? Is it not Dark magic when you used Unforgivable curses yourself? Is that really reason enough to keep this going for the rest of your lives? But Draco hated Muggles, Muggle-borns, called people "Mudblood" and… Then don't socialize with him. You can disagree with someone, even shun them, oppose them without brawling and sniping all the time.
The scene in the kitchen came to him again, but this time the faces were different. Now one of the men was him, his features older, more sharply angled, and the other was Draco, grown to look every bit as much like Lucius as Harry did James. The thought of still having to watch his back, of the petty back and forth continuing for years, even decades…Harry's shoulders slumped as though the prospect had physical weight.
His mind made up, he stepped up to the silver line, feeling a cool, firm barrier press against his face as he approached, like fog made solid. Murmuring "Mandragora," he stepped through, hesitating as the figure on the bed made no movement.
As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, a shiver ran through him, and his fingers tensed on the wand in his pocket. Malfoy lay on his side facing the wall, the blanket pulled up to just below his shoulders and wrapped tightly around him as though someone might take it. Only the faint motions of his breathing gave any sign he was alive, otherwise, he could have been made of stone. He had always been slender, but now he was gaunt, shoulder blades standing out starkly, the line of his spine shadowed against his skin. Harry had never seen skin so utterly colorless. Malfoy's natural pallor had been exacerbated by his virtual imprisonment in his family's manor house, and skin, sheets, and white-blond hair were within a fraction of one another. Against this, the scars of the Flagellus Curse looked every bit as violent as the act that had caused them, red-purple ropes of raised tissue as thick as Harry's finger that streaked across the exposed portion of his back, wrapping viciously onto the tops of his shoulders and around his upper arm.
"If you're here to gloat, Potter, get on with it." The voice came without any movement, and Harry barely kept himself from startling at the realization that Malfoy was not, as he had assumed, asleep. It was the same familiar, sneering drawl, but Harry could hear an indefinable change to it, as though it had been hollowed out in the deepest parts. "You won. I lost. Congratulations, oh Chosen One."
"Actually," Harry responded, keeping his own voice deliberately cool and neutral, "I'm here to give you this."
Slowly, even lazily, Malfoy rolled over. Harry pulled the hawthorn wand out of his pocket and held it out, letting it lay across his open palm. At once, Malfoy sat up, the blanket falling unnoticed from his shoulders, and two spots of livid color flushed high on his prominent cheekbones, his eyes flashing. "My wand!" The words were a hiss, a growl, barely human. He looked like an animal that had been starved for weeks suddenly shown fresh meat, and Harry fought the urge to draw back, oddly in that moment more genuinely afraid of Draco – helpless, starved, beaten though he was – than he had ever been before.
The burning gray eyes looked up to him, and suddenly, the familiar veneer came slamming down with shocking abruptness. Malfoy reclined back against the wall, pulling one knee up to his chest and slinging an arm over it as he regarded Potter, his face a studied sneer. "What do you want for it? Am I supposed to beg forgiveness for the error of my ways and kiss and make up to Granger?"
"Well," said Harry dryly, "I think if you kissed Hermione, Ron would feed you most of your own teeth, but that's beside the point."
"Weasley and the Mudblood? Well…" he smirked, "I suppose that's marrying up for him."
"Shut it, Malfoy." Harry snapped. This was not going at all as he had planned. The urge to rise to Malfoy's taunts was getting stronger, the rationale for forging some kind of peace dimming rapidly. He took a deep breath. "I want a promise."
"What makes you think I would keep it?" The tone of challenge was still there, but Malfoy's eyes had returned to the wand, and a touch of hunger was creeping at the edges again.
"Because," Harry answered bluntly, "you're a pompous, nasty, bullying, prejudiced, self-righteous, sadistic git…but you're not a liar."
Malfoy raised one eyebrow. "Am I supposed to thank you for that?" he asked, sarcastically.
Harry ignored him. "I just want you to swear to me this is over, and I'll give you your wand back."
Genuine confusion crossed beneath the snide veneer. "The Dark Lord is dead, Potter. Of course it's over. Or does the great Harry Potter do so many fantastic things that he just can't keep track of such menial details?"
"I mean between you and me." Harry couldn't keep the heat out of his voice, but he didn't care. He took a step forward, clenching his fist around the hawthorn wand. Malfoy's lips parted, he leaned forward ever so slightly, and for a moment, he seemed to be about to beg Harry not to snap it. The tiny motion gave Harry a surge of vindictive satisfaction, but guilt followed instantly on its heels, and he relaxed his grip.
"What do you mean?" Malfoy asked warily, his eyes not leaving the wand.
"I mean that we have been fighting for years, with and without Voldemort. Like it or not, people will follow me, and I know better than to underestimate you and your parents, but I will not have our kids growing up like we did because…"Harry snorted derisively, "Because you took Neville's Remembrall when we were eleven." Malfoy's eyes narrowed, and Harry continued. "Look, we can let this go now, or it can go on and on and on and on, and we can be forty years old, hexing each other and casting jinxes and making stupid, goading comments because of things that were said and done while we were children. We're men now, Draco. All I want you to do is promise to act like it."
He could see Malfoy wrestling with the same knot of feelings he was, even though he had the cautionary example of Snape and the Marauders that Malfoy lacked. Pride was the worst, Harry knew, and if it was so hard for him, how much harder for someone raised with pride valued above all else, and with that pride so horribly battered the past year. Almost unconsciously, the white fingers traced the line of one livid scar that wrapped around his bicep, grey eyes seeing into something that Harry did not want to know. Then at last he raised his head, pointed chin thrust out defiantly. "If you expect me over for tea at the Weasleys'…"
Part of Harry almost laughed with relief, but only the faintest, cynical smile touched his mouth. "Don't hold your breath for the invite."
The white-blond head nodded. "Then you have my word. I end it if you do."
"Then it's ended." Harry held out the wand to his former nemesis, and Malfoy snatched it out of his hand with a movement that was indecently fast. As his hand closed over the thin stick of hawthorn, silver sparks shot from the end, and Malfoy's eyes closed involuntarily, his lips pressing together with a look that was embarrassingly intimate. Eyes still closed, his fingers stroked along the length of the wood, and his head bowed low so that all Harry could see was his hair falling in a thick curtain to hide his face.
One streak of hair seemed to be pure white, and Harry wondered if it was just an illusion, or if something had happened to prematurely strip it of what little color it had. He wouldn't be surprised if there were a few gray hairs in his own unruly black, when it came to that. But it was over now. He turned away, leaving Malfoy with his wand, surprisingly feeling not the least bit concerned about turning his back on his newly re-armed enemy of so many years, when Malfoy called after him.
The voice sounded like it belonged to a stranger at first, then Harry realized what was different. There was no pretense, no sneer, no taunting or bravado. It wasn't the voice of the heir to the power and fortune of a great pureblood family, it was just Draco's voice, and Harry was shocked to find that it was not unpleasant, the low, aristocratically enunciated tones almost gentle. "You fought well, Potter. Thank you for killing him…it was…you were…very brave."
Green eyes locked with gray as Harry turned back, and in that moment, something passed between them, an understanding between two young men who were barely adults but hadn't been boys in years, scarred veterans who shaved once a week. Slowly, Harry nodded, then spoke the last words he would ever say to Draco Malfoy. "So were you."