Draco Malfoy was melting like ice. Fading like a ghost. They could see him, his head bent low, creeping along the walls, not looking at anyone, hunched over as though trying to disappear into the stone beside him. He was too scared to lift his head, to look into somebody's eyes, in case of what he saw.
He was a coward and he knew it.
He sat at the Gryffindor table again. He was in that kind of mood today, when the day felt bright and new and he thought maybe he could be better.
Harry sat at the Slytherin table where Malfoy used to sit with Crabbe and Goyle flanking him. He didn't know who sat there now, long after Draco had finished breakfast and retreated to examine his scars.
They had carved a reminder in just in case Draco chose to sit there again.
The head of a snake was engraved in the wood, its neck ending in torn flesh and sinew.
"What's this mean?" he asked and Draco slowly got up from the Gryffindor table, walking over as though he expected a trap. When he was level with Harry he leaned over him, his breath ghosting across Harry's cheek in the cold air.
"It means that Death Eaters are not welcome."
"I thought Slytherins would have worshipped them."
"But we failed. I failed. I could not be dark, and I could not be light."
"No," Harry said. "You couldn't be dark." He drew his wand across the graffiti as though rubbing it out and sure enough the words slowly evaporated. "Therefore, you are light."
Draco showed the first emotion for months, jerking away from Harry as if he'd been burnt. "I am not light! I watched people die! I watch them get tortured, and I did nothing! I stood and watched!"
"So did I."
Draco was uncertain now, hesitant.
The Shadow was upon them but at the same time, it wasn't.
When he was walking out by the lake, Ron nudged him gently.
"And Professor Sternis had a look at my essay draft and said it was quite outstanding – what?" Hermione noticed their lack of attention.
It was just those three in the early morning. They had started off as three dark smudges in the snow, wandering round in their frozen blue and white world. Now it was lighter, the snow glowing a soft pinky-orange under the rising sun and they were sharply-defined silhouettes, walking back towards the castle.
"What is it?" Hermione asked more quietly.
"Someone is by the window," Ron said.
"And this is of consequence because…?" Hermione asked but Harry looked. Yes, on the second floor, in a lonely and dusty classroom. His face was a pale blur, his hands against the window like pale butterflies flickering behind dusty glass.
Harry looked down at his own hands and placed them deep into his pockets.
In Potions, when Draco saw his cauldron full of potion, as though nothing had happened, he turned and stared at Harry.
"I gave you mine," Slughorn said. "It's alright. Just make sure it does not happen again, Mr Malfoy, or I'll have to fail you."
Draco tried to measure out dried Gnargle hearts. His hand shook and the next moment the hearts had scattered all over the floor.
He tried hard, so very hard, not to just give up and sink to the floor with them.
Somebody was gently tugging the measuring spoon from his hand.
"It's alright," Harry said, and then he bent down and started picking up the hearts. Theo leaned down and helped him, their hands brushing against each other, and then Ernie, and Hermione and Ron were there too, sweeping up the tiny hearts with clumsy fingers.
The Shadow came for him at night. These dark creatures on shadowed wings. They came for the weak, they came for the alone. And was he not both?
He woke with a name dying on his lips.
I saw you at the window, Harry wanted to say. I saw you by the lake. I saw you in that dusty classroom trying to pick up a wand. I saw you.
And even now he could see him sitting in the front, asking Professor Slughorn about the healing properties of the Murtlap.
Harry was the one to go to Professor Slughorn.
"Draco isn't feeling well," he said, and although Slughorn made a great show of umming and aahing over it, he agreed to help. Harry dropped copious hints about how he considered Slughorn to be one of his favourite professors, et cetera. Slughorn cheered up a lot after that.
And here he was now, peering into the potion and frowning, rubbing his chin.
"...your essay is a day late, Malfoy. Again. Are you sure you're ready for NEWT level potions?"
"Yes, sir," Draco said, and Harry caught the crushing disappointment and doubt in his voice.
"Talk to him."
"Take him for a walk."
"Have a fight."
"Organise a study session in the library," Hermione said brightly and they all groaned.
Harry did not ever imagine he would find himself in the Gryffindor common room discussing ways to cheer up Draco Malfoy.
"Just don't say the words 'Death Eater', 'Dad', 'ferret', or 'battle' around him," Seamus said, slapping a card down.
"Yes, because other people say it for us."
"Tell them to leave him alone," Dean said, sketching away with a piece of charcoal.
"Get him to do it himself," Ron said and the pile of cards blew up in Harry's face.
Get him to do it himself.
Harry sat down opposite Draco, who was presently sitting at the Slytherin table. He had learnt to tell Draco's mood by which table he sat at. If he was feeling brave, he sat at the Gryffindor table. If he was feeling something new or different, he sat at the Hufflepuff table. When he felt lost, he sat at the Ravenclaw table. And when the Shadow came over him he returned to Slytherin.
He reached out and touched Draco's wrist. Draco was holding his spoon; he clenched it suddenly, his hand flexing.
"Do you still have the wand?"
Draco stumbled away.
The Shadow would come for him again.
When he was walking down the corridor, they attacked him. Not with wands or fists but with words, which were worse.
The Littlest Death-Eater, the Littlest Death-Eater...
They chanted it in a light sing-song voice as though it was a bad joke or a silly fairytale. Once upon a time there was a Draco Malfoy.
And then, he thought, there was nothing. Just blood and shadows.
He saw a gun once, in the study. The only Muggle artefact his father owned.
"It is a gun," his father said. "It is the Muggle Avada Kedavra. It will kill you." And as if to prove it, he took it off the wall and shot at the head of a nearby sculpture, smashing it into a million pieces. Draco was expecting light, a burst of red, but there had been nothing. Just a loud noise and bits of stone around his feet.
That's what he felt like sometimes. No fireworks or burst of light. No ceremony, no dramatics, no explosions or screams or warnings.
Just him lying on the ground with pieces of his life around him.
At breakfast, Draco could not see Harry anywhere.
He walked forwards and then he saw him sitting in Snape's old chair. Slughorn's, now.
He sat in Dumbledore's old chair and they looked at each other. He wondered if Harry ever got frightened. If his face ever turned grey with fear, if he ever stumbled, if his hands ever trembled.
Harry didn't seem scared of anything though. He was Harry. Draco could not imagine him crying or sobbing into a little mess or curling up in a ball or holding a wand to his head and screaming that he was going to end it all. He was just Harry. He played Quidditch very well and handed in all his essays on time and had two best friends and was nice to people, even the really rude ones. Draco wanted to be like that. He wanted to smile at people or hand in his essays and have teachers smile at him or just get out of his stupid little mind. Sometimes it felt like he was suffocating sometimes. Like he was walking underwater, going nowhere, frozen in an Impedimenta curse. Moving towards something that he could never reach or at least could not reach in time.
He couldn't look at Harry.
That night he dreamed. In his father's study, Harry took down the gun and came closer, closer, until it was level with Draco's head. The study disappeared and now they were in a snowy field. Just him, Harry, and a gun between them. Draco stared down the barrel, the blackness...and then a thousand red hearts burst out of it, sailing away like leaves on the eve of winter, the chill breeze catching them and sending them tumbling across the sky, fading into the stars.
Draco woke up, his hand outstretched to catch a heart that did not exist.
Draco watched them again at five o'clock in the morning, circling the lake. Not talking. No need to talk. Harry skimmed rocks. Hermione drew patterns in the snow with her wand. Ron methodically melted the leaves, one by one, from a tall tree that had not managed to shed its leaves in time for winter. The icicles melted away to reveal the rich gold beneath.
Draco wanted summer again.
He sat in the room, alone in the dust and dark and shadows, when Harry slid into the chair next to him. Two students in an old classroom, sitting at two dusty desks next to each other. Through the dusty window a long sliver of golden light broke the darkness, the sun rising to illuminate a glorious day.
And the two would not move.
"I've got something for you," Harry said quietly as they sat the next morning opposite each other at the Ravenclaw table. It was a dark morning, the sun still asleep. There was a silver frost and the stars were still out, cold and fresh, and Draco felt more alive than he ever had.
"What is it?" he asked, coming closer to Harry, so close that he could feel the warmth of him.
Harry reached out and placed something on the table.
He recognised it immediately. His wand. Not the one in his hand now, that Ollivander had so grudgingly made him. No. His faithful wand that had been taken from him so many months ago.
"You have to take it," Harry said, and Draco understood.
The wand moved gently, rolling across the table and falling into his outstretched hand.
"I missed it," Draco said.
…Red hearts, bursting upwards, skimming along the stars, weaving through the Milky Way, dancing across the moon...
The first Hogsmeade visit came up.
It was a strange sort of day. It was a day when darkness could be tasted in the air, and the thunderstorm smell rising through the air like a ghost. People were oddly raucous, noisy; their countenances strange blurs as wind-whipped hair shot across their faces like spells, their cloaks rising to greet the shadowed, ominous skies like strange wings. The Three Broomsticks' sign swung and crashed loudly in the gale and a group standing nearby screamed and skittered like shying horses. Ghostly branches scratched at the torn shrouds of clouds that hurried across the dark sky, the sun drowning, so that at three o'clock in the afternoon it felt as though it was on the brink of nightfall. Yes, the whole day had a bruised, brooding feel to it.
Draco's mother had a phrase for it. Fate's Shadow, she called it. When it comes, she said – when you feel it in the air – stay in bed. Huddle down beneath warm covers, don't go out until you feel it pass over you.
Draco always viewed it as superstition and although he felt it now, he pushed it aside. He did not think of himself as superstitious. He deliberately dawdled, looking through shop windows, pausing to stock up on sugar quills at Honeydukes – but in the end, he hurried back to Hogwarts before it was 'too late' – too late for what though, he could not say.
He went straight to the library, with vague study plans in mind (although he was without books, quills and parchment) but bumped straight into Harry. Harry took in his rain-spattered face, his wind-mangled robes.
"I felt the Shadow on me," Draco said.
"Do you want to go down to the Great Hall?" asked Harry.
Once they were settled – Draco at the Hufflepuff table, Harry at Gryffindor - they sat on the closest benches to each other and Draco told Harry about his mother's Fate's Shadow theory.
"So it's like Seeing?" Harry asked.
"No. It's just like a feeling you get, a lurking in your stomach," Draco said, frustrated at his inability to put it into words but Harry understood, nodding.
"But it feels alright now?"
"Yes." Draco smiled in relief. Harry nodded and smiled, the first time he had done so, directed at Draco. He stood up and left. Draco presumed Hermione had banished him to the library for missed homework.
Draco remained for a few minutes longer, rifling through his parcels from Hogsmeade and readjusting the weight. As he got up to leave, he realised his hands had not trembled once.
He smiled and left.
He could always find him in the Great Hall. At the Ravenclaw table, Draco guessed, but no. Harry was at the Gryffindor table. He had been there for three days now. Draco wondered if he would stay there now, always. But that had been Before the war, and everything was different now. Time always seemed to be marked by that now. It was either Before or After.
That was the problem. He had always been prepared for a Before, but never stopped to think about the After. In his mind, there was always a Before. In his head, there would be a war, and – and – nothing.
"What are you thinking?" Harry said, flicking a toast crust at him.
Draco was startled into telling him.
Harry paused, absently eating another crust he had saved specifically for flicking purposes.
"My life," he said, "was always in a state of war." He paused, pushing his plate away. "I can't imagine a Before, and an After was something that happened to other people."
Yes, thought Draco. Something that happened to other people.
"Where do you go?"
Pansy asked the question, genuinely concerned. She never saw him at breakfast anymore. Theo said he was never in the dorm in the mornings.
Pansy couldn't understand. Greg and Theo could. Their parents had been too deeply embroiled. Every act they did affected their children. Every action involved a reaction. It was like a spell rebounding. Pansy, little affected, still so sheltered, seemed to belong to a world that no longer existed, a time that no longer was.
Where do you go, Draco?
Away, he thought. I go away, where the Shadow cannot follow.
They were out by the lake. Harry liked being with them. Hermione and Ron understood. He knew that in her dreams, Hermione screamed as Bellatrix raised her wand once more. And when Ron's eyes glazed over with the Shadow darkening them, Harry knew he was remembering dueling for his life over the body of his lifeless brother. They understood. When he wanted quiet, when he wanted alone, they wanted it too. When he wanted to remember, so did they. They knew him. Evenings were reserved for them alone but tonight Harry was particularly moody, a darkness that made him silent and unresponsive. Hermione and Ron prescribed him a walk, unaccompanied, by the lake, where he could brew and brood through memories alone.
And as he finished, as he reeled in his memories like kites from a stormy sky, he noted the Hufflepuffs skimming rocks across the lake, pausing to pull their cloaks tight and return to the castle. A storm was coming. He decided to return to the castle himself, just as the heavens opened and the rain fell so hard and fast it felt like he was in the middle of a waterfall, walking through a thick sheet of water.
Draco Malfoy had heard all sorts of stories about rain and how romantic it was. The dramatic rain, the sweet smell of wet earth, the tumultous clouds; but he decided it was the opposite for the single person. He slipped and sloshed through the muddied ground, skidding down a slightly embankment and nearly landing on a surprised Harry.
He clutched onto him tightly as they nearly fell, slipping and putting back a hand to catch himself, feeling the wet earth cling to his palm as his other hand grabbed a handful of Harry's robes again. He managed to haul himself upright with great effort. The two of them ran, stumbling, grimly holding their robes above their heads. The rain pelted their faces, soaking first the front of Draco's open robes until his thighs were chilled to the bone, then stinging his hands til they burned with cold. He could not even feel his face anymore. It was nearly impossible to see with evening setting in over the storm but at last they were up the castle steps and inside. Harry shook his hair out of his eyes and departed immediately, setting off towards the Gryffindor tower without bothering for words of farewell.
Draco took longer to wander down to the Slytherin dungeons and when Theo saw him he smiled.
"What?" said Draco and Pansy, laughing, offered a small mirror.
Of course he was sodden, his hair plastered to his scalp, his robes most unhappily tangled. But his face – oh, his face! – was totally covered with dirt. He looked as though someone had thrown a mud pie at him.
"Scourgify," Draco said and wondered if it had made Harry smile later on, when he was alone.
In Potions he willed his hands to be still.
Please, please. Be still.
He took a Gnargle heart.
Such a painful process. One heart at a time, held between tense fingertips.
His heart shattered.
Slughorn looked up.
"Don't hold them too tight, Mr Malfoy, or you'll reduce them to powder."
Draco got another heart, his fingertips coated with the fine dust of another.
Still. Steady. Strong.
He would do this and he would make a perfect Panacis. He would pass Potions, if nothing else.
Still. Steady. Strong.
Harry wasn't at breakfast. Six a.m and Draco was alone.
Ron came in about half an hour later.
"Harry's sick," he told him. "Just a cold."
He stocked up on toast, yawning hugely, and retreated. It occurred to Draco that Ron had woken early and come down just to tell him that.
He almost smiled but the Shadow stayed. He sat, silent and alone, and not a sound could be heard except for the clink-clink-clink of a spoon against a bowl.
His trembling got worse when the Gryffindor in Defence re-carved murderer into his hand. Draco felt every letter as though it was being carved into his very bone.
M U R
His hands shook.
D E R
He would wait.
Slow, like a perfect summer day.
Painful, like holding a finger to a candle flame.
And he did not move. He would not flee. Something held him there, frozen and proud. Perhaps a fragment of his past, a song he once knew, a dream he half-remembered.
He did not move.
The Gryffindor met his eyes and turned away; Draco knew it would not happen again. Blood trickled from his hand onto the parchment, hot like the wind from a wildfire, and still he did not move.
These days he felt something new, trembling in the wind like a gold autumn leaf. Like a red paper heart.
Draco was waiting for something; for what, he did not know. But his hands were still now, his mind quiet, and although the Shadow came often for him he could meet it without turning his head, without casting his eyes away. He felt as though he was remembering a song. It had been waiting, caught in his throat, but now it was almost on his lips, trying to form the words, to finally make a sound and break the silence the Shadow brought.
In his hands the stillness waited; his lips waiting for song, his body keen and strung for any wind to play.
The whispers followed him but more reluctantly now. Draco kept walking, forcing himself not to slink against the wall like a mouse skulking from a predator, a fox waiting for the hunting rifle.
"The Littlest Death-Eater..."
"The war's over," he said and the words broke through them, a ship cutting through waves. "Grow up."
Don't tremble. Oh, please don't tremble.
And it seemed his heart obeyed too, pausing in time, his lungs refusing breath.
And they were gone, their eyes cast away, their feet shuffling hesitantly.
And he could breathe again, sharp, strange air, as though they had been taking up too much space, making him small and choking. Yes. He could move now.
He was the first to finish the Panacis Potion as they headed into summer. On the last day of February, he smiled.
"I'm finished," he said, and he was. No rough edges now, nothing left wanting. Perhaps some hairline cracks, some shards that had somehow gone astray. But for the most part, he felt everything again. Yes, he could feel now. He could feel every muscle working beneath his skin, the sinew and bone shifting with each other. He could feel his hands, hold them still. He could hold his wand straight. He could pour ingredients – carefully, tensely – but he could.
Harry was looking into his cauldron.
"Yes," he said, "you're finished."
Outside, red tulips came through the last of the snow; red hearts in an aching winter.
Spring came moodily, reluctantly, trying to breathe life back into winter's remains, bringing unexpectedly cold mornings, bitter frosts. But there had been a spate of warm weather recently, a begrudged gift which the students enjoyed nevertheless. They roamed the grounds, circling the lake, attempting to study, lazing and stretching like cats in the heavy afternoon sun.
But the cold breeze had come up once more. Draco watched them from the castle. The wind picked up hats and played with them, tossed cloaks like toys, sent ribbons and loose parchment spiraling. A lone quill dipped and skimmed across the lake as if writing in the water.
It was a warning, a promise to the students who remained and sure enough the winds brought the chilly drizzle with them, a sunshower from half-hearted clouds. The remaining students shrieked and tumbled across the grounds, holding textbooks over heads, laughing and exclaiming, streaming across the grounds like ants, disappearing into their solid castle. And the rain deepened and sent splashes across the lake, dapples across the window. Draco liked the rain right then, at that moment. It was deep and slow and relentless, the heartbeat of nature, the lifeblood of the skies.
The song was on his lips at last. He knew it! He knew it now. Slow and perfect like a blooming rose. He could make a sound now. He could break this silence.
Yes. He knew now.
Harry was standing in the precise middle of all four tables. Trying to choose. Draco came in, his eyes bright, but Harry wasn't looking at him. He was frowning, unable to decide where to sit today. Draco sat at the Hufflepuff table and decided that meant he should be helpful.
"You look in a Ravenclaw mood," he offered, but Harry shook his head and took a Slytherin seat. He rested his chin in his hand and reached for the porridge although he made no move to eat it, just poke it around.
"Is the Shadow on you?" Draco asked.
"No. Not today." Today was good. Today felt fresh. The green leaves on the trees, the clover rising up determinedly like tiny green soldiers. Harry loved the tulips. "Is the Shadow on you?"
"The Shadow is with me," Draco said and Harry understood the difference without asking. The Shadow would always be with them; a quiet companion, a dark memory.
"Will you ever go back to that room?" Harry asked. They knew. The bloodstain on the wall, the splintered desks and chairs that Draco had so painstakingly tried to put back together.
"No," Draco replied. The room held nothing more for him. An empty room, a silent witness. He could do no more.
He took out the wand. If Harry had seen him in the room, he must have seen him pick up the wand. He held it now and his fingers shook only ever so slightly. He stood up and Harry met him in between the Slytherin and Ravenclaw tables. When he held the wand out his hand shook badly but Harry simply wrapped his hand around the wand too, helping hold it steady.
"Prior Incantato," Draco said and it was a whisper, a thin murmur, but it rode across the hall as though an invisible wind had seized it and carried it like a leaf.
Out of the wand burst the last spell its owner had cast. A silver fox that turned and looked at them then evaporated, loose smoke of silver curling away into the enchanted ceiling.
"Expecto Patronum," Harry said softly.
"What?" Draco was confused. Harry turned to look at him.
"Expecto Patronum!" he called out, his voice clear across the hall like a bright long ribbon. A flash of blinding white was produced from Harry's wand and a stag gently nudged its way out of the light, then disappeared. "It repels Dementors," Harry explained. "But it will also fight any enemy for a brief time or send messages to other people for you – if you know how."
"Perhaps they cast it against a Dementor?" Draco suggested.
"In the castle? Highly unlikely." Harry shook his head.
"Perhaps they were too weak to fight, and cast the spell to fight for them," Draco suggested.
"If they were too weak to fight, they were too weak to produce this spell. They would have been strong, healthy, their mind clear," Harry said.
Draco thought for a moment. Harry turned to him.
"They used it to send a message, then," Draco said. "They were strong and healthy and clearheaded, but they knew they would not win. They cast it while they were still able to." In his mind, he saw it. The empty room, the dark fight. The fox racing away – the person running back with it, too late – too late! In the room, the fight was over, the person dying or dead, their victor gone – their friend or family member unable to assist except by comforting them in their final seconds or carrying their bloodied body away.
Draco turned away. Another story, another shadow. His strength dissipated like smoke.
"No," Harry said quietly. "That is the Patronus of Seamus Finnigan, and he lives."
And Draco, he lived! A miracle. A war. Him and Harry at the heart of it. Him in hiding, a coward; Harry brave, walking towards his death unarmed and unafraid.
He was not afraid to die, Draco thought. He was not afraid to die, and I was afraid to live. And when we meet, he thought, when we meet again, I will show him I am not afraid to live anymore.
Harry was sitting at the Hufflepuff table.
Draco sat next to him.
"It's raining," Harry commented, and that was all it took for the words to tumble from Draco's mouth.
"You're my rain," he said and it was that song, the right words, like hearts from a gun, the words from his lips. Not blood or shadows. Just a thousand red hearts.
Harry didn't ask for an explanation. He just knew, and that's what Draco loved about him.
He leaned forward and their lips met.