It was two nights later that Harry woke up to the sound of a muffled cry. He grabbed his wand and ran out through his door, there was no one in the living room. The cry came again, from Malfoy's room. Harry kicked the door open, a shield spell on his lips. Malfoy sat up in his bed with a gasp, alone, eyes wide.
"What the …"
"Are you all right?" Harry barked, looking about. The windows were shut, everything seemed undisturbed, though oddly neat.
"Of course I'm all right, what the hell are you doing?"
"I heard someone calling out, I think it was you."
Malfoy looked at him, then he looked down. "I think I might have been having a dream," he muttered.
"You OK?" Harry knew what that was like.
"Yeah, mostly. Put the light on."
Harry did. Malfoy blinked the last of the sleep from his eyes. "Potter," he enunciated carefully, "why are you wearing Horace Slughorn's pyjamas?"
Harry looked down. He was wearing an old pair of Dudley's green-striped pyjama bottoms, with the drawstring pulled tight. They did look fairly ridiculous. "Don't ask. Cup of tea?"
Malfoy nodded. "That would be good."
Harry boiled the kettle while Malfoy stoked the fire. He popped back into his room and emerged with the packet of chocolate frogs Hermione and Ron had brought. "Here you go."
Malfoy took the cup, and two frogs, gratefully. "Sorry about this. I suppose I should be embarrassed, except that you'd know all about bad dreams, wouldn't you?"
"I think we can blame the same source," Harry muttered grimly.
Malfoy gave a short laugh. "Oh I get to pop a bit of my father in there, too. Although I suppose you do, too."
Harry shrugged. "Mostly Riddle. I used to hate your father, but I find it hard to these days. I saw his face when he thought he'd managed to get you killed, it was … Well, I have some tiny degree of sympathy for him, and I never thought I'd say that."
Malfoy chewed on a frog thoughtfully. "Thank you," he said at length.
"That's OK, I know you like chocolate."
Malfoy pulled a face. "You know perfectly well what I mean."
Harry shrugged. "Maybe I feel a bit guilty. I saw what Riddle was doing to you, and I left you there."
Malfoy snorted. "Yeah, because it would have been such a good idea to risk the future of the Wizarding world to make sure I wasn't in a hole I dug for myself."
"I don't know …" Harry watched the fire. "If we'd spent more time looking out for every individual, would we ever have reached the point where someone like Riddle could exist? And, if he could, would anyone follow him?"
"That's pretty deep for you, Potter, be careful, you'll strain something."
Harry threw a frog at him.
Malfoy caught it, unwrapped it and began to munch. "Was too late," he said, with his mouth half-full. "Everything was too far gone before you and I were born. So all we can do is try to fix things up from here on."
Harry smiled fleetingly. "That's my plan at any rate."
"What are you going to do? Create a potion that enforces altruism?"
"If only. Nah, become an Auror and nab the bad guys while they're still at the petty end of things."
Malfoy laughed. "That is so you."
"Shut up, and give me your cup." Harry took the dishes back to the sink and rinsed them. "You OK now?"
"Yes, thanks. But I might sleep out here."
Harry looked at the warm fire, and the dark movement of branches outside the glass doors. "Me, too," he decided. He went and collected his duvet and pillows.
"You are hopeless," Malfoy declared when he saw their colours.
"Says Mr Green Shirts and Silver Bathers."
Malfoy shook his head, and went to fetch his own bedding. By the time he had returned, Harry had pushed the armchairs and sofa back from the fire and placed all their cushions on the floor in two beds, flanking the hearth.
"How's your friend the python?" Harry asked, settling down to sleep.
"That's not even a single entendre," Malfoy laughed. "But if you mean Betty, she's doing very well. Sharon keeps drilling me for details on you, though. She wants to know if you ever wear clothes in here. I've told her that I'm a martyr to your exhibitionism."
"Are you still talking?"
A pillow hit Harry in the side of the head.
"Good night, Harry."
"Good night, Draco."
It was not the approaching dawn that work Harry early the next morning, but the soft sound of movement. He opened his eyes, and tightened his hand around the wand under his pillow. Very slowly, he lifted his head. The movement was coming from outside. He reached over and shook Malfoy gently. "Ssssshhh," he whispered, as the other boy began to stir. "Outside, look."
They sat up.
On the other side of the glass a small wallaby nibbled at grass, then wiped its nose delicately with its front paws. It hopped about merrily for a few minutes, then bounded off back into the bush.
"That," whispered Malfoy, "was very cool."
Harry just grinned at him. When they woke up properly a few hours later, they did not return their bedding to their rooms.
Harry noted a distinct warming in his classmates' attitude over the next fortnight. He assembled a list of possible reasons. On the one hand, he and Malfoy were undisputedly ahead of everyone at DADA and Potions respectively, but spent hours helping their classmates, on the other hand, they were patently in need of help with at least two classes each, so clearly not dire threats.
Perhaps it was pity, as the Australians watched Malfoy and Leanne spend hours trying to teach Harry to swim properly.
Most likely it was appealing to their one soft spot, as Harry and Malfoy took the school's development team from doing quite well to beating the university's C and B Quidditch teams over the course of two weeks. Harry traced his personal popularity to the first snatch of a Snitch in front of a swearing twenty-year-old.
In a bid to reassert the superiority of post-NEWTs students, the uni's A-side challenged them to a game on Thursday.
Leanne worked the team all of Sunday, and every evening that week. Bruce Widdington gave the team members Thursday off classes.
Malfoy pulled Harry aside just before the game. "I don't want to upset your game," he said, "but I seriously believe that your future popularity at this school could rest on your performance tonight. Certainly the likelihood of you ever having sex."
Harry pushed him out of the dressing room with his broom.
"I'm just pointing out the obvious," Malfoy yelled over his shoulder. "Sharon won't wait forever, and some of those uni boys could very well turn her head."
Malfoy needn't have worried. The final score was 380-30.
"I told you," Leanne crowed. "I told you it was all down to the Keeping, did I not say this?"
"You did indeed say this," Malfoy laughed as he accepted the fourth beer she had pushed into his hands.
"Now four-eyes here did a lovely job on the Seeking, but where would we have been if they had 230 points and we had 30? Fifty points behind, that's where we'd have been." She kissed the two boys loudly on their cheeks. "And where are my star catchers?"
Malfoy breathed a small sigh of relief as she went in search of Wayne and Meredith. He nudged Harry's shoulder. "Sharon at one o'clock, and dressed to kill!"
It was indeed, and she and Hannah had both dressed for the celebrations. "Yay you two!" Hannah declared. Sharon provided both with warm hugs.
"Once again proving that English flyers make all the difference!" Hannah whispered.
"Meredith's Japanese," Malfoy pointed out, "And she actually scored most of the goals."
"Oh yes, rain on my patriotism."
"So, Ms Hannah, shall we walk away subtly and leave your friend to seduce young Potter?"
Sharon laughed, and Harry looked at Malfoy with horror. Hannah merely smacked him playfully. "Don't be stupid, Draco. You can't distract everyone from reality at will."
Malfoy laughed and grabbed Hannah around her waist, dipping her towards the floor. "You are quite right, delightful Miss Abbott, I am attempting to distract everyone from my abiding passion for you. Will you succumb to my desire at last or shall I go off and pine some more?"
"Right way up!" Hannah laughed.
She poked Draco in the nose once he had righted her. "Terrible boy, besides, your evil wiles won't work on me, I love another."
"Oh god, not someone else after Harry …" Malfoy groaned dramatically.
"No, not Harry." Hannah smiled shyly. "Actually, I have a huge crush on Neville Longbottom, but you must never tell him!"
"The hero of Gryffindor? Your secret is safe with me," Draco assured her.
"And me," Harry agreed.
"Don't tell your girlfriend!" Hannah cautioned. "She tells Neville everything!"
The uncomfortable silence lasted for about ten seconds. "You don't read the Prophet, do you, Hannah? We broke up," Harry confessed. "Or, more to the point, we never got back together. She's back with Dean Thomas, actually, if Nev's letters are to be believed."
"I thought he was with Luna Lovegood …" Draco said with surprise. "What? Blaise Zabini has been writing to me."
Harry blinked ."Um, yeah, he is, they are … er … you get the idea."
This time the silence was at least half a minute long.
"That Dean is a very lucky boy," Draco mused at last.
"Luna Lovegood is surprisingly attractive," Hannah added
"Your school is so much more interesting than ours," Sharon whispered.
"If you like pervy sex and regular near death experiences, then it has a lot to offer," Draco admitted.
"You have had too much beer," Harry told him. "Come on, taking you back now."
Hannah and Sharon exchanged smiles as Harry took Malfoy by the arm.
"Oooh!" Malfoy exclaimed. "It's my birthday tomorrow, we should go out!"
"I'll organise something," Sharon promised. "You two go to bed, it was a big day."
"She's nice," Malfoy told Harry as they walked back to their room. "And I am not as drunk as you think I am."
"Pervy sex?" Harry reminded him.
"I heard all the tales about you Gryffindors," Malfoy said darkly.
"Probably the same lot we spread about Slytherins."
Malfoy sighed. "If only." He paused. "Do you think that maybe Hufflepuff?"
Harry stopped dead and looked at him. "You know, that would explain a lot. Now come on, you're starting to wobble."
Back in their room, Harry left Draco to manage his own tooth brushing and changing, rationalising that he would come running if he heard a crash. The fire was low tonight, but since the living room was warm, Harry left it. Draco was buried under his duvet by the time Harry came in. He slipped into his own bedding quietly, trying not to wake the other boy.
"You missed it!" Draco announced, sitting up suddenly.
"Merlin!" Harry clutched at his heart in a bid to slow it down. "Missed what?"
"There was a sugar glider, and it climbed high up into that first tree, and then it leapt out to get to that second tree, and it spread its legs out wide, and it had flaps of skin, like wings, and it glided just beautifully to the second tree, but all the time it had a look on its face like 'oh fuck oh fuck, I just jumped out of a perfectly good tree!'"
Harry couldn't help laughing. "Good night, Draco. And happy birthday, yeah?"
"Cheers. Night, Harry."
By the time Malfoy woke up the next morning, Harry had cooked a decent breakfast and wrapped his present.
It was the smell of bacon that woke him, and a smile spread across his face as he looked at Harry.
"Happy birthday, Draco," Harry told him. "I even picked up your post. I think it's from your mum."
Malfoy opened the envelope beside his pillow, and laughed as a choir serenaded him with a birthday wish. He read the note enclosed, and smiled again, albeit a little wanly.
"Come on," Harry reached a hand down to him. "Birthday breakfast. And there's something for you on the table."
Malfoy took his hand and came to his feet. He saw the long, thin box. "Is that?" he picked it up and opened it, removing the hawthorn wand with a look of surprise.
"Sorry," Harry said. "I genuinely forgot I had it."
Malfoy smiled at him. "That's OK. It's …" He turned and levitated a pillow wordlessly. "Ha! It's good to have it back."
"Good. Now eat your breakfast."
Malfoy accepted the plate of bacon and eggs and went to sit at the table. "Harry," he said, and waited till Harry looked at him. "Thank you."
Hannah caught them on their way out of the co-op to Charms. "Six pm," she announced. "Be sure to wear something nice, we're going to dinner and then to a show. Sharon has put the gang together and says it'll be a Sydney extravaganza."
"Should I be afraid?" Malfoy asked, only half in jest.
"No, you'll love it!" Hannah declared.
At five past six that evening, as Malfoy and Harry stepped out of a large Floo, accompanied by Sharon, Hannah, Leanne, Wayne, Lilah – the second Beater on their team, Greg, Jon and his girlfriend Charlie, Harry began to suspect that fear had been the more sensible approach.
"Now this was the original Wizarding university," Hannah was explaining. "But it was too small to take more than a hundred students, and after Monty Python they felt that the University of Woolloomooloo was just asking for it. Which is why they moved to Wollongong and the valleys."
She walked to the Floo room door and opened it, they could hear the buzz of voices on the other side. "Now my cousin Craig runs a very nice restaurant, and he's given us the dining room at half price."
The meal was chaotic, but delicious. Everyone had brought a gift: a snowglobe from Jon, a new pair of Keeping mitts from Leanne, a stuffed wombat from Sharon …
"You know, we haven't seen one of those yet," Draco announced. "We've been watching the forest in the dark, but it's mostly possumy things and the odd hopping thing."
"You don't want to see one in the flesh," Lilah warned him. "They're foul-tempered and they move very quickly, trust me on this."
Lilah's gift was a guide to Magical Australian animals, with the sections on Drop Bears, Bunyips and giant serpents marked. "Those'll keep you alive in the bush," she said, with a wink.
Wayne and Greg proffered a box of chocolates, and Charlie handed over a small bottle of wine, while Hannah gave Malfoy a drawing of Vincent Crabbe.
"I know he nearly got you killed," she whispered as he hugged her. "But you were friends for a long time before that."
Harry tried to carry the conversation while Malfoy composed himself. "So was the university named after someone in particular? Or is that the name of the suburb, like Wollongong?"
"Oi! Wollongong is a city, thank you very much," Leanne teased him.
Malfoy shook his head in despair. "Oh honestly, Harry, who names a suburb Woolloomooloo? Who can even spell Woolloomooloo?"
Jon grinned at him. "Sheep, toilet, cow, toilet."
Draco looked at him blankly, but Harry was quicker on the uptake for once. "Wool, loo, moo, loo … hey, that's easy!"
Draco looked at them both as though he was dealing with the mentally infirm, a look he considered especially appropriate.
"It's the suburb," Jon explained. "It's an Eora word, from the Gaddigal people, it means place of people who really like vowels."
Malfoy threw his stuffed wombat at Jon, but serious violence was prevented by the arrival of a waiter.
After their orders were taken, the locals fell into a competition for the silliest Australian place name. Leanne began strongly with the Great Sandy Desert, which, she contended, deserved extra points for being not only great and sandy, but also a desert.
Jon gave two: "Goondiwindi and Gularganbone. The towns you have when you want to sound permanently drunk."
His submission was greeted with cheers, but Wayne held up his hand. "I can do better. Tittybong."
"You're making that up," Malfoy declared.
"North-west Victoria, near Cannie."
"That's just wrong."
"Victoria is the best for bad names," Sharon declared. "They have Mt Buggery."
The whole table looked at her in silent shock. "They do! I've gone there! Er, not like that …" She gave up and joined in as they collapsed in laughter.
"There was an Australian Prime Minister name Holt, who disappeared," said Charlie, who had been very quiet until then. "He went for a snorkel off the Victorian coast, and was drowned, or taken by a shark."
She paused, and Malfoy and Harry looked at her expectantly, unsure if they were missing some obscure Australian joke.
"So," she went on. "They built the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Centre."
Malfoy laughed until he cried.
Dinner was excellent, and after it the troupe took the foreshore route around the harbour towards Circular Quay.
"Where is everyone?" Harry wondered as they walked through the Botanic Gardens
"The gates closed three hours ago. It's just us, the staff and the fruit bats at this point," Sharon grinned. "But it's the best view of this side of the harbour. And just wait until we get to the end of this walk."
Sharon made the two newcomers close their eyes for the last section of the path. Harry heard a gate open and close, and then her voice; "OK, you can open now."
He had heard of the Sydney Opera House, and seen photographs, but in life it was more strange and lovely, like a shell against the water.
"Definitely not Muggle designed," Malfoy declared.
"Nah, it is," Jon said, laughing. "The acoustics are terrible."
"Where to next?" Malfoy was thoroughly into the swing of things.
"I was going to put us on the Manly ferry, but it's a bit late. So we're off to the Imperial for drinks and dancing!" Sharon declared. "And it's Muggle, so we're catching the train!"
Malfoy recoiled in mock horror, but then stopped and looked about him. "Are you sure that's a Muggle building?" he asked, pointing at the Opera House again. "Because it doesn't feel Muggle here."
Jon grinned at him. "Been Muggle for going on two-hundred years that spot. But was one of ours for sixty thousand years before that. That's what you're feeling there, the old people, quiet in the background."
Malfoy looked at him in surprise. "Why would I be feeling them?"
Jon shrugged. "Dunno, but for a whitefella you're pretty good about understanding places."
Malfoy smiled tentatively at him. "Suppose that makes up for being rubbish at people. Come on, Sharon, lead on to this Muggle Emporium of which you speak."
Harry was relieved that the train ride was short. Malfoy's habit of treating every lurch as an impending derailment did nothing to reassure the other passengers, though their schoolmates found it hilarious.
"I will be saving myself, and perhaps Potter, who cooks me breakfast," Malfoy declared. Harry wondered if he had managed to consume more than two glasses of wine with dinner.
They arrived at the correct station and traipsed up a suburban high street past grocers, a post office and a butcher. Sharon led them to the pub on the corner, which was pumping out high-volume dance music. "Surprise!" she declared, leading them to the door.
The bouncers cast a cursory glance over the group and waved them in. Inside the bar was less than half-full, with a group of women playing pool and a group of men cheering on what appeared to be a disco pantomime at the back.
"Drag show," Sharon explained. "One of the best in Sydney."
She led the group off to the bar to secure drinks, and Harry grabbed Hannah as she went past. He waited until their schoolmates were all out of hearing. "Is there a reason your best mate is taking Malfoy to a gay bar?" he asked.
Hannah looked as innocent as humanly possible. "I have no idea what you mean."
"Hannah, I'll tell Neville."
"Oh, all right." She smiled winningly at him. "It is possible that I encouraged her in the belief that the two of you were an item."
"What?! Why?" Harry was gobsmacked.
Hannah grinned. "Oh come on, you have to admit it's a much funnier excuse for your constant bickering than anything else I could have come up with. And besides, I thought you were still with Ginny, so I had to warn the girls away somehow."
Harry's visions of Hannah as a sweet innocent crumbled at that, and he burst out laughing. She pointed to the bar, where three young men were leaning over Malfoy, and his laughter grew worse.
"Go and rescue him, you rotter," she poked him.
Harry went. "Can't let you go anywhere alone, Draco," he smiled as he came up alongside Malfoy.
"Oh thank Merlin you're here," Malfoy said, grabbing his arm. "Can you please tell these nice young men that I do not want anything else to drink. They don't believe me."
"Is that your boyfriend?" asked one of the young men.
"N–Yes!" declared Malfoy. "Harry, lovely chap, devoted to me."
"Poor deluded lamb," Harry muttered, patting him on top of his head and stepping away. He regretted it immediately. The tallest of the men grabbed at Malfoy's arse and suggested the back room.
"Hands off," Harry barked, and was surprised when all three would-be suitors leapt back. "Come on, Draco, I'm sorry, that was wrong of me."
Malfoy took his hand, but couldn't resist a dig. "Oh so now you're my boyfriend."
Harry grinned wickedly. "Fine," he said, and pulled Malfoy against him for a kiss. Malfoy jerked his head against Harry's hand on his jaw at first, and then he stopped, and moved his lips instead.
Harry pulled back. "Come on, Draco, our friends are waiting."
Malfoy looked as though he was going to laugh, but followed Harry back to the student table. There everyone sat chatting merrily, save Hannah. She was staring at them with eyes wide.
Malfoy sat by Harry's side for the rest of the night, with Hannah buying them drinks, for no particular reason, as she stated several times. It was after midnight by the time they made it home, and both Harry and Malfoy needed each other's help to make it to their room.
"More post!" Harry declared, turning on the light and finding the envelopes that had been stuffed under the door. "One for you, one for me."
"Excellent!" Malfoy chirped. "We are loved!"
"You are drunk." Harry looked at the return address on his owl and wondered why Andromeda was writing to him on a Friday rather than the usual Monday. He opened it. There was a single line: Take care of Draco.
Harry looked up. Malfoy's letter was falling from his hand, and Malfoy's knees were buckling. It was pure instinct that Harry caught them both. Malfoy sagged against him, breathing jaggedly. Harry lowered them both to the floor, holding Malfoy to his chest. He read Malfoy's letter. It was from Andromeda, too. She sent all of her love. His mother had been killed earlier that day.
When McGonagall's messages finally reached Hannah an hour later, she found her classmates where they had fallen. Neither boy would let the other go. She stoked the fire, she wrapped them in a duvet, she pushed an armchair behind Harry for him to lean against, and then she made a large pot of tea.
Just before four, Draco cried. Hannah joined Harry on the floor, holding and rocking their friend, and shedding the exact same tears, for the exact same reason, each wishing that there was no such thing as a motherless child.
After that, they drank tea until dawn.
Neither Kingsley nor Andromeda would allow Draco to return home for the funeral. It was too dangerous, the killers were still at large. Kingsley made sure that Draco received copies of the Prophet's coverage of Narcissa's death, which was immensely sympathetic to her, and outraged that such a courageous woman could have been cut down by such cowards.
Harry could not read the articles. The scabs of hope that had covered over the last few years had been torn away with this last killing, and he spent most of the next day sitting silently with Draco, or dozing in one of their armchairs. Hannah came and cooked for them, Sharon did their laundry and shopped.
Jon and Leanne stopped by three times. Harry poured them tea, Draco took their condolences. When night fell, their friends stayed until late, leaving only when Draco asked them to. "You have first shower," he told Harry. "I'll sort things out here."
Their makeshift beds were straightened again when Harry came out of the bathroom. Draco clasped his hand as they passed, but did not speak. Harry threw another log on the fire, then lay down, tired as he had not been since the war ended.
Draco did not take long in the shower. He climbed under his duvet without ceremony. "Thanks, Harry. Good night," he whispered.
"Oh bugger this," said Harry, and kicked his cushions over beside Draco's. "You're not alone," he whispered fiercely, taking his friend in his arms.
Draco turned and buried his head in Harry's shoulder. He cried silently, and Harry pretended that he wasn't, but he rubbed small circles on Draco's back until the silent sobs quietened and he fell into sleep.
The next day passed no differently.
On the third day, Jon knocked at their door before dawn.
Harry let him in, ignoring the older man's wince when he opened the door.
"How's he going?" Jon asked.
"What you'd expect," Harry replied.
"Did they bury her?"
"Yesterday. A private service. The Minister of Magic, her sister, and the Weasley family, you met Ron when he was here. They were cousins, distantly."
"He didn't get to say goodbye."
Harry turned his face away.
"You didn't get to say goodbye, either, did you?"
Harry's laugh was more bitter than he'd intended. "The people I lose don't tend to have good deaths at home."
Jon covered Harry's hands with his own. "You carry them with you, you know. When I saw you the first time, I could see all these ghosts standing behind you. You gotta let em go, Harry. For you, for them." Jon looked down at the still-sleeping Draco. "He's gotta do the same thing. If you don't, you can't get on with the living, and that just makes your old people sad. They want to go, and they want you to go on, you see."
"That's easy to say."
"I kept telling you two you ought to do Environment." Jon smiled gently at him. "Can you get him up and dressed? Bring your brooms. We're gonna say goodbye. You're going to do a ceremony, with a bit of my culture since you're so far away from your own."
Harry looked at him bleakly.
"Trust me," Jon asked. "I promise I will not make it worse."
"I'll meet you out front in fifteen."
Harry waited until he had gone before putting another log on the fire and waking Draco.
"It's early," Draco complained.
"We're going out."
"I don't want to."
"Jon wants us to do a ceremony," Harry told him, aware of the note of cajoling in his voice.
"I want to go back to sleep."
Harry reached out and pushed Draco's lank hair back from his face. "Please?"
Draco frowned, but he got out of bed.
"You go and get dressed. I'll make us some sandwiches."
They managed warm clothes, brooms, and a sandwich apiece in the allotted time. Jon was waiting for them with a backpack and his broom. With few words, the three of them mounted up and began to fly northwards.
The flight to school had been one of discovery and pleasure. This was one of purpose. Miles disappeared below them as the light grew grey and then fingers of orange began to reach onto the sky in the east. By the time the sun was well up, the ground beneath them, was looking familiar to Harry. Jon led them over the green coastal lands they had passed before, and towards a jutting ridge of craggy sandstone and granite.
He landed in the scrub at the ridge's base.
"Going to show you two something. It's not secret, you're allowed to see it, but it is sacred. Do you understand?"
Harry nodded. Draco did, too, though Harry was not sure how much attention he was paying.
Jon led them in beneath an overhang and pulled a torch from his pack. He cast the light upwards. There were figures painted onto the underside of the rock, a man, another man, a bird, a fish, maybe a river … all connected with lines and dots.
"It's a story," Jon explained. "See that man, he was in love with a woman he couldn't have, so he came into her camp one night, and he tried to steal her from her husband. She cried out and her husband came to help her, but the man tried to kill him, so he changed into a fish and sprang into the river, and she changed into a bird and flew away. And then the man went away, because he couldn't love a bird. And she looked down into the river and saw her husband, and he looked up into the sky and he saw his wife."
Harry looked at Jon blankly.
"The thing is," Jon spoke patiently, "see these lines and dots? Well, even though she was in the sky and he was in the river, that didn't stop them loving each other. Maybe they couldn't hear each other or touch each other, maybe they couldn't see each other when she was in the clouds and he was in the deeps, but they could still love and know they loved."
Harry thought of a slight woman pushing her long hair back from her face and looking at him with such loving hunger. He looked at Draco, who was looking at Jon with hope.
"Do you think she knew?" Draco asked quietly. "I don't remember the last time I told her."
Harry looked at Draco seriously. "Never doubt that she knew you loved her. It is the one thing anyone who ever met her can say about your mother with absolute certainty"
Draco pursed his lips together and nodded. "Is this your ceremony?" he asked Jon.
"Nah," the older man grinned. "This is the start. Now you're going on to the next step."
He led them out from under the overhang and handed them quills, ink and sheets of parchment. "Sit and write your goodbyes," he instructed. "Tell them what you want to."
"Them?" Draco asked, uncertain.
"It's not just your mother you miss, is it?"
Draco blinked away tears. "No," he said.
"So you write to all of them. Both of you do. Then we do the next step."
Harry sat beside Draco, and the two of them began to write. Harry's first letter was easy, to his parents: he wished he'd really known them, had more than ghosts and shadows to remember them by. To Sirius: he wished he'd been less impetuous, had understood more, and maybe he wouldn't have died. To Tonks, Remus and Fred: he wished he had understood the horcruxes sooner, had been able to end the war sooner, or keep them from danger. To Tom Riddle: he wished he'd never been born, had never touched Harry's mind, had never destroyed so many lives.
Harry was surprised to see that it was past midday when he finished.
Draco was watching him, with a look of interest. "You wrote to Riddle, but not to Dumbledore," he pointed out.
Harry shrugged. "Dumbledore and I said everything we had to say to each other. Who did you write to?"
"My mother, Vincent, Tonks, Snape. I wanted to apologise to Snape for hating him, I thought he was part of the reason I was trapped with Voldemort, I didn't realise he was trying to help. I told Tonks I like her son, and I was sorry we didn't know each other, we should have."
"She'd have liked that."
"What did you write to Riddle?"
"I told him to get fucked."
Draco laughed mirthlessly. "Is that in the spirit of the step?" he asked Jon.
"They're your goodbyes," Jon said. "They can be to whoever you like."
"I think we're done," Draco told him.
"Then we climb the ridge." Jon set off at a fast walk towards a section of the rock that came down to the earth. Draco and Harry followed at a trot.
"Why don't we just fly?" Harry asked.
"This is the next step," Jon called back over his shoulder.
It took longer than they thought it would. Twice Jon stopped to give them water from his pack. "If you ever get lost in this place, these rocks are full of life. You can find water in the morning, or if it rained in the last week, and you can find snake and lizard, you can live on them for weeks. Best of all, people can see you when they come looking. So you go up the ridge, unless it's a fire or a lightning storm. Ridge'll get you killed in one of those."
Harry and Draco did not have enough breath to talk and climb.
At last they reached the top. From below, it had looked as though it would be rocky and treeless, but in fact it was green and pleasant, with a stand of gums not ten feet from where they stood.
"I used to come here all the time with my mum and dad when I was little," Jon told them. "Then when I was older and knew I was going to be a baajim man, I'd come here by myself, see if I could hear all the spirit voices. Never could, really. But it was a good place to watch."
He pointed, and they looked about, with far horizons in every direction. Jon spoke, and the cool blue day they saw changed under his words.
"You can look out across the fields and see lightning crashing through the clouds to earth, a wave of green light telling you there's a storm miles away, the air crackles with ozone – it smells new. Or in the years it doesn't rain, you can stand here and see the earth cracked in every direction, trees brown and brittle, fire racing through them, a red sea of destruction, and after that will come the green from the black earth." Jon took a breath. "This is a good place to watch," he repeated.
"Are we watching?" Draco asked.
"Eh?" Jon looked at them. "Nah, ignore me, you two are burning."
He pulled together a pile of twigs and small branches and lit them with his wand. "Right, letters on."
Draco fed his sheets in one by one, Harry followed. When they were all ash, Jon handed them a small shovel from his pack. "OK, now you go and send them out," he explained. "You throw them off the edge."
"And that's a ceremony in your culture?" Harry asked, wanting to get it right.
Jon shook his head. "It's one in yours, but you need to get your goodbyes out of the way before we can move onto the next bit."
It was nearly dark by the time they had finished clearing the ashes. Jon had built another fire, larger this time. After a while, he pushed the burning wood down to one end, leaving embers behind. He walked to the nearest gum and stripped off some of the low green branches, then dipped them in the embers until they started to smoulder.
"This part's the ceremony," he told them. "The smoke cleanses the spirits. Tells them to stop holding onto you, tells you to stop holding onto them. So we send away all those little ones from the past and that just leaves the one big one who doesn't want to leave you yet. You have to tell her to go."
Draco's eyes were wet, but his voice was steady as he addressed the smoke-filled twilight. "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry that I wasn't there. I'm sorry I didn't tell you how much I love you. I'm sorry that I didn't keep you safe. I know what you did for me, you were so brave, but I'd have loved you the same even if you weren't."
Jon's feet transcribed a pattern in the dust, beating out a slow rhythm. The smoke swirled about them, and Harry could hear low voices and the beat of sticks in the distance. Draco took his arm. "Look," he said, pointing.
All around them, lines shimmered above the earth. Some red, some silver, some golden. "Now that," said Jon, finishing one last step. "That part there was my culture. Some of it works even for you whitefellas."
Harry could feel the lightening Jon had worked. Draco's face showed he could, too.
"Do we go back now?" he asked.
"I do," Jon said. "Gonna get a good night's sleep after that. But you two stay here. You need to know what's next before you can finish burying your past."
"Stay here till when?" Draco asked.
"Morning," Jon told them. "Then you'll know what you're meant to do."
Harry opened his mouth to argue, but it was too late, Jon had gone.
"That was a top-grade piece of Environmental magic," Draco said admiringly.
"I thought it was something indigenous," Harry replied, surprised.
"Same thing, didn't you read any of the brochures?" Draco asked patiently.
Harry looked at him.
"Of course you didn't." Draco smiled. "Here, help me build this fire up. If we're here all night, we may as well be warm."
"Don't suppose Jon left any food?" Harry asked.
"No, just water."
"I suppose he expects us to roast a lizard or two."
"I'm really not that hungry."
They built up the fire, and gathered what spare wood they could for the evening. All too soon it was fully dark, they sat side by side, staring at the flames.
"Harry," said Draco, after a long while. "Thank you. The last few days have been … bearable, because of you."
Harry put an arm around Draco's shoulders in lieu of speaking.
"You're brave," Draco said after another long silence. "You hold people when you have no idea if they can be held."
"I'm not afraid of holding you, Draco," Harry told him. "And I'm far from brave. I've spent the last seven years terrified that I'd either be killed by Voldemort or turn into him."
Draco scoffed. "You could never turn into Voldemort. You're too disgustingly pleasant."
Harry wanted to laugh, but he shuddered instead. "There were times when I felt all of his glee for slaughter, felt what it was like to live only caring for yourself, not for who was trampled in your bid for your own desires. I could feel him trying to beat me down sometimes, and it terrified me. I didn't think there was any way I could hold him out." Harry drew in a ragged breath. "And I had to hold him out, because I would have destroyed myself before I let him take me to his side."
Draco looked up at him. "But what about all your power? I've seen you – Merlin, Harry, I've fought you. You can do things none of us can hope to."
"That's not true."
"Harry, you killed Voldemort."
"No! I didn't! I wish people would stop saying that! I defeated him, but he killed himself. I don't kill."
Draco's voice was very quiet. "You do injure."
Harry looked at him guiltily. "I do," he agreed. "I'm sorry. It was all a … I thought that I …" He took a ragged breath, searching for a way to explain. He found one.
"I know that you know nothing about the Muggle world, but they're not stupid, the way you think they are. When Grindelwald was waging war against our world, they were fighting on two fronts."
"I know about Hitler, Harry."
"But do you know about the war in Japan? They were afraid that they would never be able to end it without losing thousands more soldiers. So they used a bomb that had been designed by a team of brilliant men. As they were making it, those men saw it as a series of problems, as a challenge to their genius. Then, when they finished it, they realised with horror what it could do. When the Muggles dropped the first of these bombs, 70,000 people died straight away. One of those brilliant men said 'I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.'" Harry took a breath.
"That man wished he could go back in time and never start down that path. I read about him at school, before I came to Hogwarts. I … I never forgot."
Draco put his own arm around Harry's shoulders. "It's not in you to be another Grindelwald or Voldemort," he said.
"I can't guarantee that. But I can guarantee that I will never let myself make those choices," Harry vowed.
Draco tightened his grip. They sat for a few minutes. Then Draco chuckled. "Look at me, I'm being blinded by your angst and forgetting the obvious. It's not in you to be another Grindelwald or Voldemort, Harry, because you're too stupid. Thickies can't be Dark Lords. My father had the job description on his desk for years, it was very clear."
"Git." Harry laughed despite himself.
"Idiot," Draco replied affectionately.
Harry bunted Draco's head with his, and was not surprised when his lips more or less accidentally made contact with his friend's.
Draco shivered. "That's twice you've kissed me."
Harry shook his head and put his hand on Draco's jaw, angling it towards him. "No," he murmured. "Three times."
Draco blinked at him after that one.
"Do you want me to stop? I can stop." Harry pushed Draco's long fringe back from his eyes.
Draco blinked again. "That would be a terrible waste of all the time you've spent running around at home wearing just a towel." He grinned, and pulled Harry towards him for another kiss.
Harry made a noise that was somewhere between a laugh and a moan. Quite a lot of things made perfect sense to him at this point, the main one being that he was exceptionally aroused by the fact that Draco was strong enough to pull him off balance. He gave in to gravity, and found himself beneath Draco, looking up at his flushed and happy expression. "You are pretty," he laughed.
"Shut up, Potter," Draco replied, and leaned in to do the job himself.
Harry wormed his hands under Draco's clothes, one sliding up his back, the other making a bid for his waistband.
Draco leapt to one side. "Cold hands!" He came back immediately, grabbing Harry's hands and holding them between his, then lying on top of him so their hands were warmed between their chests.
Harry tilted his head up, and kissed Draco again. He dropped back down. "Right now," he said. "If I give in to instinct and rip off all your clothes, we might actually die of hypothermia through the night."
Draco nodded. "That's why I have hold of your clothes-ripping hands," he agreed.
"But tomorrow, when we are back at school …"
"We will only need clothes for classes, and guests. New rule," Draco said, leaning down and kissing Harry happily.
"That is a fantastic rule."
"Possibly my best work."
"If I move against you like this …" Harry grinned as Draco shivered far more spectacularly than the last time.
Draco nipped at his lip and pushed him into the ground. "I do not want some anonymous rub in the woods, Potter. I want you naked and behind a locked door for hours, do you understand me?"
Harry grinned broadly. He did. "You'd better let me up, my current instinct is to charm away your clothes, and see if I can spread the heat of the fire to cover us."
Draco sat back, and helped Harry up into a sitting position. "Bad idea. You are nowhere near ready for a spell like that."
Harry kissed him again, marvelling at the way every move had a small fight for dominance.
"We were supposed to think about what's next," Draco said, looking up at him.
Harry grinned, and Draco punched him in the arm.
"Real-life serious what's next," Draco said.
"This is real life," Harry said, kissing him again. "I am serious." And another kiss. "But in addition to serious educational usage of the internet soon after we get home, I also have plans for writing to Kingsley and finding out what the hell he's doing with his Aurors, then finishing school, whether that's here or at Hogwarts."
Draco traced Harry's lips with his finger. "You should be where I am," he said.
Harry nodded, it seemed like the best idea.
"Except that when we go back home, your friends all hate me."
"Luna doesn't," Harry reminded him. "And neither does Neville. And Ron will come round, you two are more or less family."
"Don't remind me," Draco said with a groan. "We could stay here." His voice was soft and quick. "We could play Quidditch through uni, you could do post-graduate work in Defence and help really change things when we go back. Andromeda and Teddy can have the Manor until then."
"We could," Harry agreed. "We don't need to make our minds up now."
"No," Draco kissed him, sleepily. "We don't."
"Are you falling asleep?" Harry whispered.
Draco nodded, and Harry cushioned him against his chest. "I'll keep you safe from snakes and spiders. And from Drop Bears and Bunyips."
Draco's hands curled up in Harry's jumper, and his breathing quietened. Harry stayed awake a while longer, listening to crack of the fire and the gentle rustle of small scaled creatures keeping to the night.
When he woke up, the sun was poking over the horizon and Jon was there, with Leanne. "He told me he brought the two of you out here, thought that you'd be wanting some hot soup about now."
Harry accepted the flask from her with a smile, and woke Draco by waving it under his nose. They gulped a mugful each, both praising her name and foresight.
"So," said Jon, looking at them closely. "Do you know what's next?"
Harry took Draco's hand. "Sort of. Whatever it is, we'll be facing it together."
Jon smiled, "That's good. That's what you're meant to discover at times like these. So where are you going now?"
Harry stood up and looked around him. Leanne was sipping from her soup flask, Jon was looking down at Draco intently, and Draco was staring out into the distance. Harry followed his gaze. At the very edge of the horizon, he could see the shimmer of sunlight on water, and in front of it the shadows sprang into sharp relief across the landscape as the light grew higher.
"It is beautiful here," Harry said.
Draco looked up at him, a gleam of hope in his eyes.
"Come on," Harry reached down to him. "Let's go home."