The Next Twenty-Four Hours - by Sara's Girl
Disclaimer: I don't own it, and considering this, that's a seriously good thing.
AN - I'm really sorry about this. Considering my usual line on heavy angst, this fic makes me a complete hypocrite. However, I woke up this morning from a painfully vivid dream with tears pouring down my face, and the sodding thing wouldn't stop upsetting me until I wrote it down. There was an earthquake here this morning, and I'm blaming that entirely.
I'm not speaking to my subconscious until he supplies something happier. Hopefully the next chapter of Foundations. In the meantime, here's this.
Post-war, slight AU of HBP and DH (EWE goes without saying). Disillusioned Harry; callous, unforgiving Ministry. No guarantees about IC-ness, I just wrote this exactly as it felt and appeared in my dream. 'Kay?
Warnings: Character death. Short (for me) so not a huge amount of plot. Really fucking depressing.
I find you as the sun's coming up. It's twenty-six minutes before eight, and I want to apologise for being late, because it's taken me longer than I expected to slip away from everyone who shook their heads and wrung their hands and tried to stop me from coming here.
You look up from your spot on the cold front steps of the Manor and your eyes silence the apology in my throat. I've wasted four minutes, but I clamp my mouth shut and sit down beside you, pulling the sleeves of my shirt down over my fingers. It's almost April, but I'm shivering.
You have twenty-four hours. Less four minutes. Five, now, I suppose.
Our thighs touch as we sit in silence and I stare openly at your profile. At your sharp edges and dull grey eyes and painfully thin veneer of calm. I want to scream my lungs out at you, because you've given up, but it wouldn't do any good. By this time tomorrow, you'll be gone, and the fact that you want to spend your last day on this earth with me would be funny if it didn't make me want to follow you.
The early morning air is alive with the scent of woodsmoke and grass and spring flowers, and breathing it in feels like choking.
"Anyone would think it was you, going to your death," you say lightly, and your small smile makes my fingers wrap around the hard stone.
Your pale hair slides over one eye as you turn to me, expecting a response. I don't have one.
You raise one eyebrow and I can't stand it.
I shake my head and push the fall of hair away, kiss you hard enough to bruise. You let me, and you don't complain when I twist my hands into your soft, smooth shirt like you usually do.
"I see," you say against my lips, and I squeeze my eyes shut tight.
And I think you do. Because logic and me have always been strange bedfellows, and anyone who knows about you and me can attest to that, but the stark truth remains that you are the only thing that's ever really been mine and this mockery of a post-war Ministry has seen fit to take it away.
You kiss my eyelids and they sting, knowing that no one will ever get the chance to see how gentle you are capable of being. You'd probably never want to show them, anyway. And I know that none of this is really about what I'm going to lose, but if I think too hard about it any other way I'm afraid I might lose my mind.
The fact that the only life you ever took belonged to one of what they're referring to as 'your own', and that all of your crimes were part of a war well beyond your control is irrelevant to a Ministry on a fierce, relentless crusade to cleanse away any evidence that that war ever happened.
They don't listen to reason or argument. All they see now is that mark on your arm. That collection of twisted black lines that renders you subhuman; makes you nothing more than a dangerous animal in their eyes. Something that needs to be dealt with swiftly, cleanly, and permanently.
Everyone who could have spoken for you is dead. Your parents were among the first to go, and whatever my opinion of them, I can't help thinking it's a small mercy that they aren't around for this.
There's me, of course. One would think that my word would mean something, after all that's happened, but they don't need me any more, either. My repeated, desperate bargains and threats and eventual pleas for your life have been met with nothing more than blank expressions and 'There is no grounds for appeal on this sentence, Mr Potter. You are wasting your time.'
No one can imagine why I care. I do care though, Draco, and god, it hurts like nothing else.
When I told you how I'd tried and failed, you just shrugged and carried on drinking your tea as if it didn't matter, but I saw your hands shake. You didn't sleep that night, and neither did I.
I can't save you.
We haven't questioned their decision to leave you here, for this last day. Part of me wonders if a cell would have been kinder, but at least this way you don't have to be alone.
Their wards around the Manor won't allow you to leave until they come for you, and I don't think you've even tried since the clock started counting down.
They will come at seven thirty in the morning; that's when it's going to happen. It strikes me as a strange, hastily-chosen time, as though they're trying to make sure you know that, in spite of everything, you aren't all that important.
You are, though.
I'd like to be able to pinpoint the moment when you became everything to me, but I can't. That's not how it works. Only that the first time it happened, the war was already raging in the world beyond the castle. You turned up at my spot by the lake, my place to go in the middle of the night when sleep was impossible.
Typically stubborn, obnoxious, recalcitrant, you refused to leave, but somehow in the darkness, harsh words twisted and settled into a strange, fierce brand of comfort that left us confused and shaking and clinging to each other. You glared afterwards, pulled haughtily at your starched, grass-stained cuffs and told me that it wouldn't happen again. I knew you were wrong. Or lying.
You'd already made your choice by then, or someone's choice, at any rate. I hated myself for not caring, but never tried that hard to stop myself from falling. One stupid war didn't change anything. Didn't change six years of what we knew. Didn't change the way my body suddenly reacted to you, violently. Didn't change your eyes or your mouth or the way that sometimes it was slow and drawn-out, as though getting under my skin and inside my body and making me fall apart was the only thing you cared about.
No, you aren't all that different from me, not in any way that matters.
When you rise gracefully from the steps, I open my eyes reluctantly and follow you inside, mirroring your slow, careful strides with hands shoved deep into my pockets to keep from reaching for you and not letting go. So conscious not to overwhelm you and break your fragile composure. I won't, even though I long to, because these are your hours, and I already feel shamefully selfish.
Dust floats free in the stale air; you never did learn to clean, and house elves and servants are long gone from this place. You pause, turn to look at me for a brief moment, as though you've never seen me before, and you sigh gently. It's all wrong. Everything you are is combative, Draco, you've never failed to fight for what you believed was rightfully yours. Until now, and I have to watch you while you fail to fight for your life.
Your submission rankles, but not your silence. Few words were exchanged during our snatched meetings during the war, but we've never needed them. Words always get us into trouble, don't they? The ones spoken out loud, at least. I'd just say them in my head as I gasped and watched your eyes and emptied myself into you with painful relief. I love you. Love you, Malfoy. Draco.
That's why I stand back and watch you fritter away the morning, walking around the sad shell of your childhood home. The whole place reeks of Dark magic and despair, and only one or two rooms retain any hint of their former glory, but still you drift from one to another with a strange sense of purpose and I observe, feeling like an intruder, as you trail fingers over the frames of portraits and stand in the centre of what used to be a grand, opulent dining room, looking small and lost.
The last Malfoy.
I hold onto the doorframe, chest tight, trying to silence the horrifying countdown in my head.
It occurs to me that I haven't seen you eat anything in what feels like a long time, but when I mention it, thinking out loud, you just smile, turning to look at me. We must be twenty feet apart but I feel as through you're right next to me.
"That's not important," you say.
"What is, then?" I wonder.
Grey eyes soften and your barriers crash down, just for a moment.
"This," you say simply, hours later, stretching out and resting your head on my thighs. You gaze up at me from the chaise in this tattered sun room where, you tell me, your mother used to like to sit and look at the gardens.
The contact isn't much but you have initiated it, and though every fibre of me is crying out for more, so much more, before it's too late, one last time, I hang hard onto my restraint because I won't push you. Not today. I ignore the rough, cold fist that wraps around my heart, bite my lip and thread my fingers through your hair.
"That's nice," you murmur with an almost-smile, pale eyelashes flickering.
"Yeah." I just stare, and wish I could show this to the world. No one is as pure evil as they say you are, and I think you do love me, even though you'd never say. I want to believe that you do.
The afternoon sun is warm, heating your hair and skin under my fingers. You succumb to the soporific effect and close your eyes, curling into me, kittenlike, in sleep. I stay perfectly still, torn between the horror that you're using your last hours this way and the soft, painful tendrils of pleasure stemming from the realisation that you are able to draw comfort from me, even now.
I let you sleep.
You open your eyes seconds before the ornate clock in the corner strikes for half past seven in the evening. I catch my breath and you stiffen, follow my gaze. Your eyes go wide with sharp fear, just for a moment, and I daren't touch you. I draw my arms back up onto the padded back of the chaise and you sit up, smoothing your hair with agitated fingers.
Eventually, you shake yourself and stride out into the grounds, which are still beautiful.
"To watch... the sunset," you explain, and I hear the 'last' that you take pains not to say.
It's beautiful, and of course it would be. As are you, with your harsh angles and your overly pale skin and your stupid black mark.
"Everyone thinks I'm insane for being here."
"You are," you say, but you lean back against me and let me wrap my arms around you as we sit on the lawn and watch that sunset. Your fingers clutch repeatedly at the grass and, every now and then, you suppress a shiver. But you are not afraid, of course you're not.
We stay outside until darkness falls. The time is slipping away, and I'm powerless to stop it. Helplessness doesn't sit well with me, but I suppose I have all the time in the world to rage about it. Tomorrow.
"It won't hurt, you know."
You laugh, or perhaps it's a sob. I wish I could keep my stupid mouth shut. "And then nothing will ever hurt again, will it? As if it matters."
"Sorry," I whisper pointlessly. Hold you tighter and press my nose into your neck, inhaling the distinctive scent that reminds me of arguments and desperate kisses and fumbles at lakesides and on top of ripped silk sheets.
"You're crap at apologies." You rest your head on my shoulder and fold your hands on drawn-up knees.
"Sorry," I repeat automatically, and you look up at me, eyes huge and pale-luminous in the moonlight.
"What?" I catch my breath, and you open your mouth and close it again. I want the words.
You shake your head and pull me to my feet abruptly. I stumble on the grass and you catch me. Strong grip, lightning reflexes, effortless equilibrium. You're so put-together, and it aches, because you should be falling apart like I am.
I can almost hear the words in your head, prefixing every action as we move through the dark, silent house. Last, last, last.
Sitting down beside you on the bed, my anticipation is dull, heavy, suffocating, and I can only hope it doesn't show on my face, but you always did know exactly how to interpret me.
When you finally submit to being held, I wrap myself around you so tight that it must be hurting you, but you don't say a word, and even if you did I'm not sure I'd loosen my grip. Your heartbeat races against mine and I luxuriate in it, compressing everything about you into a hard, dense pebble to lock away; keep, touch, hold after you've gone. Soon, Draco, and I can't take it.
I can't decide if I want this fast or slow, but you decide for me, removing clothes with silent efficiency and stretching out beside me. By mutual tacit consent, we don't light the room. I just need to feel you all over me, and you don't protest. I can't bring myself to question your compliance, not any more.
Memorising your smell, your taste, the defiant surrender in your eyes. The way they flicker silver-grey in the darkness of a room and the way they darken when I touch you. There are still no words. Just scratches and rough whimpers and you and me. Last.
I've needed this, needed you, all day. I'm wavering on the edge of my control when you finally sink into me and we both cry out. I could have spent the whole day doing this, but it doesn't matter now.
I want you to hurt me. To leave a space, so I can feel you and know you were there. No one has ever understood, but if they could feel this, maybe we wouldn't be here, trying to say goodbye without saying goodbye. I drag you deeper with ragged nails and spread myself shamelessly. You comply and shudder and breathe hotly into my mouth, your cool sweat dripping and mingling with mine.
Hurry or make it last, I don't care. Just this.
You said you'd never cry, but as we move slowly together over crumpled silk, your eyes shimmer and you squeeze them shut, burying your face in my neck and gripping my hands hard, fingers entwined.
I whisper your name because my skin is warm, salty-wet now and I want you to look at me, but you won't. You shake your head against mine and push hard into me, shattering this slow ache and I clamp down around you, crying out, shooting hot, wet ropes across our skin and drawing you closer, holding you in place, and I say the words out loud this time, I know I do.
I love you.
You hear them, grip my hands hard enough to hurt and come with a rough sob. "Harry," you whisper, and it's the first time. And the last.
When you throw an arm over me and close your eyes, I know you're pretending to be asleep, and I let you. I say all the things I wish I could say to you when you're awake, and you pretend not to hear them. Your slow, warm breath skates over my wrist as I play with your hair, and I wonder if I'll cry for you when you aren't here to mock me.
We cast Tempus for the last hour. The sky is lightening beyond the window. You lie there, tangled in sheets and pressed back against my chest, and you try to tell me you're not scared, but I don't believe a bit of it. I'm terrified. I feel sick. Telling myself this whole thing is a nightmare helps me hang on.
I've always done a lot of lying to myself when it comes to you. Last, last, last.
"I thought I didn't care about living," you say at six fifty-five. Slowly, as though the words are a revelation. "But I think I do. I'm not ready to go. Not yet."
My eyes burn and I just hold you tighter, mouthing damp blond strands to get to your skin.
You turn in my arms at seven fifteen, eyes huge. "I keep thinking that maybe they'll change their minds, right at the last minute." You try to smile, but it's brittle and watery.
"Maybe," I whisper.
I know you don't believe me, Draco. I don't believe me either. I know hope is dangerous, but it's not as though we've anything to lose.
Ten minutes. I claim your lips and you cling to me. For the first time, I smell your fear and I pour everything I've got into that kiss, lips and tongues and teeth; I'm yours and you're mine, and I don't know who's comforting who.
Your movements are typically fluid and economical as you dress; smartly, stylishly in black and grey. I drag on my old, faded things and watch you from the end of the bed. As they arrive, you are regarding me in the mirror. I'm weirdly proud when you don't flinch, but when they touch you, my mouth turns dry.
It's no surprise when they try to stop me from following, but they draw back at the snarl that rips itself from my throat. It's seven twenty-nine. You startle when I take your hand, but you don't pull away. A faceless lump of a man takes your other arm roughly, and fleetingly I wonder if the person I was once would have dared to pull you away, hex the lot of them and just run. The worst thing is, I think you'd just stand there if I did.
There are people with cameras in this stark, institutional room. Just to make it's done properly, this messy business of ending your life. They all turn to see as we walk through the door.
I hold onto your hand until they start to pull you away, and everyone's eyes are on me, their stares filled with a strange mix of pity and disgust and disappointment.
Promise me you won't stay and watch, you'd said, when the room was dark and you didn't have to look at me.
When your fingers slip from mine, our eyes meet for a fraction of a second, and I break inside.
You walk so straight; shoulders back, expression cool, malevolent, defiant to the last and I can't take my eyes off you.
I break my promise. Hanging back in the shadows, jaw gritted and fists clenched, I stay because I want to see if maybe they do change their minds, right at the last minute. Come to their senses, even as the wand is pointed at your throat. Realise that what they're doing is no better. No better at all.
I stand there for a long time afterwards, afraid to move. Streams of people clatter past me, discussing their breakfast meetings as though nothing of any consequence has just happened. It was just your life, after all.
As I slump out into the street, I expect it to be raining. It's not, and I don't realise I'm numb until your voice echoes in my head; 'Stop being so fucking melodramatic, Potter,' and the accompanying burst of raw pain almost makes me throw up.
I'll never see you or touch you or hear you again, but I can remember. No one can take that from me.
The early morning sun is harsh on my eyes and I let them close, gulping at cold air and putting one foot in front of the other, though I'm not sure where I'm going. There isn't anywhere I particularly want to be now you're gone, but I'll think of something. It's all about the next twenty-four hours.
A review would be nice, if you don't hate me. Promise I won't do it again. Unless there's another earthquake.