He woke and sat up slowly, gazing down at the black-haired man standing at the foot of the stone.
Draco spoke his first words in four years.
Harry Potter stared up at him. What's God? To him it was just an expression; to countless Muggles, it had been an invisible entity that had not granted them mercy in the wild raging storm. He could not explain God to Draco Malfoy.
"Malfoy?" Harry asked instead. He was absolutely certain it was Draco Malfoy. He still looked like a youthful boy somehow, small and lost. His fine blond hair was the exact same length it had been seven years ago. Harry reached up, mesmerised, and caught a strand in his fingers. Draco didn't flinch, looking at Harry with unreadable gray eyes.
"Jesus," the black-haired boy breathed. "How the hell did you survive?"
Draco stared at him. How did he survive? First he ran. And then there was water, wasn't there? A lake. That's right. Yes. A lake. His godfather's handwriting.
They were silent for a while, strands of Draco's hair still caught in Harry's fingers. The blond coughed, a soft wheezing cough, and Harry seemed to snap out of his dazed state, abruptly withdrawing his hand.
"Your hair's still the same," he said. Draco just gazed at him still, his pupils the same soft gray colour as clouds before a storm.
"There's a refuge," Harry said. "I – we – survived, about ten of us. So far," he added. "You're – you're welcome to come see, if you'd like."
Draco climbed down from the rock, as quick and graceful as a spider spinning a delicate web. His hands were calloused, Harry saw. There was a very thick line of callouses across both his palms, matching lines.
Draco hesitated for a moment, wavering uncertainly, then opened a small bag lying on the ground and placed a few apples into it. He quickly and haphazardly zipped the bag shut before picking up his broom. Harry hadn't seen it lying in the long grass but he realised now what Draco's callouses were from. Two patches on the front of the broom were almost perfectly worn down into the shape of Draco's hands. Harry's heart gave a little hurt flinch. It had been seven years since he had ridden a broom. Seven years.
Draco glanced up at him, a quick little glimpse, but he seemed to see everything for he held out his broom hesitatingly. Harry stared blankly.
"There's room for two," Draco murmured in his dry whisper and Harry quickly climbed on behind him, thinking of the Battle when Draco had so desperately clung, weeping, to Harry as he flew away from the Fiendfyre.
Now, clinging to the blond-haired boy as he soared into the dawn sky, Harry found it was now he who struggled to hold back prickling tears.
Harry directed Draco. It would have been easier for Harry to simply be the one sitting in front but he couldn't do that. Draco had travelled the world on his broom, just him and the world and the wind against his face. Harry felt it would be wrong to demand Draco sit behind him now, although the blond-haired man had not indicated a preference.
In fact, Draco had not indicated anything. No joy or surprise or fear. No sneer marred his face, no contemptuous words of disgust. Nothing. He was unsettlingly quiet. He had lived alone for seven years. And not just lived alone in a house. Alone in the world. He had moved from empty city to empty city, he had heard nothing but silence and seen nothing but decrepit ruin. He had watched every sign of his race being erased from the planet.
And now on a beautiful June morning in the middle of Stonehenge, the oldest surviving relic of mankind, he had met his arch nemesis.
Draco's sun-warmed robes were soft against Harry's hands and he wondered how exactly Draco had managed to find robes and cut his hair. He wondered how he had avoided death by injury or starvation or exposure or loneliness.
Harry closed his eyes against the sun.
The guard on duty, Hannah Abbot, sent red sparks high into the air. Harry answered immediately with green sparks.
"Red sparks are a warning," Harry explained. "Green means that everything is okay. It also confirms I'm a member of the refuge. I know the code."
They landed and were instantly converged upon by people. Draco stared, bewildered, at the shouting faces.
"Where'd you get the broom from?" somebody demanded.
"He went to school with me," Harry said. "I found him by Stonehenge. It's his broom."
Draco ignored them all, gazing round at the refuge. They had picked a small village and pushed the wilderness back, cleared the roads, maintained the houses. Draco felt like it was all pretend, a silly game. Pick a pretty little cottage to live in, pick some friends, pick a life, play along. Nothing is wrong in this nice Wiltshire village.
He ran his hand across roses trailing over somebody's fence.
"That's my place," a brown-haired woman said proudly. "You can come inside for a cup of tea, if you'd like?"
A little tea-party, Draco thought. Roses and tea parties.
He crushed a rose in his hand and inhaled deeply. The scent of roses. Isn't that what he came to England for?
People drifted away, retreated from the strange man with hollow eyes. Harry remained near him, watching as he let bruised petals fall from his palm.
"Nice, eh," Harry said. Draco didn't look at him but continued staring at the roses. White. Pink. Orange. No red. His mother loved red roses. She had a whole garden of red roses. Wiltshire. Here in Wiltshire, at his beautiful manor. Draco picked up his broom.
"Where are you going?" Harry asked him, startled.
Draco thought for a while.
"Home," he said, his voice soft and raspy.
"Home," Harry repeated quietly, then louder. "Home."
Draco shook his hair from his eyes, the sun catching on the blond strands. He focused on Harry for the first time, snapping out of his strange dream world.
"I went to your house once," Draco said. "Four Privet Drive, Little Whinging."
"What?" Harry asked, surprised. "Surrey? You went there?"
"I wanted to find you," Draco murmured. "That's right. I didn't know then, but I do now. I went there to find you. But you weren't there. Empty. White. There was a uniform. I remember. All moth-eaten. And a clock. I searched all night for that clock, but I couldn't find it."
Harry turned away from him, unable to continue listening, but Draco didn't notice. He looked at his palm, stained from the roses. Pretty stains.
"Yes," he said. "A clock ticking. Ticking for me."
A petal danced for a moment, caught on the evening breeze, and the two boys watched it together as it disappeared into the dusk.
Draco stayed that night although he flew away the next morning before anyone was awake. Harry woke to find furious people gathered on his little front porch. He sleepily put the kettle on for them and gazed around bemusedly at the angry faces.
"Hardly any of us know him," a burly man said suspiciously. "Who knows where he's gone!"
"You know Malfoy wasn't exactly the most trustworthy of people," Hannah told Harry, her expression dubious.
"There are Muggles out there, waiting to get us," the brunette woman told Harry anxiously. "There used to be fifty of us, once upon a time..."
There was a long silence after that. The burly man buried his face in his hands; a wedding band glinted on his finger.
"Don't," Harry said softly. "Don't think about that -"
"You know it's true." A hazel-eyed wizard gazed mournfully at Harry. "He could tell them about us. Whether intentionally or accidentally...we cannot afford to be discovered again."
"It's been seven years," Harry tried but the wizard cut across him again.
"It could be a hundred years and the Muggles will still not forget the wizards and witches who ravaged their planet and lives. Time will not tarnish their wrath."
There was another long silence.
"We'll see," Harry said quietly.
Draco returned in the evening, holding a small sack of potatoes. Harry stopped him as he was making his way to the village green.
"Malfoy. You can't just come and go as you please. We've got to keep this place secure."
Draco gazed at Harry, his face small and pointed. Everything about him was so thin and fragile, Harry thought. As though he hadn't aged a day from the eleven-year-old boy in Madam Malkin's robe shop...
Harry pushed away that thought before memories of Diagon Alley and his friends could hit him. Draco watched, his face expressionless.
"You've got to let us know a week in advance if you're leaving," somebody chimed in. The burly widow husband, standing by Harry.
"There's Muggles out there waiting to get us," Hannah added. "There were so many of us, once..." She broke off, unable to carry on.
Draco stared round at them all.
"Let me take those," Harry said, gently taking the sack of potatoes from the blonde's unresisting hands. "We're planning a big roast tonight. A hot meal, that'd be nice."
"I'm going to Paris," Draco said. The brunette witch laughed.
"On my broom."
"That's ages away."
"I've been to America on my broom."
Harry suddenly didn't doubt it. Draco had travelled the world on his broom, had flown thousands of miles. Searching for people. Searching for hope. Searching for something else, perhaps.
Searching for memories, a state of mind...
Harry looked at Draco; he met the black-haired man's gaze without blinking.
"There's something there," Harry said. "In Paris."
Draco gave a barely imperceptible nod.
"People," Harry whispered. Horror dawned on the faces of those around him.
"Muggles," Hannah said, her voice startlingly loud. "There's Muggles there!"
Draco nodded again.
"You can't," Harry said immediately. "Malfoy, you can't go there. They cannot find out about us."
Draco shook his head mutely: an unspoken promise not to tell.
"If you go, you must swear to secrecy," Harry began but the other wizards and witches cut across him, frightened and angry.
"He mustn't go at all! He can't leave the village!"
"He'll kill us all!"
"The Muggles will come again, we only have three wands and a gun between us," a woman wailed.
Hannah was the voice of reason. She approached Harry and spoke quietly.
"Harry, if he returns here the Muggles could trace him. Or he could accidentally reveal information to them. You know that it simply isn't a feasible option. He must stay here. Please think of the bigger picture. The safety of eleven is better than the freedom of one."
There was a long silence. Harry couldn't meet Draco's eyes.
"Sorry," he mumbled. "But you have to stay here. Don't leave."
When he finally raised his gaze again Draco was gone.
Harry looked down at the bag of potatoes for a moment then hurried away.
Draco woke early. He slept outside under the stars. He didn't want to sleep in the small cottages, the places without air. Without a sky of stars for him to gaze upon.
He wanted to fly again. They had taken his Nimbus away. He looked at his calloused palms and gently traced the lines. Home waited for him. In the breakfast room, the honey would still be there. Honey could last thousands of years, the only food to do so. Draco liked that fact. Long after his parents had eaten their last breakfast and died in each other's arms, Draco could still eat the same honey.
He wanted to go back to Paris, where he had been four years ago. He wanted to stand on top of the Eiffel Tower where he had sent missives to Pansy. Letters and letters and letters, all undelivered. They filled his desk in his bedroom, they blew around empty streets and country roads, waiting to return to ash and earth. Just like Pansy.
Draco crushed another rose in his palm. The scent brought him little joy. He wanted red roses, his mother's roses. Red as hearts, red as wine.
He thought of Russia, the cold and lonely tundras. He thought of America, its overgrown city jungles. He thought of France, the abandoned windswept beaches. He had been everywhere. There was nowhere left to go. Nowhere left to go.
Except into the sky, out into the universe. Perhaps he might find Pansy out there. Perhaps he might finally find his memories, his life and love. The melancholia would die away to a long-forgotten word and his heart would finally find its missing piece.
The sunrise painted the sky a beautiful pink, the clouds ribbons of peach and pink and soft hazy purples. Draco smiled up into the rising sun, his first smile in seven years.
Harry woke to a very gentle noise.
The noise of a door quietly clicking shut.
He sat bolt upright.
Draco found the Nimbus underneath Harry's bed and gently eased it out. He was already out the door and walking towards the village green before he heard the footsteps.
He turned and saw Harry.
"Home," he said.
"Malfoy," Harry said urgently, "Malfoy, you can't leave, please, for the safety -"
"Home," Draco said again, a single broken word, and he could feel the tears now. Seven years of unshed tears, unshed tears for his godfather and parents and friends, for the bodies floating on the lake and the beds nobody slept in, for the children whose cherished fingerpaintings crumbled to nothing but memories and dust.
"Draco," Harry said and wasn't that Draco's birthday wish so many years ago? To hear his name? To hear a human voice, saying his name...
Draco turned and ran, ran from Harry, ran down the road, the summer dust kicked up into clouds, running and he was shouting something only he wasn't sure what, and then there was silence.
The shotgun blast startled even Harry for a moment but then he slowed down and half fell, half crawled towards Draco's inert body.
He lay in the middle of the road, a long graze down one side of his face where he had fallen, his eyes open and unblinking against the dust. Harry flung the shotgun down and collapsed next to Draco, crying noiselessly.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry," he wept, the tears dropping like hot wax upon the silent blond's face. A long trickle of blood crept through the dusty road, darkening it into mud, staining Draco's hair a surreal red colour, red like roses. Draco's last words, so desperately shouted, echoed in Harry's ears for a long time: Kill me now! Oh please, just kill me! I want to go home -
Away in the village, the wizards and witches closed their eyes and turned their faces to the wall.
And somewhere in France, Pansy's letter finally came loose from its place in the Eiffel Tower and flew away towards the newborn day.