Disclaimer: All of the characters and situations belong to J.K. Rowling et all.

As men, we are all equal in the presence of death. - Publilius Syrus

Pansy could not remember ever being more annoyed by him.

Draco had always been irritating, of course. His smug comments and superior attitude had never failed to exasperate her. But this year was different. This year she couldn't stand him. Ironically this was because he wasn't making any smug comments and had lost his arrogance. Damn him, she thought bitterly. She would have said it aloud, but in the silence of the library, he would have heard even though he was sitting several tables over.

Tearing her eyes away from him, she glanced down at her half-finished essay in anger. Picking it up, she crumpled it into a ball and threw it on the floor.

Millicent looked up, seeming amused. "Wonderful plan," she commented dryly. "Don't know why I didn't think of it. Professor McGonagall would much prefer we hand in a wrinkled essay."

"Don't start," Pansy said sighing. "Everything I write is awful. I can't concentrate." She dropped her head onto the desk in defeat.

Millicent raised an eyebrow. "Why not?" She asked.

Pansy answered her by looking pointedly over Millicent's shoulder at Draco. Millicent turned to see where Pansy was staring. "Oh, I see." She turned back around. "Honestly, Pansy, I don't know why you're so hung up on him. He's hardly good-looking anymore."

"I'm not hung up on him!" snapped Pansy. Unfortunately, she couldn't argue with the rest of Millicent's comment. Draco had lost most of his physical appeal months ago. Pansy assumed this was due to his lack of sleep which was shown by the dark bags under his eyes.

"If you're not hung up on him," Millicent said slyly, "why are you staring at him, rather than finishing your essay?"

It was a simple question, but Pansy would never admit the answer. The truth is that once you loved Draco, you'd never stop. From then on, anytime you saw him happy, you would smile. And whenever he was unhappy, you would hurt. It was a dangerous cycle, one that Pansy had once sworn to never be caught up in. Draco wasn't the type of person you could ever leave.

She hadn't realized she'd been staring again until Millicent spoke. "You two have been friends for forever. Why don't you just go and talk to him?"

Because it hurts too much, Pansy wanted to say, but didn't. "Talking to him is like talking to a brick wall," she answered, remembering the last time they had spoken. "Actually, I think you'd get more out of a brick wall."

She'd been trying to get him to open up all term and had finally given up. He was distant. It was as though he couldn't hear what you were saying even when you were sitting right next to him. The last time she'd heard him sound normal was on the train to school, when he'd made up some ridiculous story about doing something for Voldemort. That had been Draco speaking: proud, arrogant and demanding respect. She had no idea who that person was sitting over at that table was, but he wasn't Draco.

Millicent smiled. "Well, if you care at all about passing Transfiguration, I'd go and talk to him. You're not going to finish that essay until you stop worrying about him."

Pansy sighed, knowing Millie was right. She stood up, shoved all of her books into her bag, and then made her way to Draco's table. He was sitting all alone. His books were on the chair next to him and a blank parchment was in front of him. He held a quill as though he was going to write, but was staring straight ahead, completely oblivious to everything around him.

Pansy took a deep breath, hoping that this would go well. Then, she took the last few steps and dropped her bag next to him, making him jump. He tensed and looked up at her quickly, but as soon as he saw her he relaxed. "Oh, it's just you."

Pansy tried her hardest not to be offended by this statement. "Yeah, it's me." She dropped into the seat across from him. "So, are you hoping that essay will write itself?" she asked conversationally, gesturing to the blank parchment.

He looked down as though he'd forgotten it was there. "Yeah, I suppose."

Pansy tried to smile, and did her best to think of a way to keep the conversation going. "Clearly you're grades aren't as atrocious as mine." She looked at him hopefully, but he remained silent. She sighed angrily, realizing that she may have to switch to the direct approach. "Alright, something's wrong."

He looked at her puzzled. "What do you mean? Nothing's wrong."

She shot him a look, which she hoped showed that she wasn't buying his act. "I just called my grades atrocious, a perfect opportunity for you to make one of your snide comments about my grades or how unintelligent I am. You are not fine." He opened his mouth to protest, but she spoke before he could. "Tell me what's wrong?"

He looked away from her and started to busy himself with putting away his books. "Nothing." He even sounded different this year, hollow, like he was empty inside.

Pansy stared at him, remembering the days when they were young and had played together every day. "You used to tell me everything." She hadn't intended to say this aloud, but it still slipped out.

He didn't respond right away. Slowly he looked back at her. "I used be afraid of the dragon living in my closet. Should I still do that to?" His voice had a hint of laughter in it. For once, he sounded like Draco.

Pansy had wanted to stay serious and get him to talk to her, but at the mention of the dragon she remembered how she and Draco used to tip toe around his room so not to wake it up. She promptly burst into giggles.

Draco looked cross. "It really wasn't all that funny. I was six," he insisted.

"Oh, it was funny," she replied in a fit of laughter. "You used to leave food outside the closet before you went to bed, so it wouldn't get hungry and eat you." The next thing she knew, he was laughing too. It wasn't until then that she realized that she had hardly heard him laugh since last year. She savored the sound as the discomforting thought occurred that it would soon be gone again.

The moment ended far too quickly when Madam Pince rushed by and told them that they were disrupting everyone in the library. Pansy grabbed her bag and took Draco by the hand. Before he could make up some damned excuse, she led him down to dinner in the Great Hall. He'd been skipping meals quite often this year. It was nice to sit next to him again.

It was a pleasant meal, but Pansy wasn't fooled. Nothing had changed. She still felt as though she was standing on one side of a river and he on the other. It didn't matter how loud she shouted, or how much she needed him, or how long she cried. He still wouldn't hear her.

~*~*~*~*~

It had been one week since she had spoken to Draco. Pansy did her best to convince herself it was only because they'd both been busy with schoolwork. The truth was that she'd been avoiding him. She didn't sit near him in classes and she made sure to spend little time in the common room. He would pass her in the hallway often, a vacant expression on his face. He never approached her, not that he ever did. There was absolutely no reason she should feel responsible for his behavior. Pansy knew she was right, but she still felt guilty.

On this particular day, she had managed to push the guilt to the back of her mind and only feel the exhaustion. She had slept horribly the night before. She kept having nightmares that seemed to include Draco, her Transfiguration exam, and her stuffed dragon. Climbing into the Common Room, she felt slightly sick when she remembered the pile of homework she still had to do.

Pansy came into the Common Room with every intention of continuing up to her room in finish her assignments and go to bed. However, as soon as she saw Draco, this plan left her mind entirely.

He looked worse than usual. Sitting all alone by the fire, his hair was messy and disheveled. He had dark bags under his eyes, making it look as though he hadn't slept in weeks. His face was a ghostly pale and his cheeks were sunken. There was a dark look in his eyes, not the haughty gaze that usually sparkled there. The fire reflected in the gray, giving off an eerie shine that made her shiver.

Sighing she looked back at the stairs longingly, but knew she'd never be able to sleep knowing that he was sitting down here all alone. She went over to him and dropped onto the couch next to him. He looked up at her, but then returned his gaze to the fire, not saying anything.

Wondering for the hundredth time what was wrong with him, she searched for a way to start a conversation. "You look horrible," Pansy commented shortly.

Draco looked as though he was trying to smirk. "And you're the epitome of beauty and grace?" His tone was still empty, as though it was speaking on routine.

Noting that he didn't seem to have any books with him, she said, "So, why no homework? Are your marks really that wonderful?"

He shrugged nonchalantly again. "I just don't feel like dealing with that stuff tonight."

Pansy looked at him intently, studying his expression. She could get away with this because he wasn't looking at her. "I meant that you haven't been doing it all year. It's just one thing on the list of things that you don't do anymore." He looked at her questioningly. She continued, "You don't do your homework. You don't eat many meals in the Great Hall. You don't go to Quidditch games. You're never around at all. The only place you ever go is off gallivanting on your little adventures with Vince and Greg. I've only seen you make fun of Gryffindors a few times all year."

Draco looked over at her. "So, because I don't feel the need to spend my time with the immature act of teasing pathetic Gryffindors, something is wrong with me?" he asked.

Pansy just stared at him. "Well, yeah."

Draco looked back at the fire which was blazing strongly. "I suppose you want to talk about my supposed problems."

Pansy had to fight down her affirmative response knowing, from experience, that if she pushed, he wouldn't budge. She just shrugged indifferently. "Not particularly. I just sat down because I'm doing my potions essay and you're rather useful to have around in case I have questions." She turned to lean against the arm of the sofa and put her feet on the couch in front of her and grabbed her book from her bag.

It was quiet for a while. Most of the other students were going to bed. Draco seemed content to stare into space. Pansy worked as quickly as she could to finish her potions. Her impromptu chat with Draco put her behind in homework. Of course, she could leave anytime, but she was afraid that Draco would stay here alone all night if she let him.

After a while, he stood up. Pansy looked to see if was going to leave, but he just walked up to the fireplace. She could see the silhouette of his hunched over body. Finally he did say something. "Pansy?" he asked. His voice sounded so small.

"Yeah?" she replied tentatively, still watching him intently.

Draco didn't look at her. It was as though he was hypnotized by the flames. "Do you believe in heaven?" he asked quietly.

Pansy didn't even bother trying to hide her confusion. "Seriously?" she asked. "That's what this whole thing is about?"

Draco turned and looked at her. She was surprised at how serious he looked. "Well, do you?" he asked again.

Pansy sighed. Did she believe in heaven? It was one of those questions that she often tried not to think about. She wanted to believe in heaven, but did she? How could anyone know for sure? It wasn't a sure thing, and the only things she believed in were sure things. Pansy abandoned the attempt to answer that question truthfully and did her best to decide what Draco wanted to hear.

Her eyes met Draco's. "Yeah," she answered, doing her best to sound confident. "I guess I do. Why?"

Draco seemed neither happier nor sadder at her confession. He shrugged and turned away from her. "No reason," he replied nonchalantly.

Pansy tried again. "You could tell me if something was bothering you." She watched him hopefully.

His voice came again, colder this time. "I'm fine."

Pansy stood, realizing that it was now so late that the Common Room was empty. "Draco," she whispered to him as she walked closer. His face was illuminated by the flames that reflected in his eyes. "What's all this about? What's heaven got to do with it?" She placed her hand on his arm, trying to be comforting. "Will you, please just tell me what's bothering you? If you tell me, than we can deal with it tog-"

"God, Pansy," he interrupted as he turned to face her, "would you shut up?" Pansy jumped away from him as though she'd been slapped, but he kept going. "What do you want me to do? Do you want me to break down and cry? Tell you I love you? Beg for your help?" His voice was harsh and cold. Pansy started to shake. "All year you've been following me around, acting concerned. Did it ever occur to you that I look so miserable because you're around? What will it take to make you leave me the hell alone? What do you want?" Finally he stopped. The echoing silence sounded odd in her ears.

Pansy stared at him, unsure what to say. Her eyes had filled with tears at his words. She wanted to yell back, to hurt him the way he hurt her, but she couldn't. "I want you to be Draco," she whispered firmly, staring at his emotionless eyes. "I mean," she continued shaking slightly with anger and sadness, "look at yourself. You're pathetic. You should hear the way they talk about you." She nodded her head towards the dorms to indicate the other Slytherins. "Like you've died or something. I just want you to be Draco again," she repeated wearily. She met his eyes again and they were different. Somehow he seemed less cold and guarded. Now he just seemed defeated and miserable.

The next thing she knew, he was in her arms, clinging to her tightly. Then they had collapsed to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs. She wrapped her arms around him and he buried his face in her shoulder. He shook badly and she felt his tears begin to sink through her shirt. Instinctively she ran her fingers through his fine hair, just like she had always done when he was upset, just like he'd always done for her. She closed her eyes and told him over and over that everything would be alright. As long as she was holding him, shielding him from the world, she could even believe it.

The minutes stretched out longer as she held him against her. The damp chill of the dungeon melted away in the warmth of his body against hers. Slowly his breathing slowed; he stilled in her arms. Then, carefully, he pulled away from her. This much was routine. He was always the first one to break away.

It was another moment before he spoke. They were still sitting so closely that she could hear him breathing. "Do you love me?" he asked her quietly.

Pansy didn't even bother acting confused or unsure. She was done playing games with him. "You know I do," she answered immediately. Don't play games with me, Draco, she pleaded silently.

Draco nodded. "I don't love you," he said, sounding almost apologetic, as though he wished he did.

She had thought it would hurt more to hear him say it, but she had known it was true before he ever said the words. "I know," she whispered softly. He was still sitting so close to her. "That's alright." The last thing he needed was to feel guilty about his feelings. He wasn't fooling her; this wasn't about them.

The only light in the Common Room was the dying fire which seemed to be just able to illuminate his face, which was clouded with thought and confusion. "So," Pansy began, "do you believe in heaven?"

Draco shrugged, moving back to lean against the bottom of the couch. "No, I don't think so."

Pansy moved back next to him. "So, where do you go when you die?" she asked with a slight yawn. It was getting really late.

"Nowhere," was Draco's response from next to her. "When you die, you're dead. That's it." His words felt oddly final to her.

"Not very inspirational if you ask me," she commented dryly. Closing her eyes, she felt oddly comforted knowing that he was sitting right next to her and that he was at least talking to her now.

"Do you think," she heard him start, "that's the difference between us and them? They believe in heaven and we don't? That they're not afraid to die?"

Pansy didn't need to ask whom he was referring to. By 'we' he meant Slytherins and by 'they' he meant everyone else. "They are afraid to die, Draco. Everyone is afraid to die." It was easier to talk now. They're conversation felt less strained than before.

Draco turned to look at her although she could barely see him in the dark. "Even pesky Gryffindors?" There was a hint of humor in his voice, but she wasn't fooled. She could tell that he was serious about the question.

Pansy couldn't help feeling slightly puzzled, but resisted the urge to ask him why the hell any of this mattered. Instead, she decided to just try and answer his question. "Gryffindors peg us as the dishonest ones, when, really, we're just the opposite. They're the ones who are always pretending, putting on that charade of being brave and noble. In the end, we're all the same: weak, terrified and willing to do anything to prevent death." Pansy looked over at him, but he was looking ahead and into the fire, seeming to ignore her, but she could tell he had been listening.

He nodded his head slowly. "Yeah," he said softly, not seeming to be talking to her. "We're all the same."

Pansy decided that she must have said something right. His eyes were more relaxed, less worried. She shook her head feeling puzzled. "I don't suppose there's any chance you'll tell me what's going on." He didn't answer, just looked down at his hands. Pansy, growing used to his silence, let her eyes shut again.

But then she heard him. "He gave me a job, Pansy." Her head shot up to look at Draco, but he was staring at his lap, refusing to meet her eyes.

A job, she thought to herself. What's that supposed to mean? "Who?" Pansy asked confused. Draco looked up at her quickly. He looked at her in a way he hadn't in years. His eyes were pleading with her desperately, begging her to understand him so he wouldn't have to say it himself.

And Pansy did. "Oh," she said quietly. She knew who he meant. Voldemort.

Draco didn't nod to confirm her thoughts, but he didn't need to. He just kept talking, though she wished he would stop. "He wants me to do something for him and I tried, I really did. It's just harder than I thought it would be." Draco sounded hoarse and defeated, but he still wasn't looking at her.

Her mind raced, trying to figure out what on earth the Dark Lord would possibly want from Draco. Was Draco in danger? Was that what all of this talk about death was about? "Can I-" she broke off, not sure what she was trying to say. "Is there anything I can do?" As soon as the words came out she regretted them. This was Death Eater business; she didn't want to be involved in this.

But Draco just shook his head. "No. I don't need anything from you." Pansy couldn't argue with this statement. He'd never needed her the way she needed him. "I just didn't know it would be like this. I thought I would be just like him." This time Pansy didn't bother to ask who Draco was talking about. She knew. Draco had always wanted to be like his father.

His hands were trembling; his hair had fallen forward into his face; his eyes were cloudy and troubled. Pansy suddenly realized what it meant. If he couldn't do whatever it was he was supposed to do, they would kill him. This idea hit her so hard, that she gasped, unable to rid her mind of the image of Draco kneeling before Voldemort, pleading for mercy. Slowly she reached out her hand out to brush some of the stray hair back, but he flinched away from her. She pulled her hand back quickly.

Suddenly, Draco blinked, sat up straighter and turned to look at her. "Do you remember when we were little and we used to play that game?" he asked, sounding completely normal. Pansy looked at him confused. It was like he was a different person than the one talking about just a few moments ago.

But Pansy knew better than to try to force him to talk about Voldemort or his father. "Which one?" she asked.

Draco smiled slightly. "The one where we'd sneak into the kitchen and steal food and dishes and-"

"Spread out that blanket on the floor of you're room and have a tea party," Pansy interrupted, remembering the game. Had it been under other circumstances, she would have smiled at the fond memory, but instead she felt her eyes fill with tears. "You used to go into you're father's wardrobe and wear his shoes to the party." Her voice broke slightly.

Draco nodded, lost in memory. "And then I'd pretend I was him." He looked away from her again. "I wanted to be just like him. That's all I've ever wanted: to grow up." His voice had lost it's light-heartedness as he said this.

Pansy looked at him closely. For some reason, she was afraid he was going to break down into tears again. She knew she would were their positions reversed, but he just sat there looking straight ahead. "Well, now we are growing up."

He looked at her and, for the first time all night, she felt like he was talking to her, like he was watching her, like he needed her. "I'd like to stop now if that's alright."

Pansy suddenly wished that he hadn't told her anything, that she hadn't sat down at all. Her head hurt from exhaustion and worrying about Draco. She just wanted to get away from him so she could think all of this through. "It's late," she said to him. "Let's get some sleep."

Draco shook his head. "I'm not tired. I'm going to stay up for a while." He waited a moment for her to leave, but she didn't. "You can go," he said to her.

Pansy looked over at the stairs longingly. She could finish her essays. She could finally go to sleep. Her bed was upstairs. She could curl up under the covers and just forget- No, she wouldn't be able to forget. "I'll stay too," she heard herself say. "I'm not tired either."

She settled down closer to him so that their sides were touching. She slowly reached out to take his hand in hers, afraid that he would pull away again. He didn't and she laid her head down on his shoulder. The Common Room was eerily silent and the only noise was Draco's steady breath. The only light remaining were the few glowing embers of the once blazing fire. As she allowed her eyes to shut, a few tears spilled over and down her cheeks. She gripped Draco's hand tightly, afraid that if she let go, he would drift away.

Smiling slightly before sleep took her, she remembered the days when her biggest worry was that Draco might be eaten by the dragon in his closet.