Yeah, so this was supposed to be a quick story, but it took me a year… I'm good like that.
This is the last chapter, dear readers, I hope you enjoy it!
Chapter Sixteen: All Good Things
In an instant, a strong friendship can break under the sudden force of betrayal; the blossoming friendship between Draco and Harry was tentative at best, and so the time it took for their own ties to snap was perhaps even shorter.
Harry's muscles were tensed, his jaw clenched tightly in a way that made his temples ache. His vision had narrowed, focused on Draco and the accursed Dark Mark, with everything else at the edges fading to nothing. He didn't move. He was too angry.
"At least let me explain―" Draco began almost pitifully.
"What is there to explain?" Harry hissed, cutting him off. "You're with him… And to think I'd begun to trust you."
Draco, who until that point had remained still as well, pulled his sleeve back down over the offending mark.
"And that's why I'm telling you now!" he insisted, "What makes you think I actually wanted this?"
"I don't know," Harry shouted back, his voice filled with bitter sarcasm, "Maybe the fact that you've behaved like a Death Eater since we were first years? And not to mention your muggle-hating parents!"
"Don't talk about my family, Potter, you know nothing about them!" Draco's wand was drawn. "And at least I've got parents," he sneered.
And then Harry's wand was out as well. "Don't you dare even mention―"
"Guys, stop!" a third voice cut into the mounting fight. Merlin. Their wands lowered slightly from where they were poised to attack as the two other wizards looked at him. They'd nearly forgotten he was there. "You're friends," he reminded them.
"Hmph, barely," Draco sniffed, but he put his wand away. Harry lowered his arm to his side, but did not put his wand away completely.
"Look," Merlin reasoned. "I don't know what that thing on Draco's arm means, but we have more important things to worry about right now. Namely, getting you home."
Harry looked down and away for a moment, before nodding and putting his wand back into his pocket. But while he cooperated with Merlin as the powerful sorcerer prepared the spell that sent them tumbling through a flurry of dizzying lights and sound, he did not speak or look Draco in the eyes even once.
Hagrid was a good teacher, if one were to ask any Gryffindor. But even Harry had to admit that he wished the giant man would cover a bit more material than the proper care and feeding of blast-ended skrewts. Like, say, information about the rather large, saw-toothed creature that was currently growling at him from a gap in the trees. Harry's first instinct would be to call it a bear, but, of course, this was the Forbidden Forest and so nothing could be normal, he internally complained. This creature was larger than any bear he'd ever heard of and covered in a scale-like exoskeletal armor that made it shine like a wet fish. Harry inched backwards. There was no time to be pondering the species and genus of such a creature; behind him was nothing but a craggy bluff and a steep drop to more rocks below. Harry's wand lay behind the bear-like thing where he'd dropped it while trying to avoid the beast.
Harry realized, quite plainly, that leaving Draco unconscious where they'd landed from Merlin's spell to find his bearings in the dense forest had been an exceedingly stupid idea. It was getting dark, he had no idea where he was going, and Draco, whom he was still obviously mad at, would have no idea where he'd gone. Yes, Harry was a bona fide genius when he was angry.
And so he had to make a choice: possible death by falling or almost certain death by sharp teeth and claws. He took another small step back and it was decided for him, as a chuck of what had seemed like stable rock crumbled away and he slipped, only barely catching himself with his forearms on the edge of the small cliff. At the sudden movement, the creature charged.
"Diffindo!" a voice cried, and the beast was knocked off course. It stood up again, somewhat shakily but now enraged, and turned its sights on a new target: Draco. But the boy didn't give the creature a chance to attack before firing yet another spell. "Reducto!"
Harry was just able to see the spell hit and the beast fall before he himself lost his grip on the rock and fell as well. He slid painfully down the rock face for a few feet, catching his grip again on a root that was jutting out from the rocky earth.
"Harry!" he heard Draco yell, and a moment later, the boy's blond head appeared in view. "Hold on," he advised, looking for a way to help.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" Harry hissed back. The root slipped from the stone slightly and, in a panic, he planted his foot into the wall of rock. It twisted painfully, but he did not fall.
Draco disappeared and then reappeared again with a rope, conjured by magic. He'd tied it around a sturdy tree and now lowered it down to Harry. Once Harry had transferred his grip to the rope, it began to wind up slowly, ensuring that the boy who lived continued to do just that. Draco grasped his arms and pulled him up over the last few difficult feet. The two lay beside each other for a minute or two, exhausted and breathing quickly.
"You're an idiot, you know that?" Draco berated, standing and holding out a hand.
"Yeah," Harry agreed, "I'm aware of that." Harry accepted the proffered aid, but crumbled to the ground again upon standing, grabbing his ankle in pain. "Ah, I must have twisted it," he breathed.
Draco's eyebrows wrinkled together for a moment. "Well, I'm not the greatest at healing spells, but―"
"No!" Harry said suddenly. Then he explained, "The last time someone with no experience tried to heal me, I ended up with no bones in my arm."
"Suit yourself," Draco shrugged.
Later, after they'd found some sticks and used a bit of the conjured rope to bind them to Harry's leg― a method that Harry was forced to agree was "thoroughly muggle," as Draco had phrased― and Harry's wand was safely back in his pocket, the two set off towards the school. Harry had his arm draped over Draco's shoulders and they made slow, limping progress towards Hogwarts in near silence.
After they'd been walking for a while and the warm glow from castle windows was visible through the tree, Harry spoke.
"I'm still mad at you, you know," he grumbled.
"Really?" Draco asked blandly, "Even after I saved your life?" Harry waited until they'd navigated over a fallen tree to respond.
"You're a Death Eater," Harry said plainly.
"Not by choice," Draco explained, more calm this time. "I know what I used to say, how I used to brag… but the truth is, I'm scared." Harry raised an eyebrow at the admission. "My family is in too deep with the Dark Lord. It was either take the Mark or die."
"I would have died," Harry proclaimed fiercely. Draco pursed his lips.
"I'm not you," he said. The two lapsed back into an understood silence.
It was another hour before the two boys reached the front doors of the school. The clock in the entrance hall stated that it was dinner time, and the sound of voices coming from the Great Hall confirmed this. However, they had no way of knowing how long they'd been gone; Merlin had warned them that his spell wasn't entirely accurate, and that they might land within a few months of when they left. But by the temperature and the state of the trees in the forest, they'd reasoned that it was around late November.
Climbing the stairs was an arduous task with Harry's sprained ankle, and they did not encounter a single person in that time, but they finally made it to the top of the first flight and stood outside the Great Hall to catch their breath. The doors were closed, but they could clearly hear everything within. Soon, the voices of students hushed and Dumbledore began to speak.
"Now is the time to be strong," he said in his strong, yet kind, voice― a voice now filled with the weight of sadness. "We cannot allow fear to control us. We must join together, house to house, friend to friend, and release our ideas about how we are different, for we are stronger when we bond together."
Harry and Draco looked at each other. They'd been through a lot, the physical evidence of which lay in the dirt in their clothes and the various injuries garnered in the forest. But beyond the physical, there was something more; both boys could see it in each other's eyes, a change that they hadn't noticed until that point. Dumbledore continued.
"In the wake of this, we must remember those who are not here with us, and never give up hope that they will someday return safely."
His words rang in the silence. The students within the hall did not resume their conversation. Draco looked at the door before him, as if it could tell him the answers to the universe. Harry looked at Draco.
"Things are going to be different now, aren't they?" he asked, catching Draco's eyes again. Said boy shifted a bit, so that Harry's arm was more comfortable around his shoulders.
"Yeah," Draco replied, smiling ever so slightly, "Things are going to be different."
And with that, the two friends turned to face the Great Hall, each taking a deep breath. And they opened the large doors, together.
And there we go. I know some people won't like the ending because it seems like yet another cliffhanger, but this is exactly how I'd planned to end it from the beginning. How it changes things is up to you to decide. No, there will not be an epilogue. I, for one, think it's perfect as is.
Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me through this entire story. It's been quite an adventure, and I really hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have. Don't forget to review and tell me your thoughts!
*Bows, as the curtains close and the lights fade to black*