Title: King's Cross
Author: dracosoftie
Pairing: Harry/Draco (no porn)
Rating: R
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoat Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Warnings: Main character death, angst, implied slash. If you're one of those people who reads the last paragraph of a book first and therefore MUST know who dies, go to my LJ page (www . dracosoftie . livejournal . com) where you can find out who it is before you read.
Summary: He curls up on the threadbare mattress in the corner, letting his mind wander over the last two weeks. It's all a blur, really. A terrifying, sickening blur composed primarily of images of everything he has lost – his friends, his family, his home, his magic. ~5,400 words

A/N: This isn't for the faint of heart. Character death. Lots and lots of angst. Intentional ambiguity for the first half of the fic, because I'm mean like that. No fluff. No redeeming lightness … just angst. Thanks to faeryqueen07 for holding my hand through this and assuring me that angst-ridden as it is, it's still a story that deserved to be told. (Wow, look, even my author's note is maudlin. That should give you a good idea of the tone of the fic, eh?)

August 1, 2006

He doesn't have to be told he's dying. That much is evident. He certainly didn't need to hear the words fall from the lips of the wizened Healer who shuffles out of the room, clearly too old to be performing house calls such as these, but too indebted to the Malfoy family to refuse. Or maybe it's loyalty, not indebtedness. He can't tell, not anymore. Everyone around him is so deferential, so placating. It's been like this from the beginning, everyone treating him as though he was so fragile he might break in a strong wind.

It had been better in the intervening years, he thinks. After a few stilted months, everyone around him had slowly realized that he was at peace with his sentence, with his fate. That they could still use magic around him and he wouldn't rail against the unfairness of it. That they could talk about the future without resorting to hushed tones that immediately shifted to silence the moment he entered a room. That they could laugh – that he could laugh. The last had been the hardest to convince them of, but it had made the most difference, immeasurably improving his life in the charming villa that had been designated both his exile and his salvation.

He coughs, and instantly a warm hand is there to brace him, rubbing soothing circles against his back while an arm gently presses against his chest, urging him down onto the nest of pillows that the bed has become. He can't lie flat anymore; it makes it too hard to breathe. So he's spent the last few days propped on a ridiculous number of pillows because he refuses to live out his last days in a hospital bed. They'd brought one, of course. It had been delivered a year earlier, after a simple cut on his leg had turned into a staph infection that no one had expected him to recover from.

But he had. And one of the first things he'd done when he'd gained his strength back was to forbid them from ever placing him in the hospital bed again. Nothing about his life had been his decision. He'd never been able to dictate any of his own terms. Enough of his dignity had been taken already; he'd be damned if he would spend his last days in anything other than his own bed, dying the way hewanted to.

The last eight years had been riddled with infections and illnesses that brought him near death, but so far he'd beaten every one, despite his weakened state, despite the Healers' grave prognosis, delivered over and over again. This one was different, though. He could sense it. This was it.

Another dry cough has him hunching forward, his lungs burning as he gasps for breath. He hears the soft drip of water as a washcloth is wrung out, and seconds later cool wetness is spreading over his sweaty neck. He can smell the mugwort and the ginger in it, and it almost makes him laugh. It will do him no good, but they both know that.

"Smells … nice …," he rasps, setting off another spurt of vicious coughing.

"Shh," is the only response he gets, and he leaves it alone. If dosing him with potions makes this easier for those he is leaving behind, makes them feel like they are doing something for him, then that's fine with him. He has no magic for it to pull on to work, but that also means it can't hurt him.

May 15, 1998

He's cold before the heavy steel door even clangs shut behind him. He shivers slightly, knowing that the bone-deep chill that prompts it started long before the boat ride that left his face, bearded as it is, stinging from the salt spray. Before he sat, stripped of his wand and bound with thick leather straps to a high-backed wooden chair, and heard the judgment that had likely been decided before the trial had even started.

He curls up on the threadbare mattress in the corner, letting his mind wander over the last two weeks. It's all a blur, really. A terrifying, sickening blur composed primarily of images of everything he has lost – his friends, his family, his home, his magic. It's all juxtaposed against the unforgiving sneer of the head of the Wizengamot, the bang of the gavel, the high, feminine sob from the gallery that cut off abruptly he had turned around, limbs trembling underneath the iron manacles that bound his hands and feet, back straight and proud, and had shaken his head just once, the unspoken message clear: Don't let them win by mourning me before I'm dead.

When he comes awake with a gasp and a start, body moving from prone to standing in seconds, hand reaching for the wand he no longer carries, it takes him a few seconds to process where he is. In sleep, he's managed to find a refuge from the unforgiving damp of his cell and the silence of the stone walls around him, so thick he can't even hear the footfalls of the guards that he knows mustbe on near-constant patrol outside his door.

He rubs his empty hand across his eyes, crusty with sleep and unshed tears – because he'll bedamned if he gives them the satisfaction of seeing him in any sort of diminished state – and stares down at the stained mattress, marveling that he managed to drift off at all. The cell he spent the last two weeks in at the Ministry was similarly appointed and no less cold or uncomfortable, but he'd been unable to sleep there, keeping vigil just in case. Though what he'd been waiting for, he had no idea. Just in case the Ministry came to its senses and decided not to persecute someone who'd really had no choice in what he'd done? Someone who hadn't wanted to plan anyone's murder, and who in the end, hadn't actually cast a fatal spell? Just in case they came to their senses and saw that he was little more than a boy, not the threat they'd made him out to be?

He snorts, pressing the heel of his hand against his eyes. At no point during the mockery of a trial did he allow himself to cry, nor did he during any of the brutal Auror interrogations that had started right after he'd been ripped from the Great Hall at dawn the morning after the final battle. He presses harder, stemming the tears that threaten. They have not broken him yet. He won't allow them to.

Time passes as he awaits the final portion of his sentence, but he keeps his sanity. At least, hethinks he does. He can't be sure. Of course, he can't be sure of anything. His world has been turned upside down, and he doesn't even know which way is up anymore. So he paces the small cell, reciting bits of Shakespeare and random stanzas from poems he'd been made to memorize over the years, the tricky twists of unfamiliar wording helping him focus. When all else fails, he resorts to the times tables. Anything to keep his mind from atrophying, just as he uses the pacing and the stretching – and, on particularly cold mornings when he can see his breath in front of him, the hopping and bouncing in place – to keep his muscles as limber as he can.

The sleeves of his Azkaban uniform – a tattered mess even before he'd donned it, making him wonder what unfortunate soul had worn it before him – flutter at his side as he completes that morning's stretches, drawing a sharp bark of laughter from him. The sound echoes against the walls, startling him. It's the first sound he's heard since the guards shoved inside the small cell a few weeks earlier. He's not quite sure of the date, but he's kept a reasonable count, scratching hash marks into the grime on the floor, counting off each meal that is delivered. As time-telling devices go, it's not a fool-proof one, but it's the only one he has. His food, if two rations a day of stone-cold gruel and a miserly pint of cloudy water can be called food, appears on a tray by the door courtesy of a spell. His waste – he scowls at the bucket in the corner, bile rising in his throat – disappears in the same manner. No need for human contact. Or non-human contact, which he supposes he should be happy about.

At least the Dementors are absent. For now, at any rate. He has no doubt that their absence will not be permanent. He almost hopes for their return before his true sentence is carried out, but he dismisses the maudlin thought. There would be no pride in that, in taking the easy way out. He does not want to be remembered with a vacant stare and flopping limbs. No, he wants them to remember him, stiff-backed and proud, meeting their eyes and proving to them that despite the fact that they'd managed to take everything from him – his magic, his vaults, even his name -that Prisoner 147938, as they'd christened him, was still whole, despite their best efforts to the contrary.

With a sigh, he slides down the damp wall, the bite of the cold stone through his thin shirt a welcome relief from feeling nothing. The sound of his laugh still echoes in his ears, and he presses harder against the wall, shuddering violently at the way the cold washes over him. But at least it'ssomething, and he turns his head, his cheek flush against the stone, bits of moss tickling against his cheek. It grows thick and heavy in the mortar, nourished by the scant rays of sunlight that the slit at the top of the cell lets in, too high up to provide any warmth but casting tantalizing rays against the upper portion of the stone wall. Another layer of torment, he knows.

He knew about the moss before he had the pleasure of seeing it first-hand, of course. He supposes that might be a benefit, that he has some knowledge of what it is like to survive Azkaban. Of what's necessary for prisoners to do to stay sane. Of how to come out of it, battered and haunted anddifferent, but alive. He puts those hard-won lessons to use, things he'd gleaned from the stories he'd been told by another man who'd worn this uniform, who'd suffered this fate. Things he'd never imagined he'd need to know but was now absurdly grateful for. That the moss is edible and can help prevent all manner of vitamin deficiencies that most inmates succumb to, that licking the walls can help keep his tongue damp and lessen the discomfort of dehydration, that his socks, holey and useless against the chill, can be used to help ward off the bed mites by tucking his trouser legs into them.

By the time the door scrapes open against the dirty stone floor, he's reasonably sure of several things. One, that about ten weeks have passed, far longer than the one he was supposed to spend here. Two, that the Dementors are back, their eerie presence easily penetrating the thick walls, but he thinks they've been given orders to avoid his cell, because they never linger. And three, he thinks irritably, scratching at his leg, the stories he was told greatly exaggerated the benefit of tucking his trousers into his socks.

He expects to be hauled back to the Ministry for the final part of his sentence, figuring that the Wizengamot will want as much of an audience as possible when his magic is stripped. So he's surprised when the twisting corridors the somber-faced guards lead him through end not at the boat launch where he'd arrived, but a large, open courtyard. The wooden stands that bracket the sides are shockingly only half-full, and he wonders if the Minister put restrictions on who was allowed to come witness his final punishment.

He blinks in the sunlight, turning his face up to the rays and letting them warm his chilled skin. He knows he must look terrible – how could he not? – and he meets the gaze of those who openly stare at him evenly, his chin up and his back straight. They look away. It feels like a triumph.

He knows what stripping his magic means. It's a far crueler sentence than a Dementor's Kiss or even death, because with those the torment is over quickly. Separated from his magic, his body will slowly shut down. It will be like losing a limb, and he'll feel the phantom pain from its absence up until the day his body finally succumbs to its weakened state and he dies from something as simple as a Muggle infection that his magic would have easily fought off.

It could take years, and he knows it. They know it. He suspects the Wizengamot wanted him to plead for mercy, to beg for the Dementor's Kiss or a lifetime in Azkaban. What they don't know, though, is how little he has holding him here. How almost everyone he has ever loved has already died; how he has more waiting for him on the other side of the veil than he does here. Those he is leaving behind are undoubtedly better off without him, especially since his punishment ensures their freedom. It seems like a fair trade. His life for so many others. It was a decision he'd made once before, after all, and with no regrets.

He only half-listens as the Minister stands and, with great pomp and circumstance, reads his sentence. As if he needs to hear it again. As if he's heard anything but those words since they were uttered. Stripped of his magic. Banned from the Wizarding world. His friends forbidden from helping him under threat of the same punishment. His vaults seized by the Ministry. Even his parents' house, what is left of it, ripped from his possession. Gone. Everything, gone.

"Prisoner 147938, the Wizengamot has found you to be a threat to Wizarding society. You will be stripped of your magic and released into the Muggle world, forbidden from re-entering the Wizarding world on penalty of death."

Harry can't help himself, he lets his gaze scan the meager crowd. He hadn't been expecting to see Hermione or the Weasleys – especially since part of the reason he is there in the first place is to protect them. It hadn't been hard to convince first the Aurors and then the Wizengamot that he'd acted entirely alone. That he had some deep well of power that had allowed him to defeat Voldemort and that Ron and Hermione and everyone else were just superfluous side-kicks. He'd read in their faces what they'd wanted to hear, and from the beginning he'd known that they wouldn't stop, wouldn't accept anything short of "neutralizing an unstable and unpredictable high-level wizard," as the official Auror reports had called him.

They were too scared that he could become the next Dark Lord, too afraid of a boy who had managed to do what no one, not even the great Albus Dumbledore, had been able to do. Surely someone with that much power would eventually go bad, everyone had said. It had happened so fast – he'd been in Auror custody not even 24 hours after Voldemort's death – that Harry wondered if there had been a plan in place all along about what to do with him if he actually managed to succeed.

Kingsley Shacklebolt is still droning on, and Harry continues his slow perusal of the crowd, noting only a few faces he recognizes in the group. When his eyes light on two familiar blond heads, he can't stop himself from stiffening in surprise. What shocks him even more is the fact that Draco meets and holds his gaze, grey eyes solemn and composed, throughout the rest of the ridiculous ceremony. They never waver, even as the spells are incanted and Harry falls to his knees, body trembling as his magic is forcibly ripped from his body, leaving him pale and sweaty as the shock of the loss reverberates through his entire being.

The crowd disperses quickly after that, and when Harry finally looks up again after being violently sick on the stone pavers, Draco Malfoy and his mother are nowhere to be seen. Harry swallows back another burst of bile, his heart pounding wildly in his chest, seemingly working overtime to make up for the loss of his magic. He staggers to his feet with the help of two surprisingly gentle guards, allowing them to pull him along until they reach the warden's office.

Mrs. Weasley is there, and for one breathless moment Harry allows himself to wonder if he's not to be set out on his own after all. But one look at her tear-streaked face is enough to disabuse him of that notion, and he manages a shaky smile for her, his green eyes pleading with her to stay silent, not to say anything. He doesn't want to remember her as this shadow of herself, lost in her grief over Fred's death and torn to pieces over Harry's sentence. Her wail at his trial has haunted him for weeks, and he wants to replace it with memories of her presiding over her kitchen, knitting needles flying, pots bubbling on the range.

Mrs. Weasley nods, awkwardly thrusting a package wrapped in brown paper across the warden's desk. It has quite obviously been opened and thoroughly searched, but Harry doesn't care. He takes it with shaking hands, peeling back the torn paper to reveal a thick jumper, devoid of his initials because those are no longer his. Underneath are a pair of sturdy-looking jeans and several pairs of socks and T-shirts, as well as a battered backpack he knows once belonged to Charlie and a pair of boots that look newer than anything he's ever seen any of the Weasleys wear. They must have cost a mint, and he almost refuses the gift before the ridiculousness of that sentiment hits him. Instead, he gathers them close to his body, eyes misting with a fine sheen of tears as he nods in Mrs. Weasley's direction. He doesn't trust his voice enough to speak, so he doesn't. And she seems to understand, her hand pressed against her lips to choke back a sob as she watches him shuffle back through the door and toward the waiting boat.

His escorts – four burly Aurors and two prison guards, a bit overkill for an undernourished seventeen year old who can barely stand on his own at the moment, Harry thinks – take him as far as King's Cross Station, which he finds to be a bit absurd, given the fact that he has no means with which to purchase a ticket and nowhere to go even if he did. There's a bit of delicious irony in the fact that his journey into the magical world has both started and stopped at King's Cross, though, and he lets himself smirk as they shove him through the entrance, casting hostile glances at him as they watch him make his way deeper into the station.

He wanders through the rush-hour crowd aimlessly. It's as good a place as any to be, he supposes, and he figures he can find a corner bench to rest on until the station's guards realize he's not a passenger and chuck him out into the street.

He sits there, watching commuters bustle by, simply enjoying the crush of the crowd. The station is a bit overwarm, even for July, and he carefully peels off his jumper, tucking it into the worn backpack. He'd been surprised to find that despite his careful count, he'd been off by several weeks. The date was actually July 31, his eighteenth birthday. It made sense, he supposed. As of today, he was officially of age in the Muggle world. No longer considered a child, and no longer protected as one, either.

He doesn't move from his perch for hours, long after his back aches and his arse begins to feel bruised from the unforgiving wood. Though he'd taken great pains to conceal it, the long walk through Diagon Alley and to King's Cross had brought him nearly to the point of collapse. His leg muscles, atrophied from disuse after more than two months in his tiny cell and further weakened by the devastating loss of his magic, are still quivering and cramping from the exertion. Which is why when his name is suddenly called, Harry is surprised by the way he manages to jump to his feet, whirling around while his right hand fruitlessly grasps for the wand he will never wield again.

"Potter!" the blond says, panting slightly with exertion. "Thank Merlin. We've been all over London. Mother and I had no idea where they would take you. We thought they'd release you outside the Ministry, or at your relatives' home."

Harry stares at Draco in disbelief, blinking slowly as he watches the other boy reach out to take the backpack Harry has slung protectively across his chest. It's his only possession now, and he's willing to guard it with his life if necessary.

"Potter?" Draco says, faltering slightly. He ducks his head, bringing his face even with the shorter boy's. "Do you understand what I'm saying? Do you know who I am?"

Harry's jaw snaps shut at the implication that he's been left addled by his stay in Azkaban and the loss of his magic.

"I know who you are, Malfoy. I just don't understand why you're here."

Draco pauses, letting his outstretched hand drop to his side. He sidles a bit closer, moving much like someone confronted with a wild animal might – no big movements, eyes slightly downcast and hands held purposefully open.

"I'm here to take you home with me," he says, and Harry's brow furrows.

"Malfoy, the W-W-W –"

Harry's ability to talk about the Wizarding world has been stripped along with his magic, and he stammers over the word for what seems like ages before Draco catches on and stops him.

"The Wizengamot's ruling pertained only to your friends, and we have –" he falters, an almost apologetic smile on his lips. Harry blinks, because it's not an expression he's ever seen on the blond's face. "– we have never been friends. Mother had our solicitors go over everything, and they agree. There is nothing to prevent us from taking you in."

"But I'm not allowed back into the Wi-wi–" Harry lets out a frustrated growl, hands fisting in the fabric of the backpack. "That world."

"And you won't be," Draco says, favoring Harry with a brilliant smile that makes Harry's breath stutter. "Mother and I have rather tired of the Wizarding world. We've decided to retire to one of our Muggle properties in the south of France for a few years."

A few years. Harry swallows, the implications of Draco's words clear. The Malfoys are offering him a safe refuge where he can live out the rest of his life, shortened as it will be. As an alternative to a life on the streets, it's brilliant. As a practical solution, it's not.

"I can't allow you and your mother to take the risk, though I appreciate your offer," Harry says stiffly, the words sounding choked and formal even to him.

"It isn't an offer, it's a demand," Draco says, and for the first time since his arrival at King's Cross, Harry hears the condescending tone he usually associates with the blond. It's comforting, in a way. Familiar.

Harry balks when Draco grabs his arm, apparently deciding that gentle and reasonable is no longer the right approach. Harry's weak struggles don't deter him in the slightest, and when Harry realizes just how powerless he is without his magic, he fairly collapses against the blond's chest, hot tears of frustration running down his cheeks. It's the first time he's cried since his arrest, and once he starts, he's unable to stop.

"There now, Potter," Draco murmurs against the shell of his ear, wrapping his arms around the other boy's too-thin shoulders. "Was that so hard?"

And without a thought for the Statute of Secrecy or his own precarious position as someone who is soon-to-be-harboring a fugitive, he Apparates them on the spot.

August 15, 2006

"Oh, Harry," Hermione murmurs, eyes puffy with tears. She lays a hand against the mahogany coffin, stroking its carefully polished surface with the pad of her thumb.

She lets out a quiet sob when a pair of arms, too thin but strong all the same, come up to envelop her, pulling her back against a warm wool-clad chest. The suit is wrong for the season, but it's borrowed anyway, so it hardly matters. He's never owned a proper Muggle suit in his life, and he doesn't intend to start now.

"Oh, sweetheart," she whispers, feeling the silent sobs that wrack the body holding hers. She turns in his loose embrace, her arms automatically rising to wrap around his shaking shoulders as she buries her face in scratchy fabric. "He'd have hated this suit, you know. It's utterly vile."

Harry chokes out a laugh, the tight ball in his chest loosening a bit. She's right. Draco would havehated the suit. It's part of the reason he'd worn it. He knows it's petty, but it's the only revenge he can take on the stupid, exasperating, beautiful man that they're all gathered to mourn.

"I can't believe what he did," Harry says hoarsely, grief making his throat constrict. It feels a bit like the cloying pressure of the pneumonia that had nearly killed him – should have killed him – but didn't, all because of Draco.

"You couldn't have known what he was planning," Hermione says, resting a hand against his cheek. She smiles a bit as the stubble scratches her palm; Draco hated it when Harry wasn't clean-shaven, even going as far as to shave Harry himself when the other man had been too sick to do it.

"He had no right– "

"He had every right," Narcissa says quietly, gliding up behind Harry with an almost ethereal grace. He'd come to love her over the years, to understand her in ways he'd never imagined he would, but today she looked every bit the part of the glacial Malfoy matriarch that the rest of the world knew her as.

"Narcissa," Harry says, his voice breaking. She'd been quiet since Draco's death three days earlier, and Harry had assumed she'd been blaming him, just as he was blaming himself. "Narcissa, I would never have asked –"

Hermione steps away to give them at least some semblance of privacy, and Harry's arms fall loosely to his sides when they're not wrapped around her, as though he doesn't know what to do, how to bewithout someone there holding onto him. It's possible he doesn't. It's been months since he was strong enough to stand to casually, years since he had such fluid command over his body. In all that time, Draco had been a constant by his side, providing comfort and support, and without him, Harry is lost. But while the pallid gauntness of the terminally ill still hangs about him, the frailty is gone. His limbs are thin, but strong. His eyes are haunted, but bright. Alive.

"It was his to offer, and now it is yours to accept," she says quietly, her back ramrod straight even though Harry can see the way her shoulders ache to bend and hunch, to curl up into herself in her grief.

"Harry, he loved you. He loved you, and he gave you something unimaginably precious." She startles Harry by reaching out suddenly, her slim fingers wrapping around his wrist. In the eight years he has lived with her, she has never touched him this casually. He wonders idly if Narcissa even realizes she's doing it, or if it's her magic that has her reaching out, instinctively drawn to Draco's, which pulses through Harry's body with a noticeable rhythm that he can feel even now, three days after the dark ritual that sacrificed Draco's life for his own, bringing him back from the edge of death by taking away the only thing he considered worth living for. Hadn't Draco known that, Harry wonders? Hadn't he told him enough, shown him enough, that he was the most important thing in Harry's life?

"He was unimaginably precious," Harry whispers, his voice so soft that it's barely more than a drawn-out breath. But Narcissa hears him, and she squeezes his wrist slightly, her eyes just a bit wild.

"So are you. Draco thought so, and I won't let you forget it," she answers, her voice low and full of emotion.

Harry swallows hard, a stab of grief running through him so sharp that he sways, his knees nearly buckling. The light fixtures hanging from the ceiling tremble a bit, pieces of plaster raining down and coating the shoulders of Harry's too-big suit coat like a fine dusting of snow. Narcissa's grip on his wrist tightens, and he shuffles in place a bit, bending his knees until he doesn't feel quite so light-headed. He's forgotten what it feels like to have magic, and it's both terrifying and fabulous at once.

Harry looks around the crowded room, overwhelmed at what he sees. Draco's friends, people he'd all but abandoned when he chose to harbor Harry in exile, are milling around in posh designer clothes, all obviously comfortable with dressing as Muggles, which surprises him. His own friends, whom he'd written to often over the years – or rather, whom Draco had written to, since contact with Harry had been forbidden – move far more awkwardly, unsure of their place at the funeral of a not-quite-friend. They'd all risked so much to be there for him, and he is staggered at the show of support and more than a little overwhelmed at seeing them after so long, even if the circumstances are horrendous.

Draco had been able to restore Harry's health and his magic, but it hadn't been able to do a thing about his exile, which is why they were burying Draco like a common Muggle in the sleepy little French coastal town they'd made their home for nearly a decade. Harry had argued for Narcissa to take Draco's body home to Britain, to bury him in the Malfoy family tomb and give him the Wizarding funeral he deserved, but she wouldn't hear of it. Funerals are for the living, she'd told Harry. And there's no one living who Draco would want at his funeral more than you had been the unspoken undertone of her message, but he'd received it loud and clear. And he'd been grateful. So very, very grateful, that the Wizarding world wasn't stealing this from him as well.

Funerals are for the living. The words roll around in his mind, bringing with them a kind of hysteria. The living. He hasn't truly considered himself among that category since he'd entered Azkaban more than eight years earlier. Meeting Narcissa's gaze, Harry twists his wrist, dislodging her hand enough so he can slide his fingers between hers. A small smile lifts the corners of her mouth, and for the first time in almost a decade, Harry thinks about the future.