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Update: I don't know how many times I've rewritten this chapter...so let's just be lazy and call this version 5.0 :)
I'm not sure what happened
But here I am alone
Trying to find a way
To find a reason that you're gone
I don't know if I'm shaking from the rhythm of these wheels
Or if it's my heart breaking, and this is how it feels
This is how it feels
The air was hot and unbearably stifling in the Hogwarts Train Station and the unusual surplus of people did nothing to help the matter. Harry, Ron, and Hermione stood in a tightly knit triangle, trying their best to push their way towards the train. It didn't seem to be working. The crowd was thick, and bodies were pressed together like magnets. The atmosphere was one of tethered frenzy—students and teachers alike were scrambling to board the train, desperately wanting to escape the dark mood that had hovered over the castle ever since the final battle. Harry shuddered, trying to block it from his mind.
He was just glad that no one was trying to talk to them. There had been enough talk at the funerals and half-hearted celebrations. Too much talk. Too many woeful apologies, and superficial congratulations that did nothing but grate his already agitated nerves. With Voldemort dead, nobody knew what to do with him. What Harry did—they didn't know how to take it. They didn't know what it meant, and to make matters worse, Harry didn't know what it meant either.
The truth was, there were some pains ran too long, and cut too deep. A part of Voldemort has existed in him for his whole life, but now that tie was severed. Voldemort was dead. And somehow he'd thought that afterwards…everything would be different. He thought that he would be able to look at the world—at his life—and see it in a new light. He thought there would be more…hope. But there wasn't. All there was now was the dark unknown.
Twenty minutes of frustrated maneuvering saw them on the Hogwarts Express in a private compartment that McGonagall had sympathetically arranged for them. The three threw themselves down on the cushioned benches; Ron and Hermione huddled close together with Harry sitting across.
Hermione laid her head on Ron's shoulder (Ron had finally asked her out about a week ago, much to Harry's relief). "Thank Merlin we're finally going home! A nice summer at the Burrow should really freshen everything up."
Ron frowned. "Yeah, as long as Rita Skeeter doesn't figure out that Harry's staying there. She's going to want to interview him, and you know the kind of things she writes when she doesn't get what she wants."
Exasperated, Harry sank lower into his seat. Hermione lifted her head to shoot Ron a glare, but the redhead didn't appear to notice. Shaking out her curls with a huff, she leaned in towards Harry, trying her best to smile. "This summer is going to be great. You'll see. We're finally free of…all of this."
Something in Harry's stomach clenched. His jaw tightened and he turned his face towards the window, biting his tongue to hold back the spiteful replies that were swirling through his mind.
"Harry?" Hermione asked gently.
Ron grabbed her by the arm. "Leave him, Hermione," he hissed in her ear, noticing Harry's foul mood.
It was a hard thing not to notice. After Lupin's funeral, something inside Harry had snapped. It felt like a lie. All of it. Everything. Sitting here and talking like this. Acting like everything was ok—that the war being over would just reset the world like flipping over an hourglass. They'd lost so much along the way—so many friends that should be here now but inexplicably weren't. And what did other people know about it? What did people like Hermione know about how Teddy's life was going to be like growing up without parents, or how Lavender Brown's parents were going to handle the death of their only child. The ripples of this war didn't end here, and they weren't going to end for a long time. Ginny knew. He'd seen it in her eyes at Fred's funeral. He'd seen that dark, despairing tint in her eyes and it had been like looking into a mirror.
A sharp, abrupt knock broke the silence of their compartment. They turned towards the door in unison, exchanging questioning glances. McGonagall had said that they wouldn't be bothered in here. The knock sounded again, a little more forcefully this time.
Hermione gave Ron an expectant poke in the ribs. Ron glowered at her, and muttered a rather impressive string of curses as he rose to his feet. He clambered over to the compartment door and slid it open.
Harry saw Ron's face turn several shades of red before paling dramatically. "What the hell are you doing here, Malfoy?" he spat.
At the sound of Malfoy's name, Harry felt his lip curl down in an instinctive snarl. He leaned forward in order to better see the intruding Slytherin.
"Manners, Weasel," Malfoy sneered coldly. "And it's none of your business why I'm here. I need to talk to Potter."
"Harry doesn't want to see you!" Ron hissed, his fists balling menacingly.
Harry saw Malfoy's face darken. "What are you, Weasley, his mother? If Potter doesn't want to talk to me then let him tell me himself." Malfoy pushed past Ron into the compartment, his flint grey eyes immediately finding Harry's.
"I need to speak with you, Potter." Malfoy lifted his chin, clearly expecting his order to be followed without any further delay.
Harry's eyes shifted from Ron, who was practically quaking with anger, to Hermione, who was bravely attempting to restrain her boyfriend, back to Malfoy, who was looking strangely nervous.
Harry straightened in his seat. "Get lost, Malfoy."
The Slytherin's jaw tightened visibly. "You can't just—"
"How dare you!" Harry leapt to his feet, finding some freedom in the anger that rose in him. "Barging into our compartment, and demanding an audience with me! What makes you think that I would ever want to talk to you about anything?"
Malfoy turned his head, his features blank and unreadable. "Potter," he said softly, so that only Harry could hear. "You think I want to do this? I wouldn't have come if it wasn't important." Malfoy looked at him then, and Harry felt the heat in his chest go cold. The Slytherin looked so different now than when Harry had first met him all those years ago. There was something fundamentally different about him—something that had stripped him down and laid him bare. His face was peeled of its childish arrogance, only to be replaced with an expression that held whispers of a darkness Harry was almost intimately familiar with.
Harry averted his eyes, unable to stand the connection a moment longer. He didn't like feeling similar to Malfoy in any way, shape or form. But…he couldn't deny the twinge of curiosity that was bubbling in his stomach. "Fine," he found his lips moved on their own accord, "but make it fast alright?"
His peripheral saw Ron and Hermione freeze, goggling at him, but his attention was focused solely on Malfoy, whose lips curled into the smallest of smiles. Seeming to catch himself, Malfoy twisted his face back into his usual arrogant scowl. "Good. Follow me. We can speak privately in my compartment."
"How did you manage a private compartment?" Ron asked with obvious suspicion.
"I've been sleeping with the Headmistress, didn't you know?" Malfoy replied too quickly. Nevertheless Ron and Hermione both blanched. "How do you think I got it, Weasley?" the blonde snapped. "My family and I were the only Slytherins who stayed at Hogwarts after the battle. Did you honestly think they would let us sit just anywhere? My parents of course, detest trains, so they Apparated home, leaving me with my own compartment. Now if you're completely satisfied, Potter says he wants to make our meeting a short one, and for once I agree with him."
The three Gryffindors exchanged a look. They knew perfectly well that Malfoy's parents hadn't Apparated home simply because they didn't like trains. Over the past couple of weeks, Lucius Malfoy had somehow managed to come across the kitchen's stash of ale and Firewhiskey, and had thereafter made himself habitually and incandescently drunk. The teachers hadn't really minded as long as he kept to himself, but when he had started becoming violent towards the other students, McGonagall herself had discretely escorted the two elder Malfoys off the premises.
At first Harry had wondered why she had not just sent Lucius straight off to Azkaban, but it seemed McGonagall thought Voldemort had torn enough families apart.
Malfoy, ignoring their looks, turned on his heel and strutted out of the compartment. Harry quickly followed.
The two boys walked in silence; one leading, the other following. Sooner than Harry expected, Malfoy came to a stop, made a sharp turn, and disappeared into the left compartment.
Harry stood just outside the doorway, suddenly doubting his decision to come. What if Malfoy had planned something; some sort of grand revenge? It wasn't beyond the prat to try for some sort of cheap sabotage. Harry's hand wandered down to his pocket, making sure his wand was within quick reach.
Taking a deep collecting breath, Harry entered the compartment. Malfoy was facing the window, staring distantly out at the darkening horizon. "Close the door, if you would," he said quietly, in that same sincere tone that so irked Harry's nerves.
Harry turned back to slide the door shut, and when he spun back around Malfoy was standing mere inches from him, grey eyes restlessly searching his own. With a strangled sort of noise Harry fell back against the door, his hand tightly gripping his wand.
The blonde sneered. "I'm not going to attack you, Potter. If I was going to I would have done it with your back turned."
"The cowardly way," Harry seethed.
"The smart way," Malfoy returned with a coy smile.
Malfoy was too close, much too close. Harry could barely breathe and not detect his scent of mint and spice. "What do you want, Malfoy?"
The Slytherin shifted uneasily and took a step back. "Well," he sounded choked, "you remember a couple of weeks back…in the Room of Requirement…" Malfoy trailed off, looking stern.
Malfoy took another step back, his peculiar sincerity vanishing like the sun when it parts from the day. "My mother told me what happened in the Forbidden Forest."
"She told me that you died and came back."
Harry hissed. "If you brought me here to ask me about what happened in the forest then save your sorry breath, Malfoy." With an icy glare Harry turned to leave.
"Potter!" Malfoy caught Harry by the arm. "No, wait, that's not what I wanted to talk about."
Harry tried to jerk out of the other boy's grasp, his temper flaring, "Then spit it out! I'm not going to waste the entire trip home listening to your arrogant nonsense."
Harry felt the tight pressure of Malfoy's hand leave his arm. There was a moment then where the only sound was the clacking of steel against steel as the train sped along the tracks. It seemed loud and overly straining in the otherwise silent room. "What I wanted to say was…back at Hogwarts…when we were in the Room of Requirement and Crabbe started the fire." Harry slowly began to turn back towards the blonde. "I…I was so sure that you would leave us…leave me to die there in that room." Grey met green. "But you didn't. You…you came back."
Malfoy was paler than Harry had ever seen him, as if the words he spoke brought upon him a realization that he wasn't quite able to fathom. "Why did you do it, Potter? After all the shit we've gone through…you had no reason to come back."
Harry felt his throat go tight. "Well I—I couldn't very well just leave you there to die now could I."
"Why not?" there was an undercut of pain in his tone. "I would have left you without a second thought."
"I know," Harry replied. "That's why I had to do it." Their gaze finally broke. "Now, if we're done here—"
"I owe you my life," Malfoy continued. "If it weren't for you—"
"God dammit, Potter, will you let me finish!" Malfoy snapped, his entire body trembling with effort to contain his emotion. With a deep calming breath, Malfoy extended his hand out to Harry.
The dark haired boy stared down at it blankly.
Malfoy gave an exasperated sigh. "Malfoys do not take life debts lightly."
Harry glanced up to study Malfoy's face. Finding nothing, his gaze returned to the pale artistic hand that was offered out before him. "Malfoy look, you really don't have to do this."
"This is all I have, Potter. And I know it's not enough—after everything—after all that's happened over these past seven years, I know it will never be enough. There's been too much suffering between us, and I understand that there are some things that exist between us that can never be mended, but…I don't want us to be where we are anymore. I mean, we survived, didn't we? We've been through hell, you and I, and now we're finally on the other side of it. And I want…I want to start over."
Something about those words threw Harry off kilter. His mouth opened and closed several times, but words seemed to be beyond his reach.
Harry's pulse pounded at the base of his throat, his eyes going wide. "I have to go."
Without waiting for a reply, Harry turned and bolted out of the compartment. He heard Malfoy call after him, his voice carrying down the hall and ringing in Harry's ears. That only made him go faster. He couldn't do this. The one glimmer of truth he'd felt in weeks was not going to come from the mouth of a Malfoy.
Harry slid back into the compartment where Ron and Hermione were waiting for him, his brown furrowed in amazement. What in the world had just happened?
"Harry?" Hermione's voice sounded distant. "Harry, are you alright?"
Ron stood up, grabbing Harry's shoulders firmly. "He didn't do anything to you did he, mate?"
Harry's eyes remained glued to his hand. "No." There was a short yet palpable pause. "He wanted to shake my hand actually"
Ron's hands recoiled, as if he had just touched the wrong end of a Blast-Ended Skrewt. "He wanted what?" he squeaked.
Harry plopped down in his seat in stony silence, desperately wishing he could get that grey gaze out of his head.
"Hermione quick!" Ron sputtered, horrified. "Get some disinfectant or something!"
Hermione glowered at him. "Oh hush, Ron! Harry most certainly does not need disinfectant!" She gave the redhead a demeaning look before turning to Harry. Her face immediately melted into desperation. "You are alright, aren't you Harry?"
He gave the pair a withering look. "Of course I'm alright." He forced his hand down to his side, stretching and contorting his fingers as his mind insisted on working through what shaking Malfoy's hand would've felt like.
Hermione and Ron exchanged furtive glances. Hermione leaned towards him, her eyes gleaming brightly, as they often did when she was trying to figure something out. "Will you…tell us what happened?"
Harry could tell she was trying to choose her words carefully, and figured he should do so as well. "Well," his speech was slow, thoughtful, "at first, he asked what happened in the forest—"
"That bastard." Ron muttered.
"But then…" Harry paused, replaying the scene over in his mind. "He said he wanted to start over…you know, because I saved his life and all."
Hermione frowned. "He wanted…to start over?"
Harry averted his eyes, feeling oddly embarrassed about the whole situation. He knew it sounded ridiculous.
"And you," Ron sounded confused, "said yes?"
Harry shrugged, flushing. "I sort of walked away without giving an answer."
The redhead shifted uncomfortably. "So, what does that even mean?"
Harry bit his lip. "I'm not sure." Harry gazed up at his best friend, whose eyes looked as if they were about to pop out of his skull.
Ron burst. "Well I hope he realizes there's no way that's ever going to happen! As if you would ever have anything to do with that no good, snobbish, cocky, ferret-faced, insufferable, arrogant—"
"Too many adjectives, Ron," Hermione whispered gently.
Ron rounded on her. "Hermione! Honestly! You know how nasty Malfoy is! What if this is some sort of diabolical plan for revenge or something?"
"Relax, Ron. Nothing's going to happen," Harry soothed. "He doesn't know that I'm staying with you for the summer, and I'm sure he won't be able to find Grimmauld Place. He probably just felt guilty and wanted to ease his own stupid conscience. There wasn't any truth in it." The lie nearly choked him. He looked to Hermione for backing.
Hermione hesitated at Harry's urging gaze. "He's right, Ron. There's no need to worry."
Ron made mutters of protest but fell into his seat complacently, outnumbered and defeated.
Harry offered Hermione a small thankful smile, which she promptly ignored. The three reassumed their positions prior to Malfoy's unexpected interruption, and more or less fell into silent thought.
Harry could forget this. He could forget this like he was going to forget everything else—the funerals, the tears, the open, watery eyes of Snape just before he died. The lies and the truths and everything all mucked together, he was going to forget it all, just like everyone else had seemed to.
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