Title: Shadows of a Future Passed
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this for fun and not profit.
Warnings: AU (the final battle in DH happened differently), angst, past character deaths, disturbing imagery.
Pairings: Harry/Draco preslash, mentions of Ron/Hermione and Blaise/Pansy.
Summary: Draco Malfoy comes back to teach at a Hogwarts haunted by the shade of Harry Potter, endlessly and futilely repeating his last battle with Voldemort. The other professors are convinced that nothing can be done. But Draco is not so sure. What exactly happened on that night six years ago when Potter went into the Forbidden Forest to face the Dark Lord?
Author's Notes: This is a quietly sad fic for the most part, and presumes that everything happened exactly the same up until the part in DH where Harry died, after which it went AU; Voldemort died, but so did Harry. The spelling of "Passed" in the title is deliberate. There will probably be a sequel, but maybe not.
Shadows of a Future Passed
Hogwarts was the same.
That was what struck Draco most forcibly, even as he walked down the new corridors, past the changed buttresses, and into the Headmaster's office that was now the Headmistress's, and full of gently snoring portraits and treatises on Animagi. He recognized the slow strength beneath the stones, and the thrum of the moving staircase that transported him to the office. Force of habit made him look to the side when he stepped in, expecting to see a perch where a phoenix dozed.
There was nothing there, of course, and that made it perversely easier for Draco to sit down and listen to what was new, the speech Headmistress McGonagall made recruiting him.
"We know—accomplished Potions master—no truly good Potions professor since the death of Severus Snape—Slughorn wishing to retire—so important to have good instructors for our students—"
It was so familiar, and Draco had made his decision about acceptance before he came here, before he read the owl—perhaps before he finished his training as a Potions master. But he did look up when McGonagall paused and rustled the papers in front of her, and found her deep, weary eyes fixed on him.
"The position of Head of Slytherin House is also open," she said.
Draco folded his hands on one knee and raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" he asked. And of course this was familiar, too, and he should have expected it, the moment he began thinking that he was coming back to Hogwarts to take the Potions mastery. Of course he would fill in in all ways. Of course he would be what he must be to the students who, though not struggling with the challenges of an active war, still needed someone who understood them and did not condemn them for what they were.
"Yes." McGonagall avoided his eyes and frowned at the papers in front of her as if they should have arranged themselves into a pattern that made sense. "It—it was not something that, towards the end of his tenure here, Slughorn was very eager to do." She breathed the words as though they were snowflakes that would freeze someone unsuspecting.
Draco inclined his head, and tried not to let a smile tick along the side of his jaw. He knew why Slughorn wouldn't have wanted to do it, of course. Slytherins and the children of the House didn't have near the prestige after the war that they did before, and Slughorn couldn't gain influence by influencing them. He cared most for his own comfort and future, after all.
Draco had once believed that all right-thinking people were the same way. It had taken his mother and a pair of Gryffindors who showed up, unexpectedly, to testify at his trial to teach him that there were ways and ways of being self-interested. You could pursue your own goals and still look up and about, sometimes, to help those who were younger versions of yourself and hadn't learned the important lessons.
And considering that he had learned some of what he knew from Professor Snape, that was perhaps the most familiar feeling of all.
Still, he waited until McGonagall looked at him to incline his head and said, "I would be happy to."
Life at Hogwarts was quiet.
That was one of the reasons Draco had chosen it, although he knew that Theo and Blaise and all the rest of those bright young things, his yearmates, stars in a new and rising constellation, wouldn't have accepted that rationale. They would have stared, then gone away silent and smirking, sure that Draco was working on some shadowy plan and only they would be prepared when he unleashed a brilliant new potion. Or, if he wasn't, he was broken, pathetic, wrong.
They had learned many of the same lessons that Draco had, but not all of them had taken so strongly. Draco had learned that what he wanted, most of all, at this point in his life was the opportunity to sit by a hearth in the evening and read a book that many other people had touched before him, while he sipped Firewhisky or water or the wine of his choice. To have that, one could make certain sacrifices, or ignore the world, or make the right choice. He had chosen to do the last.
Later, he might make other choices. But not now.
He had students crowding about him, of course, asking for help with potions, asking for ways to pass the NEWTS, asking for the secrets they believed he possessed about Potions mastery or the best way to succeed in the Ministry. But it was their unspoken questions that Draco listened for and answered to the best of his ability. The others, they could learn through their own reading and diligence.
He noticed when young Miss Holmes came to class late and pale and with the marks of helpless rage outstanding around her eyes, and he detained her one day to slip a small vial filled with green liquid into her hand. She stared at him, then at the vial, and her eyes shut, hard, on the tears that wanted to fill them.
Draco nodded to her and left her to it. It was up to her whether she would use the potion to rid herself of the unwanted burden growing in her womb or not, her choice in silence, and no business of his.
He noticed when Julian Ornsby, a Slytherin seventh-year, started drawing back from all his friends and spending long periods of time by himself in the dungeon corridors—not the ones where couples snogged or wildly dreaming first-years wept for home, but the ones with thicker walls than normal, the ones with old bloodstains on the walls and hammered-in rings that no amount of Transfiguration could remove. Draco waited for him in the nearest one to the Potions classroom one afternoon, and Ornsby checked his step when he saw Draco there, eyes widening.
Draco looked back at him, and saw the cracks of seamed lightning in his pupils that bespoke a dangerous level of Dark Arts practice. He handed over a small pamphlet that promised treatment for such afflictions out of a discreet shop in Diagon Alley.
After a moment, Ornsby took the pamphlet. Draco nodded and left him to it.
He noticed when three of his haughtier fifth-years came to class nursing bumps and bruises and limps, and three young Gryffindors strutted in after them, not even bothering to conceal their snickers. Draco did speak then, but only in his mind, nonverbally reciting the incantation that would tell him what spells the Gryffindors' wands had last cast. The incantations were telling enough: spells that could crack ribs and break skulls, unacceptably violent for the level of engagement promised by inter-House confrontation.
Draco didn't have to speak to them, either. He took one set of young idiots to the hospital wing, one set to the Headmistress, and avoided downcast eyes and blurting voices alike.
It was a very quiet life, and it might have stayed that way if Draco hadn't sought peace from the Quidditch tryouts one evening and passed under the trees of the Forbidden Forest, into green shadows where the branches bent together to form a tunnel and the stones sang with ancient power. He walked there for a long time, confident that the Ariadne's Thread Charm he had cast before he had departed the sunlight would lead him back to the castle no matter how far he wandered.
He came to a large, sloping clearing that led downhill, towards the nearest river, and paused to study some unusual purple flowers growing there, wondering if he had found a solution to his problem of obtaining rare red dandelions for a Silencing Potion he wanted to brew. In a pinch, hyacinth bluebells could be used in their place.
He felt a motion, he heard a shadow, and he looked up.
He found Harry Potter staring back at him.
Draco returned to his room, and a cup of hot tea liberally seasoned with Pepper-Up Potion. He sat there, in front of the fire, and stared at nothingness, and reconstructed the vision he had seen in his head as best he could.
It was not familiar. It was not expected. But it was silent.
And "vision" was the right word for it. Draco had seen Harry Potter staring at him—except he had not been staring at Draco. His eyes were locked beyond him, and he had moved forwards at a slow, awful, funeral march pace, his hair flying around him and his face bearing an expression of dreadful fascination. Draco knew instinctively that he was seeing Potter as he had been at the moment when he had gone to confront the Dark Lord.
Draco closed his eyes and swallowed a large mouthful of the tea. Then he decided that was not enough and reached for the Firewhisky.
He had looked up and to the left, following Potter's gaze, expecting to see the Dark Lord. He had not wanted to, but he had faced his fears over the years since, and the Dark Lord was undoubtedly dead; the Dark Mark that had faded to a broken grey stamp on Draco's arm six years ago argued that. He would look now, and test his courage in the hardest fire he could find.
But there had been no Dark Lord visible, no waiting crowd of Death Eaters, no bubbling cauldron of evil. Potter had simply walked forwards and stood there, wide-eyed, shaking. Then he had fallen over at the touch of an invisible spell and lain there, his head lolling to the side and his eyes wide now with death.
As Draco watched, his mouth thick and warm with salt, Potter's body had vanished. A moment later, the vision of him had appeared on the far side of the slope, some paces back from where Draco had first seen him, once again marching to his doom.
The Firewhisky was not enough. Draco stood and sought for a Calming Draught, swallowing it the instant the vial touched his lips.
And again he had died, while Draco watched. And again.
He had spoken Potter's name. He had shouted. He had cast several jinxes in the way of the march, including spells that should affect ghosts. He had brought up several memories of times he had tormented Potter when they were both alive.
According to all the rules he knew, Potter should have been able to interact with mortals, even as a ghost. The castle was full of the dead who did so. Oh, they might bear the marks of their demise, as both the Bloody Baron and the ridiculous Gryffindor ghost did, but they spoke and thought about other things. They did not live over their deaths again and again, doing nothing else.
Draco reminded himself that Potter's shade was likely unconscious of his situation. That was not the living Potter. That was some fragment of him, some memory caught in an endless loop of death.
It was still appalling.
Draco drank and stared into the fire, and reminded himself that this was none of his affair. The staff was likely aware of Potter's situation—or the situation of that forgotten fragment of Potter's soul, since it was of course not the real boy who walked the woods—and had tried their mightiest to help him already. Draco was the youngest Potions master in history, and between them, McGonagall and Flitwick and the rest must contain enough knowledge to rescue ten dozen shades. That they could not rescue this one meant the Dark Lord's magic lingered in that clearing. Draco knew from personal experience that he could not stand against that, either.
So. Nothing to be done. He would tend to the living, as he had done well so far (the Headmistress had congratulated him on the smooth teaching of his classes and the way that students in Slytherin House were happier and calmer since he had come to be their Head) and leave the fragments of the dead to their marching.
It would be simpler that way.
But the next morning, he broke his vow of silence and acceptance and turned to McGonagall. "What is it that moves through the woods where Potter died?" he asked. Still quietly, so she didn't have to involve anyone else in the conversation she didn't want to involve, but still pointedly enough that she could not ignore it.
McGonagall coughed, and dabbed at her lips with a napkin. Her ears had turned red, Draco saw in astonishment, and she seemed to have traces of red around her eyes, as well, from time spent weeping. She took a long breath and stared straight ahead, then lowered her eyes to her hands.
"We have tried," she whispered. "We don't know what it is. You-Know-Who and Mr. Potter…something happened in their meeting we don't understand. Something that leaves that poor boy reliving the event again and again. But no one can help him, and no one can turn him aside." She lowered her head and struggled against tears, and for a moment, Draco was certain she would break down at the table.
He handed her another napkin, holding it up to screen her face from the curious students, and nodded. "Who have you called in?"
"Only the professors here." Already McGonagall's tide of emotion had receded. She took the napkin from him with a curt nod and blew her nose. "We should have sought expert help, perhaps, but…we were worried about what would happen if the news spread."
Draco allowed his mouth to flex sideways briefly as he nodded. Yes, he saw. The flight of flocks of reporters onto the Hogwarts grounds, attempts by the Ministry to declare the site a national monument and memorial, eager interviews with those who would claim to have seen the battle with their own eyes while transformed into a bat Animagus and hanging from a branch in the Forbidden Forest. The children at the school deserved more privacy and a better education than could take place in such circumstances.
Perhaps Potter deserved more privacy than that, as well.
"If you will permit me," he said, and left the rest of the sentence hanging until the Headmistress looked up at him again, "I would like to look into the cause of the shade. I have an interest in necromancy."
McGonagall's eyes could have burned Rome. "A theoretical interest, I trust."
Draco nodded. The Ministry had banned necromancy three hundred years ago. "But it might be enough to learn what it would take to dissipate the haunting."
"Well." McGonagall stared at her plate again, and used her fork to push a few flakes of food around. Draco entertained himself mentally with the sharp words she would probably use to her students if she caught them doing that. "Yes, you may," she said, with a sigh that seemed to come from deep in her lungs. "I never thought I would be granting permission for something like this, I thought Potter would outlive us all, but since he didn't, the least he merits is peace."
Again, she had to use her napkin to dab at her face. Draco was polite enough to look away.
"And how hard is it, after all, to shut yourself up inside that damp and windy school at the end of the world?"
"Blaise." Draco laid aside the book of necromantic magic he had been consulting and nodded as politely to his best friend as he could. Blaise's firecalls had enlivened his weekends since he began teaching at Hogwarts, but they had never been so little welcome as now. Draco had to snatch moments like these, when he was not actually marking essays, to work on the Potter mystery. He knew Blaise could remain talking for an hour at least, and that was an hour—
Wasted? Surely not. Many people had tried to settle Potter to rest before now, and as strangely as that silent march through the forest had touched Draco, it would make no great matter if Potter did it for another few weeks or months. He shook his head and focused more fully on Blaise, noting the tight lines in his cheeks and the gleam hidden in the backs of his eyes. "What is it?" he asked, allowing his eyebrows to rise.
"I proposed today," Blaise said. "And Pansy accepted me."
Draco smiled, and wondered if it looked to Blaise, the way it felt to him, that the smile was crumpling his features like the stretching of a newspaper soaked in water. "Congratulations," he said, and reached for the Firewhisky sitting on the table next to him. "I'd toast you, but I'm afraid that I can't muster up that much enthusiasm." He filled a glass and held it up limply so Blaise could see.
Blaise was too well-bred to actually let laugh lines take root in his face, but he grinned and leaned on something Draco couldn't see through the small line of vision in the green flames. "It's what I want," he said. "Children. A wife. A family." He paused, and Draco felt the change in the air in time to anticipate what was coming, not avoid it. "Someone might wonder when you're going to want the same things, Draco."
"Wanting isn't achieving," Draco said, with a faint shrug. "The newly betrothed are insufferable for exactly that reason. They forget that they would join the ranks of the people they despise if one word had been different."
Blaise only smirked at him. Then the smirk slid off his face, and he snapped his fingers. "I thought that you were only doing this to spite your father's memory," he said. "The Potions mastery, coming back to teach at Hogwarts, all of it. But I should have realized who you were really imitating. You sounded exactly like him, just now."
"Who?" Draco took a sip of the whisky, and tried not to think about his father. Draco and his mother had reached safety in the mad chaos that followed the twin deaths of Potter and the Dark Lord; Narcissa had stood close enough to the bodies to realize what had happened before anyone else, and she had fled, found Draco in the castle, and broke him free. But his father had remained behind, and died at either a Death Eater's wand or because of an overzealous Gryffindor. Draco would never know, not for certain. There were still many who had served at the Dark Lord's side and bore Lucius a grudge for the favor he had once enjoyed. Draco saw no reason to worry about it, not when he had a father to mourn and a life to live.
"Professor Snape." Blaise still didn't speak that name too loudly, as befitted one who had been part of the last class of seventh-year Slytherins under Snape's leadership. He leaned forwards. "When are you going to let it go, Draco? You don't owe him anything."
Draco shook his head. What he owed Snape—what Snape had told him that night after the Astronomy Tower when they had fled the school, and what he had seen Snape do and achieve during the year he was Headmaster—remained private. "I came here because I wanted to," he said. "Because I can do good here, and keep Slytherin students from being abused and despised and neglected."
Blaise snorted. "You can't have good memories of that place."
"You think I have better memories of the Manor?"
Blaise paused, then inclined his head. "My apologies, Draco," he murmured. "Of course not. I misspoke." He paused again, then said, "But I still wonder when you're going to find a wife, and secure the future. The future, not the past," he added, before Draco could open his mouth to correct him.
This is why he's my best friend, Draco reminded himself. Because he knows the objections I could make before I make them. It didn't feel like the best thing to be reminded of, at the moment. Draco sniffed and said, "I'm only twenty-four. I have more than a hundred years of life left in me, even with luck as poor as a Gryffindor's. And you know mine is much better than that. One could infer that you are the one who seems to be rushing into marriage."
Blaise gave him an infuriating smile, and shook his head. "You aren't fool enough to pretend that, Draco. I'm doing exactly as I should be, living the life that would have been yours if the war hadn't marked you."
Draco drew back his left sleeve and showed Blaise the faded scar on his forearm. "Yes," he said. "Some are more Marked than others."
Blaise swallowed, and made some excuse to leave the conversation soon after that. Draco leaned back in his chair, sipped his Firewhisky, and shook his head.
He knew that his friends had concerns. His mother had concerns. Even some of the Potions masters who had trained him cast him looks out of the corners of their eyes and spoke in circumlocutions of bright stars that burned out too soon and young men who achieved their heart's desire and had no other roads to travel. On some levels, he could acknowledge, they were right.
But it did not matter. He was where he wanted to be. That might not be the same place in a year or two, but if so, he was the one who would make the decision.
He had gone year after year without the ability to make his own decisions. There had been his father to impress, and the chains of tradition on his actions, and his mother to impress, and his professors to obey, and the war to survive and the Dark Lord to appease. Now, the means and the desire were both in his grasp at the same time.
If he was reliving Professor Snape's life, he still had more choice than that bitter hero had done.
His gaze strayed back to the book of necromantic magic, and he picked it up again. He had come back here in part to offer more choices to others, and that meant the Slytherin students and Potter's shade. Freedom or laying to rest, whatever the solution to the shade's silent progress was, he would find it.
Draco stepped out from beneath the tree and lifted his wand, breathing into the silent air, "Ver fallax."
The air around him trembled and changed, flushing with warmth outwards from his body, like a rose coming into flower. Draco stepped out of the way as invisible petals extended past him, and he would have fancied he felt the brush of thorns as well, but he knew the spell did not take the form of a rose; that was only his imagination. He had learned, early and quickly, that his imagination mattered less than reality.
He turned his head to the side, and watched the half-withered autumn grass spring up, green. The warmth flooded the entire clearing, and small white flowers and blue poked their heads out of hiding. The ditch nearby, a dusty crack in the earth, filled with the scent and light and motion of running water. Draco could hear the shy coos of birds and the strident sound of bees from hidden thickets.
He stepped back, a faint smile on his face, the largest tribute to his own excellence that he ever allowed. The book had suggested that a shade trapped in a memory might be brought to notice a human during the time of its death. But Potter had died in May, and it would be months before Draco could try the book's method. The False Spring Spell, though, made this clearing look as it would during that season. Draco thought it at least worth a try to see how the shade responded.
He turned his head, and saw the orange and gold of sunset smoldering, confined, beyond the trees. He nodded. It was also near sunset that Potter had died, and McGonagall had told him that seemed to be the trigger of the memory. Potter's shade would appear and walk across the clearing from the moment of sunset until the last traces of the light vanished. It was one reason that no students, as far as she knew, had yet discovered the shade's existence: few of them were in the Forbidden Forest during that hour, and superstitious reverence would prevent most of them from coming this way at the best of times.
That, and the fact that the school was closed for three years, Draco thought critically, stepping back and watching the shade pop into being. Potter still had color, black of his hair and green of his eyes and silver of his desperate glasses, but he was transparent, Draco able to see the clearing and the smallest twig through him.
The way the world became with his going. Transparent, wavering, not as worth living in it as it was before.
Draco shook his head to banish the thought. He was here to lay Potter's shade to rest if he could, not indulge his own neuroses. He watched the shade and waited patiently for it to cross into the area affected by the False Spring. Draco had chosen to sacrifice a larger spread of area in the hopes that the effect produced in a smaller region might be more intense.
The shade glided forwards, more graceful than Potter had ever been in life—except on a broom, Draco had to admit. He was walking, one could clearly count all his steps, but he stepped over obstacles no longer present, leading to an impression of floating. Draco found that he held his breath and released it in a flood, irritated.
The shade passed within the circle of the False Spring spell.
A bewildering array of impressions struck Draco—sensations, emotions, a blast of color and light and sound and taste that hit his eyes and ears and tongue all at the same time. He staggered, and then sat down hard on his arse in the grass. The first thought that came to mind, when he could think, was that he hoped none of his students had followed him and been nearby to see him fall. They would be less than impressed when he tried to make himself intimidating in the future.
He sat on the grass for a long time. The shade continued walking along its predestined path, again and again. The round took four minutes and thirty seconds to complete, Draco discovered. He had the time to count as he sat there, trying to come to terms with what he had seen, what he had heard.
The False Spring spell had long faded by the time he stirred, and he walked back to Hogwarts in autumn, alone.
Draco pulled his head out of the Pensieve and held it still above the basin, so that any silvery drops of liquid which clung to his hair would fall back in. He did not know the effect of scattering fat drops of memory into the corners of his quarters, but he did not fancy finding out, either.
He had thought the strange effect of the spell would be clarified when he put the memory in a Pensieve and let it play back. And it had become clearer, but it had not made any more sense, at the end.
Frowning, Draco moved back and sat down in his favorite chair. The memory came with him when he flicked his wand. He might use a Pensieve, but he would never leave one standing full again. His aunt had found one full of memories of torture after one of the sessions in which the Dark Lord had used him, viewed the images, and mocked him for not being able to stand a little blood and pain.
Draco had to acknowledge that he was unlikely ever to live in a house with a madwoman again, considering the way his life was tending, but this was another choice he had the power to make, and so did.
He closed his eyes, and the memory settled into his head in transparent coils, this time telling him what was there, instead of merely the impressions he had received.
Potter stood in the middle of an immense, white room shrouded in drifting fog. Draco could not see the walls, but he had the feeling it didn't matter. The very nature of the place was change, and if Potter had decided it was the Gryffindor common room or the Headmaster's office or even King's Cross station, that was what it would have been.
He cradled something in his arms, and stared at it with hideous, hopeless despair. Then he set it down on the ground and backed away from it, drawing his wand.
Draco grimaced. He knew what he had seen, now, but it made no more pleasant a memory than the image of Charity Burbage being devoured by Nagini.
The thing resembled a skinned child. It wailed in a greedy voice and looked up with the Dark Lord's eyes. Pain shimmered through Draco, and he realized, later, that he had seized his left forearm in a strong grip.
"How can I leave you like this?" Potter whispered. His hand was shaking on the wand. It was the first time Draco had heard his voice in six years, and he blinked, struck by how young it sounded. Or perhaps it sounded the way it always had, and he didn't understand because he had been that age himself when he last heard it. "I can't. I would always worry you would return to the real world. The part of myself, the piece of myself. I think the rest of me has to stay here to guard you."
And he began to create cages and fences around the piece of the Dark Lord—that was the only thing that made sense for it to be, although Draco figured it out later, not at the time—that built up higher and higher, and drowned out the sight of the horrible thing, and the sound of its wailing cries. Potter continued backing further and further away, looking sick. Then he sat down and vomited on the floor. Draco thought the shaking of his shoulders might have changed into sobbing at some point, but he honestly didn't know. He did know that he wanted to get as far away as possible, and backing up seemed to do that.
The vision blew away. Once again, he was sitting in the clearing where he had seen Potter's shade walking to his death, and trying to understand what he had seen.
Now, he thought he did. It was true that he could not be absolutely sure of his conclusions, but if he denied them because of the desire for knowledge that he might never gain, then he should give up now. There were too many possibilities, and no way to dismiss them all. He had to assume that some things were true, and work from there.
That was a vision Potter had had. Draco was almost certain of it. Well, perhaps it was the Dark Lord's vision, but then part of it would surely have come from a different perspective. Draco would have been able to see what the skinned child was doing in the center of its maze of barriers, instead of seeing only what Potter had chosen to raise.
All right. So Potter had gone to his death in some other place. Perhaps the force of the Killing Curse from the Dark Lord's wand, used against Potter but slaying them both, meant their souls were cast out of their bodies and they finished their deaths, their confrontation, on the spiritual plane instead of the real world.
Draco tilted his head back and opened his eyes so he was looking at the plain grey ceiling of his quarters instead of simply the back of his eyelids.
All right. So, what did that mean? Should Draco assume he could call Potter's shade back to life by manipulating his surroundings so they looked like that vision, rather than the time of year in which he had died? But then, if Potter's spirit had migrated to some other place, the Hogwarts staff were right that the shade was only a mindless memory, a sort of insane genius loci, not a piece of Potter. Draco would be foolish to spend time and effort to stop the haunting when there was no mind there to reason with.
Again, assumptions. He had to make some, and this seemed to be a harmless one. He would assume he could contact Potter's spirit, that the vision meant something, and that Potter was not beyond reach forever, and go from there.
That meant he had to think more carefully about the words Potter had spoken to the fragment of the Dark Lord.
I think the rest of me has to stay here to guard you.
That would, indeed, argue that Potter had voluntarily exiled his spirit to the place Draco had seen in the vision, odd as that would make him. But if it was a voluntary exile, did that mean he was not truly dead? That he had chosen to die?
And what did it matter to the argument that Potter's body had indeed been recovered? They had buried it with so much honor that Draco's mouth felt filled with sugar simply remembering the funeral. If Potter's spirit was gone, then his abandoned body made sense, but how did it connect to the shade? There should be no impression left on the world if Potter had chosen to go into that dream-world and take the fragment of the Dark Lord with him.
Draco rubbed the back of his neck. He suspected he knew where this investigation was carrying him, inevitably: straight into the heart of the necromantic practice that he had promised McGonagall he wouldn't pursue.
If I must?
That thought caused him to rein up hard. He was trying to be a good Potions master, a good Head of Slytherin House. Who did he owe, beyond that? Why did he have to pull Potter back to the world, the way his thoughts insisted he did?
Frowning, Draco stood and went to bed. He had an unruly class to teach in the morning and had to have a fresh mind for it.
And it would do him good to think about something other than Potter for once—especially because the boy had, when alive, had so few thoughts to spare for him.
As Draco knew he would, he ended up back out in the Forest again, gazing at the clearing where Potter's shade would march in a few hours, come sunset. This was the only mystery he had encountered at Hogwarts in his second tenure here, and he wished a mystery to solve. The hearts of his students and the secrets of potions opened too easily to his probing eyes. He would learn how to tame Potter and bring his spirit back to the world, or he would—
Draco paused, and felt his smile flicker on his face.
A neat ending that would be to the problem of a life that, according to his friends, was too constrained, bound by study and his homage to Professor Snape.
But he loved his life, and did not consider it a problem, and did not wish to give it up. He paced in a slow circle around the clearing, watching the grass and the roots and the soft sides of it, and considered, again, what he knew.
This was a problem, if he liked, the problem of why Potter would have sacrificed himself willingly and yet march in agony. For shades came back because of agony. That, at least, all the authorities Draco could find, necromantic and not, were agreed on. They were not like ghosts, who might return from indignation or pride as much as agony and often found new emotions of joy in their incorporeal existence. Something had bound Potter here and told him to march each day, and so he did.
No shade for the Dark Lord, though.
Draco paused. A thought so significant should have struck him a good deal earlier. Perhaps it had not because of the conscious effort that he made to avoid thinking about the Dark Lord at all.
But because he had to, he dug down into his memory and, grimacing, found the drifting thoughts he had been avoiding. The Dark Lord had stood tall and proud, his mother said, and cast the Killing Curse without a flinch. He had long planned Potter's death, and had not looked as though he regretted accomplishing it.
Bellatrix Lestrange had laughed as Potter died, but then turned around with a shriek when her Lord tumbled to the ground. She was the one who had crouched over him, feeling for a pulse or breath, and then turned her head up to the sky and shrieked again when she realized he was gone. That was when Draco's mother had slipped between the shadows and the trees and into the Forest.
Draco paused. Perhaps Bellatrix had cast a curse, as the Dark Lord could not? That would explain things better than an action of Potter's.
His aunt had taught him Occlumency. She had been the one to "teach" him the Cruciatus Curse—though Draco had needed no instruction in what spell made bodies writhe in agony, having learned it his fourth year. She had lingered near him more than once, smiling at him and touching his arm in a way that made him shudder. He wouldn't allow himself to realize what she wanted, but at the bottom of his soul (the same place he had put those memories of the Dark Lord), he knew.
He knew her magical signature, more importantly. He closed his eyes and cast a bubble of privacy around him to isolate himself from the sounds of the Forest and the distracting sensations of the breeze and the grass beneath his feet. Then he whispered the spell that would allow him to find a trace of her magic here, no matter how faded.
The spell blew out across the clearing, forming into smoke that would become a straight line if a powerful spell lingered. Draco stood still, listening to the heartbeat that shook his body as if it was a stranger's. He would not succumb to the terror that waited for him, or seemed to wait for him, at the thought of Bellatrix being here. She was not here now.
In time, two black flags of the smoke seemed to form, stuck in the ground to the right and left of his position, one near a large tree. The rest of the magic faded, and Draco was once more alone in ground hallowed—or desecrated—by two deaths.
Draco moved slowly forwards, pausing when he needed to. There was no one here he need show off in front of, and it would do no good if he fainted and did not achieve his goal because of that.
The nearest flag turned out, after a few more charms that sharpened the sting of the signature in Draco's nose and made the smoke seem to billow back and forth, to be simply the remains of a Killing Curse. Draco sneered. Bellatrix would have started lashing out at the other Death Eaters after her Lord was dead, then. He had always suspected so. His mother might whisper sometimes about the lost pride of the Black line and how Bellatrix had had more of it than any of them, but Draco had seen it tremble on the edge of madness, and knew the only restraining line was the Dark Lord.
He turned to the second one, and discovered that the edge of the stream of smoke stuck out of the edge of the Forest. He had to follow it several dozen steps from the clearing before he reached the end of it, plunging beneath leaves and dirt into a pebble.
Draco pulled the pebble free and narrowed his eyes at it. There was a powerful magical charge to the small stone, but he could not imagine why. Had Bellatrix survived the confrontation in the Forest, he would have said that she had used this spell as a means of casting a glamour that would make her seem dead. But she had not been sane enough for such a thing.
Still, her magic had something to do with the stone. Draco tucked it into his pocket and turned away. The research had brought him closer to sunset, and he was not yet desirous of facing Potter's shade again.
His friends might mock his life, his father might have despised him if he had lived, but Draco had the satisfaction of knowing that, at the very least, he had the power of doing as he liked more often than many of them did.
She had been calling for help.
When he'd used the charm he had discovered in the necromantic tome—for he knew the stone's magic had something to do with death, even if he didn't know what—Draco leaned back in his chair and stared at the small rock on the table. Then he stood and went to fetch a number of first-year Potions essays. He thought marking would help to settle his rocking heartbeat and restore a measure of reality to the situation.
But his mind strayed back to the stone and could not concentrate on the first-years' rambling about Blood-Replenishing Potion (which most of them insisted on not spelling correctly and not researching first in any case). So at last he laid the essays beside him, steepled his fingers, and gazed again at the stone.
It was so small to mean anything, to be the magical help that Bellatrix had tried to call on. She had not known there was anything there to call on, Draco was certain. But she had been desperate, with the Death Eaters fracturing and fleeing around her and the Dark Lord fallen, and she had sent a silent distress call into the Forest. The spell was a difficult one, but if it worked, it would bring her something to alleviate her distress, even if it was only a Calming Draught.
Draco leaned closer. He had thought the stone unmarked, as any pebble would be, but there was that magic, and now that he looked closer, scratches on the surface. He picked it up and turned it over. The stone seemed to shiver. There was a chip in the side, Draco noticed, and yes, the scratches formed a regular pattern.
He knew that sign. That sign had been burned into his mind as he did his research on necromancy, which had included books on legend and myth and fairy tale, as was likely to happen with any branch of magic not widely-studied and so closely connected to human hopes.
The sign of the Deathly Hallows.
He held the Resurrection Stone.
Draco sat there with it in his hand and closed his eyes. He knew, now, why Bellatrix's spell would have summoned the Stone. Its promise was false, but it could have returned an image of Lord Voldemort to her, and that was all she would have wanted, or was sane enough to want. She would probably have been content to spend the rest of the short time until her death with that shade.
How similar were the shades that the Stone produced to the shade that Harry Potter had left behind from his sacrifice, his chosen death?
Draco would find out.
The story of Potter's last days and the movements that had preceded his coming to the confrontation with the Dark Lord were well-known. Those involved in them had written books about them: Granger's and Weasley's Travels With Harry, Neville Longbottom's Remembrances of a Hero, Aberforth Dumbledore's I Helped Him Into Hogwarts…
And Xenophilius Lovegood's Master of Death.
In this book, Draco found what he was looking for. Lovegood revealed, in between cryptic hints that Draco learned to ignore, information that Potter had come to him and they had talked of the Hallows. He also speculated that Potter had possessed the true Invisibility Cloak, since his was so wondrous and worked so well. And he had believed that the Elder Wand was in Albus Dumbledore's possession.
If so, then it would have been in the Dark Lord's. Draco had seen for himself the gaping hole in Dumbledore's tomb, and McGonagall had told the press that the Dark Lord had apparently stolen Dumbledore's wand for his own, though what he wanted with it—other than a symbol—she didn't know.
Draco could mark the essays this time, once he discovered that information, because it needed time to mature in his mind the same way that a Truth-Defying potion, the counter to Veritaserum he had invented two years ago, needed time to sit before it was fully completed. It was not until he reached the last one in the pile that the thought came to him, and he paused and nodded before scratching a T on the truly disgraceful essay that Natalie Heatherway thought she could turn in and get away with, simply because she was in Slytherin and he was her Head of House.
Harry Potter had been either Master of Death or simply close to it, with possession of two of the Hallows. And those Hallows had come near the clearing where he died, where the Dark Lord had killed him with the Elder Wand.
The Deathly Hallows were legend-haunted, the words in the necromancy books shrouded in deliberate obscurity, but Draco was sure that he was right and that their appearance had something to do with why Potter had become a shade despite apparently choosing his death to guard—something to do with the Dark Lord. The confluence had been unforeseeable, and no one else had known Potter had carried the Resurrection Stone, which meant that no one could have theorized this explanation even if they had known about the Wand and the Cloak.
Draco looked again at the Stone, which sat on his desk as innocently as though it had never called spirits back from the grave.
He had two tasks now. First, he wanted to see what effect the Stone would have if he carried it to the clearing and turned it over three times just as Potter's spirit marched through the place at dusk.
Second, he had to find the Wand.
"What the fuck is this about, Malfoy?"
Draco paused, and glanced towards the hearth. He had heard no chime to indicate that someone wanted to speak with him on the Floo, but he should have guessed. Potter's friends were welcome in the school at any time, a fact the Headmistress had told him before she hired him for the job, and thus they might pass in and out of the fireplaces or appear in the corridors without warning. That permission, it seemed, also extended to the ability to speak through private fireplaces whether or not one had invited them.
"I don't know, Weasley," he said. "Given that you're the one who's contacted me without warning me what exactly the situation is that you wanted to speak to me about."
Weasley paused, and Draco could see him trying different conversations in his head, and giving up on all of them. Draco waited, sipping comfortably at the small glass of brandy he had poured for himself earlier. It helped him think, and the burn in his throat was a nice contrast with the calm words that he intended to speak to Weasley. He was past the point where hurling insults suited him.
"You keep going to visit Harry's memorial," Weasley said at last. "Hermione saw you there the other day. And lately you've been casting spells on it. I want to know why."
Draco could have pretended not to know what he was talking about, since Potter's memorial was a huge, gaudy marble tombstone covering his grave, but he saw no reason to. He shook his head. "Can you call it a memorial, when almost no one knows it exists?" he murmured. "I think not."
"Come off it, Malfoy." Weasley all but spat into the fire. "We know you've been going there, and we know that you've been casting spells on it, and if you think you're going to erase the last piece of Harry we have—"
"Is that it?" Draco asked. "Why you're willing to let his shade remain in the world and suffer that way? McGonagall seemed to think no one knew about the spot, and in her and the other professors, those who knew Potter only from a distance, I can see why grief and awkwardness might overwhelm their desire to do anything about the situation. But you were Potter's friends. Why do you let him go on in torment?"
Weasley stared at him in silence. Then he shook his head. "You're an idiot, Malfoy. He's a shade. Shades can't feel emotion. They can't feel pain."
"Then he isn't really a memorial of your friend," Draco said. "I never saw anyone more alive than Potter. He would have hated to be reduced to this emotionless state. And if there's a chance that he can still feel pain, then I want to lay him to rest."
"We would have done that, if it was a possibility." Weasley stared him down. "Hermione tried. There's no spell that affects the place."
"There was one that granted me a vision of Potter talking to a bit of what was likely the Dark Lord," Draco said quietly. "And one that told me Bellatrix Lestrange had cast spells in the clearing before she died." He wasn't yet ready to discuss what else that spell had shown him. "Perhaps you simply haven't chosen the right spells."
Weasley stopped. Draco didn't think he'd ever seen a man's face shut down so completely. And then he closed his eyes, and Draco had to look at a different part of the fire and sip his brandy some more, because some things shouldn't be seen.
"You promise?" Weasley whispered. "This isn't some—some plan to get back at us, or put us in our places, or something? You've done magic that made a difference to the shade, that let you see Harry?"
Draco shrugged. In a way, he wished he had never started this, but now that he knew Potter's friends knew about the shade, it would have been hard to explain its sudden disappearance, if he succeeded in his goal. "Nothing I do makes a difference to the shade. But there was a vision, yes. And I'm attuned to Bellatrix's signature. If she did something to him that caused this, I'll find it."
Silence. Draco actually thought Weasley might have shut down the Floo and gone, perhaps to share the nonexistent good news with his wife, but when he glanced back, Weasley's head was still there. His eyes were closed, his lips moving as if he was seeking a way to recite the good news.
"I don't know anything will come of it," Draco added, because he had to. "Other people may have tried the same things."
"I've never heard of it, if they have." Weasley looked at him, and his gaze was shining. His whole face was shining, Draco thought, and winced a little. "If you—if you succeed, then let us know. We'll want to know."
Draco nodded. He had already thought he might owl them, a letter with enough details about what had happened—if he reached his goal—that they would know what had worked and why, though not enough detail to reveal him. He reckoned this was little different. Granger would perhaps ask him a thousand questions, but her help would be welcome, if so.
Weasley swallowed noisily and then said, "Thanks. Malfoy. Words I never thought I'd speak, but there you are."
And he vanished from the fireplace.
Draco leaned back in his chair and took another long drink. He would have to get used to this burden, and perhaps it would make things clearer. For now, though, he wondered whether he had introduced another complication into a life that already had enough of them.
As it turned out, Granger didn't contact him, beyond one densely-worded owl that listed all the spells she had tried, without effect. Draco noted that none of them were necromantic spells. Perhaps she had thought that Potter was not dead. He sent back a polite response and waited for the moment that he would have an evening free enough to make the trial.
It was not easy, with a set of exams coming up and a potions explosion among the first-year Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw class that melted half the cauldrons and put Draco's fondest memories of Neville Longbottom to shame. Longbottom had grown into a decent bloke the few times Draco met him at conferences on rare plants, or he might have sent him a letter with the news of his successor.
But at last he could put it off no longer, especially not when he wanted to make a trial of the Stone before Halloween. So he stepped into the clearing again as the sun went down, and waited until he saw the hopeless face of the shade passing before him, the solemn, slow steps and the bowed head.
Then he turned the Stone over with quick, neat flips of his wrist.
One, and the world darkened. He thought he could see stars through the trees that weren't visible yet, and the ground beneath his feet grew misty and unreal.
Two, and the shade acquired a glow that made Draco wonder if the shades that the Stone produced were the same as this one, after all. Perhaps Bellatrix had had a chance to use it, and had directed the force at Potter rather than using it to summon the Dark Lord's spirit to visit her. She had cast a spell that was meant to bring help, no more, and might have misunderstood the Stone's purpose.
Three, and the world exhaled around him and Draco was in the darkness, with the shade before him.
No, not shade, but living human being. He was in the huge, misty room that Draco had seen before in the vision granted by the False Spring spell, and he walked a beat with hasty, miserable steps. In the center was the barrier behind which the skinned child lay. Draco shuddered and turned away. His hand had gone to his left arm before he could stop it, but at least he didn't lift the sleeve.
"What are you doing here? Malfoy?"
Potter's voice wavered. And Draco turned, and Potter was looking at him with eyes green as the future that had died when he did, and he had aimed his wand at Draco.
Draco's heart felt as if it was about to burst out of his chest. He had not anticipated that. He remained still a moment to gain his voice back, and that was when he remembered that six years had passed for him, but none at all for Potter. He looked as he had the day he died. It was no wonder he wasn't sure who Draco was.
"The Malfoy you knew in school, yes," he said quietly. "This is the place you made for yourself when you died. I've come from the living world."
Potter stared at him, his jaw hanging loose. He reminded Draco favorably of the sorry Hufflepuff in his classroom the other morning, standing unscathed amid the devastation. Then he shook his head. "There's no living world," he said. "This is it. I didn't die."
"Yes, you did," Draco said. "They buried you, and they burned the Dark Lord."
"His name is Voldemort."
Draco shivered from the impact of that name striking him like a flying icicle, but he was able to roll his eyes and smile at the same time. Of course that would be the irrelevant thing Potter would insist on. Draco had known it would be something, but he hadn't been able to predict what. "As you say. But you died. You stayed here to guard something that I don't think needs guarding." He avoided looking at the barrier.
Potter didn't say anything. Draco looked at him, and then had to fight the urge to turn his back. As with the look on Weasley's face the other day, there were certain expressions in Potter's eyes that simply should not be seen.
"I—that can't be true," Potter said. "I got here, and there was no one here but the two of us." Draco knew he meant the part of the Dark Lord, the fragment that he had somehow acquired, and held back the objection that Potter would ever refer to it as part of a pair with him. "No one told me what to do, or that I could do anything. So I chose to stay here and guard him. There's nothing else to do."
"What is that?" Draco asked, and managed to make himself nod at the barrier. "The thing that was—with you."
Potter gave him a smile he didn't want to look at, but not because he thought it should be private. He simply didn't want to be anywhere near someone who smiled like that. "A Horcrux," he answered. "Snape showed me his memories before he died. There were Horcruxes of the Dark Lord's soul that I had to destroy, and that was one of them. He made one by accident. He buried one in me."
Draco held back the temptation to swear. Of course something like that would happen. "And then what happened?"
"I saw memories of Dumbledore telling Snape I needed to die," Potter said quietly. "So I walked into the Forest, and let Voldemort hit me with the Killing Curse."
This time, Draco's flinch from the name was smaller, and he thought Potter studied him approvingly. He was too busy thinking to appreciate it properly. "You don't think you're dead, though?" Perhaps the shade was still in the real world because of Potter's stubborn insistence that he still breathed. Although the real spirit, the one that might have become a conscious ghost, was far away, the emotions could brand a faint impression on the real world. That was the case with many Muggle "hauntings," Draco had read in the necromancy books, which involved spirits that did the same kind of repetitive actions as Potter's shade. They were the result of intense emotions felt in the past, not something existing in the here and now.
Potter laid a hand on his chest. "I'm breathing," he said. "Heart beating. I still have to eat and drink and shit. Yeah, I don't think that's supposed to happen in the afterlife."
Draco smiled in spite of himself, but shook his head. "And where do you think everyone else is? How in the world do you think you got here, if you didn't die?"
Potter shrugged, his eyes haunted. "I only know that the Killing Curse hit me, and then I was here. The Horcrux was here, too." He flicked a glance at the barrier, and then looked away. It reassured Draco, a bit, to think Potter was no more comfortable with that image of a skinned baby than he was. "It's in a place the rest of the world can't reach. Except you, it seems." He squinted at Draco. "How'd you get here?"
"I found the Resurrection Stone." It would do no good to lie to Potter, Draco figured, especially since he was probably the one alive—
Or existing, at least—
With the most notion of how to use the Hallows. He watched as Potter's face jerked through a series of complex expressions.
In the end, though, he shook his head. "If you're right, I'm not alive anymore," he said. "And the Stone only calls back a shade. If you think that you'll get more than that, you need to go and read the old stories again."
"I know that," Draco said. "But apparently, when I turn the Stone over three times while this shade of yours is walking through the clearing while you died—and it happens at sunset, all the time—then I get here instead." He looked around the misty room, squinting, but he couldn't force walls or floors to form. He reckoned that that depended on Potter's own thoughts, since he was the one who had created this place, or imagined it into being.
Potter jerked a little in body this time, and then shook his head. "I used it when I was walking to my death. I saw the shades of my parents, and Sirius, and Remus. I know they weren't really there. What I saw were the ghosts I made up, the people I wanted to see."
Draco's focus sharpened on Potter again. He didn't speak for a moment, because he wanted to let those words ring and settle into the room around them. He didn't think it was his imagination that the walls and floor looked sharper. He could see huge flags of white stone on some of them now; he could feel the coldness of the floor beneath his feet in a way that also signaled stone, but which hadn't shown up before.
"That—thank you for telling me that," he said, and let his voice sound the way it sounded without any attempt to change it.
Potter flushed and looked away. "Doesn't matter," he muttered. "You're the Stone's owner now. I think you ought to fling the bloody thing away into the Forest and never let anyone touch it again, but that's probably too simple for you."
Draco smiled a little. "I think this is more complicated," he said. "You were close to all three of the Hallows, and you had two of them. You probably came as close to being the Master of Death as anyone in recent history has."
"I'm not the Master of Death," Potter said in a low voice, and his face flushed with ugly, broken patches of mottled red. "Voldemort was. He was the one who wanted to be, and he was the one who made seven Horcruxes."
Draco closed his eyes so he wouldn't see the room slowly waltz around him. Seven. He had known the Dark Lord was a monster, but not what kind.
"He wasn't the Master," Draco said, and opened his eyes again. "He had the Elder Wand, but I don't think he could make it work for him, could he?"
Potter jerked his head. "He worked it well enough to send me here, and to tear the Horcrux out of me."
"It was Dumbledore's wand?" Draco asked, more because he wanted to make sure than because he doubted his conclusions.
Potter eyed him. "How did you find out about that?"
"Dumbledore's tomb had been broken into," Draco said simply. "And it wasn't hard to figure out, when you thought about it."
Potter sighed, then, as if he had admitted to himself that the chances of Draco telling anyone about this and trying to use the information to master the Hallows were slim. "Yes, well. He was the Master, and he killed Snape trying to make himself the true Master, because the wand wasn't working well for him."
Draco blinked his eyes. His heart was beating fast, and a whole new series of events unfolded in his mind, ones he wished he had seen before. How he wished he had seen them before. Of course, he would have had to travel further back into the past than the night the Dark Lord had defeated Potter to take advantage of his new knowledge.
"The Elder Wand goes to whoever defeats its master," he whispered. "And that doesn't have to be in a duel. Supposedly its first master was killed in his sleep."
Potter nodded, a faint smile playing along his mouth. "And who defeated Dumbledore?" he asked.
Potter shook his head. "Who disarmed Dumbledore, that night on the Tower? Who had the most right to claim the wand as his own?"
"I did," Draco said, and there was a strange taste on his tongue and the strange sound of a new wind, blowing through a new world, in his ears.
Potter nodded again. "And I disarmed you during the war. The wand had changed its allegiance to me." He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe that's the reason I'm still alive. The wand could be used against me in a way, because not all of me was—me. There was Voldemort in my soul, too. But I was its master, so I didn't completely die."
Draco was beginning to think that might apply to him, too. He cleared his throat. "This is important, Potter. Where would the Dark Lord's wand have gone? Did you see, before you wound up here?"
Potter frowned and pushed his glasses up his nose. Only Potter's spirit, Draco thought, would have such a commitment to realism that he was still wearing those ridiculous glasses. "I would have thought McGonagall would pick it up and restore it to Dumbledore's tomb. That's where it ought to have stayed. Why, didn't they find it after the battle?" He paused, swallowed, then added, "What happened after the battle?"
Draco recognized the hunger in his eyes, and saw it even more a moment later, when his eyes flickered over to the barrier. He had wondered how to convince Potter—if it was possible—to leave his stupid guard duty and return to the real world, but now he knew. He made his voice soft and coaxing.
"The Death Eaters went mad. My mother realized that you were—dead, and got me out in time. But my father died in the battle there, murdered by someone whose identity I'll never know."
"I'm sorry," Potter said, and although his face was tight, his eyes as they focused on Draco were real. "At least I know who killed my parents."
Draco didn't have the spit to swallow, so he used what he had for talking. "Your friends mourned, and helped capture the Death Eaters they could, and wrote books. Weasley and Granger are married, and the last I heard, Granger was a successful lawyer, working with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Weasley trained as an Auror, but he didn't stay long. He helps Granger and his brother out now."
"Which of his brothers?" Potter demanded, a bit crossly. "He has five of them, you know." He looked away, and Draco was sure he was remembering the twin who had died in the battle.
Draco concentrated, recalling old gossip and newspaper articles that hadn't been important to him at the time. Strange, to think that if Potter hadn't existed the old blood feud with the Weasleys would have made them the most important antagonists in his life, he thought in distant wonder. Next to Potter, it was hard to remember why he had hated Weasley. "George, I think," he said at last. "The one who runs the joke shop."
Potter nodded with a small smile. "Yeah, Ron knows where to go. I can't imagine that he'd leave George alone, not when he's the one who needed him the most." He paused, cleared his throat, and said, "What about his sister? Ginny."
"She plays Quidditch, I think," Draco said, confused, because he had expected Potter's next questions to still be about his friends. Oh, that's right. He fancied himself in love with her at one time. "Married, a few years ago."
Potter bowed his head. Draco sighed. "Are you all right?" he asked, half-hating himself for the question.
"I—knew I couldn't really go back," Potter whispered. "In some part of myself. But I did think, since I wasn't really dead, that someday I would finish my guard duty here, and I could go back, and we'd get married. It's silly. I couldn't expect her to wait for me, not when she doesn't know I'm alive." He raised his head and shook it, wiping at his eyes. "But I wish it had been able to happen that way."
Draco hesitated, then blew out his breath in a long, slow sigh. This was the perfect time to turn the conversation, but he almost wished that Weasley was here instead. He would have been able to talk Potter out of what Draco knew he had to be talked out of. He would know the words and the weaknesses—although he doubtless wouldn't see it that way—to manipulate and move Potter.
But Draco was the one here, and he didn't know if he could rescue Potter. He did know that he had to try to persuade him, because if Potter wasn't willing to come back to the world, then nine sets of Hallows would probably fail to move him.
"If you could see your friends again," Draco asked, "would you like to?"
Potter's gaze snapped to him. "You'd bring them here and let them use the Resurrection Stone?"
He still assumes that they'd have to beg me for a chance, that I wouldn't let them use it freely. On the other hand, Draco had to admit that Potter had no reason to read his character differently, not when he hadn't been there for the past six years. "Not that," he said. "I want you to come back to the world with me."
Potter immediately looked at the barrier again. "No," he said flatly. "Who keeps him from going somewhere, if I don't?"
"How can you know that it's going anywhere?" Draco asked, because he refused to distinguish the foul thing he had seen in the vision with the pronoun "him." "It's out of you now. It can't sustain itself without you. In fact, it's probably your presence here that keeps it from dying. Your desire to stay near it feeds its life."
Potter looked up at him, his eyelids fluttering wildly. Then he swallowed. "So I have to die after all," he whispered. "So it'll perish. Dumbledore was right."
Draco reached out and caught one of those slender wrists. He couldn't remember Potter being so skinny. Then again, he had learned enough, even in a conversation like this, to know that the Potter he remembered was not the one standing in front of him. "Don't be stupid. You chose to stay here. You should be able—with the help of the Hallows, perhaps—to choose to come back to the world."
Potter tore himself away from Draco and folded his arms. "Then there's no one here to guard it," he said. "It'll get loose."
Draco smiled. He calls it "it" now. Very good. "You still don't know that." Potter looked stubborn—though that, of course, was his ground state of being—and Draco tried a different tactic. "You mentioned eating. Where does the food come from? The water? Where does your shit go, once you're done with it?"
"I mean—they're just there," Potter said, with a little tip of his head that said more clearly than words that he wanted Draco to go away and stop talking about things like this. Draco smiled again. He grew calmer, quieter, more balanced in himself, the more Potter protested. He had missed this, he thought. Someone to counterbalance him like this. "The food shows up in little jars. Cans, sometimes, when it's Muggle things. And sometimes I have appliances to cook with." He looked around as though expecting a hearth to appear from thin air. Draco looked with him, and still saw only mist for the most part, though a few more glimpses of white stone showed than before. "And the water is in bottles. And I—I use a loo that just goes somewhere." Potter was flushed in the face, squinting at Draco. "Do you have some reason to want to talk me out of this?"
"Yes," Draco said bluntly. "The look in the eyes of your shade bothers the hell out of me. If you won't leave, I want to at least make sure that shade isn't walking the world anymore."
Potter folded his arms and paced in a circle, rubbing at his own hand as if that would help him concentrate. Draco watched him walk. He didn't mind accommodating Potter's behavior, like this little pacing spell, as long as he got his way in the end.
He blinked the next moment. It was a long time since he had had a thought so petty, so casually impatient.
Well. This is what Potter does to me.
"I don't know why the shade is there," Potter said, subdued, turning his face away. "But it must be the Hallows. They must anchor me somehow, since I chose to stay here." He paused, then added, with a curiosity that Draco remembered being his downfall during their Hogwarts days, too, "What is the look in the shade's eyes like?"
"Horror," Draco said. "Pain. It leads your friends to think that you died suffering, and me, too."
Potter closed his eyes. "There was no pain," he said. "I went in there knowing what I had to do, that I was—meant to die. That that was all I'd ever been, all I ever was."
Draco narrowed his eyes. Some of his stupid behavior since the fact is explained now, I think.
"And there was the flash of green light," Potter whispered. "He let me come straight to him. He made sure no one else harmed me before I could reach him. That was what he was supposed to do, the only way to make sure the Horcrux was destroyed." He opened his eyes and glared at the barrier he'd constructed. "Only I got here and the damn thing was still alive. There was really nothing else I could do. I had to set up guarding it."
Draco shook his head, then realized that Potter faced away from him and a headshake one couldn't see was less than impressive. "You didn't," he said. "I still think your presence here feeds it."
Potter turned back towards him, eyes so enormous that Draco knew he could drown in them. People had, in their time, he knew. Potter had only two close friends, but he'd made a whole group of people, Neville Longbottom included, cling to his memory and follow the whiff of his name for nearly an entire school year.
Perhaps that had more to do with what he was, not who. Draco didn't care. He still wasn't a shade who walked mindlessly across a clearing, and he wasn't a guard who needed to stay here, either. He could buy that Dumbledore—and even Professor Snape—could send Harry Potter to death, but not to eternal servitude. The old man was all about choices. Witness all the ones he'd tried to give Draco.
"The only way to find out would be to leave," the boy whispered, as if he was communing directly with Draco's thoughts. "And that might mean that it has the chance to break free, if I'm the only thing keep it caged here. I can't—I can't risk that. I really can't." He sounded as if he was begging, pleading, with Draco to believe him.
Draco waited a few minutes to see if Potter would say anything else, and then shook his head quietly, firmly. "Potter," he said, "you still have the shade to see about, and your friends to reassure. I don't think leaving it to starve here is a horrible thing."
"It" chose that moment to scream. Draco could feel the sound piercing his left arm first, and then his soul. He closed his eyes. That might be another explanation for the expression on the shade's face. Potter had to suffer from hearing that sound, and although he didn't falter in his guard duty, the suffering would go somewhere.
"Now do you see?" Potter whispered. "It could eat up the world if it got out. I have to keep it safe."
"Safe from interference?" Draco opened his eyes and spoke before he could consider and weigh his actions, the way he usually did. This would probably only work if Potter couldn't anticipate what he had on his mind. "Like this?" He turned and drew his wand, casting a nonverbal spell at the barrier Potter had raised around the piece of the Dark Lord.
Potter screamed at the same moment as the barrier shattered. His sound had pain in it. Draco was sorry, but he was too busy leaping over the flood-tide of white light and what looked like splintered wood coming towards him.
The dark, bloody spot on the floor inside grew closer to him, although Draco was sure his leap hadn't carried him closer. It loomed in his awareness. Draco grabbed his left arm without thought. Yes, the Dark Mark had faded, but it ached now with cold, a punishing, pulsing numbness that struck up from his elbow to his shoulder and down to his fingers.
"See?" Potter wailed, his voice like a distant wind blowing with more force than necessary around Draco's ears. "I told you, I told you…"
Somewhere, Draco had read a story that the crows used to be able to speak, but they had annoyed a demigod by chuckling smugly over him when he failed in a task, and so the only noise they could make now had the tone of "too late, too little." That was what Potter's voice sounded like, he thought abstractly, eyes locked on the spot. It did look like a flayed child, yes, but the worst thing was the eyes, the red eyes that locked on Draco's and held him in place, locked him in place, while it grew wider and wider and nearer and nearer and soon it would be on him…
Draco had felt that numbness before, that cold. He remembered now. It was the night he had taken the Dark Mark. Willing. He'd been (hard to move his thoughts through his head, they were like blocks of ice) willing. He'd heard some of the Death Eaters say that no one could join the Dark Lord's inner circle who wasn't willing, that the spells he used and the detections he employed wouldn't permit it. It was supposed to make the chances of spies and infiltrators in his ranks less.
Draco reached out and touched the Mark with his right hand, and into it he poured his rage, his denial, his memory of Potter rescuing him from the Fiendfyre, the way he had felt when he saw his mother running towards him during the final battle. Warm emotions, stubbornness, a claim that his choices were his own and he was going to make them, not be forced into them by his fear for his parents.
You have no power over me.
The cold was fading. Draco opened his eyes, and the red ones were still there, and the sight of them still made him suffer. But he could back away a step now, and he could see that the blot on the blankness of this place was only a blot, and could not come near him.
It doesn't have legs, Draco thought then, feeling his throat thaw and air rush in and out of his lungs. It felt like winter air, but that didn't matter when he was simply grateful to be breathing again. It doesn't have arms. It's no more mobile than a baby its size would be. How could it move towards you?
But he thought he knew, and it was only proof that both he and Potter had been right. Choices defined this place. Potter had chosen to continue "living" here as if he was still alive, and so the food and water had appeared to sustain him. He had chosen to think he could put a barrier around the frozen piece of the Dark Lord, and one had appeared. If he thought he had to be here on guard, then so he would remain.
Draco turned around to say as much to Potter, whose eyes were still wider than they ought to be—
And found himself standing in the clearing in the Forbidden Forest with the Resurrection Stone clutched in his hand. Sunset had passed.
Only sunset opens the gates.
Now that Draco knew that, he could return to his research on necromancy with more care and attention than he had been able to show so far. There were references to twilight that mattered, now. Where he had assumed ramblings about "the gates of twilight" were the mumbles of mad old necromancers whose disciples had recorded their every word whether or not it was important, now he found himself scanning text after text, looking for them, and trying to untangle the dense, dry sentences around them so he could understand.
It was not easy. The sentences blurred in his head, and sometimes he glanced at the Resurrection Stone and despaired of finding the Elder Wand. He ought to have as good a claim on it as anyone, since its previous two masters were dead. Or not dead, but in some floating, in-between state. He doubted the Wand could consent to serve anyone who was like that, conquered, not a conqueror.
On the other hand, Draco had never been a conqueror, either. His own victory over Dumbledore and acquiring of the Elder Wand had been by accident. He had never known what he held.
But on the other hand…
The clearing that contained Potter's shade was home to memories, illusions, echoes, ghosts. And the Elder Wand had been used there in one of the most powerful spells ever known, the Killing Curse that had no block or counter, on someone who had survived it once.
Potter's friends had "inherited" Potter's Cloak when he died. They owled it to Draco, along with a letter that threatened him with exquisite, excruciating bodily harm if he damaged or lost it. Draco let the letter fall to the floor when he realized how little important it held and let the Cloak dangle over his arms, stroking the shimmering, barely-visible fabric with delight.
He might have imagined it, but there seemed to be a soft thrum from the table where he had laid the Resurrection Stone, as though the two Deathly Hallows were communing in sympathy.
Draco nodded and turned around. He still had two spells he wanted to check on and one that he wanted to rule out. But soon…
Soon he would have enough to make the attempt to fetch Potter's soul back to the world, and stop his shade from marching.
But first, Pansy came for a visit.
Draco knew of it first when he looked up from breakfast in the Great Hall on Saturday—a poorly-attended meal, as even the seventh-year Slytherins seemed to value sleep over extra time at table—and saw her walking down the aisle between the House tables towards him, hand lifted so she could display her engagement ring. Her smile was so wide that Draco suffered a return of his brief childish fear, based on her visits to the Manor when she was eight, that he would fall into it and vanish.
McGonagall had either known about the visit ahead of time or didn't greatly care. She looked up, and Draco thought he saw her sigh, but she went back to her meal. A wise course, Draco had to admit.
He stood up when Pansy got to him and went down the steps from the High Table to meet her. Pansy let him kiss her hand, and then shoved the ring into his face. Draco took it and gently inspected the delicate silver band and the stone in the middle. "No diamond?" he murmured. "Tell Blaise I'm disappointed in him."
Pansy snorted and punched him in the shoulder. She had got more demonstrative as the years passed, as if to compensate for his growing less. "A blood opal has much more sentimental associations, you prick."
Draco glanced up, raising his eyebrows. "Pansy. You once said you would die before you became sentimental."
"I always was," she said, and leaned in to give him a peck on the cheek that was more like a nip. "I simply stopped denying myself and learned to love what I was. After all, what I am is valuable no matter what material I consist of." She gave him a glance so heavy Draco would have to be a Gryffindor to mistake her meaning.
Draco looped his arm through hers and guided her towards the dungeons. Pansy was willing enough to leave the Great Hall, but dug in her heels when he tried to lead her down the stairs. "No," she said. "You already look like you don't spend enough time in the fresh, healthy air." She bounced outdoors with him, towing him behind her despite the fact that he was the one technically leading.
"The fresh, healthy air makes me burn and peel," Draco said as they walked towards the lake. Well, Pansy strode and he trudged. Between them both, it was a walk. "And I can't have any windburns."
"You're twenty-four years old," Pansy said, and then she whirled on him, and Draco knew she would let him have it, now. It was good that her comment in the Great Hall had prepared him. He let his eyes linger on the blood opal of her ring, and tried to figure out how much it was worth. "You should be doing something with your life."
"I am doing something with my life," Draco pointed out. "The cauldrons have never been so clean as they are when I assign Slytherins detention, because they're afraid I might look at them in disappointment."
Pansy blinked. "I thought you would following Snape in not punishing them," she said.
"In not taking points," Draco corrected her. "Detentions are more than adequate. The other I find a pointless practice."
He thought Pansy would hit him for the horrible pun, but instead she leaned towards him and stared him in the eye. Draco turned away so he could study the small wave patterns the wind was making on the lake, and Pansy snorted and caught his chin again. He didn't remember her as this touchy, at least once he had made it clear that he wouldn't marry her. He wondered if it was something Blaise had taught her.
"You're more humorous with me," she whispered. "That's what you should sound like, not the dour old man you've been in your letters and your conversations with Blaise."
"What, you expected the boy who tormented Potter on the Quidditch Pitch?" Draco asked, and would have rocked back on his heels from the bitterness that swept him if he let himself. He didn't let himself. He had no interest in proving Pansy correct. "I'm not him, Pansy. He died, and good riddance. Burned to death in the fire that consumed Vince, most likely."
"Really?" Pansy took a step closer and stared him in the eye again. "Because I think you've spent the past six years stifling him." She paused, then added, "And you only referred to the fire in an attempt to shock me. I've spent the past three months with Blaise's mother, preparing for the wedding. She considerately showed me the shallow grave she would bury me in if I ever hurt her son. You can't shock me after her."
"Are you happy to marry him?" Draco asked.
"You're trying to distract me again, but this question is simple to answer," Pansy said. "Yes. I'm getting on with my life. You've stifled yours, Draco. Let yourself breathe. Date someone. Play Quidditch again. Get married. Learn to do something besides the things that Snape did."
Draco touched his temple with one finger, and then lowered his head. Pansy might think she was causing him a headache. She wasn't, but Draco could feel his pulse pounding under his skin, filling him with desires to explain that he rarely indulged.
But he would try, because Pansy had a tight hold on his arm and a set to her lips that said otherwise she would keep trying.
"I'm not trying to relive Professor Snape's life, or making up for the fact that he died early, or whatever you might think I'm doing," he said quietly. "This is what I want to do. I do feel that Hogwarts is my place, for right now."
Draco paused, then shook his head. He would have to do the deeper explanation, then. As a matter of fact, two years ago, when he grew close to attaining his mastery and his friends thought he would die of concentrated study, he had tried to give this to both Pansy and Blaise, but they didn't have the ears to listen then.
Or I the voice to tell.
"I want to be more than I have been," he said, gaze on the lake. "I want to go back, and find the source of my mistakes, and learn, gradually, to stop making them. I made mistakes here. I was such a stupid child. I want to see the Slytherins from another perspective, and the House rivalries, and the duties of teaching. I only ever planned to stay for a few years, Pansy. Then I'll go back home, and take up the duties of being a Malfoy."
"Why not now?" Pansy urged. Her hold on him tightened until Draco shrugged it off. Pansy made a face but didn't look away from him or apologize. "Draco…you've studied for a Potions mastery. You've taught for two months. Surely this is all you need of this kind of life? All anyone needs," she added, with a grimace that made her look as if she was about to stick her tongue out.
"Because," Draco pointed out, "I signed a contract."
"McGonagall would understand," Pansy said. "She must—she must want to hire someone else, anyway. Someone who doesn't have that past hanging over his head."
Draco moved a step further back from her and turned towards the school.
"Draco!" Pansy called, running after him. She fell into step beside him, and made a dissatisfied noise when he didn't look at her. "I didn't mean it."
"Yes, you did," Draco said. "There's always a certain tone in your voice when you tell the truth, and I notice it, because you don't do it often."
"Draco," Pansy said, and tried to make him halt. Draco shrugged her off without effort this time and continued moving. It had only been his own carelessness that allowed her to capture him before.
Only his own carelessness that had made him think she would understand.
She still tried to grab his arm as they came back to the doors of the school, and Draco knew the time with a glance at the sun. The students would be up and moving about soon, if not now, and someone might see the way she snatched at him. Draco had no interest in feeding rumors. He turned around and caught her eye. Pansy immediately put her hands behind her back and looked as if she didn't know what he meant by the glare.
"You think you're moving on," Draco said quietly. "That you're the ones who are changing your lives. But neither you nor Blaise ever mention your relatives who got taken to prison. Neither of you mention school friends who have relatives who went to prison, either. As if the Dark Mark was something you could catch. And you're talking about marrying and having pure-blood children as if it really was twenty-four years ago, during the first war, when pure-bloods had respect just because of their families."
"I don't know who you've been listening to," Pansy began, "but we still have respect. What about Anneda Silk? What about Celestina Warbeck? What about—"
Draco snorted, and the contempt in the sound stopped her short. "The Head Auror, and the most popular singer in a generation," he said. "Pansy. Although I do enjoy seeing the day come when you claimed Celestina Warbeck as a pure-blood heroine, the fact remains that they are recognized for their talent. Not their blood."
Pansy shook her head. "There have to be—there are still places and circles where it's valued," she said.
"But cut down by the war, and then further by the aftereffects of the war," Draco murmured. "We were always a small and select group, and we're further select now, with almost no opportunities to branch out. I'm not going to confine myself to a world that small, Pans. I have a talent at Potions, and I'm going to pursue it."
Pansy's face flushed. "That's not what you told Blaise the last time he firecalled you," she said.
"Yes, I know," Draco said. "But I have desires for the future. Choices. No sure paths as yet. I want to be sure that I've overcome the past by facing it. I may change my mind. That's my privilege." He nodded to the blood opal on Pansy's hand. "You wanted to shut down the choices and diminish the paths as soon as possible. That's the sign of it."
After that, there wasn't much point in her staying. She made excuses, and she smiled, and she patted his arm, and she left understanding him no better than when she'd arrived.
Well. Draco had never claimed to be easy to understand.
Once, he had been. Once, he had worn his desires on his face, for anyone who cared to probe beneath the surface a little and find. He had been easy for the Dark Lord to manipulate, since everyone knew what he wanted.
There are advantages to being hard to understand.
"Yes, Professor Malfoy."
Draco froze with the cup of tea halfway to his mouth. Then he lowered it to the saucer carefully balanced on a conjured table next to him, and stared at the Headmistress.
She had invited him to breakfast with her that morning, and Draco had asked her, more because he had to start somewhere than because he expected an answer, if she had any idea where Dumbledore's old wand was. He stared at her harder now, and she had the grace to flush a bit and shrug, looking away.
"I don't want to know everything about what Albus planned," she whispered. "I learned enough from his notes to disturb me."
Draco, who had spent some of his Potions mastery years also collecting facts about Professor Snape that would cure him of any tendency to romanticize the man, controlled his surge of scorn at that idea, and waited.
"But we found that wand," she murmured, and seemed to find her saucer fascinating. "It was impossible not to. Its power blazed through the Forest, and it was a miracle that none of the Death Eaters grabbed it before we found it and removed it, power-hungry bas—excuse me, Professor Malfoy." Her voice was so prim that Draco found himself giving the shade of a smile and inclining his head.
"I hope I value truth as much as the next Malfoy," he murmured. The next Malfoy was his mother, who had gone about resurrecting the reputation of their family after the war. He knew she would have done it by herself if he had been unwilling to help, but he had aided her, though from a distance while he was working on his mastery. "Call them what they were, Headmistress. On the other hand, I think I can shed some light on your problem. None of them wanted to go too near their Lord's body. They didn't understand why he died, and they were afraid to touch his wand in case he opened his eyes." No one had ever explained that to him, but from his general knowledge of Death Eaters as well as the scattered information his mother had given him about that part of the battle, he knew he must be correct.
"Well." McGonagall leaned back in her seat, more at ease. "I confess that solves a mystery that puzzled me and made me wonder whether we dared trust the wand to anyone else."
Draco nodded. "I think you can. And I think the wand that killed Harry Potter may be an essential tool in banishing Harry Potter's shade." He intended to tell no one about the Deathly Hallows or his growing conviction that he could bring Potter back to life until something forced him to. He had no desire to be the target of either fanatics or fanatical hope.
"Very well," McGonagall said. "I buried it again in Albus's tomb. That seemed the only proper place for it."
Draco smiled nodded and drained the rest of his tea, standing. "Thank you."
"Professor Malfoy," McGonagall said, before he could leave. The tone of her voice made Draco make sure his face was composed before he turned around. McGonagall sat with one hand on her saucer as though she was afraid of someone taking it. "How sure are you that you can stop the marching of the shade?"
Draco bowed his head again, but with a different purpose this time. He didn't want to deal with the light in her eyes, or the light that would linger there if he told her his hope. He might yet fail, and he had learned enough in his life, especially during the last few years of it, to want his failures to be private ones when he could.
"I am close to sure, Headmistress," he murmured.
She sat looking at him for so long that he was sure she would force him to explain. Then she shook her head and looked at the far wall of her office, where a snowy owl swooped back and forth across a landscape of green and brown land that Draco thought was the Forbidden Forest, back in some day when it was wilder and younger.
"Thank you," she whispered.
Draco bowed again and made for the door, hoping his back didn't project an image of flight.
The necromancy books he had chosen were full of spells that would work to open tombs and graves, of course. What else was necromancy but the art of lifting out the dead? And the dead might sometimes have inconveniently heavy stones or locked and warded doors on top of them.
In this case, no such guards stood over the white tomb of Albus Dumbledore. Perhaps the Hogwarts professors felt that no one would dare break into it—stupid after the actions of the Dark Lord, Draco thought. Perhaps they thought the specter of the Dark Lord's having done so would linger and make it harder for anyone else to contemplate.
Whatever the reason, the door quivered and opened the minute he pronounced the spell, and a musty sigh of air hit his face. Draco waited for it to dissipate before he stepped forwards, ready to lift his wand if there turned out to be guards on the tomb after all.
Nothing but a skeleton, covered with a long, flowing tangle of white hair. Draco nodded. He had been right, after all. He found himself touching the bones with one reverent finger, his fear subdued.
"Thank you," he whispered. "You tried to give me the choices, after all."
Then he turned his attention to the wand in the skeleton's right hand.
Even from here, it sang to him. Draco shuddered. He knew now what McGonagall had meant about the power that called to them from the Forest. The wonder was that none of them had recognized the Elder Wand for what it was.
No, the wonder is that so many of the Deathly Hallows came together like that at all.
But then, Potter had always been special.
Draco reached out and picked up the Wand. It sang in his hand, but also struggled, and he wondered for a moment if it would respond to him. But Potter, who had last conquered it, was dead, and the Dark Lord had never had a claim. In the end, the Wand bonded to his hand, shining like a star, and Draco heard ripples in the back of his head like old blood flowing.
He turned away with a shudder. Strange that the Wand's voice made him shudder harder than the task he had in hand next, but that was the case. Perhaps too much time spent with the necromancy books had made the idea less repulsive.
Potter had better be bloody grateful.
None of the Muggles in Godric's Hollow saw Draco, because he desired none should see him, and the Elder Wand made it so. Likewise, a Disillusionment Charm covered him from the sight of wizards, though perhaps the driving rain also helped with that. Draco paused to cast several spells that destroyed the rain around him—the Elder Wand liked to destroy—before he gave up and used a more normal Impervious Charm. The wand sulked in his hand.
Draco ignored it as he stepped into the graveyard and found himself staring at Harry Potter's tomb.
It was crowned, that was the only word for it. In the end, it had been an almost modest tomb of grey and white marble, at least compared to the looming monstrosity of shining white that guarded Dumbledore's final rest, but it was covered with garlands of flowers that nearly obscured the inscriptions on it. And the inscription did have a crown, because someone in the Ministry, generous now that someone powerful with no reason to love them was dead, had decreed him the uncrowned king of hope, and the name had stuck. And there were flowers carved there, and lions, and trampled serpents—which made Draco wonder if whoever had carved them had known that Harry Potter was a Parselmouth—and rising suns and a long procession of people marching around in what looked like circles, their hands filled with more flowers. Draco brushed the withered lilies of one particularly long flower-chain aside so he could see the inscription.
KING OF HOPE
THE CHOSEN ONE
HE DIED SO THAT WE MIGHT LIVE
JULY 31, 1980-MAY 2, 1998
There was a great many other things of the sort, mostly nonsense. Draco nodded and took a step back, glancing around. The tomb completely overshadowed the modest gravestones of his parents nearby. Draco wondered for a moment if Potter would approve of that, being laid to rest next to the mother and father he had never really known.
When I get him back, perhaps I'll ask him.
He raised the Elder Wand. He felt a shock of power travel down his arm, and the wand went stiff and alert in his grip, as though sensing that there was something important to come. Draco nodded impressively. The wand strained against him at once, as though impatient to be about doing what it had come to do.
"You can conquer enemies," he told the Wand. "Conquer time now. Turn back time. Give me the body of Harry Potter as it looked the moment he died, the moment the spell you cast sent his spirit to that other place."
The shudder that worked through him made him sway. He could feel the earth beneath him turn dark and cold, and the air in front of his eyes pivoted and turned. There was white about him, and cold, and winter. Then flashes of green and heat and strength, and flying leaves, and the trembling light that shone through the leaves as they hung on trees, and something that touched him and passed out of him which Draco hoped never to feel again until the day of his death.
The wand fell still in his hand, hollow somehow. Draco stepped forwards and again murmured the spell that unlocked the tomb. This time, he had to deploy it again and again, partially because of the wards that overlooked Harry Potter's final resting place and partially because the wand was spent.
When he swung the door open, he could see into the rich room inside. The walls were gilded, the floor made of marble. In the center was a large coffin, made of cedar wood, where Potter had been meant to rest.
The lid had burst off, probably because the changes in the body had disturbed it. And the boy who lay there was familiar. This was the shade that walked through the clearing, the boy Draco had seen in the misty place his own mind had conjured. His eyes were closed, his skin more waxy, but his hair was dark and springy, and his hands slender, and his face disturbing in the way that the face of anyone who died as a child was.
Draco spent some time gazing. Then he nodded and came forwards, stretching out his arms. It seemed fitting that he gather Potter up with his own hands at first, even though he planned to use Mobilicorpus to take the body back to Hogwarts.
He had thought himself braced to what he was doing—necromancy had already inured him to grave-robbing, after all—but he nearly dropped Potter's head in shock when he realized shimmering warmth ran beneath the skin. He stared, and then glanced at the Elder Wand. Had it really mastered death as well as time, after all? Was Potter still alive, only sleeping, awaiting the restoration of his spirit?
Then he shook his head. No. The Hallows were Death's artifacts. They could not turn it back, at least not until they were all together. Draco cast Mobilicorpus and turned around to leave.
Several dark shapes moved between him and the entrance, tall wizards in cloaks. Draco hesitated, mind flying back to the Death Eaters that McGonagall's words had conjured for him that morning, tearing around the body of their fallen Lord, screaming in agony and witless fear—
Then he realized what it must be. The Ministry, of course, would have alarms to tell them if the wards around Potter's tomb were tampered with. It wasn't out of the question that Death Eaters seeking vengeance or idiot children seeking notoriety might disturb Potter's rest.
Draco closed his eyes and ducked his head. He was wearing his hood up already, so no one could catch a glimpse of his distinctive hair. He heard them pause, confused, probably by the Disillusionment Charm he still had up as well as the sight of Potter's body healthy and well.
"Take us," he told the Elder Wand.
It flared like another star in reverse, the way it had when turning time back, and all the Ministry guards had time to see was a blurred image twisting away in front of their eyes and fading like smoke.
They arrived in the clearing that Potter's shade marched in. Draco wasn't sure he had told the Elder Wand where they needed to go, but he didn't think it mattered. Perhaps it had sensed the presence of its former master, and determined their destination that way.
He licked his lips and directed his burden to the ground. It was a few minutes before sunset. He had cut this closer than he liked, but he wasn't sure how long the time enchantment the Elder Wand had performed would last—and he wasn't sure what he had asked of it was possible in the first place—so keeping the body out a day where it could rot wasn't a good idea.
He hastily rearranged Potter so that his face was lying in the clearing and his legs were pointing into the Forest, along the path the shade would take. Then he cast a spell and Summoned the Resurrection Stone and the Invisibility Cloak from the castle. As they flew towards him, he dried his hands on his robes, and then closed his eyes.
He couldn't remember the last time he had been this nervous. Then again, he had never tried anything so dangerous before. He licked his lips and sought for another idea, something to occupy his mind.
He remembered the way that Potter had Summoned his Firebolt from Hogwarts when he fought the Horntail in the tournament, and smiled a little. Yes, he could appreciate the irony, now, that he was using the same spell to save Potter's life.
Or bring him back. It depended on how dead one thought him at the moment, Draco decided.
The Stone hurtled through the trees and settled into his hand, humming with the same sort of energy Draco had felt in the Wand before he cast the enchantment to turn back time. The Cloak came second, trailing itself through the branches like dignified mist. Draco caught it and held it there for a moment, feeling his breath come faster and faster, and his heart beat hard.
Could he really do this?
He had to.
And he went with the ideas that first occurred to him, the movements that sang through his limbs with the rightness of instinct. He dressed Potter's body in the Cloak, laying the majority of the cloth on his chest, above the heart, and a little down over his legs. The hood covered his face. To the left of his body—the direction of darker magic, the direction of the sinister path—Draco placed the Resurrection Stone. He turned it over three times before he did so, but because he wasn't focusing on anyone when he did so, he didn't summon any of the dead.
Or maybe for a different reason. Draco was sure a cool breeze ripped through the Forest now, a wind that hadn't been blowing a moment ago, and was harsher than the relatively mild weather here at Hogwarts should have allowed for.
No time to hesitate. No time to second-guess yourself.
Draco took his place by the body's head and turned around, and there, now, was the shade marching. Draco took a step into its path, his boots brushing the limp strands of Potter's hair that dangled on the ground.
The necromancy books had been clear on what he should say, and also clear that it wouldn't work. The Resurrection Stone summoned shades, not the real, living person; making an Inferius used the corpse and not the soul. There was no way to unite body and spirit again once the spirit was fled, the books had warned him.
But no one else had ever spoken with the spirit of the dead man in a place that responded to that spirit's wishes, not far away from the real world.
The world turned white around him, and yellow, and blazing rose, and deepest purple, and grey, and black.
The colors collided and rose, bearing Draco up as on a wave. He kept hold of the Elder Wand, aiming it towards the right side of Potter's body, or what had been the right side of Potter's body when he could still see. He didn't know where he was now, with this roaring noise of joy in his ears and this water beneath his feet.
The world around him was thin now, a quivering shadow, a flame that turned back and forth. Draco could see both sides of it at once, the yearning gold that rose, the white and blue that edged it, and the black that waited on the other side. He stood close to it and felt the searing fury, and the no less searing cold beyond.
So thin the barrier that separated the realms of life and death.
He turned around, or seemed to turn around. He didn't remember turning his head. Perhaps the wave beneath his feet had turned him. He gazed into the distance, and the distance rushed towards him. The flame kept blazing away beside him, releasing more sparks of light and devouring all of them. Draco wondered how many people were born and died as he stood there.
He hoped he wouldn't be gone for years or decades at a time. The necromancy books hadn't warned of the possibility of such a thing happening, because they described the spell as never working.
The distance got to him, and showed itself as the white stones, and the barrier that imprisoned that fragment of the Dark Lord, and Potter, turning towards Draco with his mouth open. The inside of his mouth was as black as the cold, his green eyes as bright as the flame.
Then Draco was there, and he staggered on the stones. When he turned around to face Potter, he found that the flame was still beside him, hanging in midair and gleaming, but he didn't know if it was visible to anyone else. Potter stared at him and not it, at least. But Potter might be doing that because of the manner in which he had arrived. Draco wasn't too sure of what it had looked like from the outside, himself.
"Malfoy," Potter said, not in the tone of joy and gratitude Draco had hoped he would have the sense to adopt when he realized rescue had arrived. "What are you doing here?"
Draco hesitated. He wasn't sure how time passed in this dimension—perhaps it didn't pass, seeing as Potter still looked eighteen, the way he had when he'd died—and wondered if perhaps it had been so long Potter didn't remember their last conversation. "I came to offer you that choice I talked about," he said.
"Oh, please." Potter at least didn't stammer and demand to know what he was talking about. He folded his arms in front of him and snorted. "You think that anything's changed? That I can leave this behind?" He tossed his head in the direction of the barrier. "Someone has to stay here to guard him. Are you volunteering?"
Draco sneered. "No. You have to do that because that's what you chose. Have you thought, for one moment, that you could choose something different? You don't have to guard it. Leave it here, and it'll fade away."
Potter blinked, then shook his head. "You don't know that."
"I know that your choices control everything else here," Draco pointed out. "The food you get. The fact that you have to eat at all, and shit." The flame beat time beside him. Draco knew he didn't have the hours he'd probably need to persuade Potter, but then, he thought he had laid down some of the groundwork in his previous conversation. He forced his voice into calmness. If he could do that when he faced a classroom full of first-years who wanted to "experiment" with their potions, then he could do it at other times, too. "If you let him go, if you let it go, then it should fade."
Potter's hands clenched. His breath came faster. There was something terrible there, Draco thought as he gazed into those bright green eyes, something that held Potter back more than anything he'd mentioned so far. Was it only fear of the Dark Lord escaping, then, and haunting his dreams? Or was he afraid Draco might not be able to bring him back to life after all? Draco had to admit, his ability to do that was only speculation on his part.
No, he saw after a moment. It was hope.
Potter hoped. He wanted to go back. He wanted to return to life. And he thought he shouldn't, that his duty was to stay here and guard the Dark Lord.
Draco shook his head and brewed up words from the contempt he had felt for Potter as a schoolboy, the compassion the shade had stirred in him, the anger he had felt when he realized that Potter had probably condemned himself to be here and guarding the Dark Lord, and the yearning he had felt for this to succeed. Not because he'd promised anyone else, but because he wanted it to.
"You have the right to go back, Potter, you idiot. You did everything they could possibly ask you to do as a young hero and a young moron. You died for them. How can the Dark Lord come back if you leave a part of him here? Let it fade away. Everything's different now, changed and gone and dead and living. But it's an emptier world without you. Don't you want to see your friends again? Come on. I don't think this chance would be here for anyone else, not when you're the Master of Death and I'm the only other one who has a claim to the Elder Wand right now. But this won't be forever. I might never manage it again. Sooner or later, they're going to learn who it was that stole your body—"
"You did what?" Potter interrupted Draco's dizzy monologue, sounding appalled. "You took my body from the grave?" He shuddered. "And it didn't decompose on you when you were carrying it? It should have, if it's been six years like you say."
"The Elder Wand turned back time for you," Draco said, and brandished the wand in his hand. "I doubt it would have done that for anyone else, but it can sense its true master isn't dead, and it wants you back." The flame sang beside him, faster and faster, and the unstable floor trembled beneath his feet. "It can't keep me here for long. Come with me, Potter, you grand idiot. You have the chance. Tell me that you don't want it, and I won't believe you. So we might as well skip over all the other nonsense that you're going to offer me and go straight for what's understood."
"Right," Potter muttered, and his lips curved up in what looked like a smile. It might even have been an amused smile. Draco didn't care enough to find out. He held out an urgent hand, and Potter stepped forwards.
The barrier around the Dark Lord's fragment began to dissolve. Potter jerked himself to a stop and gasped, turning his head to look at it.
"Let it go," Draco snarled, and yanked at his hand.
"But he might get out," Potter murmured, eyes shadowed. "And I know that you tried to stand against him last time, and even you couldn't do it—"
"It's not alive," Draco said, and yanked on his hand again. "Like you. Not alive. Not dead. Held in an in-between state. Come back with me now, and that state will end."
Potter's eyes did hold fear, now, drifting between the flecks of hope like a shark through a cloud of minnows. "But—how can I? When I come back to life, won't he come with me? I was the Horcrux—"
"He needs you to survive," Draco said flatly. He wasn't absolutely sure of his reasoning, but he was fairly sure, and the necromancy books had supported him. "So long as you're near him, he can survive, or at least share your state. But if you're separated from him by a goodly distance, then he won't survive. Bring your spirit back to your body, and he stays here, and he'll die. He'll die."
Potter nibbled his lip. Draco swore and turned him so that he faced the far misty wall. The mist pulled back to reveal some of the white stone Draco had seen earlier as Potter stared at it. "Think about leaving," Draco murmured into his ear. "It responds to what you do, to what you think. Focus your attention on seeing your friends again."
Potter frowned, but Draco could assume from the way his forehead was wrinkling that he was probably doing so. Little pulses of thought and concentration seemed to run through his temples—
And the wall in front of him began to dissolve. Potter sagged back, gaping, and the stones tattered and tore, revealing dancing flame behind. The flame of life, Draco thought, imprinted on a black background. This place hung between life and death.
And the Elder Wand in his hand felt dangerously hollow once more. They couldn't stay here for much longer.
"Choose," he told Potter. "Choose now. Our lives are our choices, and that's especially true for you right now."
It seemed he had said the right thing after all. Potter smiled; Draco could feel the difference in his face and the way the skin shifted under his hands on Potter's temples more than he could see it. Then he reached up, clasped one of Draco's hands, and said, "Six years, you said it's been?"
Draco could feel the flame of his life burning out, the darkness of death pressing closer, the floor wavering under his feet, even Potter becoming less real under his hands. But he knew it was important, somehow, that he take the time to answer this question instead of reminding Potter again of how little time they had for this. So he murmured simply, "Yes."
Potter nodded, hesitated, then nodded again as if in response to a conversation he was conducting with himself. Then he said, "I've done enough. Six years on guard duty, seven fighting Voldemort. I think it's time to go home."
The walls gaped ahead of them and behind. Draco forced himself not to turn around when the fragment of the Dark Lord began to wail. The wailing was falling further and further behind them, as if going down. He kept his hand firmly in place on Potter's shoulder, too, and didn't let him glance back either.
The flame blazed before them, and was all around them. For a moment, Draco thought he caught a glimpse of a gate, grey and gold, the kind of gate the necromancy books were always talking about. It arched over them, and the thick bars stood open. Draco saw grinning faces to the sides of the path, and scowling faces, and reaching hands. The path in front of them was made of white and black stone, one kind scattered among the other, and overgrown. Not many people, Draco thought, had ever come this way.
He saw his father.
But he did not have time to think about it, no time to consider his actions or reconsider them. They were traveling forwards, and the light embraced them.
That was the first sensation Draco felt when he came back to life, or at least came back from the strange place that Potter's mind had constructed. He opened his eyes, saw the slanting rays of sunset, groaned, and started to shut them again. His head ached, and his hand where he gripped the Elder Wand throbbed as if burned, and his arms were cramped.
He turned his head when the wand tugged at him, and realized that he was cramped because he was lying with his arms around Potter. The Wand was burning him, yes, tugging furiously because it wanted to get away from him and go to Potter. Draco let it go. Opening his fingers was all he had strength for.
The Wand immediately crashed into Potter, and dug straight into his chest, or what Draco thought was his chest; it was hard to see under his Cloak. The Resurrection Stone rose singing from the dirt beside him at the same time, and turned in midair above Potter's head, the slight scratches etched in its surface flashing again, and again.
Draco watched as the Cloak floated off Potter's body and they arranged themselves into the sign of the Deathly Hallows, there, the triangle cradling the circle that the line bisected. He blinked, and wished he had better words to tell of it. Anyone who relied on him for an account later was liable to be disappointed.
The Wand dug down, and further down. The Cloak billowed and stretched to let it through, and the Stone sang. Then the Stone darted to the side, and Draco turned his head.
The marching shade stood there, its eyes bigger than Draco had thought they could go, one hand reached out as though to touch Potter. Its body. His body. Its eyes met Draco's, and Draco, not knowing why but knowing he had to, nodded and smiled and gestured towards Potter.
He figured it out later, thinking back on it. The shade had to join Potter so that he could anchor himself to the world again. It had been a reflection of his pain and his doubt here for so long, while he made himself into a mindless figure of duty to guard the Dark Lord, and he would never be whole without it.
The Stone flew around the shade's head like a hummingbird, and the shade tilted its head back to look up at it. There was such yearning in its face that Draco swallowed against the temptation to reach out himself. Perhaps it was just as well he didn't have the strength, he decided later. This was something delicate, something that needed to be handled carefully, hovering here between the Stone and the shade.
Then a dark light reached out of the Stone, a cone of unlight, at the same moment as the shade lifted its hand and reached out. The Stone flew back and burrowed into Potter's chest as well, next to the Wand. The Cloak flapped up around them, hiding them, cloaking them Draco thought with a faint snort, from sight.
Exactly how the Deathly Hallows restored their Master, Draco didn't know and didn't think he needed to. He could hear the sounds of breaking, and the sounds of mending. That was all he could say later, when they asked him.
For now, he was tired, and his head still hurt. He laid it down in the leaves next to Potter, and closed his eyes.
He was almost asleep when he felt Potter's chest rise and then fall, sighting out a long, noisy breath, a release and a welcome.
When Draco awoke, Potter was watching him.
He still looked eighteen, was the startling thing, given the age in his eyes. He winced when he saw Draco looking at him, and turned his head away. But then it turned back, and he forced himself to endure it, Draco saw—forced himself to endure his first human gaze in six years. Or six and a half, Draco decided, his fingers playing with the edge of the fine robe Potter had been buried in. Almost seven. Potter had died in the spring, and it was autumn now.
"Was it worth it?" Potter asked, with a strange, bitter smile.
"Yes," Draco said. His head no longer hurt. He looked around, but although he saw the Cloak lying over Potter's right arm—mostly by not seeing Potter's right arm—there was no sign of the other Hallows. "What happened to the Wand and the Stone?"
"I flung the Stone away," Potter said. "Then I used the Wand to bury it." His mouth worked weirdly. "I don't—I don't want to be the Master of Death."
Draco nodded, and waited, his fingers rising now so he could touch the edges of Potter's hair. It was softer than his sleeve.
"And the Wand," Potter said. He closed his eyes. Draco held his breath until they opened again. "I broke it."
Draco swallowed. Then he said, "I didn't know that was possible."
"Apparently when you wrap it in the Cloak and bear down with every possible fiber of your being, trying to reject it, it is." Potter shuddered and closed his eyes again. "I didn't know it would work. But it did."
Draco nodded again, and waited. Potter opened his eyes and focused on him, so worn-out, so beaten, that Draco wondered how he would rise and walk out of here. Perhaps Draco would have to carry him. If that was the case, then they would be waiting for a while. Draco felt like he would have to be carried himself.
"What happens now?" Potter asked quietly.
Draco thought about that. Potter went on, in a low voice that rose progressively up the scale as he talked.
"I mean, I was gone for six years. Everyone is used to me being dead. And I'm still the same age I was, but everyone else will have moved on. And you'll have to answer questions, and people will be swarming over the Forest searching for the Hallows, and someone might find the Stone. And I don't—I don't want to think about it. I don't want to answer questions. I'm tired!" He practically shouted the last words, and the Forest seemed to ring with them.
"So am I," Draco said, and began the difficult task of forcing himself to his feet. Potter watched him, and then followed him. They found themselves kneeling, nose to nose, swaying back and forth a little as they sat there.
"I won't let anyone else use me," Potter told him, as though he thought Draco would be clamoring for that.
Draco yawned. "I won't let that happen," he agreed. "But come on, we should get back to Hogwarts." He held out his arm, and after a moment, Potter grasped it and pulled himself to his feet. Draco swayed. Potter hauled him up.
"Well, that makes sense," Draco said, as they limped towards the school, the Cloak still draped over Potter's arm. "You are younger."
Potter's face crumbled, and his eyes closed. "I don't know what I'm going to do," he whispered.
Draco shrugged. Perhaps it was his weariness, but he saw no point in worrying about that now. "We'll figure that out when we've had a bite to eat," he said.
For a bit, Potter was silent as they rustled through leaves and up small hills. They were making a lot of noise, but Draco reckoned any sensible creatures would have felt that explosion of magic earlier and got the hell out of the way of anyone who could do that. He could see the edge of the castle grounds through the trees now.
"Thanks," Potter murmured.
Draco waited a moment, until they reached the top of the latest rise, to dart a glance at him. Potter's face was red, his eyelashes lowered, his eyes steadily on their feet, as if he assumed Draco would automatically refuse the words.
"You're welcome," Draco said mildly, and enjoyed the way Potter turned an astonished gaze on him.
They limped out of the Forest at last, and the lights of Hogwarts were before them.
Potter froze as if he would go back into the Forest, but Draco latched an arm around his shoulders and tugged hard on him. Potter swallowed and continued gamely limping on, the Cloak swaying with a soft sound on his arm.
There would be so much after, Draco knew—questions and answers and conversations and demands and interviews. But that was later, when they were fed and washed and well-rested and had the mental strength for all those things.
This was how they came back to life: with the soft glow of lamps on a chill autumn evening, with leaves crunching beneath their feet and rain beginning to fall, the scent of Potter's hair in Draco's nostrils, leaning on each other.
With Death behind them, and Life ahead.