I have given up on mailing cupcakes, so I'll be sending mental cupcakes instead to the following people: Christy (of course) n Rhiii (of course), poetic_license, Aja, Nmissi, Reena, Light Iniquity, Kimby, Iarmain, AVK, Aurora Malfoy, Gypsy Silverleaf, Valerie, Absinthe, Loende, Miztiy, marysia, Diamond Angel, Draco Malfoy-N-Harry Potter, deso, litecrystal, Mel, venenatus.venustas, Stewart, Youko Gingitsune,Kearie, Tyde, Shades, Sheron, Riesa, Azalais Malfoy, VeronicaQ, Hope-Leer, Rory9, switchknife, charlie, annephoenix, Rings Of Saturn, BlancheMalfoy, beautiful disaster, just me, M-chan, nikalee, the emailers, and anyone else I may have missed who gave me feedback in some way. I really appreciate it.
Chapter Seven: Enemy of My Enemy
It's human to avoid death. I don't think that humans avoid death because they want to exist, but maybe because they want to be included. Maybe the only thing keeping anybody alive is the urge to know what happens next, to turn the page and watch the world unravel until all that's left is a tangle of thread.
Maybe that's all living is. Waiting to find out what happens next. Waiting to see the final design. Just waiting.
Nobody ever talked about Malfoy's birthday, but I looked through some records and found out it was at the end of March.
I was planning to give him a feather from a goose. Perhaps it was a mean-spirited present and perhaps it was unlike me but I imagined the fear in his eyes when I handed it to him and it scared me but I liked it. More than anything, I wanted to see what guilt would look like in Draco's eyes. I guess because guilt is so…so human.
Draco pretends he's not human, but I know he is. And I pretend I am human, but sometimes I'm not. Which sounds weird, I know, because what else could I be but human? I'm not a monster, I'm not a god, and I'm definitely not a myth, no matter what Draco says.
I'm not a bird either, I don't think.
The funny thing is, when you're not completely human, sometimes death doesn't completely matter. Sometimes it's just one more event, one more thread, one last image of life. It's just not such a big deal, not the absolute end no matter how much you wish it was.
Sometimes when you're not human, you make no sense to anyone but yourself.
Sometimes when you're not human, you have to surround yourself with humans in hopes that they'll rub off on you. Draco, in his denial to be human, is the most human thing I know and I think maybe I love him for it but no, that can't be right, can it.
I didn't think so.
I don't think I'd mind being a bird. I don't think flying away would be too bad.
I was going to give Draco a feather for his birthday, but I ended up keeping it for myself.
It's the most beautiful thing I own, you see, and I couldn't give it away. It doesn't matter anyway. Now I have two feathers and green light in my head.
They were shivering uncontrollably. Draco could hear Harry's teeth chattering, could feel the reverberations in his skull. He thought back to days before. Harry's tears sliding into Draco's eyes. It made Draco angry that Harry should have all these emotions, yet it was up to Draco to experience them for him, to contemplate the feeling of someone else's tears running down his cheek, another's shivers running through his spine.
"Calm down," Draco tried to say, but he couldn't form the words, was shivering too hard himself. "Freezing," he muttered instead. It was all his lips seemed able to manage, the one clumsy word he could get out. "Freezing, it's-"
Draco glared, anger pushing him out of his confusion. "I believe freezing covered that, yes."
Dumbledore dead and he was quipping, snapping, dying, freezing. Draco would have run away. He wanted to. Run away, Malfoy, run away from the body and the body and the body and what do you think is going to happen when they find out, Malfoy?
Suddenly it was his father's voice in his head.
They'll chase you and kill you, mar the family name, mar your beautiful face and mar the ice-world you live in, the ice-world you've made home. They'll burn it down, the Ministry, Voldemort, they'll burn you down until there's nothing left of your world.
Draco would have run, he would have run until his lungs collapsed and he sank to his knees. He would have run, only…
Only Potter stood there, looking like a lost child; one would half-expect to see mittens tied to his sleeves. He took a step away from Draco, looked down at the body, looked back up at Draco, then looked at the body once more. "What do we do?" Harry said. His voice was calm, almost rational. Draco would have thought Harry was completely in control if it wasn't for the tremors running through both of them. Harry began to pace. "What do we do," he said, "and why is it so cold, and what do we do."
Draco felt a sudden need to take the initiative, to stop sniveling and do something. The birds had been one thing. This was… This wasn't as important as birds. Birds were different, more ethereal, they didn't belong to the world. Dumbledore was an old man and the earth wanted him back. It was practically the old wizard's time anyway. Harry and he had really, Draco thought, done everyone else a huge favor.
"Let's start with a fire," said Draco suddenly.
"For the cold?"
"For the body."
"You mean…" began Harry.
"I mean." Draco took out his wand and steadied his shaking hand. "Incendio," he said, pointing the wand at Dumbledore's body. Flames engulfed the frail form, worked their way past the fabric of his robes, through his skin, to the core. Draco looked away, staring steadily at the sky outside. He could feel the heat of the fire upon his face. It felt good, like it was chasing away the ice of Avada Kedavra.
Harry, unlike Draco, watched the fire steadily. Draco was unsure whether or not he should lean in for comfort. Someone should make Harry look away.
Before Draco could decide what to do, the ground began to shake. Draco glanced over and saw Harry stomping out what remained of the flame that had eaten Dumbledore's body. Harry continued stomping his feet on the floorboards, even when the flame was quenched. Draco watched. Finally he grabbed Harry's arm and pulled him back, before the boy stomped his way through the floorboards altogether, like an echo of some crazy fairy tale.
The two looked at the place where Dumbledore had been. A normal fire would have left more messy pieces to deal with, but the magical flame had destroyed the body and the bones. All that remained was ash.
It was Harry who swooped down and cupped the cluster of ashes within his palms. In one swift movement he was at the window, arms spread above his head, fingertips extended toward the sky.
Draco ran to the window and watched as the falling ashes were picked up by the wind and scattered like dandelion seeds.
"I should have known," said Harry. "I should have known, I should have known, I should have known."
Draco thought of saying something about these things happening, or how there was no way Harry could have known, or that sometimes people die and it's just part of the grand cycle your choice of supreme being has set us on and what's a perfect life without exquisite death, and most of all Draco wanted to say: But Potter, you think death is beautiful (in the right lighting).
He remained silent.
"This happens every time," Harry went on. "The world spins around me and there are things I'm supposed to know or figure out because I'm a hero, a hero, and clever, and…" He turned to Draco suddenly and grabbed his shoulders. "I heard footsteps before. I thought it was you or me… I didn't think it was… And now he's in the sky somewhere. I'm stuck here on earth. Because I was stupid and I can never connect the damn dots. I always figure things out at the last moment and usually things turn out okay but…Not this time. I should have known. I never figure out the plot until it's too late, until somebody dies."
"Dumbledore died. Who else?" Draco tilted his head. "Oh, you mean the Hufflepuff? He hardly counts."
But Harry had turned back to the window. He gripped the stone ledge so tightly that his fingertips turned a chalky white. "Should have known," Harry muttered under his breath. "Lucky streak can only last so long, right, and if I'm such a savior how come people keep dying, how come-"
"Because you're not a savior. You're a stupid kid, and that's why all of this happened. You're not clever, you're not a miracle, and Dumbledore is dead. Okay? Did you get all that?"
Their eyes traveled to the sky, the swirling wind, while their thoughts traveled to the pile of ash, the tattered cloak, the remnants of a great wizard and, more importantly, a human being.
Draco turned to Harry. "He…He was manipulative. Dumbledore was."
"Yes." Then, more softly: "Don't say that."
"I already have." Draco flushed and turned away rapidly from the window, not wanting his anger to ebb. "I already have so don't tell me what to do, Potter."
"I wish you'd stop saying that. I don't tell you what to-"
"I can tell you what to do too, you know."
"I guess we have to get out of here," Harry said, ignoring Draco. "When they find out what we did…"
"I'm not leaving Hogwarts."
"There's no way out. There's just death. And I'm ready, I'm ready for it."
"Yes! I'm brave enough to die. Are you?"
Harry glared at him.
"What, Potter? You want me to tell you to go on without me? Discover the mysteries of death while I stay at Hogwarts taking Herbology exams? I'm not letting you go. I'd never let you make things easy on yourself."
"They'll kill us anyway."
"There's always more than one way out," Draco said almost cheerfully, pushing the picture of Dumbledore from his mind. "Haven't you paid attention to your own life? Or were you sleeping along the way? How many close calls have you had?"
"Stop asking me questions. I've never killed anyone."
"You want to die?"
"Dumbledore is gone," said Draco. "The wizard who has manipulated your life from the very start is no longer here. You wanted control, didn't you? Well, look around! You're finally holding the reins and you're going to let go?! If there's one thing I've learned in Slytherin, Potter, it's that when you've got what you want, run with it."
"I'm not a Slytherin."
"This isn't what I want."
"He was spying on us," said Harry. "For how long, do you think? Perhaps he's told someone already."
"I don't think he has. We'd know by now. So would everyone else."
"Do you think he saw us... I mean when we were…Do you think he saw us?"
"I don't know."
"I'm sure Dumbledore has other ways of getting his…kicks," Draco added helpfully. "Or at least, he has better things to do than watch us."
"Had, you mean."
"He's dead. Past tense."
"Oh. You're right, let's get out of here. We should go to his office, leave a note or something."
There was an edge to Harry's voice. Draco shrugged uneasily. "That the pressure of Voldemort is getting to him, I guess?"
"You think…You think we should leave a suicide note?"
Draco shrugged again. "I don't know. I suppose."
"Or," said Harry, "we could say he's gone on a quest."
"A quest?" Draco arched an eyebrow and laughed, an odd laugh that sounded like splintering glass.
"Well, he's wise," Harry said defensively, looking away. "What with the white beard and the glasses and… He seems like he has a lot of quests to be on."
"Seemed. Had. Past tense."
"I'm traveling," said Draco distantly, and Harry realized he was trying to figure out what to write on the note. "Don't come looking for me. I don't want to be found."
"The pressures of the impending war are too much," Harry added. "I… I grow weary with age."
"I wish to spend my last days away from the world of witches and wizards."
"I wish to be left alone in solitude."
"I wish to die in peace."
"Albus Dumbledore," said Harry. He'd started shaking again and the last words hung in the air, trembling, before they died.
This time Draco did reach out. Feeling somewhat awkward, he held Harry so tightly to his chest that he could feel Harry's glasses digging into his skin. It was, Draco reflected, a game they played. When Harry was losing it, Draco was there to hold him. When Draco was losing it…
Harry was there to shove him down. And it was always exactly what Draco needed.
Harry grasped Draco's arm and pressed his lips against his wrist. "The office," he said to Draco's pulse.
"Yes." Draco let go of Harry and Harry began to move toward the invisibility cloak. Harry paused, then gingerly picked up Dumbledore's tattered cloak. "I guess we have two of them now."
"Don't," said Draco, touching Harry's shoulder. "We'll leave it in his office."
He grabbed the cloak and threw it over Harry and himself. Draco started to walk, but Harry was not moving.
"Would you hurry up?" Draco impatiently twirled at the shreds of Dumbledore's invisibility cloak.
"Look down," said Harry. His voice sounded strange. "Look at the floor."
"There's nothing there except our feet. Is that unusual? Have you just now noticed how good-looking my feet are? Flattered as I am, we truly don't have time for this."
Good, Draco. Slide back into who you really are, don't let yourself become possessed by death and ancient wizards and green green light.
"Look closer," Harry said. "Look outside of the cloak."
Draco's vision was fuzzy under the invisibility cloak, but he was fairly sure he saw nothing unusual. He glanced over at Harry, whose eyes were still riveted on the floor.
"You're delusional. There's nothing there but the floorboards, some cracks, our shadows."
"Our shadows. Exactly. I'd… I'd never noticed before. The invisibility cloak hides us, but it doesn't hide our shadows."
Something about Harry's words made Draco's blood freeze into jagged icicles that cut at his veins. "You think that shadow we saw, the one we thought was a rat… That was Dumbledore?"
"It could be. Partially. Only…" Harry paused. "There must be more to it."
"Not everything is a plot against you, Potter. Some things are just what they seem."
"Yeah, well, I can't take that risk again, can I?"
They continued on their way, out the door of the classroom and down a corridor.
Shadows cloaked Hogwarts at night, but Harry noticed none but his and Draco's. The two boys were huddled under the cloak together, and fascinated, Harry stared down at the floor, allowing Draco to guide him to Dumbledore's office. Their shadows were darkly grey, like a mourner's veil. Their bodies were close, so close their separate shadows appeared to meld together, to create one bulky person out of two slight boys. Every now and then a shaft of moonlight would slip in from behind a curtain that was not quite closed, and a white line would cut across the shadow Harry and Draco shared.
Soon they stood outside of Dumbledore's office, in front of the large stone gargoyle.
"You know the password?" asked Draco. His hair brushed against Harry's face, shaking him out of his reverie.
"Huh? Oh. No. It's usually," he added helpfully, "something to do with food."
"Something to do with food? Do you want us to be here for years? Narrow it down, will you?"
"Well…What's the last thing you've seen Dumbledore eating for supper?"
The password turned out to be 'chop suey'. The two guessed it within a minute and began to walk up the stairs to Dumbledore's office.
"Amazing," said Harry.
"That Dumbledore stayed so thin. You'd think that between all those lemon drops and cockroach clusters there'd be a bit more weight gain."
"But then," said Draco, "you don't hear much about pudgy great wizards, do you? It just doesn't fit."
"Not at all."
"They're always old, but lean."
"And spry. Don't forget spry."
They walked up the spiraling staircase.
"Humor is always an interesting coping mechanism," said Draco halfway up.
"Yeah." Harry's mouth was a somber line. "We're pathetic."
Past the stairs and into Dumbledore's office. It was two in the morning, and his office was completely deserted… Even Fawkes had burned up that very day, and not yet hatched anew. There was something about being in Dumbledore's empty office that unsettled Harry more than anything else this night. In the emptiness of the place, Dumbledore seemed more dead than ever.
Draco crossed the room to Dumbledore's desk. He stared at something for a moment. "Potter," he said.
The windows of Dumbledore's office were void of moonlight. Harry stared at the darkness outside the glass window panes. He felt as though he were looking into the empty eyes of someone dead.
"Maybe we should leave, Malfoy," Harry said, trying not to stutter. "It's…I don't feel right about this… I… There's a way to undo all of this, there must be a way. We shouldn't be here and we definitely shouldn't leave a note."
"Someone already has."
"Someone's left a note." Draco sounded so strange that Harry did not move for a good minute. Finally he walked clumsily to the desk, feeling as though the movements were no longer his own. Even his own shadow seemed foreign, after staring at it for so many minutes.
"Look at this," Draco said when Harry reached him. He held a piece of parchment out to Harry. When Harry made no move to take it, Draco growled and outstretched the parchment in front of Harry's eyes, holding the corners of it so taut that Harry feared the note might rip in half.
"Read it, Potter." Draco shoved the note in Harry's face. "Well, read it! Do as I say!"
"To the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," Harry began stoically. The ink swam like cheap watercolor before his eyes. He tried to separate the sentences, but letters kept dripping off the words they were hooked to. Harry took a deep breath and continued.
"Given your tendencies of pampering your favorite students, seeing only what you wish to see in them, I beg you to understand the sincerity in this letter. On the third floor of Hogwarts, in the classroom directly above your office, Harry Potter is in a tremendous amount of danger."
Harry looked at the letter a bit longer. "That's all it says," he murmured finally.
"Very dramatic reading, Potter," Draco hissed. "And who is it signed by, hm? Go on."
"A… A concerned benefactor."
"Very concerned!" Draco whipped the letter away from Harry and crumpled it in his pocket. "They set Dumbledore up! They sent him up there knowing we'd…"
"Only we didn't mean to… How could they have known?"
"It's this Entwined business, I'm telling you. The Implexos thing, it's more important than I thought."
Harry looked helpless. "Maybe?"
"Figure it out!"
"I can't, I…I don't know how."
"How many bloody adventures does it take?! How many times do people have to die until you start figuring out the plot? That's your problem, Harry Potter. Most heroes are always one step ahead of the game, but you? You're miles behind."
Draco had thought Harry would react with anger, but Harry only hung his head, black hair falling over his eyes.
"Miles behind," repeated Draco, hoping Harry would look at him.
"Burn the note too," was all Harry said. He ripped a piece of empty parchment from Dumbledore's desk. "You write the new one. I'm no good at this sort of thing."
"No good at what?" Draco droned. "Forging notes from dead men?"
"You're better at making things up. You're better at lying."
"Better at covering up your mistakes, you mean."
"I wasn't the only one who killed him."
"It was you who let go of the spell."
"It would have killed us! It was you who told me to let go!" Harry's voice rose from a whisper to a shout in one quick breath. He grabbed Draco by the shoulders and Draco smiled. "It was you," Harry went on, "who wanted to find out about this spell in the first place. It was you who researched what it meant to be Entwined. It was you who brought books from the library. It's always you, Draco."
"It was you," replied Draco calmly, "who desired to kill."
"It's you," Draco said, "who revels in the power killing gives you."
"It was you who introduced me to that…" Harry's voice cracked. "To that power."
"It was you who first whispered Avada Kedavra to the birds."
"And it was you who followed me."
"It was you who adored those words so much." Draco's eyes narrowed. "What am I talking about? It is you who adores those words so much."
"And don't you wish you could adore those words too?"
"I'm going to kill you, Potter."
"What, again?" Harry laughed. "How many times have you made that threat, Malfoy?"
"I mean it this time."
"Don't you wish you could be exactly who you're supposed to be?" asked Harry softly.
"No. You want to be me."
"You? Right! You, a clumsy, boring, ugly little…Four-eyes."
"I'm none of those things," Harry said, his eyes flashing. He paused. "Well, except for the four-eyes bit, you've got me there."
"You're all of those things. " Draco imagined himself in Harry's glasses and shuddered. "It would be dreadful. Why on earth would I want to be you?"
"Because you're supposed to be me. Because you want to enjoy it too."
"The Killing Curse."
"So you admit it! You enjoyed it!" Draco smiled triumphantly. "You enjoyed it, just like I knew you would."
"And you, Malfoy, you didn't enjoy it quite as much as you expected to."
"This isn't about me."
"Are you sure, Harry? Hm. That's a first."
"Look, I'm sick of this. We could argue on like this forever and never get anywhere, because you're too much of a coward to admit how much you hated seeing those birds fall out of the sky. Well, I don't care what you hate. Write a note from Dumbledore, leave it on the desk. I'm going to bed."
Draco grabbed Harry's elbow before he could leave. "Stay here. Stay here while I write it."
"Hurry up then, would you?"
Draco glared and tore a piece of parchment off of Dumbledore's desk. He rummaged for a quill, then began scribbling. When he finished he stared at the parchment for a long moment, then showed the note to Harry. It read that Dumbledore had left and would they be kind enough to please leave him alone, he was sick of the war and the world. The handwriting was scrawled and messy, and nearly identical to Dumbledore's own handwriting.
"There is a spell," said Draco knowingly, "for copying someone's handwriting exactly, if you have a sample of their writing. But I'm rather excellent at forging other's handwriting, and this was easier."
"Good," Harry said, rubbing his temples. "Great."
"I wasn't asking for your seal of approval."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Bed, I need to go to-"
"Who do you think did this? Who wrote that note to Dumbledore?"
Harry tried to shrug his shoulders, but even that didn't seem worth the effort. "I don't know. A…A professor, I suppose. Who else would know we were up there?"
Draco shrugged. "Do you think perhaps it was Snape? I like him and all but…He'd adore getting you in trouble. Not that I can blame him."
"Snape?" Harry barked a laugh and moved to the door. "I'm not going after that red herring again."
"Someone did this," cried Draco, exasperated.
"Yes." A strange look suddenly passed through Harry's eyes. Draco saw it, even though he was standing across the room from Harry.
"What?" he asked.
"Was it you?" asked Harry.
"Was it you, Malfoy?" Harry's voice had never sounded so clear to Draco's ears.
There was silence.
"Funny," Harry said, striding back to Draco. "Isn't it? The note doesn't breathe a word about you. It only mentions me being upstairs."
"Because you're the one everyone's concerned with. Nobody cares what I do."
"Do you resent it? That I'm the center of everything?"
"It's getting to your head, isn't it?"
"I think this is your work, Malfoy."
"You finally believe all the propaganda about yourself. You really think you're great enough that I'd stoop so low? That I'd get you in trouble for something I myself asked you to do?"
"You did it before. Invited me to a duel and never showed."
"But this! You idiot. That was years ago and I'd never, I didn't-"
"Oh, you did. Don't act all reformed now. You haven't changed a bit, Malfoy."
"Did you ever think I had?"
"You wrote that note."
"Shut up, Potter."
"Make me." Harry walked closer. "And I don't mean shut me up with passionate embraces and kisses and all of that. Kill me, won't you? See if you can silence me because I'm sick of my own voice."
"This is all very depressing. Are you planning to kill yourself? Jump off a tower or something?"
Harry's face became void of emotion.
"Go on, Harry. End it right now, and do you mind very much if I watch?"
The room seemed to lose all of its air; the office's walls seemed to creep closer with each breath.
"So you did write that note," Harry whispered. "You sent Dumbledore up there purposely."
"Of course I didn't! I have no idea who wrote it, and I certainly don't have to defend myself to you. Besides, we have bigger things to worry about. Dumbledore is dead."
"I want you," said Harry, so out of the blue that Draco couldn't help wondering if he'd heard right. "That doesn't surprise you, Draco, does it?"
Draco quickly regained his composure. "Not really."
"You know it?"
"Why would you betray me?"
Harry leaned in and kissed Draco, a slow kiss that never felt real. "I think you would," he said, his words slipping between his lips and Draco's.
"No. Never." Draco pressed his mouth to Harry's, tasted him. It was the first kiss of theirs that did not seem inherently desperate, the first kiss that they allowed themselves to linger on and contemplate. "I'd never betray you. Kill you, perhaps, or hate you… Never betray."
"You really expect me to believe that? You're a Slytherin. Betrayal is what you guys do."
"Mm, you're probably right," murmured Draco, pulling Harry to the floor. Their bodies collided on the carpet. "I wouldn't believe anything I say."
"You honestly didn't write that note?"
"No, for the hundredth time, I didn't write that note."
"Oh. Well. That's good."
"That I didn't write the note or-"
"No, what you just did."
"Oh." Draco closed his eyes and felt the stillness of the room. "Why do I have to be on the bottom?" Draco whined suddenly. "This carpet smells like old people."
"Way to ruin the moment."
"You don't believe me? Smell the carpet, Potter! Smell it right now!"
"Ergh. Fine, get up then."
They did not move for several minutes.
Harry memorized the texture of Draco's skin.
They tangled closer, and Harry wondered if their shadows were on the walls, in the sky, shakily reflecting upon the surface of oceans and rivers and foamy bath water.
"Er, yes. The old people. Sorry." With a weak smile, Harry rose to his feet. "I guess I'm going to bed then. Tomorrow is going to be... really, really weird."
"Better get your beauty sleep then, Potter." Draco paused. "Do you want to cry?"
"What?" Harry looked taken aback.
"After everything that's happened. Do you want to cry?"
"I just want all of the questions to stop." Harry felt his energy draining with each passing moment. "I want sleep. Okay?"
"Okay. Good night." Draco smirked. "Sweet dreams."
In his dreams, Draco was standing on the branch of a large oak tree. Crouched next to him sat Harry, who was crying. Dumbledore was standing on the ground below. A light blue tear drop, speckled with white salt, fell from Harry's eye. Draco waited for it to hit the ground, but instead Dumbledore caught the falling teardrop in his left hand. He caught the next tear in his right. If Harry cried enough, Draco decided, they would all drown. Dumbledore could not catch every single tear; he was only mortal.
"Like me," said Cedric Diggory into Draco's ear.
"But not me." Harry stood on an extending branch, his tears suddenly gone. He flashed a daredevil grin. "I'm immortal."
"Yes," Draco said again. "You are."
"If I die, I don't."
"Oh," said Draco. "Well, I do."
"If you jump, you won't die," noted Harry dispassionately. "My tears will catch your fall."
Draco shrugged, suddenly unsure of himself. "Don't they always?"
Then he jumped off the tree branch and fell into the darkness of the morning light that barely trickled into the Slytherin dorm rooms.
Draco woke up.
Harry Potter didn't dream at all.
It first became clear that something was wrong when the students sat down for breakfast at a table with no food, no plates, and no silverware.
"That's odd," said Hermione. "The house-elves are usually so efficient. I hope they're all right."
"I just want some breakfast," grumbled Ron.
"Me too," said Harry. "I'm starved."
"Don't be so inconsiderate! They may be terribly injured!" cried Hermione. "They always work, unless it's literally impossible. They could be captured! They could be dead!"
"They're probably just sleeping in," Ron shook his head. "And on a weekday too, those lazy bums."
"They could be prisoners to the Dark Lord!" Hermione went on. "They could be sick! They could be lost! They could be-"
"They're mourning," drawled a voice behind them. All three turned in their seats to see Draco Malfoy, watching them with what Harry thought looked very much like forced nonchalance.
"Mourning?" Hermione said shrilly. "Mourning what, exactly?"
"But haven't you heard? Aren't you three in Dumbledore's little circle? I'd think you'd be the first to know, the first to mourn. But even the stupid little house-elves have beaten you to it, it seems."
"What are you talking about, Malfoy?" snapped Ron.
"Perhaps Potter can tell you."
"Shut up, Malfoy," growled Harry. His eyes narrowed.
"Harry, tell us what's going on!"
Their conversation was interrupted by a great wail coming from outside the Great Hall. The buzzing of the students quickly ceased. Another wail followed the first one, only this one bounced off the walls and echoed in everyone's ears.
"I think that's Hagrid," whispered Hermione. "It sounds like he's crying." Her lips were pressed tightly together and she looked nervously at Ron.
Ron looked at Harry.
Harry looked away. "We'd better see what's wrong," he said, rising from the table. Ron, Hermione and Harry headed for the doors, their footsteps echoing in the silent room. Everyone else stared uneasily. The Great Hall sounded foreign without its endless clatter of silverware and plates.
There was another sob from outside, but it was interrupted by new footsteps and quick breath.
"Harry!" Ginny cried across the Great Hall. She ran to him. "Oh Harry, something horrible has happened. Harry, Harry. Harry, oh God, are you all right? Have you been hurt?"
Hermione and Ron had stopped walking and were looking questioningly at Ginny. Harry kept walking.
"Harry!" Ginny cried again. She grabbed his arm and tried to hold him still.
Harry's hands turned to fists, but he simply shrugged Ginny off and kept walking. "Gotta see if Hagrid is all right," he said under his breath.
"Listen to me, Harry!" Ginny ran to catch up with Harry's long strides and grabbed his arm again, more tightly. "I just went to see Trelawney because my crystal ball broke and she said- Harry, stay still, won't you?! Oh, you won't believe me but Dumbledore has-"
Harry jerked and pushed Ginny away suddenly and roughly, shoving her as hard as he could. Ginny didn't even stumble. She fell right to the floor, skidding along it until she came to a stop.
Her face became very white, and for a moment no one made a sound. Ginny stared up at Harry, dumbfounded, her brown eyes wide, their dark color contrasting sharply with her pale face. Harry's classmates were staring with equal amazement, but Harry saw only Ginny. Looking into her face, Harry felt as though he had injured another species of creature all together, like a boy who kicks a rabbit and suddenly realizes how fragile it is.
"Harry?" Ginny whispered, her whisper suspended in the air, hanging, waiting...
Harry's head crashed against the floor and a fist connected with the side of his head. Harry shouted, only able to see the color red. He slowly realized that his vision was clear and that red was in fact all there was to see. Ron had him pinned to the floor. His fists flew, pounding Harry's stomach and head with an inconsistent menacing rhythm. Harry writhed with pain but stayed still until Ron leaned in close next to Harry's ear, his bright hair falling into his eyes. Ron had grown in the past year, Harry discovered very suddenly.
Hermione was in the corner comforting Ginny. They were crying. So was Ron, Harry realized, as he saw the tears in Ron's eyes.
"You bastard," Ron's slurs became more legible, until he suddenly screaming into Harry's ear. His voice made Harry shake. "Never hurt my sister," screamed Ron. "Don't ever touch her! Don't ever touch her! Don't ever touch her. Ever! Okay?! You hear me?!" He jammed his elbow into Harry's gut. "Do you hear me?! You're going to die for that, you…" Harry felt another blow to his head. "…complete…" And another. "…bastard. I never want to see your face again. I thought you said things had changed! I thought things were better, I thought you cared about my sister, you filthy liar!"
Harry winced, at the words and the pain. However he didn't fight back. He let Ron punch him until Ron's red hair began to turn black and the lights of the Great Hall dimmed.
There was a brief struggle somewhere above Harry's head, the bold shouting of a spell. Suddenly Ron's weight was gone and Harry began to feel the floor underneath his body.
Harry was disappointed. He had begun to believe he was floating, ascending into the sky.
But no, Harry thought with a sigh, he was still here. The Great Hall came into focus and so did Draco Malfoy.
"I think we'd better get you out of here," said Draco cheerfully. He was kneeling at Harry's side. "Before they all attack you with pitchforks."
"Pitchforks?" murmured Harry.
"Yes. Sharp and pointy pitchforks, judging by the way they're glaring at you."
"And I'm not going to carry you," said Draco. "Get up yourself, Potter."
Harry was aware of all the eyes in the Great Hall staring straight at him. Anger in some, confusion in others… Colin Creevey's camera flashed and Harry quickly looked away. He did not want to meet the gaze of Ron or Hermione or Ginny. He couldn't face them.
Finally Harry struggled to his feet and Draco slung one of Harry's arms over his shoulder and began to help him out of the Great Hall. "This is a bit of role reversal, isn't it?" said Draco loudly, ignoring the stares and shocked murmurs running through the crowd. "Usually it's you helping Weasley limp pathetically away after I pummel him to dust."
"Shut up!" someone yelled, but Ron said nothing. Harry wondered briefly if Draco had knocked him unconscious.
"Weasley's outside talking to that freak, Hagrid," said Draco as if reading Harry's mind. "Don't worry about either of them."
Harry sighed, too dizzy to say anything, and Draco removed Harry's arm from his shoulder. "You can walk on your own now, can't you?" he asked.
Harry nodded and the two walked out of the Great Hall, Harry stumbling from time to time and trying not to trip over his feet.
"You should drink something," said Draco once they were alone in the hallway. "Or go to Madame Pomfrey's. Doubt she'd be there though."
"I'm fine," Harry said, gingerly running his fingers over his eyelid before wincing and pulling his hand away. His entire face felt sore, and he would be covered in bruises by evening, Harry could tell. "Where's Madame Pomfrey?"
"With the house-elves, I'd expect."
"Praying?" exclaimed Harry, his shock clearing his head. "To…To what, exactly?"
"I don't think they know." Draco paused. "I sneaked into the kitchens a few hours ago, before all the other students woke up. I guess the house-elves had discovered Dumbledore was gone first. He's an early riser or something, and the house-elves always bring him a bit of breakfast before he gets out of bed. Dumbledore always gets up at dawn and according to the house-elves he'd never miss breakfast."
"Quiet. Anyway, from what I picked up, they left Dumbledore's chambers and went to Filch to see where Dumbledore was. Filch got Snape, who went to Dumbledore's office to see if he was there… By this time it was nearly six in the morning. The searched the castle and eventually realized Dumbledore was gone. I can only assume they found the note. The staff has been informed that Dumbledore is gone and no one knows what to do."
"Someone is supposed to take over, aren't they?"
Draco shrugged. "They're still figuring it all out. McGonagall, as deputy headmistress, should take his place, only… Well, I saw her in the kitchens and she's a wreck. I guess some people just can't handle the pressure, eh Potter?"
"But McGonagall is…She's so brave. She's head of Gryffindor House!"
"I know what I saw. The whole thing was rather funny, really. The house-elves were all running around in black dish cloths. I suppose it was their way of mourning. They wouldn't stop wailing and McGonagall kept trying to tell them to be quiet before they woke up the castle but she could hardly speak, let alone issue commands."
"The staff, they all know?"
"Yes. They're trying to find a way to break it as gently as they can to the students, even if it takes all day. Load of rubbish if you ask me."
"I mean honestly, we have every right to know as soon as possible! Although I suppose it makes sense if everyone is going to react like the Weasley girl did when she found out. Chasing after you like that, clinging to you. I can see why you avoid her so often."
"Please don't talk about Ginny."
"They'll never forgive you, you know. Your friends. Your house. Ginny. You pushed her down!" Draco laughed. "Last thing I'd ever expect from you. Potter, the living proof that chivalry is alive and well. Yet...You shoved her away!"
"I know. And I'll never forgive myself either."
"Don't be stupid. Of course you will. You'll have more important things to worry about. Anyway, you didn't really hurt her. It looked more painful than it actually was, I think. Although that little sob she gave when she hit the floor was rather dreadful."
"You should have let Ron kill me," said Harry, turning away.
"He wouldn't have killed you. He just hates you. And the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
"Ron isn't my enemy."
"Try telling him that," said Draco gleefully. "I guess that means we're friends now, Potter!"
"Isn't it though? Can we share clothes and gossip all night long about how cute the paper boy is?"
"I can't believe you ever said I'm more girly than you are."
"Must we get into that again? I think I proved my manliness to you. Anyway, you shouldn't talk, Potter. You were simply lying there when Weasley attacked you. It really was the most pitiful thing I've ever seen. Do you want to go flying?"
Harry blinked. "What?"
"I'll get your broom for you if you're too weak and stupid. The sun's up and the air is perfect. We could fly far this time, further than ever before."
Harry smiled as he imagined Hogwarts growing smaller and smaller until it was a speck in the distance.
And then Harry realized that he hated Hogwarts. Last year he had loved it, last year it had been home. Now it was a place of trickery and deceit. Hidden towers, moving staircases, invisible men and ghosts. Nothing was as it seemed and that was what Harry had grown to hate. At the Dursley's, life had been hell but at least he'd known what was what, at least it had been a predictable hell. Harry had known he was miserable and in knowing that, his thoughts were not consumed with doubt and choices and worries. Things were always so...Simple.
Choosing the Dursley's over Hogwarts. Harry had never thought he'd live to see the day.
"Do you want to go flying or not?"
"Yeah," Harry said, smiling again. "I do. Please."
"Good. I'll go get your broom, just give me the password to the Gryffindor common room. I don't feel like sneaking into your room again. Last night the window was closed." Draco would know. He had checked before going to bed.
Their heads snapped up and they quickly forgot any plans of flying.
Professor McGonagall was rushing down the hall towards them. Her robes were wrinkled but she held herself with dignity. Her face was crisp and smooth as she nodded to them. Harry could hardly believe that Draco had said she'd looked a wreck. Right now she seemed very put together.
"The headmaster wishes to see you two," McGonagall said, with a grace that suggested she had practiced these words many times.
Harry and Draco glanced at each other. "Er, you mean Dumbledore wants to see us?" asked Harry.
"Who else would she mean, Potter?" said Draco with a smile to McGonagall and a glare to Harry.
"Is it Dumbledore, Professor?"
"I. Well. You see." For the first time, McGonagall faltered. She wrung her hands. "Just…" Her hands fell to her sides. "Just follow me, boys."
"Are we in trouble, Professor?" asked Draco.
"Mr. Malfoy, do not ask questions!" McGonagall snapped, her face taut.
"Professor?" Harry's voice was soft. "What's happened? What does the headmaster want?"
"I… I don't know, Potter. I honestly haven't the faintest clue." McGonagall looked like she might laugh, and that in itself was appalling. McGonagall did not laugh, not in front of the students. "Follow me, will you? Please, boys." McGonagall did not laugh, but her voice cracked and she quickly looked away.
Harry wanted to pat McGonagall on the shoulder but he couldn't imagine himself actually doing so. McGonagall had always been a figure of not only strength, but stubbornness, someone you knew would hold on until the end and manage to do so without any of her hair coming loose from its tight bun.
Only she was breaking, and Harry noticed the stray wisps of hair coming loose from her bun and curling jaggedly around her face and shoulders.
They followed her upstairs until they reached the stone gargoyle in front of Dumbledore's office. It was at this point that McGonagall's emotions became truly apparent. She opened her mouth to speak the password, but no sound came out. Biting her lower lip, McGonagall stared at the gargoyle as if willing it to open. She was shaking.
"Professor?" Harry was startled. "Professor? Is…Is everything all right?"
"Y-yes, Potter." Her shaking subsided, although her hands quivered briefly before she clasped them together, quelling any further movement. "Trying to remember the new password. Ah, yes." McGonagall tried to clear her throat. "Implexos," she whispered.
The gargoyle moved. McGonagall began to walk forward but Harry felt stuck to the spot. The two boys stared at one another.
"Implexos," Harry muttered to Draco. "Isn't that what we are? I mean, unless it really is a fable and this is all a coincidence."
"This whole thing is a bit suspicious," Draco said under his breath. "How do we know if this is a coincidence or not?"
Harry shrugged. "We have no choice. Better go in there and get it over with."
Draco had become paler. "Do you think they know about what we did? Oh God. This is amazingly foolish, Potter. We're walking into a death trap."
"Maybe. Or maybe you're just paranoid. Only one way to find out, huh? You can stay here if you like."
Without a second glance, Harry began climbing the stairs to Dumbledore's office. Draco stared after him, then rushed forward. Catching up to Harry, he grabbed the other boy's arm and twisted it behind his back. Harry ignored him and kept walking up the stairs. Draco leaned in close.
"Listen Potter, I'm not kidding. We're going to get ourselves killed and we'll die a very painful death and why the hell am I following you?"
"Go back! I'll be okay."
"Why is it that whenever you walk blindly into something that should probably kill you, you always manage to take someone else along for the ride? And they always seem to be the one to get hurt? You're bad luck, Potter, to everyone but yourself."
"That really doesn't make sense. If I'm such bad luck, why don't you go away?"
Very softly: "You know I can't do that."
"Look, I just want to find out what the headmaster thinks happened to Dumbledore."
"The headmaster could be Voldemort, you idiot."
"I doubt it. I'll be okay. Go back and talk to Crabbe and Goyle. Go have some breakfast."
Draco sniffed. "I would, but I doubt the house-elves will get reorganized until noon. You should have seen the way they were wailing. Very annoying."
"Would you shut up about the house-elves? I don't need you complaining in my ear."
"Well, excuse me! I had no idea our little hero was too much of a coward to stand some first-rate complai-"
Draco shut up very fast. Harry's eyes narrowed.
"I will see you boys later," said McGonagall. Without another word, she left the two standing in front of the new headmaster of Hogwarts.
"Father?!" cried Draco.
Lucius Malfoy steepled his fingers. "Address me as Headmaster Malfoy," he said. His eyes were fixated on Harry. "Mr. Potter. It is a pleasure, as always. My, but you look a mess. Had a fight? Or were you just out saving the world?"
"How did you manage to worm your way into this position?" asked Harry coldly.
Lucius waved a hand airily. "Credentials, Mr. Potter, credentials. And of course, more importantly…Leadership." Lucius smiled and stood up. He was wearing the starry robes Dumbledore used to wear and Harry stared. He couldn't imagine Lucius Malfoy in anything but black. However, at full length, his eyes sharp, his body strong... Harry had to admit that Lucius looked very powerful and capable.
"Needless to say," Lucius said, "Hogwarts has always needed a leader quite desperately. Sadly, Mr. Dumbledore did not provide such leadership. Senile old man got caught in his ways, I'm afraid. A shame. Things are changing so fast, I'm sure you boys have noticed, even being stuck in this school as you are." Lucius lifted a torn piece of paper and held it between two fingers. His eyes traveled along it languidly. "Apparently, things were changing too fast for Albus, in fact. According to his note, he's left Hogwarts for good. I wish him well on his... travels, of course."
And then Lucius looked up and grinned. Harry and Draco both shivered inwardly, but their faces betrayed nothing.
"Neither of you look very surprised," Lucius noted. "Were you expecting Dumbledore to just pick up and leave all of his worldly possessions behind in this very office? Has that rumor been going around? Funny, none of the staff seems to have seen it coming, judging by the reactions and the dreadful sobbing that's gone on all day. It's quite a good thing I showed up when I did, otherwise this school might have been burnt to ashes before noontime! But no matter, all is well. Don't look so worried, boys, you're practically shaking. Draco, I'm surprised at you. You know I would never harm a hair on your head."
"Perhaps not," said Draco smoothly. "But you're still a bastard."
Lucius Malfoy's smile did not falter. He only turned to Harry and leaned in confidentially. "Don't mind Draco, Harry. He's just going through his rebellious stage. It's rather tiresome, but should pass with time. And now that I control this school…I expect Mr. Malfoy to treat me most respectfully. Do you hear me, Draco?"
Draco only glared.
"Such insolence. We'll deal with it later, hm? First, I have a gift for each of you," said Lucius. He opened a drawer and from it pulled out a medium-sized white box. "I don't suppose I could get you to close your eyes and make a wish? No? A shame." With a smile, Lucius slid the lid off the box and reached into it. "Hold out your hands," he said forcefully, making it clear that this was not a suggestion but a command. Harry and Draco glanced at each other. Then each held out a hand.
Harry didn't even feel when the object first gently settled upon his palm, but when he looked down he realized his hand was no longer empty. In it there lay a long, narrow white and grey feather. It was smooth and soft, brushing easily along the lines of his palm. Draco's gift was nearly identical to Harry's, save a few changes in the the feather's markings. Draco's eyes were so narrowed they had become slits, betraying nothing as he stared steadily at what was in his hands.
"Geese feathers are strangely beautiful, don't you think, boys?" said Lucius. His head was tilted in a politely curious manner but his eyes glinted with intelligence and laughter.
Harry saw the green flash of light again in his mind. He saw the birds falling out of the sky, saw their perfectly shaped feathers. He felt Draco's lips on his and ached for the memory.
His heart was beating rapidly, but Harry met Lucius Malfoy's gaze and did not waver.
"So you know," said Harry quietly.
Lucius Malfoy nodded.