The hallways were empty, the stone passages doing nothing to heat the semi-frozen castle. Common rooms, classrooms, and the Great Hall were cozy more often than not due to warming charms, but the Astronomy Tower was not offered the same comforts. Harry could see his breath mingling with the night air, visible only to him and the other current inhabitant of the tower.
"Well, Potter? What's the plan?" Draco Malfoy sneered. "Surely you have one, since you've been following me for weeks. I thought you'd gotten over your obsession back in sixth year, but it appears, in this, I am wrong."
Harry moved slowly in front of the door; it wouldn't do if Malfoy tried to escape now. Not when he'd worked so hard to get the young man alone. Not when it had taken so long to work up his nerve. It wasn't very Gryffindor of him to be this nervous of the Slytherin.
"I have one. A plan, that is." Harry reached into his robe pocket, and pretended not to see Malfoy flinch. Slowly he procured the Hawthorne wand, his left hand in front of him, signaling peace. "I just wanted to give this back to you." He held out the wand, pointing it at the ground.
Although he wanted to snatch it out of the Chosen One's hand, Draco Malfoy stood his ground, his features arranged in a perfect mask of disinterest. "Why now? You've had all semester to return my wand, Potter."
"I know," Harry grimaced. "I wanted to, earlier. I actually had it on me at your trial this summer, only... I couldn't make myself do it. I didn't want to just hand it over, and I heard that you would be given a new wand, so..."
Draco looked down at his own hand, where he held the length of aspen that Ollivander had procured for him days after his trial. He remembered the incongruous emotions that swept through him the first time he held the wand. It was beautiful, that much was obvious – white, sturdy, pale. There was a certain resemblance between wand and master that was undeniable. Ollivander had spoken about the wood's attributes; aspen wands worked well for those who were strong-minded and determined. Draco didn't see himself as either, now that the war was over. His loyalties had not been to the Dark Lord since he was in sixth year – the threat of torture and death had won over his inherited dislike of anyone whose blood was less pure than his own. Still, he often felt lost these days. Lucius was in Azkaban for life, and Narcissa had slipped away to the Continent in an effort to escape her grief and shame. The halls of Malfoy Manor were desolate and bleak, and Draco preferred to leave them to their cobwebs. Thus he was at Hogwarts two nights before Christmas. He was the only returning "eighth year" Slytherin to remain at the school throughout the hols, and he found the dungeons much too quiet for comfort. Of course, the Astronomy tower was not any better, but a walk had done him good. But now Potter was here, and he was looking at Draco with what could only be pity, and Draco found himself angrier than he had been in years.
"Yes, I have a new wand, Potter, so no, I won't be needing my old one back. You can keep it, and your pity. I've gotten along well enough without either." He made his way toward the door, trying to slip around the Boy Who Lived, but to no avail.
"I don't pity you, Draco."
Draco tried his best not to let his name, his real name, rattle him. It sounded oddly comforting coming from Potter. And that wasn't right.
Harry sighed. "I've been trying to find a way to talk to you, but I never can decide on what to say. It all looks good on paper, but when I try and practice it in the mirror... Merlin, I end up sounding like an idiot, just like I am now." His carded his fingers through his unruly hair. "I guess I wanted to say sorry, and thank you, and even though you're an enormous prat, I... I respect you. Or something."
Well. That was unexpected.
"I don't need your respect, Potter."
"I know that. But you have it. And I am sorry. I knew you were dealing with some nasty things sixth year, but I was so ready to make you the bad guy, that I didn't stop to think you were just a pawn in this, like all of us. Like me. I saw you lower your wand, I knew you weren't going to do it, but -"
"You saw me?" Draco interrupted. "You saw me that night, here, in this tower." He laughed incredulously. Unbelievable. Harry Potter would be there at all his lowest points. Always there to witness his shame.
"Yes. And I saw that you didn't want to do it, that you couldn't. And then later you saved my life by lying for me, when we both knew you recognized me. I was at your mercy, and you let me go."
"And then I almost burned you alive," Draco said bitterly. "Or have you forgotten that bit?"
"It wasn't you who set the fire. And when it came down to it, you weren't on his side. Voldemort's, I mean."
Draco shrugged, feeling his mask crumble. "It doesn't really matter though, does it? I couldn't complete the Dark Lord's task, and I couldn't save Vince. I wasn't even brave enough to accept Dumble... to accept Dumbledore's offer. I stood by and watched my lunatic of an aunt torture Granger. I almost got your weasel-faced ginger friend killed." He laughed, the sound short and hallow. "I managed to stay alive, Potter. That's it. You needn't respect such an empty victory. I didn't die. There's my accomplishment."
"It's mine as well. Not-dying has gotten me pretty far, I'd wager. And apparently most people think it is a fairly impressive victory, if the Daily Prophet headlines are anything to go by."
"That's different, and you know it."
"A life is a life, Draco. You have yours, and I have mine." Harry looked out the archway onto the grounds below. Far in the distance, towards the south, he could see Mars faintly above the horizon. "I'd like you take your wand. Even if you don't use it, you should have it. And I'd like you to accept my apology, please. If only to rid me of my guilt."
"Bloody Gryffindors," Draco mumbled under his breath. "Fine!" He grabbed the Hawthorne wand firmly and shoved it in his robe pocket.
"And you accept my apology?" Harry asked hesitantly.
"And I accept your apology," Draco groaned. "Whatever. Please, just let me past. This is a bit too Hufflepuff for me. Are we going to hug next and tell each other our deepest secrets?"
Harry smiled, and Draco was somewhat relieved to see the pain clear from his green eyes. "Not unless you really want a hug."
Draco rolled his eyes and sighed.
"How about a handshake, then?" Harry held out his hand bravely, willing it to steady.
Draco stared at the proffered hand in wonder. It was too much like another possible handshake from years ago, before Dark Lords and opposing Houses and so very much bad history. He had made up his mind to leave Potter standing there like an idiot when the dark-haired boy whispered just one word: "Please."
His hand reached for Potter's before he could consciously realize what he was doing. Potter's hand was warm, and firm, and his grip was sure. It seemed to last quite longer than a handshake should, and Draco felt his cheeks warm at the touch.
"Pax?" Harry asked quietly, his tone hopeful.
And then Draco pushed past the Gryffindor and walked calmly down the steps until he was out of sight, and then raced back to his familiar dungeons as fast as possible, his heart beating a staccato rhythm all the way.