Title: They That Love Beyond the World, Cannot Be Separated

Disclaimer: Harry Potter characters are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic, as well as anything recognizable in this story. No profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended. Just playing with the characters for a bit. The lyrics of Vincent are written and owned by Don McLean.

Pairings: Harry/Draco

Rating: Adult; Mature

Summary: Harry has noticed that Malfoy is acting strange, shaking his minions off at every turn and spending hours in an abandoned room in the dungeons. Convinced the Slytherin Prince is up to no good, he investigates and discovers something he never expected – something that will irrevocably change his life.

Warnings: Slash pairing – Harry/Draco. Sexual content; major character deaths

Sensitive Subject Matter: Suicide – while I hope that this won't deter readers, I wanted to warn people in advance.

AN: This is an AU sixth year, song-fic inspired by GypsyRaeyven's fan video Vincent on Youtube. It has recently been added under a new account (lone-wolfrunian), so it can be viewed here:

H t t (p): (backslash) /youtu . be / RKrLwtm _ b8

Just take out the parenthesis, place the backslash and/or equal sign back in where it says and delete the extra spaces. Also on YouTube is a play list called They That Love Beyond The World, which has 'videos' (not actual videos made by me about this fic, just highlighting the songs) of the soundtrack for the story plus this one. Follow the above instructions.

www . you tube. com (backslash) playlist? list (equal sign) PLMLWDSPuw _ 9WRcYem6CvC -

_ mbVjb56Q6o

AN2: There are some scenes in which Harry is very angry with certain members of the Order and/or his friends and I want to point out that this is not meant to be seen as character bashing, but as a natural reaction to his grief. Everyone handles grief differently. Please do not e-mail me and tell me this would never happen and Harry would never act this way; unless you have experienced the grief that comes after tragically losing the love of your life, you couldn't possibly imagine what you would do or say in reaction to that grief. Trust me, Harry lashing out at everyone around him is incredibly realistic, especially given the way he reacted to Sirius' death.

And while this is mostly told from Harry's POV, there are two significant changes of POV, one to Draco's and the other to Ron's, because it was the only way I felt I could do those scenes justice. There is also a minor change in POV to Remus when Harry finds out about Draco's death.

Finally, a coulple of reviewers have mentioned that stating that Draco dies upfront is a bit of a spoiler. And truthfully, I typically would never give that kind of information away. However, this story is based off a fairly well-known fan video and I figured that many people would know the basic story line upfront. It it is because of this, that I mentioned it. Of course, had I not, people then would have complained that they didn't know that the main character(s) would die and thus be upset about that. Rock meet hard place. You can't please everyone.

Additional Warning: It has been suggested that I issue a tisue alert. Consider yourself warned.

The quote on Draco's tombstone is from 'Some Fruits of Solitude' by William Penn.

Italics = Harry's thoughts, visions, and memories.

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They that Love Beyond the World, Cannot be Separated

To begin this letter, I need to tell you a very long, involved story about enemies that were more than what they seemed, about truth, lies and the consequences sown and reaped, about secret meetings that veiled true intent, and trust given in the unlikeliest of places. But most of all, about a love that no one even suspected; that bloomed between no two unlikelier people and flourished despite indescribable odds, and became the touchstone in my life.

It was the reason behind the end of Voldemort.

Albus was right; love was the power 'the Dark Lord knew not.' But even he couldn't have foreseen this, instead thinking it was due to love for my parents, who sacrificed their lives for me; for friends, who faithfully had my back; for my adopted family, that always accepted me for who I was and not an arbitrary label; and for humanity in general, that I sought to preserve and keep safe. And all of those did factor in to different degrees.

But it was love, sprung from my once greatest hate, that spurred me on in the end. It was that link that gave me fortitude when I was crashing with battle fatigue, that strengthened my resolve during every set back; that made me whole even as I felt incomplete. It was only belief in this love, and the cherished memory of it, that gave me the necessary boost I needed to cast the final spell that ended the madness.

You knew that I kept many secrets over the last couple of years; this is the greatest secret of them all…

Starry, starry night

Paint your palette blue and grey

Harry watched his schoolyard nemesis warily out of the corner of his eye. Malfoy appeared cool, collected, contained; a smug smirk painted on thin lips, stone-grey eyes glinting with malicious amusement as he listened to one of his many cronies telling some story or other. He sat poised, back ramrod straight, with one arm draped casually in his lap and the other leaning negligently against the table. To all appearances it was another typical night at the Slytherin table, but Harry knew better.

While many people saw a graceful, unperturbed form without a care in the world, Harry had been studying this boy for far too long to be fooled. Know thy enemy and all that rot. Despite the unaffected sneer he presented to the world, Malfoy had a surprising number of tells that gave away his emotions if one were to look closely. And Harry has, looked closely that is; it's why he has managed to stay one step ahead, or, if he was playing catch up, kept him on his tail. Well, that and his 'infuriating' sense of luck.

He thought someone would have pointed this out to Malfoy, informed him of the subtle quirks that were chinks to that nearly perfectly constructed mask, but then again, no one has studied him as thoroughly as Harry. Andhe wasn't about to give Malfoy the upper hand. He derived great amusement and pleasure from foiling Malfoy's plans.

Like right now, he was certain Malfoy was up to something. Oh, he usually was up to some malicious trick or prank, most of which failed spectacularly. The Weasley twins he was not. But that's not what he meant. Malfoy was up to something; a big something, although he hadn't figured out exactly what that something was. But he would. Eventually. He wouldn't rest until he had tracked down whatever secret it was that the ferret was keeping.

He'd been acting odd the past few weeks: vanishing at odd times, sometimes leaving his minions waiting or ditching them all together, and had an increased lack of concentration,. It was disconcerting, and since Malfoy was involved, it couldn't lead to anywhere good.

Today, it appeared even worse, despite Malfoy's cool act. He'd been missing all day after receiving a letter from home – he would know that overly pretentious owl anywhere. Ever since Lucius had tried to curse him in second year, Harry had made it a point to track correspondence between Malfoy and his father. He wouldn't put it past the Death Eater to include his son in whatever trap or scheme he dreamed up next.

Narrowing his eyes thoughtfully, he noted the slight nervous twitch of Malfoy's fingers as he tapped an indistinct rhythm against the table, and the subtle shifting in his seat which could have been explained away as someone adjusting to get more comfortable, but not to Harry. It wasn't so much the action itself that set him off, but how it was done. There seemed to be a thinly controlled impatience in that movement, as if Malfoy was having trouble remaining in his seat. In fact, Harry was expecting him to shoot up at any moment and leave.

"You're staring, again, Harry."

The statement jolted him out of his reverie, making him cringe as he realised Hermione was right; not only had he been caught watching Malfoy once again, he'd also given up his subtle observation in favour of blatant staring. Tearing his gaze away from Malfoy, he shot his friend a weak smile, mentally sighing when he found her studying him like one of her intricate puzzles that needed solving. He wasn't going to get away without comment this time.

"Don't you think he's acting odd?" he asked, absently gesturing towards the Slytherin table as he sneaked another look.

"Really, mate, you need to drop this obsession of yours," Ron piped up, rolling his eyes as he shoved another bite of potatoes into his waiting mouth. Harry watched in awe, and slight terror, as Ron filled his plate for the third time that night, utterly amazed at the amount of food his friend could pack away. Pressing his lips into a thin line, he turned contemplatively back to his own plate.

"I just have a feeling that he's up to something," he mumbled petulantly.

"Oh, honestly, Harry," Hermione said at the same time as Ron replied, "It's Malfoy, when isn't he up to something?" Hermione glared at Ron for his remark, making him flinch.

"He is!" Harry insisted, feeling indignant that they were dismissing his gut feeling right off instead of trusting in the instinct that had so far served him well. When had he ever been wrong in his feelings? Although, there was the matter of Sirius. Swallowing thickly at that reminder, he pressed on nonetheless. "He's always disappearing at odd times, especially at night!"

"And just how do you know that?" Hermione queried suspiciously, one brow arched. "I haven't noticed anything out of the ordinary. He attends all his classes, he's in the Great Hall for every meal. I haven't noticed him loitering in the corridors and I'm a prefect. So, how could you possibly know if he's been disappearing?"

"Well…I…you see, I…um…I just have a feeling," he muttered, squirming when that far too astute gaze leveled on him with laser-like intensity.

"You've been spying on him," Hermione said, eyes widening with dawning realisation. "You've been spying on him with your map!"

Harry shifted uncomfortably under her gaze, refusing to meet her eyes. He'd known that she would disapprove of his methods, which is why he'd conveniently left out certain details when she'd asked before. But he shoved any discomfort aside, despite the flush he felt creeping into his face. Malfoy was up to something and he'd be damned if he was just going to drop it. Okay, so it wasn't exactly ethical, but ethical wasn't going to win the war, nor keep the ones he loved safe.

"Harry," Hermione whispered furiously, which he mulishly ignored until she elbowed him, garnering his attention again. He barely fought off the urge to roll his eyes at her scandalised moue. Always one for rules was his Hermione. "That's really going too far, Harry!"

"But he's up to something!" he hissed back, pitching his voice low as people started to look over, noticing their conversation for the first time. "Several times a week, he goes into this… room and he spends hours there. What could he possibly be doing for that much time, away from his minions and their common room?"

"Maybe he has a new girlfriend," Ron offered with a slight shrug of his shoulders.

Harry sat back, barely quelling a snort, hiding a smirk behind his hand as Hermione whipped her head around to stare at the redhead incredulously. Godric love him, but Ron was not the most observant person around. He wasn't stupid by any means; he just didn't do subtlety.

"Oh, honestly, Ron," Hermione huffed, clearly exasperated.

"What?' Ron asked, bewildered by her reaction.

"The Marauders Map?" Hermione pointed out rhetorically, shaking her head in disbelief as she explained to their clueless friend that if anyone else had entered the room with Malfoy, Harry would have seen them on the map.

"Oh," Ron mumbled, his face scorching almost as red as his hair. "Right."

"And really, Harry," Hermione continued as she rounded on him once more, pointing her fork at him in admonishment. "I have to agree with Ron, you're just a tad obsessive when it comes to Malfoy. It's probably nothing."

Harry rolled his eyes, turning his gaze back to the Slytherin table, feeling slightly vindicated when Malfoy stood, glanced around surreptitiously and slid out the door when no one was looking – well, other than him – leaving his friends and lackeys behind. He turned back to Hermione.

"I'm telling you he's up to something, and I'm going to find out what."

Look out on a summer's day

With eyes that know the darkness in my soul

It started that simply; I was sure he was up to something – the Slytherin Ice Prince, son of a notorious Death Eater, and all round obnoxious prat – what other explanation could there have been? Draco was always plotting, typically to my detriment, and it only made sense to keep an eye on him. But what I found wasn't at all what I had expected.

He was missing again.

This had been the third time in as many weeks that Malfoy had skipped a meal, typically dinner, and Harry was starting to get suspicious. Okay, he'd already had his doubts, but this just amplified his naturally suspicious mind, making him all the more wary of the Slytherin's behaviour. At least before, Malfoy had been putting on an air of normality, keeping his disappearances under the radar.

But now he was slipping. Not so much as to cast him in a bad light, well, to anyone who wasn't Harry, but enough to draw the occasional comment from his house members. Even Crabbe and Goyle, as thick as they were, had remarked on Malfoy's absences from the common room.

Harry glanced around the Great Hall, wondering if anyone else had noted the Slytherin's absence, but found nothing out of the ordinary. Apparently, no one paid much attention to Malfoy unless he was making a spectacle of himself. 'Or they just aren't as obsessed as you,' whispered the tiny voice in the back of his head that sounded disturbingly like Hermione. So much so, in fact, that Harry glanced at her from the corner of his eye to be sure it had only been in his head and that she wasn't reading him again. It was frightening just how well she knew him at times.

But Hermione had her nose buried in some book and was – thankfully – paying Harry no mind in the least.

Besides, he wasn't obsessed, just concerned. Yes, he was concerned. Because an absent Malfoy was a dangerous Malfoy, and that likely meant that he was up to something. Which Harry needed to prevent, of course. It was a natural human reaction, and given the current climate, a prudent one. Constant vigilance as Moody would harp on about.

Yeah, he wasn't quite buying that one himself.

Shifting uneasily in his seat, Harry hurriedly shoved his food into his mouth, deliberately ignoring the disgusted frown spreading across Hermione's face as he thought up an excuse to ditch his friends for a few hours without causing too much fuss. Glancing around the room, his eyes lit upon Dumbledore talking quietly with McGonagall for a moment before he stood and quietly made his way out of the hall, sparing only a brief glance over at their table. Perfect.

Swallowing the last of his roast, he took a hasty swig of his pumpkin juice as he too stood, brushed off his robes and clambered over the bench, attracting the attention of his friends. Here goes nothing.

"Where you off to, mate?" Ron asked as he looked up from his mountain of food; seriously, where did he pack all that away?

"Meeting," Harry mumbled as he cast a discreet, fleeting glance toward Dumbledore's departing back, allowing them to draw their own conclusions. It wasn't like he could be accused of lying, right? It wasn't his fault if they completely misinterpreted. "About, well, you know."

"Better you than me, mate," Ron grimaced, turning back to his meal. Ah, Ron, so easily assuaged. It made things much easier.

"Right," Harry agreed with a nod, fidgeting and pretending he didn't see Hermione's sharp, less than convinced glare. "It might be a late night, so don't wait up. I'll see you later."

Harry rushed off without another word, leaving before Hermione could get a word in edgewise. Ron would take him at face value; Hermione on the other hand, would ask him question after question in an attempt to trip him up and ferret out his true intentions. And given her reaction last time, he wasn't about to stick around for another rousing round of twenty questions. No thanks.

Quickly making his way through the corridors and up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower, he gave the password and let himself in, skirted the few students lounging in the common room and headed up to his dorm, silently shutting the door behind him. Tossing his school robe onto his bed, he reached under his pillow and pulled out the map, snapping it open as he touched the tip of his wand to the parchment.

"I solemnly swear I am up to no good."

The map slowly unfolded before his eyes as he studied it and saw that the vast majority of students were still lingering in the Great Hall. Dumbledore was pacing back and forth in his office, talking with… Arthur Weasley? Harry wondered if Ron knew his father was at the school. Shaking his head, he continued his perusal, finding Snape's dot and snickering when he saw that Peeves was stalking the potions master. Then he stumbled on Neville's dot, meeting up with Parkinson of all people. That was odd. Maybe he should intervene?

Finally seeking out the dungeons, he found Malfoy's dot exactly where he'd expected to find it – in the same room he'd been spending nearly every night since the beginning of term. And once again, he was alone.

Biting his lower lip, Harry sat down on his bed, setting the map down on his lap. He leaned his head back against the headboard, contemplating his options. He could – A) ignore his seething curiosity and stay put, perhaps actually get some homework done before his roommates returned, or; B) he could track Malfoy down. Plan A would definitely be the wiser action; after all, who knew what Malfoy was getting up to in there? But really, what kind of option was that in the end? Of course he was going to track Malfoy down; he was a Gryffindor, wasn't he?

When put that way, what other choice did he have?

Tossing his wand onto the bedside table, he scooped up the Marauders Map and stooped over his trunk, pulling out his invisibility cloak, which, luckily, was right on top. Of course it would be, given all the wandering he'd been doing lately. Throwing it onto the bed, he shrugged out of his uniform and threw on some jeans, a long-sleeved knit shirt and a sweatshirt before grabbing his wand and yanking the cloak over his head. Picking up the map, he scurried out the door, barely missing a dazed Neville as he slunk up the stairs.

And just what was that all about?

Sneaking out the portrait hole, Harry paused for a moment to get his bearings before scampering down the corridor after hearing familiar voices echoing up the stairs. The last thing he needed was Ron and Hermione discovering that he'd lied. It was bad enough that Hermione suspected it; no need to fan the flames.

Stealthily making his way through the castle, Harry used his map to navigate the halls to the dungeons, extremely thankful for the its abilities when he narrowly managed to escape detection from a muttering, pink-haired Snape at the entrance. Nearly choking on his tongue at the sight, Harry bit his lip in an effort to quell the hysterical laughter bubbling in his throat, desperately wishing he had a camera. Where was Colin when you actually needed him? No way would anyone believe him otherwise. He really had to find a way to thank Peeves for that unexpected delight.

Snickering under his breath, Harry continued on his way, skirting a smug looking Parkinson as she chatted gleefully with some blonde girl, whose name he thought was Greengrass, but he wasn't certain. He tended to ignore the Slytherins unless they were confrontational, which is why he was most familiar with Malfoy and his cronies. Harry was tempted to stop and listen in, curious as to what the Slytherin girl had wanted with Neville, but he refrained; one mystery at a time, and Malfoy was the greater threat. Besides, Neville had been dazed and slightly confused, but seemed generally unharmed.

Pulling out his map, he tapped it again, reciting the words that would bring it forth. He checked to make sure that the slippery Slytherin was still where he had been when Harry last checked the map, smirking when the dot popped up right under his eyes. Ending the enchantment again, he shoved the map away and tiptoed his way down the remainder of the hall. Holding his breath as he approached the door, Harry slid along the wall, keeping his footsteps light and careful so as not to dislodge any loose stone or dust. It wouldn't do to alert Malfoy now, and have him slip away or be forced into a face-to-face confrontation with him. A black eye or bloody lip would be difficult to explain since everyone thought he was in a sedate meeting with the headmaster.

Peeking around the door just a hair, his brow puckered in consternation and confusion at the sight before him, not quite sure if what he was seeing was real. The room was well lit, with dozens of white candles hanging overhead, much like the Great Hall, and a cheerful fire blazing in a small hearth to ward off the inherent chill of the dungeons. It was set up like a small, comfortable sitting room, with a large, plush, dark green couch and two black, over-stuffed leather chairs that looked as if one could sink into them. There was a small bookcase with books and a couple of end tables, desk lamps and other nick-knacks, but what stood out were the paintings.

Several paintings and sketches, in various states of completion, were strewn around the room – parchments scattered on top of one end table; canvases lining the wall, stacked three and four deep; pads of paper neatly piled on a chair; balled up parchments littering the floor near a trashcan. And at the center of it all was Draco Malfoy, standing in front of an easel, set to where it could get the best light. Biting his lip in bewilderment, Harry watched as Malfoy slashed paint over a rapidly filling canvas, reds and yellows and oranges competing for attention as they splashed across the page with vivid, almost angry strokes. It reminded him of a wildfire, the flames all but crackling in the silence as Malfoy created them, his eyes shining with a ferocious intensity that Harry had never witnessed before.

Perplexed, he observed as Malfoy tossed the brush into a container of water, swirling it slightly to wash off the excess paint before setting it aside and picking up another brush, slightly different in size and shape, and started adding depth and dimension to his creation, fashioning an illustration that came to life before his very eyes. It was bold and unrepentant and startlingly beautiful, and so unlike anything he'd ever equate with the cool, collected and distant Slytherin that it was hard to wrap his head around.

Licking his lips, he frowned when Malfoy drew back, his eyes catching the light just right, making them shine a brilliant silver. But what was most confounding were the emotions swirling in them – frustration, rage, helplessness and pain – all things he wouldn't usually associate with Malfoy, and Harry couldn't help but wonder what had happened to put that look in his eyes, and whether it had anything to do with his uncharacteristic departure from the norm that day. Pulling back, he leaned his head against the cool stone wall for a moment, trying to puzzle out everything he'd seen, but to no avail. He pushed away, profoundly discomposed, and walked back the way he had come, just missing the flash of grey eyes that followed his silent departure.

Shadows on the hills

Sketch the trees and the daffodils

It makes me wonder to this day just how much had I been blind to over the years. If I could have misjudged this situation, how many others had I misinterpreted? Now that I think back, I distinctly recall a subtle touch of hurt that flashed through mercurial eyes when I refused his hand. How much of what I saw was truth and how much was an elaborate mask he'd been forced to portray? I guess I'll never know…

Harry shifted restlessly on his bed, burying his face into his pillow, his head whirling with a thousand thoughts that wouldn't let him rest. Suppressing a heartfelt groan, he flopped onto his back, opening gritty eyes to stare listlessly at the canopy of his bed. He knew that he really needed to sleep in order to stay alert in classes tomorrow, but it rarely brought him peace these days with Voldemort running rampant and delighting in tormenting his teenage nemesis with glimpses of horror and carnage.

Rubbing his throbbing head and cursing the sadistic bastard that found joy in interrupting his sleep, Harry shoved the blankets back and sat up, thankful that he had erected a silencing spell earlier; the last thing he wanted was more questions he couldn't answer, or worse, overly helpful people encouraging him to talk about his dreams... visions... whatever they wanted to call them. It wouldn't do any good to discuss them, or to tell Dumbledore, as the images weren't current, but memories of Voldemort's past raids, played over and over in an endless loop. The bastard had only been toying with him tonight, not causing any true damage.

Grabbing his wand, he removed the silencing spell and slid his legs off the bed, letting them dangle over the edge as he listened to the dorm's night-time symphony of snores, snuffles and restless tossing and turning. Honestly, he didn't know why he'd bothered erecting it in the first place; if his dorm mates could sleep through the raucous din of Ron's and Seamus' snoring, they surely wouldn't have been woken by his startled cries.

Sighing, he swiped a hand across his eyes, brushing away the grit that clung to the corners and stood wearily, bending over to grab his invisibility cloak from his bag, knowing there would be no more sleep for him while the adrenaline pumped through his system and that he was better off going for a walk. Casting a surreptitious glance at his dorm mates, Harry slipped his trainers on and threw the cloak over his head, quietly making his way out the door and down the stairs. Crossing the common room to the portrait hole, he opened it and slipped into the darkened corridor, silence descending around him.

He loved Hogwarts at night.

Deep in the night, when everyone was supposed to be in bed, the castle took on a life of its own, animating darkened corners and almost breathing, its soft creaks and sighs soothing his frayed nerves and the dark oddly comforting, reminding him of the tenuous safety of his cupboard. After years of wandering the corridors at night, he felt a deep kinship with the old building, its magic washing over him like the gentle hand of a mother.

With no real destination in mind, Harry set off through the halls, his mind slipping to the latest Malfoy mystery; to say he had been surprised at what he found the other night was an understatement. After weeks of building up scenarios in his mind of what Malfoy might be getting up to in that room, each darker than the last, finding something so... innocuous... had thrown Harry off balance. Of course, it could have been a front for something more sinister – this was the magical world, after all – but his gut told him that it was above board, and Malfoy really had been... painting and sketching... all those sleepless nights.

It boggled the mind really.

He'd always been fascinated by artists of all sorts, from writers to sculptors to painters. It awed him the way they captured the world around them with a few strokes of a brush or hand, or a few well chosen words, creating worlds and scenes beyond the imagination. But lumping Malfoy into that category had never crossed Harry's mind. In fact, the Slytherin was the last person he'd cast as having an artistic soul. Sensitive wasn't a word he associated with Malfoy; and yet, the paintings spoke of a depth he'd never before seen within the other boy.

Shaking his head free of his rambling thoughts, Harry looked up and almost laughed derisively at himself; in his preoccupation, his feet had set an instinctive path to the dungeons, taking him to the very room in question. A subtle light spilled from the cracked door, surprising Harry as he knew it was well after one in the morning and hadn't expected anyone to be awake at this time. Usually he was the only person wandering around this late; other than Snape, but he didn't think the man ever slept, ghoul that he was...

Creeping up to the door, Harry looked inside and spotted Malfoy in the same position as before, standing in front of an easel, painting with a serenity that he had lacked the previous time. The colours and scene were different as well – warmer, depicting a springtime meadow, with tall, spindly trees edging a deep green field dotted with yellow flowers. In the distance he could make out a sprawling manor that suggested the scene was either near Malfoy Manor, or perhaps where one of his friends lived.

He was so focused on the canvas that Harry missed the slight stiffening of the blond's shoulders as he set the palette aside and slowly reached for his wand, until Malfoy swung around suddenly, startling him as a wand was shoved under his nose, although how Malfoy could have known he was there, Harry had no idea.

"I know you're there, Potter," Malfoy spat, swinging his wand from side to side in an arc, showing that he wasn't quite as certain as he appeared, before seeming to pinpoint Harry's location and growling. "What do you want?"

Harry debated for a moment on whether to reveal himself or not; he could just slip away and let Malfoy think he was being paranoid. But that meant turning his back on Malfoy's wand, and Gryffindor that he may be, he wasn't that brave. Not to mention that he was inordinately curious as to what Malfoy had been doing, and just how he knew that Harry was even present when he hadn't made a sound. Coming to what he was sure was a rash decision, he slid the cloak from his head and shoulders, sighing internally when Malfoy's eyes widened slightly, startled grey eyes following the shimmering cloth contemplatively.

"I…well, I…" Harry stumbled. He what? Had come here because he was convinced Malfoy was up to no good? He'd noted his absence at dinner? He was hoping to get a glimpse of his paintings again? What did one tell one's nemesis when caught spying? "You were..."

"As articulate as ever, Potter," Malfoy derided, a smirk curling his upper lip as he held Harry at unwavering wand point. "Did you actually need something, or are you merely here to torment me with your utter lack of coherent speech?"

"You weren't at dinner," Harry replied with a frown, proving once again how adept he was at stating the obvious. Sometimes he just wanted to smack himself with what came out of his mouth when he was nervous. "I thought… well, what I mean is, I wondered what you…"

Malfoy shifted impatiently, his wand hand twitching as if he were contemplating hexing Harry without waiting for an explanation, and damn the consequences. After all, it was after curfew and Malfoy, being a prefect, could come up with an explanation for being out of bed. He could simply say that someone had reported a missing dorm mate or the like, whereas Harry didn't have that luxury. Reaching his hand to his back pocket, he rested it on his wand just in case.

"I thought you were up to something," he finished lamely.

"Yes, well," Malfoy rolled his eyes, and dropped his wand, placing it on the table, obviously unconcerned with Harry's presence. He turned back to his painting. "Now that you've satisfied your curiosity, you can leave. Spare me the agony of your presence."

"Sod off, Malfoy," Harry groused, feeling slightly insulted that he had dismissed him so readily. He stepped further into the room, just to annoy him. "I thought something might have happened to you."

"And so what if it did?" Malfoy sneered, turning icy grey eyes on Harry. "What is it to you?"

Good question. What did he care if something happened to Malfoy? They weren't friends; they weren't even friendly acquaintances. They had been rivals since the day Harry refused his offer of friendship. Now granted, Malfoy's attitude had reminded him of Dudley and his goons, but he certainly could have handled it a lot better than he had. To this day he winced at his words, coming off just as smug and snotty as the small blond boy had.

"Ah, ever the Gryffindor hero," Malfoy continued with a sly grin when Harry failed to answer. "Always running heedlessly to the rescue, even where none is needed. Tell me, Potter, don't you ever get tired of saving the ungrateful masses?"

Actually, sometimes, yes he did. It rankled that the wizarding world put all their hope and expectations on a teenage boy rather than getting off their arses and making the necessary changes themselves. Not that he'd tell Malfoy that. Like he needed yet more strife and rumours. He could see the headlines now – Saviour Thinks the Wizarding World Useless; Should Get Off Their Backsides and Save Themselves. No thanks.

"Surely you have enough fans waiting to fall at your feet without the need to add me to their mix," Malfoy said snidely, a moue of disgust etched into his features.

"That's not – " Harry protested, his eyes flashing indignantly.

"Whatever, Potter," Malfoy interrupted, holding up a dismissive hand to stave off Harry's response. "As you can see, I'm just fine, so shoo."

"What?" Harry asked, confused by Malfoy's rapidly changing demeanor, and unbalanced by the entire situation.

"Leave," Malfoy stressed, rolling his eyes at what he likely thought was Harry's inability to understand simple commands, further fueling the Gryffindor's ire and setting his hackles rising. "I don't want you here; I don't needyou here. I'm perfectly content on my own."

Harry was sure that Malfoy was, but the more the other boy wanted him to leave, the more he wanted to stay, if for no other reason than to irritate him. Smirking, he stepped around the fuming Slytherin and studied the painting, cocking his head thoughtfully as Malfoy clenched his hands into fists.

"What are you painting?" Harry queried, grinning internally when Malfoy bit back an oath and glared at him.

"What part of disappear did you not understand, Potter?" Malfoy snarled, his eye twitching as he pressed his lips into a thin line. It was far too much fun provoking him.

"Why won't you answer my question?" Harry asked with feigned innocence, holding back a chortle as his companion glowered at his benign smile and arched brow.

"I fail to see where it's any of your concern," Malfoy ground out between clenched teeth, his cheeks flushed, fingers twitching as if he wanted to grab his wand and hex Harry six ways to Sunday, but refraining from the urge for some odd reason.

"No need to get hostile," Harry replied, holding his hands up in mock concession, vaguely amused by Malfoy's reaction to a simple question. "I was just curious."

"Great, you were curious, fantastic," Malfoy muttered, shoving Harry away from the painting and standing in front of it protectively, his arms crossed over his chest. "Now go, depart, vanish. Whatever you like... just leave.

"Touchy, touchy," Harry grinned, turning back towards the door with his cloak gripped loosely in his hand.

"I can't wait to hear all about this in the Great Hall in the morning," Malfoy mumbled, pushing a hand through his hair as he turned back to his painting with a frown.

"Don't get your knickers in a twist, Malfoy," Harry responded, almost feeling bad for teasing the boy about his work. Almost. "I don't plan on telling anyone. Besides, who would believe me if I told them that the Ice Prince of Slytherin has a soul? People already think I've lost the plot; I'm hardly going to hand them fodder for yet more rumours of my supposed lack of sanity."

Malfoy stared at him, blinking as if he didn't quite know how to react to his words. It was actually quite satisfying to see him off his game for once.

"Whatever," he sighed wearily, rubbing a hand across his eyes and waving Harry off with the other. "Just… just go, Potter."

"Going," Harry replied, adding, "Good night, Vincent," and smirking when inscrutable grey eyes snapped to his.

"Vincent?" Malfoy's voice was bemused.

"Vincent Van Gogh, a Muggle impressionist painter," Harry explained as his eyes flitted over the various works in the room, a shiver sliding down his back as their bold statements screamed out to him, declaring that he had never really understood the boy in front of him and likely never would. But he could honestly say for the first time that he wanted to; he desperately wanted to know this side of Malfoy. "His works were noted for their bold, rough beauty and emotional honesty…"

"I got the reference, Potter," Malfoy cut him off impatiently, shadowed eyes swirling with a hundred unfathomable emotions before they carefully schooled. Averting his gaze, he huffed with exasperation, almost ruffling like an irritated cat as he continued, "I just don't know how you would apply it to me."

Perhaps I see in you a kindred spirit.

"First name that came to mind." Harry shrugged negligently. "Plus I like his work. Later, Malfoy."

Catch the breeze and the winter chills

In colours on the snowy linen land

At the time, I didn't know just how prophetic that thought was, and if I had known, I wouldn't have given him the nickname. But then again, at the time I had no idea just how deeply I would be pulled into Draco's world and it amused me to tease him about being like a Muggle painter. And for all his protests I knew the nickname secretly made him smile…

Harry inhaled deeply as he walked out the doors into the courtyard, the crisp autumnal wintry air all but crystallising as it entered his lungs and exited in a plume of frothy vapour. Looking over his shoulder to make sure he remained unobserved, he slipped behind a pillar and threw his invisibility cloak over his head before turning towards Hagrid's Hut, heading for the edges of the Forbidden Forest, trusty map in hand. Staring at the little dot that seemed to beckon like a siren's call, he carefully manoeuvred around milling students, some walking with friends or boyfriends and girlfriends, others taking advantage of the newly fallen snow to behave as the children they often didn't get a chance to be.

Looking up, he smirked when he spied a lone first year Gryffindor sneaking up behind Pansy Parkinson and pelting her with a snowball, and couldn't tell whether the boy was supremely brave or supremely stupid. Either way, he was definitely asking for a death wish as he darted away from the squawking girl. Chuckling under his breath, he watched Parkinson whip out her wand, ready to hex the boy into oblivion when she suddenly stopped, growling under her breath, and Harry decided that the boy was unusually lucky instead as McGonagall stalked over to him, scolding him for his less than gentlemanly behaviour. Judging from the grin on the boy's face, however, the detention he received was well worth Parkinson's red, fuming face as she stalked into the castle to change.

Turning away from the fracas, he focused back on his map and negotiated his way through snowdrifts and brush to Malfoy's latest hiding place. It had become quite amusing to watch the Slytherin's exasperation when Harry tracked him down yet again, ferreting out his every hidey- hole without effort. If he didn't know any better, he'd swear Malfoy was playing with him and that it had become some sort of game between them. He knew that it ate away at Malfoy's curiosity to know just how Harry kept discovering his refuges. He seemed to understand that Harry had some sort of tool which allowed him to find the Slytherin, but his pride wouldn't allow him to break and actually ask Harry how he was doing it. Not that Harry would tell.

It was far too funny to see Malfoy trying to outsmart him, thinking he'd finally discovered a place where Harry wouldn't find him, only for Harry to prove him wrong time and again. If he only knew.

Smiling smugly, with snow crunching under his feet, he slipped into the forest virtually undetected, casting a muffling charm at his feet. No sense in giving himself away before he had even arrived at his destination. Keeping one eye trained on Malfoy's dot, and the other on the uneven path, Harry navigated his way through the edge of the forest, never traveling too deep into its centre; he certainly didn't care to meet up with any of the forests... inhabitants – or more likely, Hagrid's pets. He'd had enough run-ins with Hagrid's so-called babies to last him a lifetime. Looking down to check his positioning, he veered to the right until he came upon a small clearing.

Remaining hidden amongst the trees, he studied his bundled up nemesis, his lean body nearly wrapped from head to toe in a layer of some sort of black animal fur, with the exception of his legs, which were covered by a thick pair of trousers. It should have looked overdone and ostentatious, but Malfoy managed to make the whole thing look sleek and put together, if somewhat decadent. Harry couldn't help but look down at his own clothing in comparison – an average pair of jeans, sweater, thick coat and gloves – and shake his head; although whether it was out of admiration or disgust for Malfoy's sumptuous apparel, he didn't quite know.

But he did suppose that the fur was suited both to his atmosphere and his activity, being warm, yet supple enough for the fine, controlled movement needed for sketching.

He was working with pastels today, in light, silvery colours that captured the wintry scene beautifully, making it almost breathe with life. Harry shivered as he could almost feel the frosty, winter breeze blowing through the trees on the canvas, chasing its way down his spine. It always amazed him, the sense of life and movement depicted in each of Malfoy's works. Moving closer as pale fingers flew across the parchment, he drew a sharp breath when crystalline grey eyes snapped around, pinning him in place, the stark beauty of them blending into the winter landscape and leaving him dumbstruck, his breath caught in his throat.

It was weird. He'd never really noticed much about the other boy before, but standing here, pale sunlight filtering through the trees, he could admit that Malfoy was quite striking, his pale features suited to his icy surroundings, and he found himself wondering how he'd look under moonlight. Shaking his head free of this unnerving thought, he swallowed harshly and shifted uncomfortably under those probing eyes, wondering why the other boy hadn't said anything until he recalled that he was still beneath his invisibility cloak.

Letting out a shaky breath, his eyebrows hit his hairline when pale pink lips smirked knowingly, and those dove grey eyes sparkled with a hint of amusement as Malfoy turned away to resume his sketching.

"It's about time you got here, Potter," Malfoy drawled, but there was a lack of true animosity that surprised Harry, and he relaxed, smiling in kind. "I was wondering when you'd show your face. I swear, you're like a bad knut…"

Harry merely snickered, pulling the cloak from his head and shrinking it, then stashing it in his bag. He wasn't sure just how Malfoy sensed his presence every time, but he always seemed to know when he was near. Malfoy once commented that he could smell Harry coming a mile away, sneering indelicately as if it was an unpleasant stench which followed him, but the flush in the his cheeks belied the disdain in his tone. Harry hadn't yet summoned up the courage to ask what that meant, afraid of the reply. Insult or compliment, he wasn't quite sure which possibility frightened him more.

"I hope you brought something warm to drink," the Slytherin continued, his back to Harry, a finger smudging the charcoal on the canvas, adding shadow to a copse of trees before he stepped back and cocked his head to study the result. "I mean, if you're going to persist in stalking me, you might as well make yourself useful."

Harry shook his head, rolling his eyes as he swung his pack to the ground without bothering to reply and stooped beside it, pulling out one of the spelled flasks inside. Screwing off the cap, he walked over to Malfoy and thrust the flask at him, smirking when surprise lit his eyes for a brief moment. He knew Malfoy had only been taunting him when he made that comment, and hadn't really expected anything.

He did enjoy setting him off balance.

"Here," he replied dryly and turned around, pulling out his own flask of chocolate as Malfoy stared at the hot liquid in his hands thoughtfully, his bottom lip clenched between his teeth. Harry couldn't resist adding, almost affectionately, "Git."

"Not bad, Potter," Malfoy rallied, regaining his composure as he conjured up a small stand and took a sip of the chocolate before setting it aside and turning back to his sketch. "I suppose you might have some use after all, dubious as it might be."

"Well, now my life is complete," Harry deadpanned, his tone drawing a small quirk from the blond's lips. "Draco Malfoy finds me useful; I can die happy."

He stifled a laugh as a muttered 'wanker' drifted back to him and took a sip of his own chocolate, his lashes fluttering shut and humming in pleasure as the thick, sweet liquid coated his palate and slid down his throat. When he opened his eyes again, he was startled to find Malfoy watching him in fascination, his cheeks tinted pink. Grey clashed with green and the colour deepened as Malfoy turned away, leaving Harry oddly breathless. Shaking the feeling off, he cleared his throat and walked forward, studying the canvas.

"So, what are you working on today, Vincent?" he quipped lightly, trying to put them back on even ground after that... well, whatever that moment was.

"Sod off," Malfoy huffed, flicking Harry a moue of disdain, even as his lips twitched as if he were fighting off a smile. Frowning at Harry's unrepentant grin, Malfoy sniffed. "And stop calling me Vincent. If you insist on being familiar with me, despite me repeatedly telling you otherwise, at least use my given name, not that atrocious nickname you dreamed up. Bloody Gryffindors."

Harry blinked in surprise, a bit unbalanced by this request. Had Malfoy really just given Harry permission to call him Draco? Staring at the other boy contemplatively, he cocked his head, noting the subtle sign of nerves and the hesitant, insecure light in his eyes. Smiling softly, Harry looked down at his feet, nodding in compliance and a warm glow suffused him when he noted how Malfoy's eyes lightened and the stress melted from his posture. Licking his lips, he rolled his shoulders and smirked.

"Whatever you say, your royal pratness," he grinned, watching him as he worked. He never tired of seeing the world come to life under Draco's fingers. "I like it," he murmured quietly. "You can practically feel the chill emanating in the air, spilling out from the canvas; and the light glinting on the icicles as it chases the shadows through the glade is breathtaking. It's lovely, as always… Draco."

The name felt foreign on his tongue, but he found he actually didn't mind it; especially as it brought an adorable flush to the Slytherin's face. Wait... adorable?

"Emanating?" Draco asked, arching a brow, his cheeks still rosy. "You know, that was surprisingly eloquent, Potter. Who knew you had it in you."

"You're insufferable," Harry griped without heat, shaking his head, unwilling to pursue that last thought, or explore why Draco calling him Potter hurt just the tiniest bit.

After all, he hadn't asked Draco to call him by his given name and it would have been presumptuous, not to mention going against his upbringing, to utilise it without invitation. But it still bothered Harry and he didn't know how to work it back into the conversation. The moment had been lost, and Harry couldn't help but feel a sense of loss and regret for that.

"You're the one who keeps showing up," Draco pointed out, turning back to his canvas with a smug smile when Harry huffed, needling him further by adding, "Although why, if you think I'm so insufferable, I have no idea."

"Perhaps I'm just amazed that the Slytherin Ice Prince has a heart after all," Harry quipped, then immediately wanted to smack himself as hurt flared briefly in that icy gaze. He'd meant it completely in jest, but he could see how the words could be misinterpreted given their shaky truce. Biting his lip, he studied the sketch, allowing his reverence to show through."No one who paints or sketches like this can be quite the prat that he presents to the world."

Grey eyes lifted from the canvas, carefully meeting his, studying him intensely, hopefully reading the silent apology written in them. Ron would have known Harry was joking by his tone, but Draco wasn't Ron and he had to remember that they hadn't obtained that level of comfort yet. Draco nodded slightly, a tiny smile on his face and he flushed softly at Harry's awkward compliment.

"Whatever, Potter," he replied brusquely, turning his blue pastel chalk in his fingers. He shrugged nonchalantly. "I'll have you know, I'm the epitome of coldheartedness; there is nothing nice about me."

"Of course, Vincent," Harry mock agreed, grinning when the blonde rolled his eyes in exasperation and tossed the remaining stub of pastel at him, a smile gracing his face in spite of his obvious attempt to hide it. Ducking, Harry bit back a chuckle as Draco muttered under his breath about annoying prats that just couldn't leave well enough alone. Taking a sip of his chocolate, he smiled benignly, all wide-eyed innocence when Draco glared at him and reiterated that he was a coldhearted bastard, ranting at the canvas while Harry nodded.

Of course you are, Vincent. You keep telling yourself that.

Now I understand

What you tried to say to me

We kept meeting like that; always in secret, away from the general populace. At first I would just pop up out of the blue, much to his great annoyance, but after a few weeks, he'd started to drop hints about where he'd be, indicating in his oh-so-Slytherin way that he'd enjoy the company without ever directly stating it. And I got to know the person behind the mask, one very few people had the opportunity to know; and I came to deeply admire his ability to survive.

"So, why painting?" Harry asked out of the blue, his curiosity getting the better of him, breaking the comfortable silence that enveloped the two boys as they tucked into their breakfast. Looking up as the silence dragged on, his lips quirked to see Draco's hand paused, a forkful of eggs hanging in mid air, his brows furrowed slightly at the apparent non sequitur. He shook his head and bit into the eggs, chewing thoughtfully as he considered the question.

Harry smirked, used to the Slytherin's little quirks and attempts to look unruffled or unaffected while frantically assessing the words, looking for hidden traps or potential pitfalls, followed by evaluating how it might weaken him in the eyes of the asker, and whether it damaged his mask before answering. For most people, such a task would take hours of careful thought, but with Draco's upbringing it took mere seconds before the boy's shoulders relaxed and he started the second part of his internal monologue – calculating what he might derive in the way of favours or gains by sating Harry's curiosity.

Chuckling inwardly, Harry took a bite of his eggs and allowed the other boy to search for the words, while he looked around the room quietly, a small smile tugging at his lips as he took in the elegant surroundings. He and Draco had stayed over the holidays, opting to have breakfast in the Room of Requirement together since their friends had all left and they had decided to keep their own odd little friendship under wraps for the time being.

Draco had gotten there first, so it reflected his personality, decorated in cool tones of blue, silver and white, with sofas in a deep midnight velvet, dark woods and white accents throughout the room. Hints of silver gleamed in the soft firelight, which cast soft shadows throughout and left the Christmas tree glowing with its snow-covered branches, dripping with silver and blue glass balls and crystal snowflakes and icicles. To the undiscerning eye, it seemed cold and formal, stiff and untouchable, just like the mask Draco presented to the world, but to one who knew where to look, you caught the hidden depths that lay under the surface in quiet cluttered corners, so the room felt like a home and not an arctic display.

Turning back when Draco cleared his throat, apparently ready to answer, Harry smiled encouragingly at the slight nervous shift of silver eyes before they settled on his face. Draco shrugged negligently, replying in a low, quiet tone, "I don't know." He swallowed slowly, licking his lips, a sure sign of his uncertainty as he tried to explain what the activity meant to him. "I guess it transports me away from… well, life."

"I can understand that," Harry nodded, beryl eyes studying the other boy's pale face intently, noticing the minute defensive stiffening of his body before he forced it to relax, all too used to being scrutinised and found lacking. Noting the almost flinch, Harry tucked it away for later examination and continued lightly. "But I meant, why painting instead of say… playing the piano, or Quidditch, or martial arts, or even ballet?"

"Ballet?" the Slytherin squawked, before pressing his lips into a thin line, obviously annoyed at his uncharacteristic outburst. He huffed indignantly and tried to glare a snickering Harry into submission. "For Merlin's sake, Potter, just because one cares for one's appearance, unlike some who shall remain nameless, it doesn't mean one is a complete ponce."

"Oh, but Vincent, you'd make such a pretty ballerina," Harry teased lightly, fluttering his lashes mockingly at him, his lips twitching with amusement, happy to have broken the tense moment.

Draco's features softened and he stared at him with a touch of feigned irritation. "Sod off, you wanker," he retorted, a reluctant smile teasing his lips before he sneered, mercurial eyes dancing as he shook his head disparagingly. "Ballet… Prat. I do believe I'm insulted."

"You know you love me," Harry grinned cheekily, missing the delicate flush that suffused Draco's cheeks as he turned back to his breakfast and shoved a forkful of eggs into his mouth before turning back to study him inquisitively. "So…"

"What?" Draco asked dazedly, seemingly startled when intense green eyes landed on him once more. His breath seemed to give a funny little hitch before his gaze snapped away from Harry's, his cheeks colouring further as he stammered, "Oh, painting."

Licking his lips absently, Draco took a bite of his pancake, chewing methodically as his thoughtful gaze darted around the room, as if searching for the words. He shrugged nonchalantly again, although Harry could see that the answer meant far more to him than he was letting on, and continued in a low voice:

"When I was younger, before my grandmother passed, I remember spending afternoons at her feet, talking and watching her paint. She was quite accomplished, actually; several of her pieces hang in the manor. And she just… looked so relaxed and without a care in the world; almost as if she wasn't part of it anymore, but in a realm of her own creation, and it sort of stuck with me."

Harry hummed quietly, resting his chin on his palm as he listened, careful not to disrupt Draco's train of thought because he knew that it would make him self-conscious and likely to clam up, something he disliked intensely. He loved these rare, unguarded moments between them, when he had the chance to see the real Draco Malfoy and not the carefully constructed mask he presented to the world.

There was an intimacy to these moments, where the world faded out and there was nothing but the two of them. Those small, shared confessions left him wondering what might have happened if he had not let childhood prejudices get in the way and had accepted Draco's offer of friendship. Would they have been best friends, instead of him and Ron? Would Draco have stood beside him when his house turned on him? Could it have lead to something richer and deeper than any of his current friendships?

Internally shaking his head, Harry turned his attention back to Draco, his cheeks coloured by his wandering thoughts, eyes tracing lowered golden lashes, fanned against pale pink cheeks as the Slytherin spoke, his voice low and sombre, cracking just a touch as he tried unsuccessfully to express what painting meant to him and how it affected him. Draco always struggled when it came to explaining his home life, caught between wanting to open up and let someone in, and being the perfect little Malfoy heir.

"So when things… when I would feel stressed, I tried a hand at it myself, allowing myself to… I don't know, to escape – to sink into another consciousness so to speak – and, whatever it was that had me feeling tense…"

"Just slipped away," Harry murmured distractedly, averting his eyes as a bright, fervent gaze burned into him. He shifted uncomfortably, his heart rate quickening for some unknown reason, skin prickling as it slid over him almost… almost reverently. Clearing his throat, he toyed absently with his fork, a warm yet unknown feeling curling through his body at Draco's continued perusal, setting him wondering at the affect the boy always had on him. Licking his lips nervously, he looked up and bright green met pewter, trapping him in an intense stare as he continued, slightly breathlessly, "Didn't feel as important any more."

Confusion swirled through Harry as they looked at each other for a long moment, his skin burning, tingling and tight, almost as if he had developed a fever. His heart sped up a fraction as Draco's lips parted, the tip of a pink tongue flicking out to dart over damp lips, drawing Harry's attention to his mouth, noting how soft, warm and inviting it looked. Swallowing thickly, Harry's brow furrowed as he tried to figure out what exactly had changed, but the emotions remained elusive, just out of his reach.

His eyes traced along the smooth line of Draco's cheek and neck, entranced as the skin flushed, turning a delicate pink under his gaze, before flicking up to meet unusually bright silver irises, a glint he didn't quite understand shining in their depths, but which left his stomach churning. Inhaling sharply, he opened his mouth to ask Draco if something was wrong, but whatever words he would have uttered were lost when the logs cracked in the fireplace, breaking the moment and startling them both, a hot flush deepening in their cheeks as they ripped their gazes from one another and hastily took a bite of their food.

"Exactly," Draco said after a moment, his features inscrutable once more as he pushed the food around his plate. He met Harry's equally cautious gaze. "You speak as if you know what I'm talking about, Ha – Potter."

"You can call me Harry if you like." A small, shy smile spread across Harry's lips when Draco nodded slowly at his hesitant offer, a warm burst of joy racing through his blood when he received a tentative smile. "Flying…" Harry continued, "for me it's flying… feeling the air rushing through my hair, whistling past my ears as the world below blurs to nothing but what is immediately before me… It's… it's…"

"Freeing," Draco breathed, a look of understanding flowing between them.

"Yes, exactly that," Harry agreed softly, his voice growing fervent as he extrapolated further. "Freedom. What I wouldn't give… some days I wish I could just hop on my broom and take off, and just keep flying, just... leave it all behind and chase the sun until I'm some place where no one knows me, has no expectations of me, that doesn't look at me to be their… saviour."

Draco nodded, each letting the conversation lapse into silence.

Because really, what did one say to such confessions?

And how you suffered for your sanity

And how you tried to set them free

We were living on borrowed time. We knew it and tried to ignore it, hoping that leaving at separate intervals and changing patterns constantly would keep talk to a minimum. But it was only a matter of time before word got out despite being as discreet as possible… after all, with so many eyes following the two of us on a daily basis, someone was bound to notice our conspicuous and connected absences.

Of course, I had hoped otherwise. But fate is a capricious master and luck a fickle mistress…

Harry looked up as the owl post came through, a familiar cry making his stomach clench as the majestic creature he'd seen so many times before circled the Slytherin table a couple of times before swooping and landing in front of Draco with a regal, almost sneering expression. Bloody hell, even their birds were smug and snotty. Licking his lips nervously, he watched from the corner of his eye as Draco reached a faintly-trembling hand out and untied the scroll attached to the eagle owl's leg, absently feeding it a piece of bacon as he stuffed the parchment into his pocket.

Rising regally, he flicked a surreptitious glance over at Harry, his lips pursing into a barely concealed frown before quickly leaving the hall, his face set into an icy mask. Swallowing thickly, Harry fidgeted as he watched him stalk out the door in a swirl of robes that would have done Snape proud, and just barely held to his seat despite the consuming urge to jump to his feet and rush after him.

Biting his lip, he frowned, the conversations around him muting to a dull roar as he shifted uneasily on the bench, fingers drumming an indistinct rhythm on the table and his eyes darting towards the doors every few minutes, growing more concerned the longer the Slytherin was gone. It was never good news when Lucius' owl came and he knew all to well that the man had a way of winding Draco up tighter than a coil.

Merlin only knew what vitriol his father was spewing now.

Cramming the rest of his toast in his mouth, he swallowed it down despite it tasting like sawdust and shoved his plate away, deaf to the startled cries around him as he rose and quickly left the hall with single-minded determination. There was no way he was going to leave Draco to bear the brunt of his father's anger alone; especially if it had anything to do with Voldemort, or worse, their burgeoning friendship… relationship? He wasn't quite sure where they stood anymore. At least on his part. His thoughts on Draco had shifted constantly over the last couple of months and while they certainly weren't enemies, could they truly be called friends?

And then there were the odd, unsettling feelings from the Christmas holidays that he still didn't quite understand.

Walking swiftly through the corridors on a now familiar path, he all but ran to the room where he just knew he'd find Draco. He'd come to think of the room as Draco's sanctuary and Harry knew that he'd head there if he was seeking solitude. Halting momentarily at that thought, he wondered if he should even be seeking him out; he wasn't really sure of his reception on most days and knew that with news from home, Draco might want some time to himself. Chewing on his bottom lip, he took a faltering step back, his fingers clenching and unclenching in his indecision before he continued on his way to the room. Draco had never hesitated to tell him to piss off before and if he really wanted to be alone, Harry had no doubts he'd find out in a fairly colourful manner.

Slowing as he reached his destination, he crept up to the door, his earlier resolve faltering as he heard a wet, slashing sound with the occasional clattering of something hitting the floor, and worse, something hitting the wall. Wincing, he stood in the doorway, dread curling through his stomach, watching with trepidation as Draco slashed paint violently across the canvas with uneven, jerky movements. Red, the colour of spilled blood, and black, darker than the deepest night, filled the white space and gave a chilling prelude to the Slytherin's state of mind, increasing the cold that permeated through Harry's chest.

He swallowed harshly, his saliva trickling down like little shards of glass, and hesitantly entered the room, drawing Draco's attention, making him freeze when silver flashed dangerously at him, a wealth of emotions swimming in its depths. The air in Harry's lungs seized, catching painfully in his chest as he quietly studied Draco, floored at the pain that shimmered in those typically unreadable eyes. Pain, and a rage so fathomless it made Harry's skin crawl, sounding an alarm in his head, urging him to get the hell out while he could.

Licking his lips nervously, he pressed his back into the door frame, instinctively going for his pocket to check for his wand; he didn't honestly believe that he would need to defend himself against Draco, but it was a natural reaction when faced with such vitriol. He'd been on the wrong side of that expression one too many times before and it had never turned out well. Drawing a steadying breath, he withdrew his hand and slowly placed both in front of him to assure Draco he was no threat, breathing much easier when that silver laser ripped away and back to the canvas. Tearing his own gaze away, he noticed the letter and wanted to ask what was wrong, but feared what might erupt from the obviously upset Slytherin.

Harry stood quietly, allowing several minutes to pass as Draco continued his seemingly random strokes across the canvas, certain it had a meaning and order to him. He'd learned long ago that Draco's use of colour and technique was very deliberate to his mental state and he couldn't even begin to imagine what his father might have said that would make Draco think of violence to this extreme. Slowly walking towards him, so as not to startle him, Harry reached out a hand hesitantly, ignoring the minute tremor that snaked along his nerves at bearding the lion in his den, and let his fingers close gently around Draco's shoulder.

Much to Harry's surprise, instead of lashing out Draco merely froze, his paint brush clattering to the floor, sounding like a gun shot in the ensuing silence. He slumped over, covering his face with his hands, sinking miserably to the floor. At a complete loss for what to say, Harry merely squeezed the thin, shaking shoulder and sat down next to him, waiting for him to recover his composure enough to speak. He didn't know how long they remained in that thick, strangulating silence, but finally Draco lifted his head, weary eyes meeting Harry's for a brief moment before they flinched away to stare at his painting. He took a deep breath.

"It's from Father; he knows I've been 'spending time with questionable people,' and the Dark Lord demands an explanation," he spat, disgust evident in his tone when he mentioned both his father and Voldemort, again surprising Harry. They had carefully refrained from talking about either subject, knowing they were sore points in an already fragile friendship.

"Draco…" Harry began haltingly, but was cut off when he stood hastily, running a hand through fine, pale hair.

"I should have known this would happen… should have been more careful, I shouldn't have…" he mumbled to himself, continuing as if he hadn't even heard Harry speak. And he probably hadn't, given how caught up he was in the implications of his father's letter. Harry watched the normally unflappable boy pace the room jerkily, his fluid grace falling to the agitation that had him tied up in knots. Harry stood, trying to garner his attention again.


"He has spies everywhere, I knew this and yet I…" he stated, continuing his dizzying trek.

"Vincent!" Harry snapped, thankful that the often sneered at nickname did the trick that his given name did not, halting him in his tracks and causing him to stare Harry down. Working his mouth soundlessly, Draco shook his head, then gave it up as a loss, huffing slightly before his carefully constructed mask slid into place. He watched Harry mutely. Harry stared back silently for a moment, then huffed too. "Sit down. Breathe. You're giving me a bloody headache."

Draco sat down on the couch, his arms crossed against his chest mutinously, lips pressed into a petulant moue. Barely biting back a sigh, Harry closed his eyes, letting the silence wash over him and cool his jangled nerves before opening them again, ready to face whatever crisis had cropped up. He was pretty sure from Draco's rant that Lucius had found out they had been spending time with each other, despite their best efforts to keep it under wraps, and was pressuring his son for an answer.

Harry had hoped this would never become an issue, but he had to admit it had been a rather naive hope. He could barely shit without the sodding world making a national event of it, and Draco's infamy was no less than his. He really should have seen this eventuality. Sighing in earnest this time, he pinched the bridge of his nose, rubbing to ease the tension building in his head. "What did the letter say?" he asked as calmly as possible, turning to face Draco.

"See for yourself," Draco snapped, grimacing as he leaned back further into his chair.

Striding towards the easel, Harry picked up and scanned the letter, which was obviously written in some code that just made his head throb even harder; honestly why couldn't people just say what they had to say? It wasn't like Lucius' leanings were a secret anymore given his presence in the graveyard when Voldemort had been resurrected, not to mention in the Ministry the following year. But yes, it stated that Draco better have a damned good explanation for being around Harry, and not so subtly threatened him with what would happen when he came back home if his father and the half-blood twit he bowed and scraped to weren't satisfied with Draco's answer.

"That complete, unremitting bast– " Harry swore, his lips pressed together, cutting off the last word when Draco growled low in his throat.

"Watch it, Potter," he griped, his eyes flashing in warning as silver collided hotly with green. "That is my father you're maligning."

Harry bit his tongue, barely holding back the vicious epithet dangling on the end of it.

"Not that you aren't right," Draco sighed wearily, his ire deflating.

"So, what are you going to do?" Harry queried, the pain in his head spiking when Draco shrugged and wouldn't meet his eyes. "Are you going to do as he asks?" More silence. Harry grew even more agitated, his heart pounding wildly, irritation skating over his already fried nerves when Draco growled an almost incoherent 'I don't know' under his breath. Frowning, Harry pierced him with a livid, betrayed gaze. "Are you going to give him information about me?"

"I don't know!" Draco shouted, his eyes glittering as they met Harry's once more, his cheeks flushing with anger before he visibly deflated again, dropping his brow into the palm of his hand. Rubbing his face wearily, he frowned, his breath hitching as he repeated quietly, "I don't know."

"Okay," Harry whispered, crumbling at Draco's obvious distress. This couldn't be easy on him as it was; he really shouldn't be making it worse by prodding him with questions he didn't have the answers to. "Okay… sorry. I know this isn't easy for you, I'm being a prat. This… isn't really about me."

"Not really about…" Draco gaped at him. "Are you insane, Potter? Did you not read the same letter I did?"

"It's not," Harry insisted. True, the letter referred to him, but the greater problem was finding a way to quell Lucius' suspicions. "This is about you and assuaging their suspicions. Look, here's what we'll do… you will tell him that this is nothing more than a means to an end. You thought that if you got close to me, you might be able to glean some useful information about Dumbledore's plans in order to help the Dark Lord. You figured that, being the naive Gryffindor that I am, I'd fall for your offer of a truce and potential friendship, and that's why you've been spending so much time with me. Doctor it up, make it pretty, whatever you need to do to make it believable; I'll do the same with my friends. That way we have a convincing story, and it will get Lucius and Voldemort off your back."

Draco stared at him as if he had grown another head. "Why? Why are you doing this? Why are you helping me?"

"Because someone needs to look out for you for a change," Harry replied, meeting uncertain grey eyes with his own serious ones. He knew this offer was probably unwise, but his gut told him to do it, and his instincts rarely led him astray. Besides, he wasn't dumb enough to give the other side information that would actually help them in the end; most of it would be incidental stuff. "And because the information I give you… the information I give you will not hurt me or my cause in any way, but it will keep you safe."

"I can take care of myself, Potter," Draco sniped stiffly. "I don't need a bloody hero…"

"No, you don't," Harry agreed. "You need a friend. And I want to do this."

"But, I…" Draco floundered, trailing off when Harry only shrugged, offering no answer. "I just don't understand why you would risk it…".

Because you matter, Vincent. And whether you believe it or not, you are important to me.

They would not listen, they did not know how

Perhaps they'll listen now

And that's exactly what we did. He told his father our plan, and I told my friends the same, each of us embellishing as we saw fit, praised by our respective parties for taking the initiative to help our causes. It gave us the perfect cover to openly spend time with each other, without the Dark Lord or the Order getting overly suspicious.

Pretending that Draco was nothing more than a means to an end was a strain for me, especially as, by that time, I had realised that my feelings for him went far beyond simple friendship and two boys in need of support and understanding, deepening into something far more beautiful and fragile. But we were bound by our respective lives, and love wasn't allowed. Bloom it did, however, against both our wills and all sensibility…

Harry had been feigning sleep for some time now. He wasn't quite sure why, other than it allowed him the opportunity to study Draco without him being aware of it. It often amazed him just how much the Slytherin relaxed when they were secreted away in what was quickly becoming 'their room'. Meeting up and spending time with each other had gotten simpler since they had 'come out' to their friends and family, making sneaking around unnecessary. They could easily have met in public, too, with their well crafted lies in place, but Harry found that he enjoyed these peaceful evenings, sequestered from prying eyes and relentless questions, and being able to act however he chose.

It was a blessing to drop the masks they both wore at the door, shedding the heavy mantels of The-Boy-Who-Lived and Death-Eater-In-Training, becoming simply Harry and Draco. Or rather, Harry and Vincent, Harry thought with an inner smile, seeing as Draco spent most of his time there sketching, while he babbled and ranted nonsensically about the day, impersonating all of his well-meaning, but exasperating admirers in an effort to pry a smile from the other boy's lips. He cherished these quiet moments more than he could ever explain.

Inhaling a slow, even breath, he moved slightly, drawing the attention of the other boy for a moment, grey eyes flitting to his face as his hand paused in mid-stroke, watching to see if Harry would awaken. But when it became apparent that Harry was merely shifting in his sleep, Draco settled back into his task, a gentle smile curving his lips. Tipping his head just a tiny degree so that he had an unhampered view, Harry continued to watch the boy that had been taking up his thoughts more and more often since the Christmas holidays. Blond hair shone like spun gold in the soft light, reflecting the many candles that hung overhead. It fell carelessly around his face, softening the sharp features and making Harry realise just how attractive Draco truly was, a thought that unsettled him.

While he felt deeply that love was love and should be celebrated in all its many forms, he'd never really thought about his own preferences, having always been too busy just trying to survive on a daily basis. But then Draco had burst into his life, and he was suddenly facing new thoughts and feelings he couldn't quite explain; ones which left him breathless and sent his head spinning dizzily whenever Draco was near. It was almost as if the Slytherin was testing the grounds for something at times, as he would study Harry intently with those bright, mercury-coloured eyes that flashed with an inner knowledge as they caressed his face. It was… intoxicating, heady, and it left him confused and wanting – but for what, exactly, eluded him.

If he were to be completely honest, Draco had become a distraction – albeit a pleasant one – but a distraction nonetheless. He had consumed Harry's thoughts, and slowly infiltrated his dreams, filling him with an inexplicable warmth that burned deep in the pit of his stomach, leaving his heart palpitating and seeking… something. Something that hovered just out of his grasp.

Harry bit back a groan, his body already reacting to the thoughts in his head, growing warm and tight as he continued to watch the object of his fascination. Occasionally Draco would flick his eyes up, studying him for a moment before turning back to the page in front of him, making Harry desperate with curiosity to know what he was creating on that page. A vision that seemed to hold the other boy enthralled, given the way his fingers flew across the canvas. Licking his suddenly dry lips, Harry squirmed internally, still feeling that heavy, silver gaze on his body, the one that seemed to draw the very air from his lungs.

Swallowing thickly, he pondered those warm feelings, knowing he'd felt them whenever he'd seen Cho, but had never expected to feel them for another boy; and more – this particular boy. It made him reel, sending conflicting emotions through his heart – warmth, affection, desire, longing, but also curiosity, confusion and fear. They left him aching inside, colliding messily with each other into a ball which sat heavily in his gut, and made his head all muzzy.

And it brought to mind several intense moments that crystallised in his mind, where small touches that seemed incongruous in the moment, and all too gentle to be mistaken for anything other than a caress, were stolen – something his mind had labeled as 'accidental,' but now he wasn't so sure. The long looks between them that seemed to echo with more than shared mirth or solemnity or… something previously out of reach, but now labeled 'want.'

Harry tensed momentarily, his mind racing to catch up with his emotions and the knowledge coursing through him. He was so lost in thought, he almost missed when Draco's head rose, watching him with an intense frown. Relaxing his body slowly, Harry watched through his lashes, curious as to what had put that moue on his face, sucking in a shallow breath when Draco, contemplative gaze still focused on him, set aside his sketch pad and rose from his seat. Padding over in his socks, Draco came to a standstill beside Harry, his eyes traveling over him before he sank to his knees by the couch near Harry's head.

Breath hitching quietly, Harry looked at him through slitted eyes, stunned at the chance to study him so closely while his mind frantically tried to work out why he had come over in the first place. Draco's eyes softened almost tenderly as he studied Harry, and Harry nearly forgot his ploy of feigning sleep as his heartbeat accelerated and his breath grew shallow, and it took everything in him to keep his muscles lax.

He watched dazedly as Draco shifted beside him, settling his weight before lifting one hand, almost in slow motion, to hover over his face before slowly lowering it until his fingers brushed softly over Harry's cheekbone in a feather light caress. Closing his eyes fully, lashes fluttering imperceptibly, Harry swallowed thickly and a soft gasp bubbled over his lips when those long, smooth fingers left a trail of heat across his skin. He cursed himself when those fingers froze, still lightly touching his skin, but motionless, as if waiting for Harry to awaken.

With effort, he managed to slow his racing heart a touch and evened out his breathing, curious as to what might happen if he remained – not impassive, never that with Draco – but, well, asleep for lack of a better word. After a brief, tense moment, Draco relaxed, allowing his fingers to drag across Harry's cheek once more, the fingertips tracing the subtle hills and valleys as if memorizing each curve and indent of its structure, before they curled around it, cupping his cheek for a brief moment, a thumb swiping lazily over the apple.

Harry's heart sped up once more, a low, warm fire coming to life and curling low in his abdomen, sending out tendrils of heat to tickle over the all-too-sensitive nerves lying just under his skin. Mouth drying, he swallowed painfully as those fingers continued their exploration, one sliding over the bridge of his nose, taking his glasses with it and setting them aside. Lashes fluttering slightly, Harry waited with baited breath for Draco's next move, and all but sighed with pleasure when he felt his fingers return, tracing thick, black brows.

His body ached, the blood draining from it to pool hotly in his groin and a slow flush of desire infused his skin, dusting his cheekbones a pale pink. Or so he figured, as he felt his skin heat and tighten, a sweet ache burning as those fingertips finished tracing his brows and slid lower, brushing over his eyelashes. Draco moved on quickly, as if afraid that the ephemeral touch would wake the object of his fascination. Little did he know that Harry was far more awake than he had ever been in his life from those gentle touches; he didn't think there was a dormant cell left in his body at that point.

Harry nearly gasped, almost giving up the ghost with what happened next – lightning shot down his spine, sparking across his skin like little explosions of sensation when a finger teased his lower lip, sweeping across it so lightly it tickled. But the giggle he desperately fought back lodged in his throat when the finger came back and stroked with firmer pressure, and he couldn't help but lean into the touch, seeking more of those fleeting caresses. He couldn't remember a time where anyone had made him feel like this with nothing more than a graze of skin on skin. He wanted so much to raise his lids, to look into those mercurial eyes and kiss those fingers gently, but he knew that it might scare Draco off, and he didn't want the moment to end.

Inhaling shakily, he parted his lips a touch, a hot breath feathering out over delicate skin, drawing a soft, almost breathless noise from Draco as his finger continued its path, dipping in slightly to scrape over Harry's teeth. The sound sent a frisson of desire exploding through his body, ending in a straight line to his cock. He almost groaned aloud with disappointment when Draco sighed softly and drew his hand away, resting it on Harry's chest.

Closing his lids fully, the breath in Harry's chest froze when Draco leaned over, his other hand brushing an unruly strand of black hair behind Harry's ear before it slid down and cupped his jaw, his thumb stroking over his lips as he dipped his head, bringing with it an intoxicating scent that made Harry's stomach flutter. Draco inhaled deeply, his lashes fluttering against the line of Harry's hair as he pressed his nose into his temple, eliciting a thrill of want and longing in Harry that took everything he possessed to fight the urge to flick his tongue over that long, elegant neck. Instead, he pressed his own nose into it and inhaled softly.

The smell of the other boy was intoxicating – like oranges and cedar, earth and rain and something so uniquely Draco, it defied description.

Breath releasing shakily, Harry couldn't quite hold back the tiny whimper that bubbled over his lips as Draco's head rose. He watched through his lashes as Draco's eyes darkened with lust, turning the colour of gun metal as he hovered over Harry's lips, studying them intently, as if trying to decide whether or not to kiss them, inciting a desperate little whisper, a pleading, in the back of Harry's mind –

'Oh yes; please, please, please, yes…'

A sweet breath fanned across his face as Draco hesitated, and then coming to a decision, reluctantly pulled away. Rising to his feet, he strode across the room quickly and sunk back into his chair, picking up his sketch pad and beginning to fervently sketch, as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. Disappointment crashed through Harry's breast as he lay there, utterly stunned by the other boy's actions. His stomach fluttered, heat swirling in it as he recounted those few, short minutes that seemed to drag on into eternity, and yet were far too short for his liking, completely oblivious to the way Draco's fingers flew across the canvas as if commemorating some fleeting moment to memory.

His head spun dizzily, eyes fluttering shut against the assault of emotion swimming through his blood, trying to make sense of Draco's actions. He wasn't an innocent by any means; he had shared kisses with a couple of girls, but what he'd felt right there and then was unlike anything he'd ever experienced. It had been the single, most erotic moment of his life and they hadn't even kissed. In fact, it had never gotten beyond a few innocent touches.

He wasn't sure how long he laid there, how long he was lost in his thoughts, his emotions a confusing cacophony in his mind, but it must have been quite some time as Draco hummed under his breath, apparently finished with his sketch. He flipped the sketch pad closed with a decisive snap, resting it against his chest as he rose from his chair, stilling Harry's inner turmoil. Quietly observing through slitted eyes as Draco crossed the room, Harry's breath stuttered when he stopped by him once more, reaching out with slim, smooth fingers to tuck the errant curl of hair back behind his ear again before sliding over his cheek as before. Heart pounding, he froze internally as Draco bent down and he felt lips ghost over the top of his head, a whisper floating between them before Draco left.

"Good night, Harry."

Opening his eyes as Draco's footsteps faded into the distance, Harry stared hazily at the flickering candles above his head, awash in wonder as he touched his cheek, the skin still tingling from Draco's tender caress. Inhaling deeply, he lowered his hand to his rapidly skittering heart, a smile ghosting over his lips as he whispered to the air, "Good night, Draco."

Starry, starry night

Flaming flowers that brightly blaze

From that night on, things I'd previously missed became even more obvious – the soft looks, the seemingly innocent, but purposeful touches, the secret smiles – and not just from his end. Suddenly the feelings from Christmas took on a new meaning, painting an all too clear picture. And with this new perspective came the nerves; I started paying closer attention to what was being said, and more, how it was being said, noting how we subconsciously changed things based on casual comments – Draco stopped slicking back his hair because I mentioned that I liked it down, and I bought and wore more green because he said it brought out my eyes. Small occurrences so subtle that I hadn't even realised they were happening until it had been thrust into my face. But then again, I've always been a little oblivious…

It had been a couple of weeks since that near kiss and Harry was convinced that Draco was purposefully trying to drive him crazy; except this time it was with lust rather than rancor. He seemed to be vacillating in this indecisive place where he would come close, and Harry was convinced that finally, finally they were going to complete that wonderful, breathless moment, only for Draco to seize up at the last moment and flit away nervously. It was nearly driving Harry mad, but at the same time he was equally uncertain of pushing it further, because what if he had only imagined the entire scenario? What if he had actually fallen asleep and the whole thing had been a fantastic, incredibly realistic, dream?

It was that thought which kept the typically bold Gryffindor in check; it could very well be that he was reading more into Draco's actions now that he was all too aware of his own feelings for him. Although, even he was finding himself hard-pressed to explain away or justify the lingering touches that happened throughout the day, nor the long looks that seemed to come from the corners of silver eyes.

Like this evening, when instead of spending it in their sanctuary, Draco grabbed his hand and tugged him out of the room, his fingers lingering, tangling with Harry's as he claimed to be restless and wanted to go for a walk around the lake. His palm and wrist still tingled and burned from that gentle caress, making him ache to take Draco's hand again, entwine their fingers together and damn the consequences.

Madness – thy name is Draco.

Shoving his hands into his pockets in an effort to quell his reckless impulse, Harry sighed softly, his breath frosting in the chilly night air. It wasn't so much that he was worried that anyone in the school would see them if he were to give into his whim; no one was crazy enough to be out at this time of night – except for a slightly insane blond Slytherin and his equally insane admirer. No, most sensible people were curled up by the fire in their respective common rooms, combating the lingering chill in these late winter days.

Not Draco, though. Or himself, apparently. He needed to learn how to say no to far-too-appealing-for-their-own-good Slytherins.

Like he said – madness.

No, it was Draco's reaction that concerned him. Their relationship had grown in leaps and bounds, going from animosity to a silent ceasefire, to a grudging truce, and then finally friendship in a matter of months. It still surprised Harry that he and Draco had managed to come so far and he was hesitant to rock the boat, potentially destroying their friendly accord and bringing about an uncomfortable silence at best, and a return to acrimony at worst.

Sighing again, he kicked at a loose pebble and drew a deep breath, the icy particles prickling his lungs as he observed his companion from his peripheral vision, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth as Draco puffed, blowing a strand of hair out of his eyes. Merlin – he even found that endearing.

Looking up at the sky, he was amazed at how clear the night appeared after several days of rain and sleet. It was an utterly gorgeous night, the stars sparkling like white-blue diamonds sprinkled across a midnight velvet sky. He never usually had the time to do this, to stop and appreciate the small things, when he was so often immersed in intrigue and busy worrying about Voldemort's next move.

He found himself appreciating quite a bit more since getting to know Draco.

"You're quiet tonight," Draco commented softly, drawing Harry from his thoughts and making him flush as he realised he had all but ignored the other boy in favour of his private introspection on their rapidly evolving relationship.

"Sorry," Harry apologised distractedly, his cheeks burning as he flicked a contrite glance at his friend. "Just thinking."

"About?" Draco prompted, raising a single brow as he altered his path slightly, bringing him right next to Harry; so close that their shoulders brushed against each other with every step they took, sending a frisson of awareness through Harry with each graze.

"You," he blurted out in his nervousness, mentally cringing as the word spilled heedlessly over his lips. Sinking his lower teeth into his bottom lip, he winced when Draco's step hitched, obviously surprised at his confession, before it smoothed back into a graceful, unaffected stroll. Harry hadn't meant to say that, but Draco's closeness had distracted him, sending that warm, fluttery feeling swirling through his gut once more.

"Yeah?" Draco asked, careful to keep his features schooled despite the pleased lilt that coated his tone. A small smile quirked the corner of his mouth as he kicked a pebble, and Harry's heart skipped a beat, his stomach fluttering anew when Draco turned bright eyes on him, and the moonlight splashed across his face, seeming to light him with an ethereal glow.

Moonlight and Draco just seemed to go together.

Riveted by the vision before him, Harry swallowed and merely nodded, as he was unable to get his tongue to untangle itself long enough to voice his answer. Nor would he even know what exactly he would say if he could. His confession would likely invite all sorts of questions and he didn't really know if he had the answers, or, if he could manage to draw them forth, whether he really wanted to share those thoughts quite yet.

"What…." Draco paused as his voice broke nervously. "What are you thinking?'

"Lots of things…." Harry evaded with a slight shrug, looking down at his feet as if they were the most interesting things since magic, his breath growing shallow as Draco moved just a bit closer.

"Coyness doesn't become you, Potter," he drawled, hastily reverting to his given name when Harry frowned. "Harry."

"Not coy," Harry mumbled petulantly.

"Evading the question won't work either," Draco persisted, his brow winging when Harry hunched his shoulders as if trying to hide. "I can be quite persistent."

"God, I hope so," Harry murmured under his breath, flushing when Draco turned to him in surprise, his mouth parting just a fraction as he halted in front of him.

"What?" he queried, cocking his head to the side as he stepped even closer to Harry, setting off those infernal butterflies that danced in his stomach every time Draco got near.

"Er…" Harry blushed, toeing the ground as his eyes darted everywhere but at the boy standing before him, embarrassed that his slip of the tongue had been overheard. "I said, I know." Harry knew that his attempt to cover it up had failed miserably when Draco merely smirked at his answer and waited for Harry to continue.

Licking his lips, Harry looked up at him properly… and met limpid silver eyes just inches from his own, startled at how close Draco had managed to get without him noticing. When had that happened? Well, it was now or never, and he was a Gryffindor, wasn't he? Going where angels feared to tread and all that rot. He certainly wasn't going to get any answers tiptoeing around the subject.

"It's just…" he continued softly, looking down at his hands as he stumbled over his words, twisting them together slightly as his brain sought the right thing to say. Glancing at Draco through his lashes, he asked, "Well… we've become friends, right?'

"I would say so," Draco replied dryly. "I don't generally spend time with people I hate."

"It's just that…" Harry chewed on his bottom lip uncertainly, then slowly closed the distance between them, step by step, leaving mere centimetres between their bodies, until he was close enough that he could feel the soft exhale of Draco's breath, feathering and mingling with his own. "Well, I was wondering…"

"Yes?' Draco asked in a breathy voice, his eyes dancing inquisitively over Harry's face, a spark of what looked like hope glittering in them. His hand reached out and snagged Harry's sleeve, as if steadying them both.

"If you…." Harry trailed off, his gaze flicking to Draco's mouth momentarily before moving back up to meet a dilated grey gaze. "If I could…"

Giving up on the words that failed to come, Harry placed his hand on Draco's chest, his fingers curling into the soft, black cloak that he was wearing, and rose up slightly on tiptoe to press their lips together, his eyes fluttering shut at the contact. Sighing in contentment, he brushed his lips softly over Draco's in a kiss that was barely there – light, ephemeral, and so bloody amazing that it shot sparks down his spine and he couldn't help but think that he finally understood why people made such a fuss over kissing. It was phenomenal. Pulling away, he opened his eyes to find a wide-eyed, grey gaze on him and he immediately backed away, flushing and stuttering as Draco watched him speechlessly.

"Sorry…" he stammered, his cheeks flaming as he tripped over himself to apologise, mentally chastising himself for reading too much into Draco's actions and wondering if this would do irrevocable damage to their friendship. Stupid, stupid, stupid…. "I just…"

But he'd never know what excuse might have spilled over his lips as Draco's hand shot out in the next second, curling into the folds of his cloak, pulling Harry against a firm chest. Long, lithe arms wrapped around Harry's waist as Draco's head dipped and he whispered fervently, "Oh Merlin, finally," against Harry's mouth as he claimed it.

And then Draco's lips were fully on his, and Harry was quite certain he'd just discovered what heaven felt like.

Swirling clouds in violet haze

Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue

Someone once said you can't really hate someone unless you've loved them first. Trust me to do the opposite. I never expected to fall for Draco; if anyone had told me even just a few months prior, I would have had them committed. After years of animosity and bitter hatred, we never should have been friends, let alone lovers, but then my life has always been based on impossibilities, so really, what was one more? As the days passed, we spent more and more time together, wrapped up in our own little world, sharing those intoxicating, mind-blowing kisses that I just couldn't get enough of; and soon kisses turned into touches, and touches turned in to more...

"I can't believe I let you talk me into this,' Harry whispered for what had to be the dozenth time that evening, his cheeks flushing with embarrassment as he slowly stripped off his shirt, lying it on the single chair that now graced the room. At some point in the past few weeks, the other one had been transfigured into a mattress, complete with soft sheets, plump pillows and a thick, fluffy quilt. They had explained it away by saying it was only prudent in case one of them fell asleep in the room again, that they wouldn't have to risk cricked necks and sore muscles from a night on the couch.

But he knew all too well what they had gotten up to in that bed; the hours spent in sensual heat and bliss, their bodies pressed together as they kissed and fondled and brought each other to the brink of orgasm, leaving Harry hot and heavy, desperately craving completion. Something that often happened surreptitiously in the bathroom down the hall before he returned to his dorm for the night, his cock so hard and tight it would have been torture trying to walk all the way to Gryffindor Tower otherwise.

For all the experimenting they had done, they'd only traveled below the waist occasionally, both content to learn each other's taste, and body, slowly; and both slightly terrified by the intimacy, being inexperienced in this realm. Neither of them had ever experimented with, or really even considered boys in their very limited exposure to sex. So they were a bit worried about bollocksing things up.

"You'll like it," Draco reassured him, dragging Harry out of his reverie and back to where he was mixing his 'paints.' "Trust me."

The paints in question were actually melted chocolate – white, milk and dark – spelled different colours and the perfect temperature for smooth, comfortable application. To tell the truth, Harry was excited by the idea, a warm, jittery sense of anticipation filling him at the thought of Draco removing said 'paint' with nothing but his mouth, but he also felt a bit shy about being Draco's canvas. They had gotten to the point of partial nudity, but they were usually too caught up in the moment to be self-conscious. Stripping down to his pants and lying still under Draco's brush, his total focus on him for who knew how long, was an entirely different matter altogether.

He had always been self-conscious of his form, knowing he was on the smaller side of the male spectrum – at least in terms of height and body weight. And taking in Draco's tall, lithe body, at nearly six feet and a normal weight, he couldn't help feeling a bit… well… inadequate.

"Right," he whispered to himself, a touch breathless and still slightly doubtful, yet intrigued by Draco's suggestion. Slipping his hands over his chest nervously, he reached for the waistband of his trousers, slowly unbuckling his belt in order to stall for time. Or, at least until he noticed that Draco, rather than paying attention to his paints, seemed riveted on Harry's progress, watching him from the corner of his eye. Flushing with pleasure at his boyfriend's absorption, Harry unconsciously slowed his movements, dragging the belt from the loops one by one, breath hitching as limpid grey eyes tracked the movement with the intensity of a hawk. A slow, light flush coloured Draco's cheeks as Harry whipped it from the last one and tossed it carelessly to the floor.

A sense of power and a spike of lust poured through Harry as he moved to his flies, and he barely bit back a moan when Draco unconsciously flicked the tip of his tongue over his lips as Harry unsnapped the button, his Adam's apple bobbing as Harry's fingers gripped the zip and slowly dragged it down, centimetre by centimetre. His pulse jumped, blood heating and flowing through his veins like liquid fire when Draco's fingers twitched convulsively, as if fighting off the urge to reach out and help him with his task.

Inhaling shakily, Harry slid his trousers over his hips, leaving them to pool at his feet. He was acutely aware of the moment Draco gave up the pretext of preparing his paints in lieu of studying his boyfriend when he felt a hot, covetous stare slide over his skin like the heavy, possessive hand of a lover. Swallowing thickly, he stood there, attempting not to fidget apprehensively as mercurial eyes slid back up his body and met his, the pure, unadulterated lust blazing in them like a sucker punch to the gut, eliciting an answering punch of desire burning Harry from the inside out.

Licking his lips, Harry stepped out of his trousers, leaving them in a pile on the ground. He didn't dare break the moment they'd built between them by tearing his eyes from that fervent, liquid gaze, swirling with so many emotions as it clashed with Harry's, but the most prominent being lust and the hint of something softer that he thought just might be love.

"Come here," Draco rasped huskily, holding his hand out from his perch by 'their bed,' palm up, and fingers curled slightly as he waited for the Harry's compliance. His heart accelerating to an erratic throb, Harry walked over as if in a trance, only being held together by that bright stare, and slipped his hand into Draco's, fingers entwining, gasping slightly when Draco tugged and all but toppled him into his lap.

"You are beautiful; never doubt that."

Harry's breathing hitched at Draco's reverent words, and his eyes fluttered shut as Draco's head dipped, sealing his mouth over Harry's for a sweet, unhurried kiss that curled his toes. Lips slid over lips, brushing, caressing, molding as kiss after kiss deepened. Harry shivered, a wave of want dancing over his spine as Draco's hands wandered, sliding up over his arms, chest and neck in gentle exploration, to grip the hair at his nape, cupping his head lovingly as Harry's fingers clenched and curled in Draco's fine, linen shirt. Dipping his tongue past parted lips, Draco teased it against Harry's, tangling them in a slow, languid dance that had Harry melting.

God, the things Draco could do with that mouth; the mere thought of it sent a hot, violent pulse of lust to his cock, leaving him painfully hard and wanting in seconds.

"So beautiful," Draco murmured against his lips, pressing a sweet, chaste kiss to the corner of Harry's mouth before he pulled away, licking his lips as if gathering the last lingering taste of him as he turned back to his paints. Harry's head swam, a heavy languor suffusing his body as he watched Draco test the heat of the chocolate, humming in approval when he touched it to the inside of his wrist.

"Lie back," Draco commanded softly, his low, warm tone only broken by the hazy lust that subsumed them, lingering in the air like a heavy perfume. He turned, rested his hand against Harry's chest and gently pressed him down into the black and green quilt with a sly smile.

Trailing his fingers over Harry's chest, Draco's smile deepened, taking on a wicked glint when the action drew a shudder of delight from him and sent a jolt of electricity leaping across his skin, his lashes fluttering against heated cheeks. Bowing his head, Draco brushed his lips against Harry's, gasping softly when Harry pressed back, a little kittenish whimper sounding in the back of his throat. Pulling back, Draco studied Harry intently before he reached over to grab a thin paint brush and swirled it into a pot of blue-coloured chocolate, never taking his eyes off his quarry.

Gathering some of the viscous confection on the tip of his brush, Draco set about painting an intricate, abstract design over Harry's torso. Harry watched him through his lashes, biting his lower lip harshly when the brush ran over a particularly sensitive area, inadvertently tickling him and making him squirm under Draco's ministrations as he tried to quell the giggle bubbling up his throat.

"Hold still," Draco murmured distractedly, his cheeks a delicate pink hue and eyes slightly glazed as he worked on his 'canvas'.

"Sorry," Harry mumbled huskily, fighting the smile quirking at the corner of his mouth, green eyes twinkling merrily as the brush hit another sensitive spot. "It tickles."

"Oh?" Draco smirked, cocking an amused brow as he lifted his brush and swooped over, latching onto a peaked nipple, whispering mischievously against Harry's skin, "This tickle?"

"Oh," Harry cried softly, lust crackling across his nerves like lightning. He clenched his fingers into the sheets beneath him, his hips canting helplessly as he admitted in a breathy whisper, "No. No, that doesn't tickle at all."

Harry moaned when Draco's tongue curled around his nipple, delicately lapping up the chocolate with a firm, thoroughly delicious swipe, eliciting a frisson of heat and desire that pooled in his groin. He inhaled sharply, desperately trying to ease the ache building inside him with tiny, ineffectual movements, and couldn't help but whimper softly when teeth caught and scraped over pebbled skin, teasing it with a trifling, but sharp nip before Draco released it and drew back with a smug smirk.

Fucking hell, that felt amazing.

Watching his tormentor through hooded eyes as Draco resumed his painting, Harry couldn't help squirming again, but this time for an entirely new reason, one that had little to do with amusement and everything to do with the fire that burned inside. The chocolate warmed his skin, setting with a spell Draco had obviously imbued into the confection, leaving it moist, creamy and tingling in its wake, making Harry pant softly, his heart skipping a beat as it glided over his skin. And all he could think about was just how Draco intended to remove it.

Licking his parched lips, Harry's lids trembled, closing fully when Draco paused, cocked his head to the side as if to admire his work and nodded decisively, a satisfied smile unfurling over his face as he set the brush aside.

Sweet Circe.

Harry was certain that the blond demon was trying to kill him by burning him alive in lust. Opening his eyes at a quiet shuffling and the soft whisper of fabric, Harry's lips parted and his breath exploded from his lungs, leaving him winded and completely dumbstruck by the vision before him.

Eyes half-mast, Draco unbuckled his belt, slipping it free of its catch silently before unbuttoning his flies and letting the soft, black fabric slip from his hips as he continued to view Harry with heated, predatory eyes. Kicking his trousers to the side, his hands rose to the long-sleeved, white shirt and lazily began to remove it, slipping the buttons from their holes one at a time, revealing smooth, creamy skin – so very beautiful, and so very perfect.

Propping himself up on his elbows, Harry's heart stuttered, thudding loudly in his ears as he marked Draco's movements in utter fascination, his breath catching as he dropped to his knees at the edge of the mattress and crawled towards him, capturing Harry's lips in a languid, consuming kiss that left his body aching for more. Leaving his shirt lying open against his chest, Draco threaded his hands into Harry's hair, his fingers curling tightly into the thick, inky waves, and tipped his head back, deepening the kiss as he slowly lowered Harry onto the bed.

Straddling his hips, Draco made a low, wanton sound in the back of his throat as Harry pushed impatiently at his shirt, peeling it off his shoulders to pool at his elbows. Drawing back minutely, their lips still brushing against one another, Draco tore at his shirt, yanking it from his arms, and let it fall to the floor without a thought before sinking his fingers back into the thick thatch of wild curls at Harry's nape, drinking the smaller boy down like a man dying of thirst and Harry's mouth his only oasis.

Breathing heavily, he drew back, and with lips and teeth and tongue, attacked Harry's throat, drawing a small cry of need from his lover, his head starting to spin as Draco began to 'erase' his creation one slow, tantalising swipe of his tongue at a time. Gasping as Draco's tongue swirled around his nipple once more, Harry threaded his fingers into the blond hair, tugging and clutching at the fine, silky strands in desperation, instinctively bucking his hips to seek friction against the slim thigh resting between his as teeth sunk into his skin.

"Merlin," Harry whispered, his cock hardening as it came into contact with the firm, muscled thigh. He rutted gently against it, whimpering his discontent when Draco pulled away. Harry blinked hazily, his entire body aflame as Draco slid lower, licking the remains of chocolate from his stomach, his cock hardening painfully with every flick of that wicked and far-too-talented tongue.

Sitting up, Draco watched Harry through heavy-lidded eyes, his hands smoothing down over Harry's body, sending tiny shocks of pleasure across his skin as he dragged his fingers down to the edge of his pants. Arching a brow, Draco teased along it, his lips curling in satisfaction when Harry moaned his enjoyment. He dipped his finger under the band, tugging lightly on the material with a faintly questioning look.

Harry paused for a moment in contemplation, his breath heavy and ragged, his blood running hotly under his skin. They had never gotten this far in their explorations, usually shying away, but staring into molten silver eyes, Harry couldn't help wanting more; to see where this adventure would take them next. Nodding, he waited with baited breath as Draco slowly slid his pants down, lifting his hips slightly to ease their removal.

Biting his lip softly, Harry watched as Draco's gaze slid down over his body, his cheeks heating as they reached his fully erect cock, nestled against his stomach amongst dark, coarse hair. Draco licked his lips, a hungry glint in his eyes as they met Harry's. Lowering his body, Draco hissed when Harry's hands slid over his torso and wrapped around the waistband of his pants, tugging at the thin, silky material, sliding them down in turn.

Staring at the beautiful boy above him, Harry gulped, sucking on his bottom lip as he took in the slim, long cock jutting proudly from Draco's body. He looked back into his eyes, and seeing nothing but desire and longing, pulled him down on top of him, sucking in a strangled breath when skin met skin for the first time.

"Oh fuck…" Harry gasped, lust flowing through his veins in a sweet, dark river, igniting the pool of heat in the pit of his abdomen. Sliding his hands down the smooth line of Draco's back, he arched his hips, crying out incoherently, stars bursting behind his eyes when his cock brushed against Draco's and they slid wetly together, slick from pre-come and sweat.

"Such language, Mr. Potter," Draco chided in a drawl, gasping when their cocks came into contact, voicing an expletive of his own as he rocked his hips into Harry's in response. "Salazar, this feels bloody amazing."

"Don't call me that," Harry groused breathlessly, unconsciously splaying his legs wider in order to let Draco slide between them, making it easier for their bodies to seek greater friction. "You remind me of Snape when you say it like that, and he is the last person I want to be thinking about right now."

"Noted," Draco replied, equally as breathless, his nose scrunching in disgust at the thought of his godfather. He crawled between Harry's legs and proceeded to wash that thought from the his mind by lining up their cocks and rocking his hips, groaning heartily when heated skin slid against heated skin.

Lacing his fingers with Harry's, Draco pressed their hands into the mattress above their heads and sealed his mouth against Harry's, preventing a response as he began to rock their hips together languidly. Moaning against Draco's lips, Harry wrapped one leg around his hips, drawing him closer and increasing the pressure, meeting him thrust for thrust. His senses reeling, the pleasure inside him heightened, building in intensity until it burst over him in waves of heat and bliss, his orgasm spilling between them as his vision whited-out, leaving him crying out Draco's name helplessly.

Watching and feeling Harry lose it beneath him, Draco came just seconds later, his come splashing hotly against both their stomachs as he whispered Harry's name against his ear. Spent, both boys laid still, eyes closed and panting softly in an effort to regain their breath, trying to get their bearings as pleasure continued to zing over their nerves. Eventually, Draco pulled away, pressing a gentle kiss to Harry's brow as he collapsed onto the bed next to him, relaxed and completely winded.

"I don't think I have the strength to move," Draco murmured, his eyes shutting as he drew several deep breaths, humming in pleasure when he felt Harry's lips nuzzling against his neck.

"Me neither," Harry mumbled, his lashes fluttering as he fought off sleep long enough to grab his wand and cast a cleaning spell over them both, then curled on his side into Draco's body. "Sleeping here."

"Mmhmm," Draco mumbled back, pulling Harry closer as he dragged the sheets and quilt over them, not even bothering to articulate his thoughts as he pressed a soft kiss to Harry's forehead.

"Mmm… love you, Vincent," Harry murmured softly, his lids growing heavy with sleep as he snuggled deeper into Draco's chest, his breath growing soft and even as he slipped into slumber, missing the sheen of tears that filmed half-open silver eyes and the soft voice that echoed his sentiment.

"I love you too, Harry."

Colours changing hue

Morning fields of amber grain

For the first time I can remember, I was truly happy. I was in love, and I was pretty sure it was reciprocated. Even if it wasn't, I knew it was close and it would be only a matter of time before it was. And that is where the problem lay – time. She sped past swiftly, oblivious to the people she affected; there was never enough time and it overshadowed what should have been blissful days and even better nights. I should have been able to revel in this new and incredible experience. But when has my life ever been as it should?

While fate is capricious and luck fickle, time is an impatient taskmistress that has not a care for your wish for her to slow down, and we felt the suffocating press of her passing all too soon. And like many abstract ideals, she slipped from our fingers no matter how tightly we tried to hold onto her reins...

Draco's brushes had been silent all night, long packed away and awaiting transport. It was that little detail that struck home harshly, making Harry realise just how little time was left of the school year, their imminent departure hanging over his head like a pall. He'd tried to remain lighthearted throughout the evening, playing the role he'd been cast into at dinner, and then later again, wanting his and Draco's remaining hours to be special, but the absence of paint and canvas meant reality was weighing heavily on his mind. And no matter how he tried to stave it off, he couldn't shake the dread eating him up inside.

Sighing softly, he wrapped an arm around the boy leaning against his chest, Draco's head pillowed in the hollow of his throat. They had decided to spend their last night in the castle together, uncaring as to who might note their absences; his own dorm mates had gotten used to his unexplained disappearances over the course of the year and knew that no amount of prodding would make Harry reveal where he'd been. It was none of their business. And he was fairly certain that the Slytherins knew better than to question their leader.

He just wanted to spend this time wrapped up in Draco, and damn the consequences that came from it. Not that anyone would ever believe him if he'd even bothered to tell the truth. If someone had told him even six months ago that he'd be lying on a mattress piled high with blankets and pillows, in an abandoned classroom with Draco Malfoy, mourning the coming day because they'd be separated, he would have had them institutionalised. Never in a million years could he have imagined lying here, content and desperately in love with his ex-nemesis; it boggled the mind, and yet, he wouldn't change it for all the galleons in the world.

Merlin, how he loved this boy in his arms; more than words could ever express, actually.

He hated the idea of parting from him for even a few weeks. Closing his eyes, he drew in a shaky breath, desperately quelling the despair rising with every passing minute, and prayed to the gods that he'd make it through the next few hours without spoiling the time they had left. Opening his eyes, he studied the equally sombre blond, and sighed again, realising he wasn't the only one with separation anxieties. Maybe it was best just to address their concerns now and get them out of the way, so they could focus on each other.

"What are you thinking about?" he asked quietly, running his fingers through the fine, blond strands splayed across his chest.

"Tomorrow," Draco confessed, rubbing his cheek gently against Harry's before laying it back down, mercurial eyes locking with solemn tourmaline, darkened by the shadows they faced the next day. "For the first time in years, I really don't want to leave."

Absently weaving his fingers through Draco's hair, Harry didn't blame him; they both were all too aware of what awaited him at the manor. At best, it would likely be crawling with Death Eaters; at worst… well, that was a thought they tried not to contemplate too deeply. Harry had been aware for some time that Voldemort had decided to make Malfoy Manor his headquarters, given the stringent wardings that had been put in place. It hadn't been stated in so many words, but the notes Draco received from home, plus his cryptic comments, had given Harry enough information to put the pieces together.

"I don't either," Harry agreed softly, tipping his head to brush his lips over Draco's temple, thinking about the small, airless room that he was expected to reside in, and the snide, derogatory comments he faced every time he went to the Dursleys."Nothing good ever comes from staying with my relatives, even if it's only going to be for a couple of weeks to renew the protective wards before I can get out of there."

"At least you can," Draco whispered almost inaudibly, although he frowned at the mention of Harry's family; to say he wasn't fond of them was a vast understatement.

Harry felt horrible, and he closed his eyes, tightening his own grip around Draco. What right did he have to complain? Truthfully, his situation – for once – was worlds better than Draco's. He knew how worried Draco was about his departure. They had even plotted, trying to find a way to keep him away from the manor as they had at Christmas, but they didn't have the grounds nor the means to keep Draco from his parents, and it would only be a matter of time before the archaic laws of their world would enforce Draco's return.

"I wish…" Harry whispered back, his throat closing around the words painfully, forcing him to swallow audibly.

"Yes, well," Draco responded as Harry trailed off, uncertain exactly what he'd wanted to express in that moment. Draco tipped his face up, brushing his lips softly over Harry's, trying to lighten the mood. "If hippogriffs were wishes and all that."

"Maybe Snape can…" Harry proposed, sighing when Draco immediately negated the idea with a slow shake of his head.

"I can't rely on my godfather, Harry." Draco sighed resignedly. "His position is tenuous at best. Hiding me away… he might as well just offer up his throat and be done with it."

Harry swallowed thickly, closing his eyes tightly to relieve the burn of tears that threatened. He drew a shuddering breath, dropping the subject for now. He didn't want to waste their last night talking in circles and hashing out everything that had already been talked to death a thousand times.

"I know," he whispered, running a hand through his hair and swiping wearily at his eyes. He reached to touch the blond head leaning against his shoulder, stroking it soothingly, watching as Draco drew abstract designs on his chest. "I know."

Silence descended over them; not a completely uncomfortable one, but the kind shared by lovers that simply needed each other, one that is filled with soft kisses, gentle touches and whispered words of love that couldn't bear to go unvoiced or undone, lips begging to be kissed, feelings welling in their hearts, needing to be shared before the moment was lost to them forever. Dipping his face into Draco's hair, he inhaled deeply and let the scent of it wash over him, an intoxicating perfume that never ceased to make his stomach jolt and his heart flutter.

Stroking his hands over Draco's back, he pressed a kiss against his brow, then leaned his cheek against the top of his head, rubbing it against the cool, silken strands as he pulled him closer, letting his long, lithe body settle against him. Harry's fingers traced up Draco's back and down his arms, touching every bit of him that he could reach and branding it into his memory, intermittently pressing little kisses against his hair, cheeks, lashes and anywhere he could reach. Humming questioningly when he felt Draco move, Harry watched as he lifted up onto his hands, one placed on either side of Harry's torso, and grey and green melded, heating intensely as Draco's head dipped and soft pink lips brushed together.

Sighing softly, Harry tilted his head, offering a better angle as Draco's lips moved against his, placing small kisses against the corners of his mouth before sinking into it in a deep, slow kiss that made electricity zing across his nerves. Tangling his fingers into soft tresses, he lost himself in the wonder that was Draco's mouth, nearly undone by the sheer emotion that spilled over his lover's lips and the rising passion which flowed between them in a sweet, dark rush that always left his head spinning, desperately scrambling to ground himself, only to be met with more of that heady burn.

Harry gasped as Draco slid a knee between his legs, nudging them apart gently and sliding into the space he'd made. Draco took advantage of that little sound to slip his tongue between parted lips, curling around Harry's and teasing it, stroking it into play. There was a brief struggle for dominance that Harry quickly gave up, allowing Draco to take the lead, simply enjoying the dance of tongues and lips and teeth as hands glided up over his torso, Draco's lower body rocking against Harry's, adding to the ache growing within him.

Whimpering breathlessly when the eager mouth disappeared, Harry's lashes fluttered open, his heart seizing as hot, molten silver stared down at him and that covetous gaze slid over his body, a possessive heat glinting in those beloved eyes. Swallowing thickly, he rose up, melding his lips to Draco's, humming in need when he was met with a hungry, avaricious mouth that seemed to devour him with a need that Draco had never previously displayed. It was wild, free and so full of passion that Harry couldn't seem to catch his breath.

There was something very different in this kiss. Every time they'd been together, it had always been wonderful, passionate, ardent, more than he could ever possibly explain, or had ever hoped to have. But this was, if he could believe it, even more. There was an underlying tenderness that made his heart swell with emotion, leaving him glowing and breathless, yet there was an edge of desperation to it that made him want to grasp hold of Draco and never let him go.

Making a small noise of discontent when Draco pulled away again, Harry's protest died when lips latched onto his neck and sucked, drawing a groan from the back of his throat. Sliding his hands under Draco's sweater, he tipped his head to allow Draco better access to his neck, his nails scraping smooth, silky flesh as teeth sunk into the underside of his jaw, and he canted his hips, drawing a low, breathy sound from the boy above him when their erections brushed together.

"Draco," he whispered against his ear, shuddering softly when Draco rocked his hips in response, sending a frisson of desire snaking down Harry's spine as he kissed his way up the side of his neck. "Please..."

Draco sucked on the hollow behind Harry's ear, his teeth scraping against the delicate flesh, eliciting yet another subtle shiver from Harry as he nipped at the skin. Curling his tongue around the shell of Harry's ear, Draco gave the lobe a sharp nip also, drawing a startled cry of need from him as he whispered, "Make love to me, Harry."

Harry pulled away to look into his boyfriend's face, searching his eyes for any indication that he was just going along with the moment and wasn't really ready, but found only desire and certainty, and a slightly feral need that sent a tremor through his body, sweat breaking over his skin as a fresh wave of lust rippled through him.

"Are – are you sure?" he asked hesitantly, wanting vocal confirmation despite the emotions swimming in that bright, argent gaze. "We don't have to…"

"Yes, I'm sure," Draco assured him, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth as he leaned down and brushed a chaste kiss across Harry's lips, whispering his plea against the soft skin. "This is our last night together for a while; I want to remember this as we're sitting at the Leaving Feast and taking the train home. Give me a memory to warm me on the long days and nights we'll be apart."

"Okay," Harry murmured, his heart thrumming wildly in his chest. He sat up slowly, taking Draco with him as their eyes caught and held, wrapping his arms around him as he straddled Harry's lap. Never taking his eyes from Draco's, Harry slid his hands up, taking the thin, black cashmere sweater with them, his breath hitching when Draco's lashes fluttered, closing for a brief moment as the sweater was pulled from his body and dumped carelessly on the ground.


Harry couldn't hold back the reverent whisper as his eyes traced along smooth, pale skin, always in awe of his lover's beauty no matter how many times he'd seen him unclothed. Draco quite simply took his breath away. Licking his lips, he trailed his fingers over Draco's chest, marveling at how silky it felt beneath his fingers, his heart stuttering when a kittenish mewl slipped past Draco's lips. Blond lashes fluttered shut as Harry's hands wrapped around his waist and pulled him closer, pressing them chest to chest as his own eyes slid closed.

Merlin, he loved the little noises his boyfriend made in the back of his throat when they were close like this. He could happily hold him in his arms for eternity.

Gripping Draco's hips, Harry gently rolled them over and laid him down on the bed, his eyes roving covetously over the picture he made – flushed and rumpled, framed by black silk sheets, his lips red, kiss-swollen and slightly parted in invitation as he watched Harry through heavy-lidded silver eyes. He was irresistible, intoxicating, enchanting, and Harry couldn't seem to get his fill of him. He didn't think he ever would. The boy did funny things to his insides, making his heart swell with a love so pure he could barely catch his breath, a love that made his blood burn with a desperate passion mere words couldn't describe.

Inhaling shakily, Harry grabbed the edges of his own sweater and slowly peeled it off, keeping his eyes locked with his lover's, their gazes only breaking when he pulled the material from his head, Draco's eyes burning with desire as he bared his flesh. Dropping the sweater to the ground, he sank into Draco's body, hissing softly as skin slid against skin, rubbing together in a delicious friction that sent a ripple of electricity through his body. He didn't think he'd ever get used to feeling this gorgeous boy against him. Capturing his lips, Harry stroked his hands over Draco's torso, gripping his waist tightly as they rocked together.

Gods, he was on fire.

Sighing with pleasure, he dipped his tongue past soft, parted lips, reveling in the feel of Draco's hands on him, long fingers kneading and clutching at him, fingernails scraping across sensitive skin and leaving trails of fire so hot along his back, he swore he'd find blisters later. Kissing him languidly, Harry's hands slid over Draco's arse, cupping and squeezing it for a moment before continuing over his hips and along the insides of his thighs, pushing them further apart so he could slide between them, gasping when their erections pressed together. Merlin, that felt so bloody amazing, and perfect, so perfect. He honestly had no idea how he was going to last; he was ready to explode and they hadn't even gotten their pyjamas off.

Groaning, he rose onto his knees, sliding his hands back up to the waistband of Draco's pajamas, his gaze questioning as he teased the skin beneath it, sliding them down over slim hips and taking his pants with them as Draco smiled his compliance with a subtle wiggle. Harry's mouth watered as that pale, flushed cock came into view, lying heavily against a nest of golden curls. He'd love nothing more than to taste Draco, lavish attention on that beautiful cock, but he was so far gone he didn't think he had the control or stamina to give it the proper attention that it deserved. And judging from his lover's impatience, he wasn't that far behind. Perhaps after...

Dragging the material over Draco's legs, he stood, quickly divesting himself of his own pants and pyjamas, kicking them carelessly to the side as he dropped to his knees and crawled up back up Draco's body, groaning when their naked erections slid together, one hand bracing himself as the other slowly traced up a pale thigh, caressing it gently. He bowed his head and pressed his lips almost chastely to Draco's, moving down to trail hot, open mouthed kisses over his throat, his own cock pulsing when Draco let out a breathy moan against his ear and squirmed, grasping desperately at his hips in an attempt to hurry him along.

"Patience, love," Harry whispered against his ear, chuckling when Draco muttered incoherently. He laved Draco's prominent collarbone with his tongue, sucking hard enough to leave a mark and making Draco cry out softly. Circe, did he love the taste of his skin.

"You are an insufferable tease," Draco gasped, arching when Harry's lips wrapped around a firm nipple, his teeth lightly scraping the sensitive tip, teasing it into a peak before he soothed it with a swipe of his tongue.

"Takes one to know one," Harry quipped, smirking as Draco grumbled. He sucked his nipple into his mouth, humming in pleasure when Draco cursed and dug his nails into Harry's back.

Sliding his lips over to its twin, Harry lavished an equal amount of attention on that nub too before dipping lower, tracing each muscle on the flat plane of Draco's stomach, drawing closer to that beautiful cock. Burying his nose into soft, thick curls, he inhaled, the musky scent of Draco's arousal going straight to his own cock. Drawing away, he licked his lips and studied the long, flushed flesh nestled against Draco's groin, and unable to resist, licked it from base to tip before swirling his tongue around the head and sucking it into his mouth.

"Fuck... Harry..." Draco swore violently, causing Harry to grin as his hips bucked, seeking even more contact with that hot, wet heat, even as he panted his complaint. "If you continue with that, I'm never going to last."

"And that's a problem, how?" Harry teased, bending to tease his lips over Draco's erection, evoking a breathy moan from his lover. "I thought that was the point?"

"No," Draco panted, fisting the sheets as Harry gave a long, hard pull on the tip, his mouth wrapped around as much of that firm flesh as possible. Pushing at Harry's shoulders, he gasped and tried to pull away. "Not like this. I want to come with you inside me."

Swallowing thickly, Harry pulled away, breathless, Draco's words a punch to the solar plexus. He nodded jerkily, a frisson of nervous anticipation running down his spine as grey eyes met green. Sliding up his boyfriend's body, Harry kissed Draco softly, whispering against his ear as he pulled away, "Do you... do we have..."

A tube was pressed into his hand before he could fully articulate his request and he curled his fingers around it, the reality of the moment hitting hard and sending him reeling. He'd wanted this for some time, but faced with the actuality he was a bundle of nerves, worried that he'd do something wrong and inadvertently hurt Draco. Stroking the tube silently, he stared at it before raising conflicted eyes to Draco's, sighing when Draco rose up to meet him, his lips brushing gently against Harry's.

"I trust you," he whispered against his lips.

Licking his suddenly dry lips, Harry's Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed and nodded, his fingers fumbling with the tube, opening it clumsily due to the tremor running through his hands. He set about preparing Draco as gently and thoroughly as he could, hoping to ease any potential discomfort, and then... And then they were lost in a heat and a pleasure so deep that it took their breaths away, melting them from the inside out as they gave into their deepest desires, leaving Harry breathless and aching as their bodies moved in tandem, their pleasure peaking in a fiery crescendo. Crying out incoherently as pleasure crashed through his veins, Harry gasped, shaken to his core by the love that spilled from grey eyes as Draco joined him just moments later.

Slowly regaining his breath, Harry pressed soft kisses against Draco's neck, shoulders and chest, reveling in the soft hums and purrs that bubbled over his lover's lips. Reluctantly separating them, he kissed him softly on the mouth and laid down beside him with a rueful chuckle. Catching Draco's inquisitive glance, he said quietly, "That was embarrassingly quick," cheeks flushing hotly when understanding lit Draco's eyes. He averted his gaze, chewing his lip in mortification.

"Hey," Draco whispered, touching his cheek gently, bringing his eyes back to him. He leaned across and brushed his mouth over Harry's, a sweet, slow, teasing caress that sparked an answering glow in Harry's chest. Pulling back, Draco tucked a wild strand of hair behind Harry's ear and nuzzled his nose against Harry's. "It was perfect."

Sharing a bittersweet smile, they exchanged kisses and soft touches deep into the night, both desperately wishing time would stop and leave them lying there in each other's embrace.

Weathered faces lined in pain

Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand

It was such a perfect moment, my one happy moment that fueled every spell, every action, and every reaction to come. I lived for that moment, and would gladly die for it. I wanted to stop time that night, to remain safely ensconced in our room and forget anything and everything to do with madmen and the forces destined to rip us apart.

But it wasn't meant to be.

I knew going into the relationship that we'd eventually part, and be forced to face each other on opposite sides of the battlefield. Our roles had been well defined and set years before either of us were born, before we were even a thought in our parents' minds really.

I just didn't care.

For once I chose to be selfish and follow my heart's desires rather than the plan laid out by men and women who had never truly known or understood either of us. And damn the world that forced us into such unconscionable roles. Children. We were children fighting an old man's war; and yet, neither of us ever had the chance to be so young and naive. In the end, I did my duty – I let him walk away.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have never let him walk off that train.

Harry buried his face deeper into Draco's neck, drawing a long, shuddering breath, and reveled in the citrus and woody scent that clung to the other boy, all the while desperately trying to hold back the growing sense of despair curling in the pit of his stomach. The train swayed around them, tirelessly chugging towards its destination without a care to the two boys in its depths, struggling with their impending separation.

Swallowing thickly, he squeezed his eyes shut, and clenched Draco's waist when he seemed to shift slightly, holding tight. He knew time was growing short, that he should let Draco go back to his compartment, but he couldn't seem to make his heart obey. Something cold and sinister whispered through his veins, a cold, dark voice or instinct that traced cold fingers over his spine and told him that if he were to do so, something bad would happen, something would rip the two of them apart sooner than Harry wanted.

How was he supposed to survive the next few weeks knowing what Draco faced as soon as he went home? How was he supposed to let…

"Harry…" Draco whispered against Harry's ear, pulling back enough to rest his head against his brow, but not moving away completely. "Harry, you have to go, as do I."

"I don't want to," Harry whispered back, his throat clogging with emotion as his grip tightened, eliciting a tiny gasp from Draco. "I don't have a good feeling about this…"

And he didn't; a ball of dread sat leaden in his stomach, making him feel weak and queasy at the thought of Draco stepping off the train and into an unknown situation at home. He'd known Draco had been feeling an increasing amount of pressure to act, and be, the perfect pure-blood son from his parents and remaining family, and it made him uneasy of Draco's fate if he should falter in any way.

"Harry, it will…" Draco's voice trailed off as it too choked up. He swallowed harshly, the faintest flicker of fear dancing in those beloved grey eyes for a moment before he regained his composure. "I will be fine. But they can't catch us like this, you know that. If they were to walk in…"

"I don't care what they think!" Harry hissed, his face contorting in pain and fingers scrabbling for a tighter hold to keep Draco from moving away, pleading in an intense, hushed tone, "Listen to me, you shouldn't go back there. You can talk to Dumbledore. Ask for asylum. I know he would take you in and shelter you if you asked. We can protect you."

"I can't, Harry." Draco shook his head helplessly, reluctantly pulling away from him in an obvious attempt to shore up his defenses. "I don't have a choice. If my father found out… there is no place that will ever be safe enough if I were to turn against them. They would track me down relentlessly, and I would endanger you."

Harry tried to shake his head in negation, the vehement denial dying on the tip of his tongue when Draco stepped forward and placed a shushing finger against Harry's lips. Swallowing the words painfully, Harry compressed his lips, his eyes glittering his disagreement instead, making Draco sigh and smile sadly.

"You are needed for this fight," Draco continued, shooting Harry a quelling frown when he rose up in protest once more, his silent admonishment making Harry's cheeks heat with indignation because he knew exactly where this conversation was leading. "If something happened to you… if you died or were hurt because I… no, I must go home. It is the only way. You are far more important…"

"And you think that I'll just, what, roll over and shrug and say 'well, that's life' if something happened to you?" Harry retorted hotly, incensed by the words pouring out of Draco's mouth. "You are equally as important to me, you prat!"

"I know!" Draco shouted, momentarily losing his composure and drawing his hands roughly through his hair, his breath visibly agitated, coming in heavy, uneven pants. Closing his eyes, he drew a deep breath, calming the hackles that rose every time they mentioned – well, talked about – this and spoke as calmly as possible. "I know that. That's not what I meant. You need to remain safe and alive so that you can free us from all this."

Harry huffed, irritation and fear crackling over his nerves as he leaned against the compartment wall, a fine tremor running through his body as he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. This wasn't how he had wanted to spend his last moments with Draco, arguing over something neither of them could change. But the dread that had been building since the Leaving Feast had overwhelmed him and left him breathless and aching and he didn't know how to express the millions of thoughts and fears flitting through his brain. He'd never been good at showing his emotions, often relying on anger and contention as a means to ease the pressure inside.

"I know," Draco murmured, causing Harry's head to snap up, wondering if he had somehow cast Legilimens and read the muddled thoughts and feelings swirling through his head. "It's unfair that this task is solely on your shoulders, but we have no choice. We knew before all this started that our paths were set."

And that was the crux of it all.

No matter how much their paths had detoured, they'd still ended up at their preset destination. Despite the twist it had taken onto an unexpected road, it had still spilled them out right where they'd left off, just a bit further down the line. Resigned, Harry licked his lips and averted his eyes, his entire body deflating as the fight went out of him. No matter how much he wished he could abscond with Draco and hide him away, there really was no safe haven from either side – those places that were safe from the Death Eaters were crawling with suspicion-riddled Order members, and those that were unknown to the Order members, would never keep the Death Eaters at bay.

"It's not fair," Harry whispered, lowering his gaze to meet an equally bereft silver one, a shuddering sigh of defeat wracking his body.

"When has life ever been fair to us, Harry?"


Not once had they ever been asked if this was the life they would have chosen, the life that they wanted to lead. They were but pawns in a far larger chess game that had been playing out since the beginning of time – good against evil, right against wrong. But somewhere along the way, the lines had blurred for Harry and he wasn't sure which side was in the right anymore. He knew he didn't want to live in the world conceptualised by that insane, self-proclaimed Dark Lord, but he wasn't so sure Dumbledore was any better in his machinations. They were equally as ruthless, using mere children as their figureheads in a conflict that neither had begun.

"I don't want to let you go," Harry said quietly, a frown marring his face as he stared at Draco, so adeptly hiding behind the mask which Harry hated with a passion, having seen the true beauty that dwelt in that soul. "I'm scared that…"

But Harry didn't know if he would have had the courage to complete that thought, as Draco interrupted him before he could give voice to the fear boiling inside them both.

"I know," he sighed, cutting off the words, as if expressing them aloud would weaken his resolve, something neither of them could afford right now. They needed to remain strong to get through the coming days. "But this is the hand I was dealt and now I have to reap the seeds destiny has sown. We cannot escape our lots in life, Potter, no matter how much the path has diverged since it was set. At least…"

Draco broke off with a frown, his voice shattering when the sorrow he'd been holding back overwhelmed him, making his throat close off and his chest heave as if constricted. Licking his lips, he slowly walked over to Harry and took him in his arms. Harry's eyes closed against the burn of tears in the back of his eyes as Draco pressed his face into thick, raven curls, breathing in the scent of apples, rain and something earthy that was the essence of Harry. Or so he'd once said.

"At least we have this," Draco whispered, pressing a tender kiss against Harry's temple as his arms tightened around his waist, bringing them fully against one another, confessing softly, "It's more than I ever expected."

"Potter?" Harry asked, a thread of hurt lacing his tone as he sank against Draco, his heart aching at the bleakness of his words.

"Might as well practice now," Draco offered weakly, his voice shaking around the edges. They had called each other Malfoy and Potter, treating the names with disdain to their respective houses, using them amicably in public for their cover, but it had always been an unspoken rule that their surnames didn't exist in private. There, they were merely Harry and Draco and nothing more. "I don't think calling you Harry would go over well."

Harry sighed and rested his head on Draco's shoulder, remaining silent. He knew he was right. They needed to enforce the habit of showing that the other meant nothing more than a means to an end, but that one word –Potter – , no matter how gently spoken, was a little barb to his heart. He'd gotten so used to a warm, openDraco, that he had forgotten just how closed off and cold Malfoy could be, and the distance the other boy was creating for their safety was twice as devastating.

"I'm going to miss you," Harry murmured, already feeling the sting of their impending separation despite the fact they were standing right there in each other's arms. Their physical closeness only made the emotional distance that much more pronounced.

"I'll miss you too."

Draco pulled back and pressed a soft kiss against Harry's mouth, closing his eyes as if to block out the pain that was so starkly open and raw on his face, smoothing his hands lovingly along the planes and lines of his face in an attempt to soothe the pain from it. Harry was certain Draco would like nothing better than to stay in this compartment, assuring them both of his affections, but reality was lying just beyond the door, waiting impatiently, and time stood still for no man. Pulling back again, Draco studied him intensely, as if memorising each feature before he left. It had been such a short amount of time to truly know someone, and yet, in those few months, this boy had become Harry's entire world.

"No matter what happens," Draco stated desperately, his voice rough as he watched Harry, "always remember that I never have, and never will, regret anything that happened between us. I will treasure these moments for the rest of my life."

"Draco…" Harry whispered, confusion pinching his brow and that slow curl of dread rolling through his gut once more. It almost sounded as if Draco was saying… Harry couldn't even voice the thought mentally. "What do you mean?"

"I just need you to know that," Draco replied firmly, sliding his hands down to cup Harry's elbows and pushing him away slightly, so that he could look straight into his eyes, a sheen of tears filming his own, giving his words the desired impact. "Please, Harry, just know that this past year has been the most amazing year of my life because of you."

"It has for me too," Harry replied, his tone hesitant despite the fact that he believed in the words wholeheartedly. Draco's desperation was throwing him off balance, feeding all those doubts, worries and fears that had been viciously whispering in the back of his head, and he didn't like the direction this conversation was taking despite the sweet words and the warm glow they cast over his heart. They smacked of a finality that made Harry want to damn the consequences, grab Draco and Apparate them somewhere no one could find them.

"Harry, I…" Draco trailed off, breaking into Harry's reverie before falling silent. Harry studied him quietly, noting that Draco appeared to be holding some sort of internal debate with himself, and his heart began to thrum, wondering if the words he seemed to be struggling with were the ones he was thinking of; he knew expressing love was difficult for his boyfriend and he'd never force a confession, already knowing deep inside how Draco felt. But it would be nice to hear it.

"Never mind," Draco replied softly, obviously having lost the battle, and a flush of disappointment spread through Harry's breast as the other boy kept his council. He knew the demons Draco faced when it came to his emotions and he wouldn't push. Instead, he gladly accepted the soft, sweet kiss in place of the words, one that expressed everything Draco had difficulty in saying, and allowed his own love to pour through in return. Whoever it was that said you could feel it in his kiss, they were right. It was there, rich, real and blatant with every caress, every brush of fingers and every slide of lips. Harry never doubted what Draco's lips told him silently.

"We should get back to our compartments," Draco said as he pulled away, his eyes glittering with some indescribable emotion as he entwined his fingers with Harry's one last time. "If we're gone too long, you know your friends will hunt us down, thinking I cursed you and left you to die or something. Delving for some last minute information will only hold as an excuse for so long before the masses get restless and decide to revolt."

"But…" Harry protested before sighing and nodding his head wearily. He knew Draco was right and neither could afford to be found out now given how carefully they had guarded this secret. He really didn't want to explain to a pack of outraged Weasleys and – worse – an angry Hermione just why he and Draco were wrapped around each other. "You're right."

"Of course, I'm right, Potter," Draco sneered, adopting the arrogant, ice prince persona that had fooled Harry for years, cementing just how permanent this parting felt. "I'm always right."

"Of course, you are," Harry mocked, nodding his head sagely before tossing him an exasperated grin, though it was weak around the edges. "Prat."

Draco smiled at the insult, one that had become more of an endearment as time had passed, and leaned down, stealing one last taste of that teasing mouth, pressing a sweet kiss against it. Drawing back, he perused Harry, his eyes filled with sadness, and yet Harry could see his love so clearly. Then Draco turned away quickly, stepping from the compartment before Harry could say anything more, his parting words echoing through the air.

"Goodbye, Harry. I love you."

Breath caught in his throat, Harry followed and watched Draco walk silently into the other carriage, thin, cold fingers of fear raking down his spine, chilling his insides as their eyes met for one last helpless moment, love briefly warming the cool silver to a burnished shine before the mask dropped once more. Draco closed the door and lowered the sash on the window, blocking him from an anguished emerald gaze. Heart thudding in his chest, Harry swallowed painfully, saliva flowing down his throat like shards of glass as he tried to force it past the lump lodged in it, his eyes burning as he turned helplessly away from the door and went in the opposite direction, his answer but a breath of air as he walked away.

"I love you too, Draco."

For they could not love you

But still your love was true

I'm sure he knew that was the last time we'd see each other, that his time was limited. It honestly makes sense now that I put all the signs together; adding it all up in my head – his moodiness, the way he seemed to cling to me for a few seconds longer than he normally would as we parted each night, the despair he tried to hide each time he looked at me and counted down the days until our imminent departure.

His last words to me… they reeked of goodbye…

Harry stared at the ceiling, his lids growing heavy as he fought the pull of sleep. He was dreading the dreams that this night might bring as, after days of endless torture, Voldemort had suddenly gone silent for the past week, almost like the calm before a storm. It was so unusual these days that Harry had instantly noticed the difference, a cold trickle of fear snaking down his back, growing with every passing night of peace. The lack of horror and violence in his dreams was actually more disturbing than the dreams themselves.

And for some reason, he was sure it was to culminate tonight.

Rolling over on his stomach, he went over curses and counter-curses, hexes, jinxes... hell, even potions ingredients in an effort to keep his mind active and resistant to Morpheus' call. He clenched his hands into fists so tightly that his nails left marks behind, a sick feeling swirling through his cramped stomach as he wondered just what could be so unsettling, so horrific, that his night-time tormentor felt the need to build up to it so dramatically.

Licking his lips, he inhaled deeply, his body shaking with fatigue. He knew that he was losing the battle with Hypnos as his eyes fluttered shut and refused to budge any longer, his body growing weightless as the darkness descended behind his eyelids and his breath evened out, growing slow, deep and relaxed, his last conscious thought being that 'this was going to suck.'

Harry blinked slowly, his lids still heavy, as if weighted down by honey or molasses, but he managed to pry them open nonetheless, his sight blurred around the edges, like he was viewing the world through water. The scene moved around him in slow motion, yet he still couldn't seem to make sense of what he was seeing. He was traveling down a long, darkened hallway, lit intermittently with elaborate golden sconces filled with creamy white candles that stood out in stark relief to the otherwise dark, painting-lined walls.

He felt that there were two people flanking his sides, leading him faithfully to the one he sought – a male at his right, whom he was very pleased with at the moment for his devotion, loyalty and sacrifice; the other was smaller, petite and the epitome of everything he thought a female should be. But he was focused on their intended destination, and kept his eyes trained forward, not bothering to acknowledge their devotion as it was only his just due and they were, otherwise, beneath his notice.

But then again, most people were.

Alarmed at his thoughts, Harry tried to shake his head, wondering where they were coming from, and in that failed movement his fear grew; he tried to move his hands or halt his steps, anything that would show that he was in control of his body, but when he was met with resistance at every turn, his stomach sank, realising he was trapped once again in the sadistic monster's brain and it was going to be one of those nights. Fantastic.

This was just what he needed. While he had thought Voldy might come a-visiting tonight, he hadn't considered that the bastard would actually trap him within the confines of his mind.

Although, this did feel different from the other times, as if he had been inadvertently pulled into this vision as opposed to the purposeful visions that he was usually fed; this was the kind of vision that only happened when Voldemort was feeling particularly pleased or angry about something. Harry couldn't even begin to imagine what had brought the insane monster so much joy and triumph this time that he would leave his mind open and accidentally pull Harry along for the ride. Stomach churning, he focused on the path in front of 'him' and opened 'his' eyes and ears, hoping to derive some sort of information as to what exactly was taking place.

"Is the boy ready?" Voldemort hissed coldly as they stepped into what looked like some kind of circular ritual room, a few sconces on the wall giving off just enough light to see a half-ring of cloaked followers, all masked, waiting patiently for their Lord and the one being honoured that night. Grinning maliciously as a couple shuddered when he passed, he took his rightful place at the head of the room, listening to his second in command as he assured him of his son's readiness.

"Yes, my Lord," the blond-haired man replied as he dropped to one knee before him, kissing the bottom of his robes in deference, waiting for him to tap his shoulder before rising again and returning to his place at his side. "He is waiting in the antechamber, although he is unaware of the honour you have chosen to bestow upon him tonight."

"Fantastic," he fairly cackled in glee, pride filling his chest as he glanced to the right, where a black curtain fell over what Harry presumed was the door to the antechamber, nodding to the lone Death Eater standing sentinel by the alcove. "Bring him in, Severus. I wish to get this over with so that young Malfoy may join the festivities tonight."

"Of course, my Lord," a deep, rich voice carried across the room, as usual devoid of all emotion, but for some reason it panicked Harry as he watched the doorway with worried eyes. Typically Snape hid his emotions well, but he was picking up an uncharacteristic disquiet in the man as he turned and slipped into the room beyond, his footsteps fading almost immediately, alerting Harry that a silencing charm was in place.

And then the words that Voldemort had said registered... blond... right-hand man... young Malfoy... join the festivities... and fear and disbelief ripped through his senses as he stared at the door in horror, his mind frantically denying what he was hearing and seeing as the inner circle murmured quietly around him, praising the dedication of one so young; one whose initiative was being rewarded with an early marking and immediate initiation into the top ranks – how proud his father must be.

Heart thudding erratically, his horror grew as he watched a pale, detached Draco walk into the room at his godfather's side, a tremor running through his body when he caught sight of Voldemort, one he quickly suppressed as the Malfoy mask fell into place. To the room, he presented a calm, diffident face, but Harry could see the distress that flitted through stony grey eyes and his stomach swirled sickly.

Voldemort nearly cackled with glee at the young boy's demeanor, thinking his distress had to do with fear and awe for him rather than the impending marking, finding Draco's reaction worthy and respectful of him. Stepping forward as Draco came to a halt before him, he moved around him, studying him carefully, picking up the faint tremor in his muscles and again feeling a sense of pride and longing, wishing that all his Death Eaters would show him such honour.

Stroking Draco's cheek gently, he smirked when his lashes fluttered slightly, but otherwise the boy remained composed, the perfect picture of pure-blood breeding. He turned to Lucius and Narcissa, nodding his approval. He would make a fine addition to his ranks; a beautiful, well-bred boy that had very nearly brought the Potter boy to his heel; a connection that he wished to exploit and have the young Malfoy heir strengthen in the next year.

Harry sickened at the thoughts running through his head, even though he knew they weren't his, trembling slightly as he caught a flash of Voldemort's plans for Lucius' and Narcissa's only son. He had to close his eyes for a moment, realising he had inadvertently brought this on with his seemingly well thought out plan of having Draco pretend to get close to him for the benefit of the Dark Lord. Had he realised that their pretense would lead to an early marking and an impossible task – he would have walked away that day, or staged a falling out in the hopes of sparing Draco this anguish.

"Young Draco," Voldemort rumbled appreciatively, forcing Harry to open his eyes once more, finding himself face to face with his obviously distressed lover. He hid it well, but as always, Harry had studied Draco for years and knew his telltale signs – like the slight tick in his eye and the faint, almost indiscernible pinching of his mouth, masked but there nonetheless. It overjoyed the monster whose head he was trapped in, taking it as yet another sign of his greatness, that he could make the youngest Malfoy tremble with just a touch. But Harry knew better – this wasn't fear; or at least not wholly fear. This was the same rage, helplessness and deep pain that he'd witnessed so often when Draco had received his father's letters.

"My Lord?" Draco replied faintly, his voice low, the barest hint of a tremor in its tone as he kept his eyes lowered, his face still a pale mask as his internal struggle persisted. Harry couldn't help but echo the obvious distress that was flowing through his boyfriend.

"I am proud of you, young Draco," Voldemort continued, stepping back to slowly circle him again, getting off on the boy's contained fear. Harry snarled, wanting to hurt the smug bastard for toying with the person he loved, but could only watch helplessly as Voldemort evaluated his newest tool. "It shows great dedication and loyalty to take such initiative as you have; I wish that all my Death Eaters' children were so inclined. But then, it is a mark of greatness, and we can't all attain such heights. It shouldn't surprise me that the son of my most loyal servant would follow in his shoes."

"Thank you, my Lord," Draco replied quietly, his confusion evident to Harry, though he managed to keep his tone cool and calm this time, accepting the accolades from Voldemort while remaining impassive and as still as possible, yet ever watchful, playing the game he had been taught from birth.

"In light of this, I offer you the greatest honour I can bestow on one so young," Voldemort continued, turning to address his followers, inviting them to join in Draco's triumph, a cold smile spreading across his lips as he turned back to him.

"My Lord?" Draco asked faintly, flicking his eyes up for only the briefest moment, but it was all Harry needed to see the growing agitation in those fathomless eyes that he'd stared into night after night. Draco dropped his eyes once more and studied his feet, an action which was taken as deference, but was done to hide his growing fear and distress.

"You will be the first of your generation to join my ranks," Voldemort replied, and Harry's heart stopped, horror splashing through his veins like ice water, raging internally as Draco froze down to a cellular level, those beautiful eyes flicking up and reflecting a quiet desperation which burned in their depths if you knew how to look. If you cared to look.

But Harry knew that neither Draco's parents, nor the Dark Bastard, would see that as they had never learned the subtle differences of Draco's mask like Harry had. They turned blind eyes onto him, a sick pride shining in cold blue and grey eyes as they watched their son's so-called honour. Draco stared over at his parents, his face lined in pain and his eyes screaming at them to do something, but again the desperate plea went unanswered.

"Of... of course, my Lord," Draco stammered, a minute crack appearing in the mask as he swallowed harshly, bleak eyes staring over Voldemort's shoulder; a crack the wanker took as surprise and gratitude, his complete single-minded blindness disgusting Harry. Not that he expected his nemesis to be anything less than a narcissistic bastard, but honestly, his sense of superiority knew no bounds.

"Severus, bare his arm," Voldemort commanded, coming around to Draco's left side, wand drawn. He pressed it into the pale, unblemished skin that Harry loved so much, and Harry mentally beat against the walls of Voldemort's mind, desperately trying to stop this travesty. He could only watch, however, as his captor stabbed his wand down, whispering the incantation.


Swallowing thickly, Harry watched, anguish flashing across his heart as Draco paled dramatically, the lines of pain deepening as the mark burned into his skin, his nose flaring and mouth pinching as he bit back the scream Harry could hear all too well and lifted his eyes to his parents, the agony in them almost too much for Harry to bear.

Voldemort stepped back, a cold, dark pride flowing over him that the boy had taken the mark without a single sound of distress, proving once again how worthy his new initiate was. He turned to his followers, raising his arms as if to embrace the newest to their ranks, but not before Harry saw the light, one that had burned so fervently just weeks ago, die in Draco's eyes. It ripped through his heart, shredding it to pieces as the life seemed to drain from his beloved's face.

"Tonight, we celebrate!" Voldemort shouted, smiling coldly as his followers erupted into a chilling cry of acceptance, their excitement growing as Voldemort spun in a circle his arms still raised in exaltation, and Harry got one last glimpse of Draco's face, drawn and bleak, much more than just a blank mask as he stared at the floor, impervious to the celebration surrounding him. Staring at him through Voldemort's eyes, Harry's heart turned as cold as ice as lifeless eyes lifted and screamed their betrayal to a blind world, before he was forced out of the connection and back into his own body...

Snapping awake, a soundless cry on his lips, Harry rolled over in his bed and hung his head over the edge of his bed, heaving helplessly as Draco's final expression burned itself into his mind, sweat trickling down his temples. Breathing harshly, he tried to to quell the sobs rising in his throat, closing it off painfully as his mind whirled with a thousand thoughts.


Oh God, this was his fault.

He had been the one to instigate the friendship; he had encouraged Draco to spend time with him, and had come up with their cover story. If he hadn't pushed, if he hadn't continued to prod when Draco had wanted to step back...

Falling back against his bed, he stared blindly at the ceiling, anguish and horror washing over him as he went over the scene in his mind, screaming silently at the injustice. He felt sick to the stomach, the distress and betrayal that Draco had so clearly felt haunting him as it cycled endlessly in his head. He knew that they had seen this possibility coming, but he never realised just how devastating it would be to see that beautiful, pale flesh desecrated by that foul, unwanted mark. It tore him up inside, especially knowing that he had unwittingly contributed to Draco's pain and anguish.

Closing his eyes, he ignored the tears that squeezed out of the corners of his eyes and trickled down his face as he bit back yet another cry, this one of an impotent rage aimed at a world whose leaders had not a single problem with using children as their vessels and pawns.

And when no hope was left in sight

On that starry, starry night

You took your life as lovers often do

If I'm honest, I had known that something would happen. I felt it that last day as we clung together, neither of us wanting to voice the fears that we held, both trying to be strong for each other even as the weight of inevitability weighted us down. As Draco said, we were both fated for divergent paths long before either of us were born. It could have only ended one way, but… I never imagined…

I did not actually see his death, but the scene was described to me so often, in so much detail, I could almost envision it. It would come to me in nightmares. And then, quite by accident, I stumbled upon a memory; one that haunts me daily...

Draco laid on his bed, his throbbing left arm curled against his chest, staring listlessly at the ceiling, the life and intelligence that once sparkled and shone in the depths of burnished silver eyes ruthlessly extinguished. His hair lay against his head in a dull, sweaty tangle, completely indistinguishable from the bright, silken locks that Harry had lovingly ran his fingers through just weeks before.

Caring for it, and subsequently himself, seemed pointless, something a carefree boy would have done when he had something – someone – left to live for; something that someone would do in the hope that the entire night had been nothing more than a horrifying nightmare. But the abomination burned into his forearm, screaming the truth loud and clear, taunting him with the knowledge that he would never have that again.

When he'd awoken from a couple of hours of fitful sleep, he'd thought for just a moment that... well, it didn't matter what he'd thought. He had looked down and saw that garish mark, his so-called honour, leering and all but cackling at him, and he'd quickly lost hold of that fruitless wish as the words of his master rang throughout his head once again –

"What a splendid addition you will make to my ranks, young Draco; a prize worthy of any master."

Draco flinched, the covetous, almost possessive words raking across raw nerves, making him feel sick to his stomach, mentally screaming that that foul creature wouldneverbe his master; that was a role designated for one person and one person alone – Harry Potter. Only Harry had the right to touch him and speak of him with that possessive tone. Shuddering softly, he curled onto his side as waves of nausea filled him and made his stomach lurch, heaving violently as he brought up what little he had managed to choke down that evening, a bead of sweat trickling down the side of his cheek.

Inhaling sharply, he grabbed his wand and cast a few cleaning charms, purging the taste of bile from his mouth. His eyes caught sight of the pale, white mask that hismaster had gifted him, expecting him to find pride in his accomplishment at being the youngest of his inner circle. And it made him feel sick all over again because it was an utter lie.

There was no pride in this, only shame; a hopelessness deeper than any he'd ever imagined and a dark taint smeared across his soul. He'd spent hours in the shower that night, after the so-called revelries, trying to purge that taint, scrubbing fruitlessly at the mark and the blood that seemed to cling to his hands no matter how hard he scoured, hoping that if he were clean on the outside, it would help shunt off the darkness that clung to his insides. But all it had done was leave his exterior as broken and bleeding as the interior, his skin rubbed so raw and bloody due to his vigor that it eventually scabbed over in places.

Sliding his eyes shut, a profound exhaustion washed over him as he fought the waves of hopelessness drowning him within their depths, cold watery fingers that dragged at his soul, tempting it into a deep, endless sleep. But the nightmares which danced behind closed lids wouldn't allow him the peace he sought, nor the forgetfulness that he craved, leaving him to face the dark hours of the night with his victims screams echoing endlessly in his head. Pressing his face into his pillow, he clenched his eyes, the hot prickle of tears burning as he repressed the sob that bubbled in his throat, constricting it painfully.

There really was no point in fighting anymore.

Even if he managed to survive this summer with his heart and soul intact, he would never survive the task set before him; he couldn't – wouldn't – do it, no matter how it might keep him and his family safe. To look into those bright green eyes, so filled with life and love, and watch the light in them die as he betrayed him... it just... it wouldn't happen, no matter how much his parents and their brethren prodded and pressured him.

He could never do as the Dark Lord requested.

"You're initiative pleases me greatly, young Malfoy; your work with the Potter boy took cunning, drive and an ambition worthy of Salazar Slytherin himself; I'm sure my ancestor would embrace you happily within his ranks were he alive today. Due to this initiative, I set before you a task worthy of that cunning. You will continue in the same vein. Keep the Potter boy close at hand; build your friendship, make it so that he comes to you without thought or cause, and then my young snake, you will bring him to me to face his fate."

Dragging air into his constricted lungs, he shook his head violently, tossing off the insidious voice that crept beneath his skin and dug at his heart, pushing through the dark thoughts swirling through his head. His throat closed off completely, leaving him breathless, panicked and scrabbling for air, the tears resuming their steady fall down his cheeks. No, he could never do that. Pressing a sweaty palm to his eyes, Draco scrubbed at them, pushing back the choking sensation in his chest. He drew a long, laboured breath, welcoming the bleak calmness which settled into his soul, numbing the pain and fear that had eaten him up inside since his and Harry's parting.

In the end, the task was moot; even if he had wanted to complete the task, Harry would never let him near him once he saw the mark and heard of this night's events. He'd always seen life as sacred, something to be revered, cherished and protected at all costs. And although Draco had only gone through with it to keep his family safe, he doubted Harry would ever look at him the same again or fully accept that it had been a necessary evil.

It was over.

The mark had effectively ended the dream; one he'd clung to desperately, hoping that for all his fatalistic views, and the words he'd spoken to Harry as a reminder to himself as well as his lover, that he'd be saved, that Harry would end this farce before it could take hold. He should have known better. He'd only set himself up for this fall.

Inhaling sharply, he opened his eyes and stared blankly at the ceiling, his body aching, never feeling more helpless or empty or alone as the memories of the night before the leaving feast – that one perfect night – flooded his mind, breaking through the thin wall of resistance he'd constructed to protect his already fragile heart, reminding him of everything that he'd lost, of a happiness that he would never taste again. It had been fleeting, but he'd clung to those false hopes, clung to those threads of happiness, hoarding and nourishing them until he'd built this fantastical vision in his head of him and Harry making it through the war and building a life together. Stupid, silly, childish dreams built on insubstantial, evanescent sandcastles that only melted under the rising tide.

A tide that always rose and fell in an endless, tireless cycle, leaving behind nothing but a cold, empty shell and the willful destruction of ephemeral fancies.

Breathing harshly, he slammed his walls back up again, his heart lying broken on the floor, shredded and in pieces, and relied on that perfect Malfoy mask to block any further thoughts or memories from slipping through his defenses. Lying there, perfectly numb to everything, he felt ill as the blackness – the taint – bubbled in his stomach and seared his arm, strangling the light he'd so desperately clung to in these last moments. Tracing the red, swollen edges of the mark, he shuddered and shoved his sheets aside, stumbling out of his bed and into the bathroom. He waved his wand over the cupboard, opening the hidden compartment that cradled his secret; his last ditch effort if events escalated beyond his control.

Pulling out a glass vial, Draco stared at the clear, slightly opalescent liquid swirling inside it, his stomach icing over as he held it between his fingers, the light catching it and making it shimmer. Such an innocuous looking substance which contained something so vile and deadly that even if a potions master could have found an antidote, it would have done little good, unless they were standing over the victim, ready to administer it. That was how quick the poison acted.

It was the reason he had chosen it.

Raising his other hand, fingers trembling with nerves and other things he didn't want to think about, he uncapped the bottle and set the cap aside, his breath ragged, wheezing painfully through his lungs as he fought to steady his hand and wonder, very briefly, if he truly wanted to take this route. And then emerald eyes flashed before his – cold, remote and filled with horror at the atrocities Draco had been forced to perform that night in order to remain safe – and pain lanced his heart, stealing those ragged breaths from his chest as he pressed the vial to his lips and drank deeply of its contents.

Gasping as the liquid splashed down his throat, icing his insides as it slid down and pooled into his viciously bubbling stomach, he swayed, the vial slipping from his fingers and shattering on the cold marble floor, splintering to a thousand pieces as he collapsed to his knees, his hands slamming into the ground, tiny shards of glass ripping through his flesh. Lifting his hands, he stared at the blood trickling from those rents, a detached fascination washing over him as it slid over his palms unchecked and dripped down his forearms. He briefly contemplated picking up one of the larger shards of glass to deepen the cuts, but the poison hit his system before he could finish processing that thought, and he slumped soundlessly to the floor, his eyes fluttering rapidly.

Drawing a shuddering breath, Draco stared blankly at the bathroom floor, completely numb to the pain in his hands, the icy liquid freezing all his cares and washing them away, purging the darkness like so much gangrene to his soul. One word fell from his lips in a silent whisper as he blacked out.


Draco never heard the scream that ripped through the halls when Narcissa stumbled upon him the next morning, her cries echoing through the manor, sending everyone present scurrying to her side as she clutched her son's lifeless body to her breast, tears of remorse finally falling from those glacial eyes, her face and arms covered in his blood. But it was too little, too late. This could have ended differently had she tapped into that remorse earlier and listened to the silent pleas of her son, protecting him as my own mother had protected me. Instead, she turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the events, keeping her council.

Was it out of sheer arrogance and a belief that she knew what was best for her son? Perhaps it was out of fear for the consequences. I guess I'll never know, and in the end, it matters not.

She should have seen, and reacted as a mother, not as a mindless follower. And for that lack, I condemn her actions.

I suppose you're wondering how I know about her reaction to Draco's death, how I could have that image in my head. It all comes back to those dreaded Occlumency lessons, forced upon me for my own good once Severus caught wind of my vision of Draco's marking. In the defense of my mind, I somehow managed to reverse the Legilimens link and was pulled into his mind instead.

I never intended that, and I certainly never wanted to see that – Draco; cold, pale, lifeless, covered in his own blood from where it had seeped from his open wounds as he took his last breaths. I have nightmares every night, seeing him pulled from his mother's arms by Severus and laid out on the floor as he frantically tried to assess and heal the damage to his beloved godson, the pitiful wails of a false mother echoing through the room.

I don't know how long I was trapped in that link, but when I was finally ejected, I stared at Severus in horror, my stomach lurching violently as I threw myself from the chair and stumbled into the bathroom, promptly losing everything in my stomach as I retched helplessly, completely oblivious to the pale, shaken man at my side, his hand on my back. When it was over and I had nothing left to lose, Severus pulled me away, cleaned me up and directed me into bed, watching over me as I cried myself to sleep, his own eyes filled with unshed tears.

We never spoke of it again, both raw and bleeding with the memory as it was, but every now and then our eyes would meet and that haunted, shattered look would fill our eyes and we'd swallow and avert them, neither of us certain how to offer comfort, yet bound somehow in our mutual sorrow and grief.

I suppose words were unnecessary in the end.

Besides, I had no idea how to ever explain what Draco meant to me without explaining the great secret we kept from everyone, and who would have believed me?

But I could have told you, Vincent

This world was never meant

For one as beautiful as you

Realising that he took his own life because he thought there was no way I would accept him with the mark tears me apart me to this day, leaves my heart heavy and aching, crushed in a vise, my lungs tight, constricted, unable to draw breath. If only I had told him, made him understand just how much I truly loved him, maybe I wouldn't be where I am today – cold, emotionless, and so completely dead inside.

Harry came down the stairs, his stomach tied in knots as he chewed on his bottom lip, fear skittering down his spine as the third day dawned and it still hadn't yielded word from Draco. They had promised each other that they would write on a weekly basis, in an effort to quell the rising unease Harry had been feeling due to the looming holiday. Draco had so far been religious about writing, using a pre-agreed upon pseudonym for Harry so it wouldn't raise eyebrows at home, despite his parents' leniency to their affiliation during the school year. Every Wednesday, a coded letter had arrived like clockwork for the past six weeks, full of what looked, to the average eye, like idle chatter, but the wording of which only made his anxiety for Draco's health and safety grow as the summer progressed.

And now Draco's next letter was three days late.

Drawing in a shaky breath, Harry ran a trembling hand through his unruly hair, trying to smooth it into some reasonable order even as his lungs constricted and his fears threatened to overwhelm him. He knew that Draco had been marked. His vision last week, courtesy of his favourite neighborhood psychopath, confirmed what they had feared prior to leaving for the summer. The agony that had flashed through Draco's eyes as the mark took, followed by the hollow emptiness, had haunted Harry in the days after, filling him with dread.

He had written immediately following the vision, sending it out at dawn, assuring Draco that it didn't matter to him; that he knew the mark had been forced upon him and Draco hadn't taken it willingly. That he still loved him and would do everything in his power to end this madness and free him from Voldemort's clutches. But it came back unopened.

And Draco's next letter was late.

His stomach swirled, a light sheen of sweat beading his brow as he caught the scent of breakfast cooking and knew there was no way he would be able to eat anything as a wave of nausea washed over him. Surely there was a way he could get out of it. Maybe he could say he'd had another vision last night; they all knew he was unable to stomach food after a rough night trapped in Voldemort's head. Maybe.

Heading into the kitchen, he noted absently that he was the last one down. Even Ron had managed to make it there before him, sitting next to Hermione, stuffing his gob full of eggs and bacon and… He didn't even want to know what Ron stuffed into that bottomless pit of a stomach on the best of days, and certainly not on the worst, like today.

Nodding silently to everyone's warm greetings, he sat down in an empty chair, his stomach revolting and face paling the moment Mrs. Weasley set a platter of pancakes and their accompaniments before him. Turning his face away as his stomach roiled, he clenched his eyes tightly and drew shallow breaths through his mouth in an effort to quell the heaving. Licking his lips, he opened his eyes again to find concerned and questioning faces surrounding the table, all turned to him.

"What's wrong, mate?" Ron asked, pausing mid-bite to really look at Harry, obviously noting the deep shadows under his eyes and the pale, sickly shade of his skin. "You look like you're about to be sick or something. Rough night?"

Good old Ron. Sometimes his penchant for stating the obvious worked in Harry's favour.

"Yeah," he replied weakly, shoving the overly-filled plate away from him and ignoring the cluck of disapproval from Mrs. Weasley as he reached for a plate of dry toast further down the table. It was a staple at breakfast these days, as they never knew when Voldemort would be feeling in a particularly sadistic mood, infiltrating Harry's dreams and leaving him queasy and unable to face a proper meal.

"What was it?" Hermione piped up immediately, watching him intently as she went into inquisitor mode. Harry merely shook his head, indicating he didn't want to discuss it, much to her obvious annoyance. Sometimes, he really wished that she'd just leave it alone; the visions were bad enough the first time around without having to recount them multiple times. She opened her mouth to badger Harry once more, clearly unhappy with him shunting her off, but quickly shut it with a frown when Remus cleared his throat and shook his head, mouthing 'later' at her.

Harry shot his adoptive godfather a look of gratitude and bit into a piece of toast as he reached absently for the Daily Prophet, missing the apprehensive glance that passed between Remus and Mr. Weasley. He didn't know what he'd tell them later, but he was sure he could come up with something; Merlin knew that Voldemort had given him more than enough fodder to haunt his dreams for years to come.

Shaking the paper open, he glanced up at Remus, wondering why he was looking at him like that before glancing down, his toast falling to the table as the one bite he'd managed to swallow stuck to the back of his throat like sawdust at the headline screaming out at him from the front page:

"Malfoy Heir Commits Suicide!"

"Dark mark blamed," followed in small print beneath the headline.

Harry stared at the words numbly, unaware of the tremor running through his arms, making the paper shake audibly in his hands before it slipped free and fell to the table.


The word was nothing more than a whisper, and yet it seemed to echo around the room, the stark tone of disbelief and grief lacing through it, like the sounding of a thousand funeral dirges sung at once.

The world around him dimmed, narrowing to a pinprick of light centred on the blond boy who stared up from the cover of the paper, sorrowful silver eyes landing on Harry, sending a tremor wracking through his body as he gazed into them. Scrambling frantically from his seat, he stumbled over the bench in his haste to get away from the awful truth blaring from ink and parchment, as if distancing himself from it would ward off the grievous injustice.

Blinking rapidly, his vision began to bleed grey around the edges as he stood, spots of light dancing before his eyes, his heartbeat a low, dull thump in his ears. Head swimming, breath increasing to near hyperventilation, he softly voiced that one word over and over again, an incantation of denial. "No, no, no, no…"

His mind screamed in agony, pain slicing through his breast like a knife as he hit the far wall, the headline mocking and taunting him. Shaking his head, his hand rose to his chest, a shield to his shattered heart, unable to tear his eyes from Draco's face as it blinked up at him from the pages of –

"Harry?" Remus spoke quietly, startling him out of his thoughts. He met the werewolf's concerned gaze with one of stupefied horror, the pain in his chest exploding, crashing over his senses and constricting his broken heart still further as he read the truth in those gentle amber eyes.

"How?" he managed to choke past the lump threatening to cut off his air supply, his lips trembling, unaware of the hive of action going on around him. Everything had narrowed to him, that paper and Remus.

"Poison," Remus replied softly, rising to his feet when he saw how pale Harry had turned, preparing to catch him if he faltered. "Severus said that Narcissa found him just after dawn. He… he tried to reverse it, but it was too late."

Harry squeezed his eyes shut, his heart palpitating so hard that he was sure it was going to burst from his chest, the remaining colour in his face draining away, leaving him ashen and cold. He wanted to scream; he wanted to rage at the cruel world that had ripped yet another loved one from his arms. He wanted to track down Voldemort right there and then and tear his still beating heart from his chest, sending him to the hellish fire he deserved. But his body wouldn't cooperate. All he could do was stand there, shaking as his world collapsed around him.


His name echoed through his head, as if coming from a distance. He forced his eyes open again, unable to mask the deep well of grief all but drowning him inside, and he knew from the soft gasp that spilled over his lips and the sorrow that reflected in his eyes that Remus could see the truth for himself. But Harry didn't care. All he could think about was that the love of his life was gone, and he wanted nothing more than to curl up into a ball and die right along him.

Tearing his distraught gaze from his far too observant godfather, he staggered, head swimming as he finally found the strength to move. He meant to turn tail; to flee for his room and the chance to grieve in peace, but a lone, tactless voice rose over the din that had started when he had stumbled from his chair and halted his flight, its words cleaving through the haze in his head and stinging his fragile heart.

"It's just Malfoy, mate."

"Ronald!" Mrs. Weasley and Hermione hissed as one, aghast at his lack of tact and compassion when Harry was so obviously distraught over the news. Ron turned a brilliant hue of red that rivaled even the shade of his hair and shrugged self-consciously, not quite understanding why everyone was making a fuss – until he was pinned to the spot by hard, glittering emerald eyes.

'Just Malfoy, mate… it's just Malfoy…'

The words rang through Harry's head, inducing a flinch as each word cut deeper than the last. Swallowing thickly, the saliva going down like shards of glass as it worked its way past the lump lodged in his throat, Harry turned on his best friend, glaring at him malevolently, his emotions – his anger – finally finding a viable target.

"Yeah?" he hissed through clenched teeth, stalking towards Ron, surprising everyone except Remus with the viciousness of his attack. "Well, I do hope that when youdie, Ron, someone isn't callous enough to dismiss it quite so simply."

Ron, playing back his words, had the grace to flush, ducking his head as Harry rounded the table, his next words spat close to his ear.

"It's just Weasley, right, mate?"

Ron flinched, looking shamefaced as Harry strode away, barely in control of the magic that whipped around him, needing to get out of the room before he said or did something that he couldn't take back. With the last of his flagging restraint, he stopped at the door and turned back , taking in the stunned faces one last time.

"You don't know anything, Ron," he seethed. "No one does. And no one deserves what you said."

The room fell into a thick, uncomfortable silence that could have been cut with a knife as they watched Harry turn on his heel and flee, his forbearance finally broken. It was obvious how taken aback they were by his vitriol, but he couldn't find it in his heart to care. Pounding up the stairs, he stumbled blindly into his room, slamming the door behind him, his heart shattering for a second time as the shock at learning of Draco's death crashed into him all over again, plummeting him into a despair so profound he didn't know if he'd ever rise from it.

Harry slumped against the door, his wayward magic lashing out in both anger and pain, creating a wind tunnel around him. He flinched as several glass objects were picked up and hurled about by the force, smashing around him, shards flinging out recklessly before they tinkled to the floor. Breathing heavily, he shuffled away from the door, grabbed some unknown and equally breakable thing and pitched it at the opposite wall, the shatter echoing the burst of pain and sorrow that exploded in his chest; an action which burst open the flood gates. Sorrow, grief, rage, confusion and hurt – they all tore through him as he systematically destroyed his room through an inventive and impressive display of magic and physical exertion, leaving both it and him in tatters as he finally collapsed to his knees, too exhausted to continue.

Harry flinched when he heard the door open behind him, but ignored it in favour of burying his head into his hands, praying with everything he had that it wasn't Ron or Hermione entering the room. The last thing he wanted was placating and pithy platitudes, or questions about his actions. They would never understand the true depth of his loss, no matter what he might tell them.

He released a pent up breath when a hand rested on his head, a touch he would know anywhere. Remus crouched down beside him, running a soothing hand over sweat-drenched locks, not even bothering to question his godson about the mess surrounding them.

"Why didn't you tell us, cub?" he asked huskily, maintaining his touch on the grieving boy's head as he settled comfortably on the floor.

"Tell you what?" Harry asked bitterly, breath hitching painfully as he fought the burn of tears pressing at the backs of his eyes.

"That you'd fallen in love with him, Harry," the werewolf chided gently, flinching just a little when Harry's head lifted and hot, green eyes met his, an accusation in them that he couldn't answer. After all, this hadn't been the first time they had failed the boy because of their lack of observation.

"What difference would it have made?"

His words caused Remus to flinch again, the anger and betrayal coating them making him angry on his godson's behalf. It was all too true that the wizarding world had failed Harry on multiple occasions.

"A lot," he replied regretfully. "First of all, at the very least, I never would have let you find out like that. And we could have been there for you, Dumbledore's orders be damned."

Harry grimaced at the mention of his so-called mentor's name. He couldn't help but blame Dumbledore for this travesty. He had to have known what Draco was facing; Harry had complained about it enough, and yet the older man had done nothing. And now Draco… Pain welled up in his heart once more, nearly choking him as he swiped angrily at his eyes, brushing away the moisture that had gathered at the corners.

"Who would have believed me?" Harry asked bitterly. "Ron? Hermione? The Order?"

Remus fell quiet, knowing that Harry was right. Who, indeed, would have believed that two boys, who had always been at each other's throats, had managed to not only mend their differences and forge a true friendship, but had surpassed that and built something deeper and infinitely more precious.

"They would have all thought that I was delusional, or under Imperious, or the victim of a love potion," Harry scoffed. "After all, Malfoys are Death Eaters; Malfoys are dark;Malfoys are in Voldemort's back pocket."

Silence filled the room at Harry's statement as Remus had no way to refute his words, and Harry knew it. He closed his eyes, the sense of loss overwhelming him, his voice breaking as he added:

"Malfoys couldn't possibly love…"

And with that, the dam broke once more, cracking his heart wide open, tears running down his face unchecked as Remus wrapped him in his arms, shielding Harry as his world collapsed around him in a torrent of grief and broken dreams.

"I'm sorry, cub. So, so sorry."

Starry, starry night

Portraits hung in empty halls

How does one even begin to live again, when everything they had been living for has been cruelly torn from them? How do you make it through a day, especially when no one even knows what you've lost? Voldemort taking away my parents when I was a baby hurt, but it was only an echo of grief, the kind that comes from missing something that you've never truly known. Cedric was entrenched in a guilt greater than can be fathomed, for his death was senseless and only because he had been at the wrong place at the wrong time. But it wasn't true grief in itself. Sirius pains me, but it was more of a loss for what could have been, than what really was...


The sheer pain of losing Draco leaves me breathless, like my heart and lungs are caught in a vise. I don't even have the words to adequately explain the depth of my loss. I've spent hours staring at this parchment, trying to find the words to convey everything that Draco was, and still is to me, but nothing comes close in comparison to the true reality. So, how can I ever explain how deeply I feel that loss? Worst is the knowledge that I could never openly grieve because to the world at large, he wasn't Draco… just Malfoy.

Harry stared blankly at the black tapestries hanging above his head, the room filled with silence at the bequest of the headmaster, in an effort to honour Draco, yet he couldn't help but notice the egregious differences between this moment for Draco and the memorial for Cedric. He was certain that Dumbledore would bluster on about how itwas different because Cedric had died during the school year, or place the blame on the Malfoys' shoulders, stating that they didn't wish for any fuss to be made due to the nature of Draco's death, but he wasn't buying it. It was one more blatant bias against the opposing side of the war, even if the person in question hadn't been a willing participant, and Harry couldn't suppress the rage bubbling in his gut at the dishonour.

Compressing his lips into a thin line, he lowered his eyes to the head table, his bright green eyes flashing his indignation at the older man and his lips curling into a knowing sneer when Dumbledore averted his eyes, obviously catching the reprimand burning in Harry's eyes. Clearing his throat, Dumbledore quietly ordered the feast to begin, looking down at his plate to avoid Harry's accusatory stare.

Ripping his gaze away from the head table, Harry's eyes latched onto the empty space at the Slytherin table, left open in deference to their fallen leader. The lack of Draco's presence was a sucker punch to the stomach again, leaving him breathless and aching. Inhaling sharply to halt the well of emotion threatening to overwhelm him, he swallowed painfully and dropped his eyes to his own empty plate, missing the speculative looks passing between two Slytherins, who had noticed his out of character reaction to Draco's absence.

Rubbing his hand wearily over his face, he tried to block out the lilting chatter that swirled around him – students catching their friends up on their holiday, completely unaffected by the darkness in their midst; the death of a classmate, who had been seen as nothing more than a nuisance or an enemy.

Closing his eyes, he rested his brow in his hands, fighting to keep his agitated magic at bay and blatantly ignoring Hermione's constant badgering. He really wasn't in the mood for a lecture, or worse, a question and answer session into how he was feeling; as if it wasn't already bloody obvious to someone with an ounce of sense. It was none of her business why he wasn't eating or making merry like the rest of the student body. Really, sometimes he wished she'd just leave him alone to grieve in peace. He'd already had a bloody mother; he didn't need another.

"Harry!" Hermione cried, obviously tired of being ignored.

"It's none of your business, Hermione," Harry bit out through clenched teeth, ignoring the hurt that flashed through her eyes. "Now, please, just leave me alone."

Hermione opened her mouth as if to protest, but closed it immediately, obviously thinking better of it when she caught the look in Harry's eyes. Sniffing, she turned back to her meal, talking quietly to Ron while Harry turned away, his gaze falling on Draco's seat once more, it having the same effect as before.

Clenching his hands into fists, he pushed the destructive tickle of magic back into his core, a faint sheen of sweat decorating his brow as he fought a continual battle with his highly charged emotions. Closing his eyes, he drew several breaths, letting them calm the roiling waves of anger and despair threatening to creep through his battered shields. He had nearly gotten himself under control when he heard several hushed conversations that shattered it all to hell.

"Really, I don't know why Dumbledore bothered," Lavender sneered, tossing a smirk towards the subdued Slytherin table. "No one but his evil little minions will miss him."

"He was nothing but a Death Eater in training," Zacharias Smith cackled smugly. "Likely got what he deserved."

"He probably got killed by Aurors for attacking Muggles or some other such deed," Justin Finch-Fletchley whispered fearfully. "You know how he acted during second year when students were being petrified."

Harry's temper spiked, his restraint smashed to bits at the careless, cruel and inaccurate rumours voiced by his peers, and his magic lashed out in waves across the room, obliterating all glass containers to tiny pieces, garnering shrieks of terror and gasps of surprise. Anger boiling over, he slammed his fists on the table, his breath raspy and uneven as he choked out an inarticulate cry of rage. This attitude was exactly the mentality that had allowed Voldemort to get a foothold into the wizarding world in the first place.

"Shut up," he growled from his seat, eliciting surprised cries from his table mates and stunned stares from everyone else across the hall, including the offenders.

"Show some fucking respect," he spat, sweeping the room with a malevolent glare as he rose from his seat, noting that a flush touched the cheeks of some of the gossipers as he leveled a pointed look at each and every one of them. "He's dead. Took his own life due to a role he had been forced into against his will. Do you honestly think you could do any better?"

The room went deathly silent in the wake of his tirade, shame filling the previously gleeful faces as they realised that, while they themselves might not care, there were those who were genuinely grieving. Students shifted uncomfortably under Harry's harsh glare, but he wasn't appeased because he knew this sort of thing would happen time and again, unchecked, unless someone addressed it and set them straight.

Climbing over the bench, he stalked across to Zacharias, his closest victim, sneering when the Hufflepuff blanched and tried to sink into his seat, avoiding Harry's hostile stare when he got into his face. "What about you? Do you really think you could have refused? Gone against your parents' wishes? Fought the mark when there was a ring of men, twice your size, observing your so-called honour, ready to strike you down if you balked?"

Zacharias swallowed nervously and kept his eyes glued to the table, refusing to answer. Harry snorted in disgust and walked away, aware that every eye was upon him, but beyond caring in the light of recent events. He had nothing more to ground him. Eyes pinned on the next perpetrator, he stalked around the Gryffindor table and sat down next to a visibly shaken Lavender, a shark-like smile plastered across his face.

"How about you?" he asked mockingly, smirking when her lips trembled and a single tear slid down her cheek, her eyes downcast as she shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Harry shook his head with a mock sigh and feigned friendliness. "What's the matter? The facts make you feel uncomfortable? You weren't so shy a moment ago. Doesn't seem so funny now, does it?"

Getting up from his perch, his eyes latched onto the last offender, oblivious to the murmurs and growing respect for him at the Slytherin table, and the growing fear at the rest. His temper was legendary, and few people wanted to be on the cutting edge of it.

"And you?" Harry asked Justin, who had been sitting with his Ravenclaw girlfriend for the evening, catching up after not seeing her over the holiday. Harry snorted derisively when the boy paled and remained silent. "Just as I suspected – a bunch of cowards unless you're talking behind somebody's back."

"Harry," a voice called out, and Harry looked up at the head table, fixing Dumbledore with cold, accusatory eyes. "That's enough."

Wrenching his gaze away from Dumbledore, Harry blanketed the room with a contemptuous glance, noting the white, pinched faces that stared at him with a mixture of fear, horror, and in the Slytherins' case, calculation. Yet, there was also a tinge of shame in those same gazes. Good – they should be ashamed of their actions.

"No," he replied succinctly, leveling his gaze back onto Dumbledore, ignoring the collective gasp that went through the room at his open defiance. He swept the entire populace, excluding the Slytherin table, with a disdainful sneer. He may have to pretend, he may have to play Dumbledore's games, but he refused to remain silent on this. "No, sir, it's not nearly enough. I have never been so sickened, so ashamed, so disgusted of being associated with the lot of you. You… you know what? You're not worth it."

Harry glanced over at a gaping Ron and a worried, contemplative Hermione, an uneasy Ginny and Neville and at each of the embarrassed hecklers in turn before shaking his head sadly, the fight going out of him as suddenly as it had come, leaving a pale, exhausted boy in its place as he whispered.

"None of you."

Despite his low tone, the words seemed to reverberate through the hall, stunning everyone into silence. Harry turned soul-weary eyes upon the head table, taking in each of the people who were supposed to protect them, yet routinely failed. He sighed. How could they expect the populace to react any differently when those in charge consistently turned a blind eye to injustice? Briefly meeting Snape's eyes, he expected to find revulsion, or at least a sneer of contempt, but was surprised when he was met with sorrow and understanding before dark eyes carefully blanked. Well, he would understand, what with Draco being his godson. Looking away, Harry squared his shoulders, proclaiming his final judgment.

"Draco was worth ten – no a hundred – of you."

With that final statement, he turned on his heel, heading for the door, noting the various reactions from the corner of his eye – Dumbledore with his head in his hands, defeated; Snape watching him with curiosity, as if he had just been handed the missing piece to a puzzle; McGonagall pale and pinch faced; and the entire student body, speechless. After all, their 'saviour' had just proclaimed the lot of them unworthy to fight for. But Harry couldn't care less. He swept out of the room in a swirl of robes that would have made Snape envious had he not been working on the puzzle in his mind, and let the door close with a soft, but decisive swish.

Inhaling deeply, Harry's shoulders slumped as the silent corridor embraced him, taking him away from prying eyes and the snide whispers. Winded, he bent over, hands on his knees as a wave of grief washed over him. Draco… how on Earth was he supposed to go on without him? He should have gone off on the Horcrux hunt like he'd first intended in the days after his death, instead of being talked around by people who thought they had his best welfare in mind.

Rising, he stiffened when he heard the doors to the Great Hall open, excitable chatter spilling out as whoever opened them exited, then muted once more as they swung quietly shut. He just prayed it wasn't his well-intentioned, but imprudent friends; he really didn't want to talk to them after that display. Straightening his shoulders, he headed towards the stairs without looking back, hoping they'd get the message if it was them, and would leave him alone.

"Potter," a masculine voice called out, surprising him. It wasn't Ron or Hermione, or worse, one of the teachers sent to placate the 'overwrought hero.' Turning, his gaze fell on a solemn Blaise Zabini and a quiet, pale Pansy Parkinson, both of whom looked as if they hadn't slept in days.

"Yes?" he replied quietly, desperately attempting to mask his despondency, but obviously failing judging by the surprised, yet intrigued glances the Slytherins shot each other.

"Thank you," Zabini replied cautiously, wrapping a comforting arm around his friend.

"For?" he asked. Whatever he had been expecting from Zabini and Parkinson, it certainly wasn't gratitude.

"For what you said in there," Zabini said, as if it were obvious; and maybe it was, but Harry had long gotten used to looking for hidden traps within words and couldn't help feeling slightly sceptical.


"There are a lot of us in the same position." Zabini grimaced, obviously uneasy about giving up such secrets.

Harry deflated. Of course. Of course, there would be others in Draco's situation, forced to take the mark and join a side they didn't necessarily believe in, to embrace it because their parents had made those decisions long ago and they held absolute authority.

"But few people bother to look beyond the mask we are forced to portray. Dra… Draco said you were different. That you understood, but we didn't believe him. It's nice to be proven wrong for once."

Harry nodded, unable to respond to those words of confidence, and overwhelmed by the proof of how much faith Draco had placed in him. He knew Draco had believed in him, but that he had spoken to his house, in an effort to potentially build bridges between them and Harry, floored him. And for that reason alone, he would see an end to this madness. He owed Draco that much.

"Zabini, Parkinson," Harry called as they started to walk away in the resulting silence. He waited for them to turn around before holding up his wand and vowing, "Upon my magic, I swear that he will be avenged. Even if I have to die trying."

His wand sparked, a soft blue wash of light spilling from the tip and wrapping around him as Magick, herself, heard and cemented his vow. The three students stared at each other solemnly, knowing that a vow such as this was never taken lightly, and then Zabini and Parkinson nodded, standing witness to the ceremony, bowing slightly to Harry before they turned and walked towards the dungeons.

The warm glow of his magic embraced him, calming him in a way that the heartfelt sympathy of his godfather and the placating words of his friends couldn't. Setting his shoulders resolutely, he smiled grimly as his gaze flitted around the empty hall one last time. He nodded to himself; his goal was marked, set and acknowledged. He had a job to do and he couldn't do it here. Pivoting on his heel, he crossed the entrance hall and out through the giant doors, leaving the school; he could always ask Dobby to retrieve his things at a later time, but for now, he needed to be elsewhere.

You will be avenged, my Dragon. I swear it.

Frameless heads on nameless walls

With eyes that watch the world and can't forget

They say the pain gets easier to bear as time passes – time heals all wounds and all that rot.

They were wrong.

If anything, it becomes so much more unbearable as you are faced with memories around every corner and you have no one to share those special times with because the only person who shared them with you is far beyond your reach. It might have been easier if someone else had been witness to the love we shared, but everything we were was kept under wraps out of fear of the repercussions. There were some whispers after his death, but nothing anyone paid any credence to. It made coping... difficult.

Of course, being at the centre of a war I never wanted any part of didn't exactly help matters. If anything, it exacerbated and added to the vicious downward spiral I had sunk into and it was only my need for vengeance that kept me going. My desperate need to avenge all the people I'd lost was the sole driving force of the war for a while. And I'll admit, I was lost in that darkness for a very long time.

And then something happened which reminded me that my greatest strength was love, not hate…

Harry walked through the family plot, snow crunching under his feet, the frozen winter air blowing briskly and numbing his chapped fingers. He had to do this while he had the chance, however. He didn't know when he would be this way again, and alone at that. It had taken him six months of dithering, and the eviction of the Malfoys and their pet Death Eaters, to work up the nerve to come here. Despite the irrefutable evidence of Draco's death, a small, desperate part of him had been in denial, holding on to the hope that this had all been a horrific dream and that he'd wake to beautiful, but annoyed, silver eyes, angered that Harry could believe that Draco would have left him to face this war alone.

But Harry was all too aware of the truth every time he looked into Severus' eyes, and spotted the elusive hollowness which came with the knowledge that, for all the skill and expertise he held in potions, it hadn't been enough to save his beloved godson. He saw it in the concern that lit Remus' eyes as Harry pushed himself to the very edge in an attempt to fulfill the vow he had made five months prior, when he had left behind the halls of Hogwarts to forge his own path. He had known then that he'd never win this war playing by Albus Dumbledore's rules.

Time had softened Harry's ire towards his former mentor, especially as he knew that Dumbledore punished himself silently for each and every life lost in this struggle, but that didn't mean he could ever follow the other man again. Dumbledore played things far too close to his chest for Harry's comfort, often leaving him in the dark when it came to vital information, and he couldn't allow that. Not if he was going to win this war. Thankfully, Severus saw Harry for the adult that he was and didn't hold information back, no matter how brutal it was.

Tapping his fingers along the cold, marble headstones ranging from oldest to newest, Harry's heart spasmed painfully as he reached the most recent ones and spied a gleaming white stone, newly erected, standing sentinel to the precious cargo it overlooked. Swallowing harshly, he paused for a moment and closed his eyes, unable to go on, unable to face this final confirmation. He didn't want to do this, didn't want to acknowledge that Draco was gone, but he knew he had to.

His stomach knotted, aching and tangling as he forced his eyes to open and his feet to continue their trek towards the monument that seemed to glow ethereally in the moonlight, beckoning to him. He'd always loved Draco in moonlight. Stepping in front of the white stone, he touched it, his finger caressing the cold marble lovingly, wishing that it was the warm, flushed curve of Draco's cheek, biting back a sob because he knew it was something he'd never feel again. Drawing a deep, shaky breath, he knelt before it, his fingers tracing the words that etched in stone his grievous loss to the world.

Draco Lucius Malfoy

June 5, 1980 – August 21, 1997

Beloved son

Harry nearly let out a bark of bitter laughter at the wording, knowing all too well how much the Malfoys had valued their heir. He would have too, if he hadn't been aware that it had been Severus that had commissioned and erected the stone, and that he had truly seen Draco as the son he'd never had. Clenching his eyes shut, Harry dipped his head in silence, a tear streaking down his cheek as he sat down in front of the memorial, oblivious to the cold and damp seeping through his trousers as memories of Draco assaulted him, reopening that raw, aching wound which he'd so desperately tried to shut away.

He wasn't sure just how long he'd been sitting there, silent and unmoving, but it had been long enough for the clouds to move in and occlude the night sky, covering the moon and only allowing its brilliant beams an occasional opportunity to shine through. He had so much to say, and yet he couldn't seem to find the words necessary to express everything he was feeling.

"Vincent… how I've missed you, my Vincent."

The breeze picked up at his words, ruffling his hair gently and he could almost imagine that one of Draco's hands was running through it in an effort to smooth and tame the tangled locks before giving it up as an impossible task. Smiling slightly at the memory, he twisted his wand between his fingers, recalling the look of exasperation on Draco's face at the pet names Harry had insisted on using.

"Even now, I can picture you sneering down on me, annoyed that I've refused to use your given name. Of course, that was always quickly followed by that small smile which you thought you kept hidden from me."

Harry averted his eyes, studying the stars that had become visible through a patch in the cloud coverage, and he could almost hear a ghostly laugh on the wind, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end as it caressed his skin.

"You never could hide much from me, my Vincent. Every little thing you felt was right there on your face to see, if you only knew how to look; and I did. Even the things you preferred not to share. I made a study out of reading you."

Harry bowed his head once more, his heart constricting as memories of Draco's smile flitted through his mind, sending a fresh wave of sorrow rushing through his veins. Shuddering when a chill raced down his spine, he pressed his lips together to hold back a quiet sob, eyes burning with tears. His voice cracked as he whispered, "But I never foresaw it ending like this. Of all the possible scenarios, the endings and beginnings I imagined, I never once thought I'd be sitting at your grave, trying desperately to make sense of something that can nevermake sense to me.

"When I think of all the times…" He broke off, not even sure where he was going with the thought. He had always lacked the eloquence to fully express to Draco just how much he meant to him in life, and now, in death, it seemed that his tongue was tied still, his words tripping over each other in an inelegant tangle – just as Draco had always accused him of being. The wind came back, lifting long, inky strands from his face and he could almost hear the chiding he would have received had he said the words aloud. Licking his lips, he cast a warming spell and ploughed on.

"There are so many things I wished I had told you before you left that day. So many pretty words I had thought up so that you would know that, although we were apart, you were never alone in the world. Instead I filled our last minutes with nerves and strife. You'll never know just how much I regret that our last conversation ended in disagreement. I should have…"


Harry lifted his head as the wind seemed to sigh his name, another shiver dancing along his spine as Draco's voice seemed to echo in his head. Pricking his ears, he strained to pick up any hint of a presence and sighed with disappointment when all that came back to him were the creaking of branches in the wind and other sounds one would expect at night.

"I keep thinking that maybe, if you'd known just how much I loved you, how you had become the world to me and that I couldn't imagine my life without you... That I wanted us to grow old together and love together for years to come, and laugh at our children's foibles, and our grandchildren's mischief as their parents complained to us as we used to complain about them. So many dreams and such a big love I held, that I could never adequately express…"

Harry's voice broke again, unable to voice all that he had lost to fickle fate and the selfish whims of parents that had never deserved the beautiful soul they had been entrusted with.

"I keep thinking that if maybe I had shared all that, had found the words instead of bottling it up inside, you'd be by my side now, scoffing at me for being so maudlin and telling me to buck up because no one wants a soggy, pathetic saviour."

A bubble of hysterical laughter spilled over his lips and he settled into silence once more, tears coursing down his cheeks before he could swipe them away. The sense of loss was nearly overwhelming; he felt like a ship without an anchor, lost in a vast ocean storm, struggling to find his way home. Except that the light that had always guided him had been extinguished and would never burn again.

He didn't even know why he kept fighting this uphill battle. Everything and everyone he'd ever loved had been taken from him and he had nothing more to fight for, nothing to guide him through the long days and even longer, colder nights. And without that… He shook his head to dislodge the insidious thoughts and tried to lighten the moment with a humorous observation.

"I think you'll be happy to know that your godfather and I actually see eye to eye these days. Who would have thought it, yeah? I wouldn't exactly call us friends, by any means, but we're cordial with each other. He's taught me a lot, and unlike the others, he isn't afraid to kick my arse into gear when I start to feel hopeless. Just like you used to."

A watery grin slid over Harry's face at the thought of his acerbic mentor; he had a feeling he knew where Draco had gotten his outlook in life, as well as the dry, droll sense of humor. It certainly hadn't been from his parents.

"I think he knows about us. Or at the very least he suspects, as he's treated me much more kindly since I blew up at the entire school. Bet you're sorry you missed that."

Harry frowned, blinking his eyes rapidly to keep the tears at bay and drew a sharp breath, the ache in his chest increasing at that thought.

"I wish you were here. I wish we were sitting in our room having this conversation. I wish I could see your face, even if it were only to have you sneer disdainfully at me for being so soppy. I wish I could feel you in my arms again… I've almost forgotten how you smell and I hate that. I hate that you're not here with me."

Harry stood, biting his tongue to the angry words that were bubbling in the back of his throat, things he wanted to say but knew to be useless and would only do himself more harm than good. He'd long since worked through his anger at Draco's death and he didn't need to go back there at this point in time. There were still Horcruxes to find and Voldemort to deal with.

"But most of all, I hate that I couldn't save you. Hermione always said I had a saviour complex; that I take each death personally. But to tell the truth, there are few I regret not saving, and you're at the top of that particular list. I'm realistic. I know that with war comes death and collateral damage. I accepted that long ago; I had to or I would have lost my sanity. But why you? Of all the people I have lost over the years, why couldn't I save you?"

Tipping his face to the sky once more, Harry exhaled heavily, his breath freezing into vapour as his shoulders slumped. That was the one question he desperately sought an answer to, but it was the one to which there was none; it was just the way things had played out.

Fate. Destiny. Prophecy. Whatever.

All those words could be a plausible explanation, yet none would ever be adequate.

He turned back to the stone at his feet, heart heavy, knowing that as good as it felt to get some of those suppressed emotions off his chest, in the end it didn't matter – Draco was still gone, and he had a war to fight before he, too, could find his peace. Flicking his wand in a gentle motion, he conjured a single, long-stemmed rose to lie at the base, gleaming like spilled blood in the snow, and then made an addition to the marble sentinel, so that it now read –

Draco Lucius Malfoy

June 5, 1980 – August 21, 1997

Beloved son and friend

'They that love beyond the world;

Cannot be separated by it.

Death cannot kill what never dies.'

"I love you, my Vincent," Harry whispered raggedly, his voice clogged with the tears that he wouldn't allow to fall. Not here anyway. "And I will to the end of my days. I will find you again. I promise."

Harry stroked the stone gently, startled when it seemed to throb with warmth beneath his fingertips for a moment, before chilling again. Licking his lips, he pulled his hand away and looked up, the stars glittering above him as he whispered:

"Wait for me…"

Harry nearly released that pent up sob as he felt a warm caress against his cheek, wiping away the single tear that had leaked from the corner of one eye, and he swore he heard Draco whisper back to him, his voice carried on a breath of wind:


Like the strangers that you've met

The ragged men in ragged clothes

Love had always been an emotion that Tom had never understood. Given the way he grew up, I can't really fault him for that. I look back at our respective childhoods and I can see all too well how we ended up the way we did; moreover, I can see how easily I could have fallen into the same trap. If I hadn't found you two, or Sirius, or Remus; if I hadn't found your family, Ron, or even, to a degree, Dumbledore; if I hadn't found Draco, would I have made the choices that I did? Things could have gone any number of ways, but at the core of it all was love, not hate.

It was my salvation in the end.

It still took me an additional year after visiting Draco's grave, and the hard work and diligence of many, before I was in the position to finally bring the Dark Lord down. We eventually discovered and destroyed all the Horcruxes; all but for Nagini, who we planned to deal with during the final battle. Well, and one other, but that is an entirely different matter. I didn't bother to tell you about the last, because I knew that it, too, would be destroyed in the end…

Harry stood hesitantly in the doorway, his eyes sweeping the room that had changed his life irrevocably, surprised to see it so well maintained. He figured Dobby had been there, cleaning it routinely as a favour to his friend, Harry Potter, on the off-chance that Harry might dredge up the nerve to return one day. When he'd walked out of Hogwarts, he'd sworn that he'd never darken its doors again, having lost so much of his innocence here. But the madman that called for his blood had seen to his breaking of that promise, threatening to destroy the place that he'd once called home in an effort to break public hope and draw out the resistance. And he wouldn't allow Hogwarts to fall at his hands.

Stepping into the room, he startled when the candles lit automatically, casting their warm glow, but they couldn't relieve the stark emptiness which forced him to close his eyes, his harsh breath bouncing off the barren walls, echoing the void that filled his heart. He'd hoped by taking his vigil here, he might feel closer to Draco, but all it did was cement the reality that he was gone. And that reminder felt as if someone had plunged a red-hot knife into his chest.

Ignoring the tear that leaked from the corner of his eye, pooling into the curve of his cheek, he inhaled deeply and opened his eyes, crossing the floor to sink into one of the oversized armchairs that had been left behind, resting his elbows on his knees and studying the remnants of a life so viciously cut short. The memories were strong here, seeming to whisper enticingly in his ear, teasing him with visions of a time when he'd felt hope, and of a love so deep that he couldn't imagine living without it.

Swiping a hand over his damp face, he let out a shaky breath, his throat constricting as memories flitted through the room, ghosts of conversations past preserved into the very walls, waiting to be relived by those who had created them. But he'd never dreamed that he'd be setting off on that journey alone; he'd expected Draco to be sitting at his side, each of them laughing as they recalled some remark or moment in time, sharing a knowing smile, their hands clasped.

It was supposed to be them against the world.

He wasn't supposed to be sitting here, in a cold, empty room, clinging to the last vestiges of the only time he'd truly been happy – the last time he'd felt any sort of joy, really.

It didn't seem fair. To have had that brief taste of fulfillment, that brief moment of being on top of the world, only to have it all crash down around him.

Had he known that it would end this way, had he know what was going to happen, would he have done the things he'd done? Would he have stepped away, leaving Draco to face his fate, and have him potentially still alive, but an enemy? Or would he have pressed on, but cherished those moments all the more for being so blessed to be sharing them with Draco?

Some days, he just didn't know.

And then... then he'd remember 'The Dance' – one of those perfect, shining moments that had crystallised in his mind and which never seemed to relinquish its grasp on his heart, no matter how hard he tried to shove the memories away for the sake of his own sanity. It had been one of those insanely blissful moments when everything had felt right in the world. And he'd had so few of those moments that his mind had latched on to them and hoarded them, nurturing them so that they remained bright, pure and perfect.

He hadn't even wanted to dance that night, feeling lazy and self-conscious, especially after the Yule Ball fiasco during his fourth year, but Draco wouldn't be deterred. And really, who could resist Draco when he poured on the charm? Certainly not him. From the moment they had kissed, Draco had owned him heart and soul, and the word 'no' was a foreign concept.

Of course, now he cherished Draco's persistence.

Harry was lying full-length on the couch, his head resting in Draco's lap, long fingers carding through his hair as they quietly watched the flames dancing in the hearth, contented after a quiet meal together, away from the noise and glare of the Great Hall. Closing his eyes, he hummed lazily as those soft fingertips slid reverently over his temple, dipping to trace his features, oddly reminiscent of that charged moment before they'd gotten together. But this time it was gentle and loving, soothing, allowing him to sink deeper into that well of contentment.

He did so love these moments with Draco.

Rubbing his cheek into the caress, he practically purred like a cat when Draco obliged and stroked his skin. Drowning in bliss, he missed the soft question Draco posed, forcing him to open his eyes and focus hazily on glowing silver eyes, their brightness stealing his breath away and making his heart thrum madly.

"What?" he asked breathlessly, hopelessly caught in mercurial irises, flushing when Draco chuckled at his absorption, then leaned over and brushed a soft kiss against his lips.

"Dance with me," he requested as he pulled away, arching a brow when Harry bit his lip uneasily.

"I don't think that's a good idea," he hedged, not exactly refusing the request, as he could never seem to tell Draco 'no' outright, but reluctant to concede. He was far from the world's greatest dancer, and it always made him feel supremely awkward.

"Why not?" Draco asked quietly, obviously not deterred in the least by Harry's hesitation.

"You know I'll just end up bruising your toes, yeah?" he replied, the colour in his cheeks deepening as he recalled poor Parvati. "I mean, you saw me at the Yule Ball. It was a nightmare."

"You'll be fine," Draco reassured, waving off Harry's misgivings with a careless swipe of his hand as he stood, dislodging Harry's head. Grabbing his hands, Draco tugged him into a sitting position, smiling winningly at him. "Dance with me."

"But there's no music..." Harry spluttered, desperately seeking for a way out of making a fool of himself.

"Who says we need any?" Draco huffed, tossing him a slightly exasperated glance as he tugged on his hands again, pulling Harry reluctantly to his feet."But if you're that concerned, I'll hum something. Now stop stalling and dance with me, you idiot Gryffindor. What happened to this formidable courage you're supposed to have?"

"All right," Harry sighed, unable to resist the goading. He stepped into Draco's arms, sinking into his embrace as he groused, "But don't say I didn't warn you."

" Yes, yes, clumsy dancer, bruised toes..." Draco laughed, pressing his cheek to Harry's temple, brushing a kiss against the crest of his cheek."Just close your eyes and follow my movements. I'll suffer in silence."

"Yeah, right," Harry grumbled, glancing doubtfully at his boyfriend, his body tense as he waited for Draco to move. "I'll believe that when I see it."

"Relax," Draco whispered against his ear, soothing his hands over his back, rubbing away the tension as he began to hum a tune that Harry didn't recognise. The combined actions were so effective in calming his nerves, he didn't even notice that they'd began to move, first in a gentle, shuffling of steps and then picking up in pace and fluidity as Draco guided him around the room. That is until Draco leaned back and smirked at him.

"Not so bad, is it?"

"No," he admitted huskily, allowing himself to fall deeper into the enchantment Draco was weaving, caught once more in shining silver eyes as he followed Draco's movements, feeling as if his feet never once touched the ground as they slowly twirled and spun in intricate patterns. No one had ever made him feel this alive and wanted.

Closing his eyes, he once again relinquished control to someone else, allowing them to guide his steps, but he didn't mind this dance due to the person doing the handling. It was intoxicating to give in to someone he knew would never purposefully hurt him, would never use him for their own gain, or try to fashion him into something he was not.

And it amazed him how much he trusted this man.

Opening his eyes, he met molten silver and his heart swelled with emotions he was only just beginning to understand. Smiling, he brushed his fingers across Draco's jaw in wonder, falling just a little bit more in love when Draco hummed in contentment and then pulled back, spinning him several times in quick succession, sending his head spinning dizzily.

Laughing as he came to a halt and stumbled into Draco's waiting arms, he knew that they would never let him fall as they wrapped around him, drawing him against a solid chest. Lacing his own arms around Draco's neck, he grinned, laughter still lighting their eyes as they continued to sway, neither wanting the moment to end.

Harry tucked his head securely into Draco's shoulder, humming in the back of his throat when Draco's arms tightened around him, pulling him deeper into his body. Eyes fluttering shut, he clenched his own arms tighter around Draco's neck, fingers lazily tangling into the fine hairs at his nape, and finally admitted that while he'd never feel comfortable dancing, if it meant it gave him an excuse to hold Draco like this, he'd gladly suffer through it every day.

Giggling as Draco dipped his head, a fine strand of hair tickling his ear, he looked up, joy and love colliding messily in his chest as Draco smiled down at him, his own silver eyes alight with happiness.

Blinking rapidly as the images faded before his eyes, Harry sighed, the minute flare of joy and warmth washing away as he was faced with an empty, silent room. The pain never seemed to lessen as everyone promised it would when faced with a loss; if anything, it grew sharper, stronger, clawing at his insides until he was raw and bleeding, weary, ready to end it all and join Draco. But he had tasks yet to accomplish.

The time wasn't right; not yet, but soon.

"Cub," Remus called quietly, interrupting his vigil and bringing him back to the present, and to the dauntless task which awaited him as Voldemort descended upon Hogwarts. It was time to end this game.

"I'll be right there, Remus," he replied softly, taking a slow, deep breath as he stared at the twinkling candlelight and remembered how they turned Draco's eyes a burnished silver. "I just need a moment to pull myself together."

"We'll be waiting for you in the Great Hall," Tonks responded, tugging on Remus' arm, dragging him away from the door, knowing that as much as his adoptive godfather wanted to comfort him, he needed the solitude.

Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeply and swore he caught the faint hint of oranges and cedar dancing on the air, and the warm rush of breath as a slightly-stubbled cheek pressed to his, breath hitching as the sweet, salty taste of salted caramel clung to his lips, tasting faintly of Draco's kiss. Opening his eyes, he stared at the room in wonder and felt a sweet rush of love as ghostly fingers ran through his hair.

Smiling tremulously, he stood, fortified by those loving touches and ready to face the world, knowing that Draco awaited him. Spinning in a slow circle, his head swam slightly and he once again saw Draco's face before him, smiling, eyes glinting with laughter and a deep, abiding joy.

"For you, Vincent," he whispered to the room, his eyes misting as he took in his fill one last time and knew that it had all been worth it. He may have lost his heart here, but he had found something infinitely more precious – he had found Draco.

"Soon, Vincent, soon," he promised as he walked out the door, closing it gently behind him.

… … …

Harry raced through the castle at breakneck speed, his body aching, blood and sweat pouring over his brow from the exertion of finding and destroying the Ravenclaw diadem. His friends fell in behind him; Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, Ginny and a few others, running briskly to keep up with him. He drew in a breath, pain stitching his side as Ron, Hermione and Neville drew abreast of him and he dropped back a touch, dodging exploding rocks and curses that flew through the hazy, smoke-filled air, all of them firing off the occasional curse or jinx of their own as they pelted relentlessly towards the great doors.

Swiping a weary, dirty hand over his equally dirty brow, Harry grimaced when it came away thick with blood and Merlin only knew what else after the past several hours spent on an open battlefield, its acrid, coppery scent making his stomach churn. He knew time was running short, and he needed to get to Voldemort before more of his side fell, but there was one final task that must be overseen before he could finally take the bastard down.

"I need the three of you to distract and kill Nagini," he wheezed, his breath shallow as he shifted his gaze between his three most trusted before whirling and snapping off a Stupefy towards a cowering figure trying to scurry away into the night, smirking when that sniveling, pathetic excuse for a human, Pettigrew, grunted and hit the ground with a solid crunch. It was no less than he deserved, the traitor. Quickly firing off a full body-bind as they burst through the doors, he activated and tossed a portkey onto him and watched the man swirl away, then gave him no more thought, leaving him to face his fate.

Scrambling down the steps, he turned his head in order to address his small army as they diligently skirted the main battle in favour of a much more daunting, but imperative task. They would take down as many of the other side as possible, but they had bigger fish to fry – namely a narcissistic, vainglorious, trumped-up zealot, who needed to be put in his rightful place – hell.

"Just as we planned," he instructed, casting an inquisitive look at Neville. "You have the sword?" Neville nodded and Harry turned away, his voice harsh and raspy from inhaling smoke. "Good. The rest of you will stay back, and keep to the shadows until Nagini is taken out. Then, once those surrounding Voldemort are distracted by Ron, Hermione and Neville, you will cast your spells, taking them down. If you miss the first time, you will retreat. That is an order, you will not sacrifice yourselves. I only need you to distract them so I can isolate Voldemort and myself."

"But, Harry," Hermione protested, a contentious frown marring her face; she hadn't been happy with this plan from the beginning, but it was the only way. He needed everyone out of the way so he could cast the spells necessary to end this madness.

"But nothing, Hermione," he interrupted implacably, cutting off her protests with a swipe of his hand and halting for a brief moment to stare at the people that he trusted beyond all others. "You know this must happen or everything we've done to this point will be for nothing. You three are the only ones I trust with this matter. Take care of it. Get in and then get out. And that goes for all of you. Lightning strike ambush – fire, then retreat and let me take care of the rest, because I can guarantee the coward will surround himself with the best, so take no chances."

With that, Harry swept his cloak over his head and disappeared from sight, blatantly ignoring the grumbles, protests and cries of frustration as he plunged headlong into the battle. Falling in behind his friends this time, he watched their backs as one by one they disillusioned themselves, rapidly firing off curses against any potential threat before diving out of the way of an incoming curse, causing mass confusion to the combatants as curses seem to materialise out of thin air. Swearing as a violent purple flash erupted from his left, Harry ducked and rolled, the air around him crackling as the curse flew just inches above his head. He snapped off a Leg-Locker Curse at the offending party, following it with another body-bind, and continued to the Forbidden Forest where Voldemort awaited.

Plunging into the brush, he spied one of Voldemort's sentinels and fired off a Silencio, cutting off the man's screams before they could begin, then waved his wand, reciting an incantation that would make the roots of the tree the Death Eater was behind grow and curl around his lower body, binding him in place. Smirking at the startled man's predicament, Harry made his way quietly through the brush, weeding out the Death Eaters posted at intervals one by one, evening up the odds for his friends, as well as making his coming confrontation easier.

Coming to a halt when he reached a clearing, Harry remained as still as possible, barely even breathing as he counted the number of Death Eaters surrounding Voldemort, surprised to note that there were only five in attendance. Either someone was feeling a bit overconfident, or they had managed to wipe out more of Voldemort's forces than he had realised over the past eighteen months. Whichever it was, all that mattered was that the odds were better than he expected, and between him and his friends, they should have no problems prevailing.

Taking a deep breath, Harry waited on tenterhooks for the others to get into place, feeling each and every second tick away like a physical blow against his brain, an audible click that marked time's passage, much like the beat of a heart or tribal drum. A void consumed his soul; a vast, empty silence which isolated him from the world as he stared at the abomination that had stolen everything from him. An unnatural stillness fell over the forest, as if the entire world had stopped breathing in tandem and waited, agog, a reverent hush filling it for the events, long prophesied, that were almost at hand, ready to be played out.

It would end tonight – one way or the other.

Letting out a halting breath, Harry slowly turned his head to the right and barely quelled the impatient twitching of his hands when his thigh warmed once, twice, and then a third time, the coin in his pocket giving the signal that everyone was in place and that the plan was in motion. Watching breathlessly as Ron and Hermione came into view, the chosen 'bait' for this venture, Harry grasped at his wand, ready to step in at a moment's notice if things failed. Ron hissed a few choice insults Harry had taught him, meant to irritate Voldemort and flush out his precious snake, and sure enough...

Tensing as Voldemort hissed angrily in return, issuing threats and insults that fell on deaf ears, Harry braced himself as he commanded Nagini to exterminate the insolent little pests, watching the area intently as Ron and Hermione swiftly retreated, drawing the final Horcrux closer to her impending destruction. Flying behind a copse of trees, they gave a yell, which Voldemort mistook for fright, but was actually the signal to Neville, who stepped out of the shadows, the Sword of Gryffindor raised in both hands. He swiped at the rapidly approaching snake, slicing cleanly through her body, beheading it in his first attempt.

Smirking as Voldemort let out an inarticulate cry of rage at the slaughter of his valuable 'pet,' garnering the attention of his minions, Harry pointed his wand in preparation as several flashes of blue light sped out of the forest, hitting all of the distracted Death Eaters bar one, who Harry nailed with a silent curse when he rounded on his friends. Death Eaters fell to the ground around Voldemort, all lost in an enchanted sleep that was tied to the person who had cast the spell, rendering them useless to their master.

Staring at a raging Voldemort, still too absorbed with his dead pet to think of calling more Death Eaters to him, Harry inhaled and put his hand in his pocket, grasping a black stone in the palm of his hand and squeezing it tightly before releasing it back into his pocket and stepping out into the clearing, his resolve renewed. Walking forward until he was only a few paces away from Voldemort, Harry ripped the cloak from his head and tucked it away, revealing himself to the man that had made his life a living hell.

"What's the matter, Tom?" he asked in mock sympathy, ignoring the burning from his scar, unwilling to show any weakness. He smirked when the man turned, noticeably startled to see Harry standing before him, his eyes narrowing maliciously. Meeting that glowering red gaze with unflinching determination, Harry cast a quick glance over to a still-writhing Nagini, in the last of her death throes, and smiled benignly. "Surely you can't be so broken up over a pet?"

Harry backed up a step or two when Voldemort came near, partially because he wanted a healthy distance between them due to the pain radiating throughout his head, and partially as a distraction measure. If he allowed the other man to think his retreat was due to nerves, a show of weakness, which is what Voldemort seemed to presume judging by his smirk, he would miss the intricate dance that kept his attention focused on Harry and away from the thought of calling others to him. Until Harry was in a position to strike, that is.

And by then it would be too late.

"Or is it because she was more than she seemed?" he queried slyly, chuckling when Voldemort froze, his gaze sharpening as he studied Harry wordlessly. He could almost read the thoughts swirling in his head, wondering if Harry had somehow stumbled upon his nasty little secrets. "Oh, yes, that caught your attention didn't it?"

Dancing out of the way when the megalomaniac hissed and lunged for him, Harry laughed, circling his opponent, all the while leading him further away from his unconscious minions. Voldemort hissed out a cutting curse, Harry grunting as it caught him on the side, knocking him to the ground. He rolled away to avoid another blast of blue-tinted magic and fired off his own, missing the man, but giving him enough time to scramble back to his feet.

"It's true, you know," he continued through gritted teeth, pain lancing the wound in his side from which blood flowed freely. Side-stepping another curse, he sent Voldemort a feral grin, enjoying the way the man's body stilled with every word he uttered. "I know all your dirty, little secrets – ones you thought would never come to light; ones that made it so you wouldn't fear death. But I wouldn't look so confident if I were you. That – " he indicated the giant snake, now lying motionless, "was the last of your secrets to… spill. Quite literally, as it would seem."

"The last?" Voldemort rasped, a hint of real fear growing in his eyes.

"Oh, but then, there's still the matter of the little secret you left inside me..." Harry pressed on, finally admitting to a truth he'd been aware of for the past six months; Severus had made it a point to inform him of what Dumbledore had hidden from him for so long – that he was an accidental Horcrux himself, the evil vessel anchored in his scar. "Yeah, I've been privy to that one for quite a while now, but it's nothing to concern yourself with now. It's been taken care of…"

"But you live," Voldemort interrupted, holding his wand trained on Harry, the spells that he might have uttered from his lips held in check as he regarded his nemesis suspiciously.

"For now," Harry acknowledged, inclining his head mockingly as comprehension dawned in Tom's glowing red eyes. He glanced around. He was pretty sure that they were alone, but he switched to Parseltongue just in case his friends had disobeyed him, which knowing Ron and Hermione, they would have. "Ah, I see that it's hit you. See, I have nothing to live for; you saw to that. So, to quote another, 'what is death, but the next great adventure?'"

"You would choose to die?" Voldemort hissed, that calculating gaze sliding over Harry as if trying to work out an intricate puzzle. "Why?"

"Because you destroyed everything and everyone I ever loved, and for that I will gladly destroy you and see you in hell," Harry hissed back, throwing a vicious curse at the man, making him spin out of its way. He advanced on him quickly, his face lined with determination. Just a few more paces and he'd have him exactly where he wanted him.

"Not so noble," Voldemort taunted. Twirling his wand, he whipped it out in front of him, a bright, red light erupting from the tip as he shouted, "Crucio!"

Harry fell to his knees, screaming as pain and power lashed through his body, feeling like a thousand hot needles were stabbing at his skin simultaneously. Gritting his teeth, he tried to push the pain away, focusing on the image of a blank wall springing between him and the pain, the result of hours of dedicated training, and then he lashed out in turn, catching Voldemort in the knee with a well placed kick, breaking his concentration and ending the spell. Gasping for air, Harry took several deep, painful breaths and scrambled for his wand, hating the cruel cackle that washed over him.

"Yeah, well, the hat didn't want to put me in Slytherin for no reason at all," he spat. Voldemort faltered at that statement and Harry took the opportunity to push him back further with a Relashio. "Pity that people never remember that tidbit. Tholo Scutum Maximus!"

Harry pointed his wand towards the sky, golden light exploding from its tip, shooting up into the sky and spilling over the two of them in a bright, impenetrable dome, shielding them from the rest of the forest, and more importantly, anyone that might stumble upon them. It was designed to resemble the golden cage that had sprung up around them the night of Voldemort's resurrection, when their wands had locked in Priori Incantatem,onlyseveral times stronger.

"That should do it," Harry stated with satisfaction. "Now no one can interfere like so many times in the past. It's just me and you now, Tom. And yes, I am much more powerful than I've ever let on."

"You really shouldn't have done that, Harry," Voldemort cackled gleefully, narrowing his eyes into thin slits as he circled the outer edge, Harry mimicking his motions in order to keep a healthy distance between them. "Now you've cut yourself off from all assistance."

"Not worried," Harry lobbed back, artfully dodging a curse snapped his way, all his pretenses dropped – he was ready to dance. "I can take care of myself."

"Your overconfidence is stunning," Voldemort hissed, his eyes sweeping the area as if wondering what was awaiting him given Harry's complete and utter disregard, then turned back to him and stated coldly, "I hope you're prepared to die, Harry Potter; I hold the Deathstick."

Voldemort paused again when Harry burst into uncontrollable laughter, bending over and clutching his sides as his mirth rolled through him. He shouldn't have done it; that would have been the perfect opportunity for the man to curse him, but he couldn't help it. And his laughter seemed to unnerve Voldemort so badly that he could only stand there and gape as Harry fought to get his breath back.

"And... and you..." Harry gasped, amusement lighting his eyes when he could speak again. "You actually think you're its master?"

Voldemort stared incomprehensibly at Harry as yet more laughter spilled from his lips.

"That really is quite funny," Harry wheezed, his eyes glinting maliciously as they met Voldemort's, his smile hardening as he informed him, "You're not."

"I killed Snape," Voldemort hissed angrily, offended by Harry's laughter.

"Snape was not its master," Harry announced succinctly.

"Of course he was," Voldemort spat, eyes narrowing. "He killed Dumbledore."

"He did," Harry acknowledged, inclining his head, but refusing to retract his statement. He laughed internally as he watched Voldemort struggle with this revelation, observing the way the other man's hand twitched as if he wanted to hex Harry for his blasphemy alone.

"How?" Voldemort demanded.

"I disarmed Snape," Harry smirked, twirling his wand in his hand as he began to walk the perimeter of the dome again, enjoying the fact that the tables had turned and he now had Voldemort on the defensive. "You see, Snape worked for me, not you. Both of us were all too aware of your brand of loyalty, so we dueled one another and I was able to disarm him. We were both concerned that you might do something like this, so we made... other provisions."

"You're its master," Voldemort stated. It hadn't really hadn't been a question, but Harry answered nonetheless.

"I am," he replied with a feral grin, a dark chuckle rising in the back of his throat as he chided the other man. "Tsk, tsk, tsk... you should have done your homework, Tom. Now what will you do?"

"I'll disarm you," Voldemort countered dangerously.

"Good luck with that," Harry snickered, a thrill running through him as cold eyes latched onto him again, obviously irritated with his continued mockery, which was exactly the point – if he kept him angered and on edge, Voldemort wouldn't be thinking coherently. "You've never succeeded before. Not to mention, I have secrets of my own."

"What could possibly make a difference?" Voldemort sneered, holding him at wand point once more.

"I also hold the cloak and the stone," Harry hissed dangerously, once again using Parseltongue, sending Voldemort an evil smirk as he patted his pocket.

"The Master of Death," Voldemort whispered, his eyes widening this time in genuine shock.

"Very good," Harry sneered, lifting his wand in front of him. "And I have a message for you – Death does notlike to be cheated of its prize. So, tell me, Tom, do you fear Death's call now? Never mind, no answer is necessary, I can see it in your face – the horror, the knowledge that once you are removed from this plane, you will be completely eradicated from existence. It must have eaten away at you every day, that your bid for immortality would be revealed and destroyed so easily. But it's not death you should worry about. You see, Tom, a wise man once told me that a true master does not fear death – there far worse things in this world."

"Avada Kedavra!" Voldemort roared with an impotent rage.

Harry leapt into the air and fired off an Expelliarmus at the same time, their power exploding as they met in the centre, pushing against each other as the Elder wand in Voldemort's hand fought against harming its true master. Harry gritted his teeth and pushed all his energy, all his love, all of his emotions into that curse, forcing the Killing Curse back on its caster, enveloping Voldemort in a great flash of green light that blazed as it struck home, leaving Voldemort's body nothing more than a rain of ash.

And a silver thorn on a bloody rose

Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow

I wanted to end it there, on the battlefield. It had been my original plan – to take a curse while in the heat of battle once I had ended Voldemort, or even inflict one on myself. It could be explained away easily, and might have caused my friends and family a little less pain as they wouldn't be faced with my conscious decision to end my life. I had fulfilled the prophecy, and was all too aware of the time bomb, the final Horcrux, ticking away inside my head; I knew I had to die in order for it, and Voldemort, to be destroyed completely. But I had unfinished business to attend to before I'd allow myself the peace I so desperately craved…

Harry stood silently in that clearing, Voldemort's ashes rising around him, cold, bloodied and covered in mud, the sounds of celebration, and of agony and battle from those determined to fight to the bitter end, surrounding him. He had finally done it; vanquished the evil bastard who had killed his parents and caused so much pain and death – fully, this time.

But he didn't feel victorious; nor did he feel vindicated as he had once hoped.

If anything, he felt hollow, like an empty vessel that had finally met the end of its purpose, the bone-deep weariness that had settled in months prior finally taking hold.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

He should be celebrating the end of this madness with his friends and family and other assorted mentors and loved ones, but one by one, the vast majority had fallen to a madman's false sense of superiority, and he couldn't muster up an ounce of relief or joy or much of anything for those remaining.

Draco should have been here, at his side, both of them weary, but grinning with relief, happiness and love, overjoyed that it was over.

Instead, he was alone.

Joy had lost all meaning to him on the day the Prophet had blared the news of Draco's death, almost dripping with smug disdain for the Malfoy family, and taking Harry's heart in the process.

Releasing a pent up breath, his shoulders slumped, feeling the pull of exhaustion that he had shunted aside time after time. Not yet. As much as he'd like to collapse and slip away right there and then, to be reunited with those he had lost, he knew he had things to see to before he could rest.

He was thankful that no one had dared approach him yet; he hated the awed stares and the hushed, reverent whispers about the 'saviour', but for once it suited him and he embraced the invisible barrier between him and everyone else as he didn't think he could handle their thanks or the words of congratulations that would be forthcoming. There should be no joy in killing or death, no matter the evil guiding the soul.

Gripping his wand, he left the clearing purposefully, keeping his eyes averted from those he passed, always in constant motion on the rare chance that a diehard Death Eater should attack. He hadn't fought this long to stay alive, only to be taken down by his own gross negligence – not when there were events yet to play out.

Scanning the dirty, blood-tainted snow for survivors and potential prisoners, Harry's trek halted when a glint of silver-blonde hair caught his eye. Turning his head in its direction, his lips compressed at the familiar face which glared up at him from the ground. Pointing his wand at the man, just in case he was foolish enough to try cursing him, Harry cautiously approached the fallen, broken figure, relaxing his combative stance a touch when he saw that Lucius had been hit with a leg-breaking curse and had no means of escaping or even attacking Harry, his wand lying beside him as broken as its owner.

Staring down at him dispassionately, Harry couldn't help but notice the long streaks of blood that mingled with the silver glint of hair as the man struggled and failed to sit up. He was in a bad shape, and obviously a great deal of pain, but none of his injuries were life-threatening. Harry thought he should have felt more in this moment – elation at the other man's helplessness, savouring the pain in his pale, icy eyes – but now that he was faced with it, the scene fell flat.

He had prayed for Lucius' punishment, preferably his death at Voldemort's hands for failing to keep his son 'in line', but now he was thankful the other man would live to see the end of everything he held dear; the extinction to the lie he'd built at the expense of others. Harry couldn't think of a punishment more fitting than to force the bigot to live in a world that he had feared for so very long; to have to face the victors, knowing that all his scheming had been for nothing.

Smirking at the man who sneered up at him, Harry raised his wand and a tiny thrill ran through him at the flash of fear that sparked in Lucius' eyes just briefly before it bled into indifference. For a moment, he couldn't help but gloat at the change in fortunes – Harry, the pinnacle of strength and victory, and Lucius, the epitome of cowardice and failure – it healed something in Harry that had broken long ago to watch the man's attempt to protect himself.

But Harry had no intention of striking another man while he was down, unlike the man at his feet would. He was better than that. So instead, he healed him only enough to staunch the bleeding and keep him alive; he was neither stupid or noble enough to heal Lucius fully. He didn't really care that he was in pain from his broken bones; he only cared that he survived long enough to stand trial.

Cocking his head, Harry rested a foot on a nearby rock and leaned forward, resting his forearm on his knee, and spoke to Lucius in a low, conversational tone, the man watching him in wary silence.

"You know, for months I dreamed of this moment; you lying bloody and broken at my feet, as broken as Draco must have felt when you refused to listen to his pleas for mercy and understanding, as helpless as he when those pleas fell on deaf ears."

Lucius looked momentarily befuddled at Harry's words, uncertain as to how he knew all this information; then understanding dawned and his eyes flew to the angry red scar marring Harry's brow. It had long been common knowledge that Harry and Voldemort shared a link through the scar. Nodding, Harry tapped his forehead with a smirk, confirming Lucius' suspicions, and very nearly laughed when the man's eyes iced over and the sneer returned. Yes, do prove yourself the arsehole that we've all known you to be; it will make this so much easier.

"I thought I'd savour watching the light die from your eyes, just as the light in his died when he was forced to take the mark, and the way it died in mine when I got the news of his death days later."

Lucius remained silent, but Harry could see the rage boiling behind that cool facade as he started piecing together the evidence that had been right in front of his face all along and realised that there had been a great deal he'd missed about his son's relationship with Harry. Flashing him a feral smile, Harry let the silence draw out, verifying the thoughts forming in Lucius' mind with his refusal to comment further.

"For months I tried to fathom how a parent could treat his child so coldly, so callously… and it still boggles the mind. If anyone deserves to die, it's you, Lucius Malfoy… and yet… "

"Just kill me and be done with it, Potter," Lucius spat, obviously growing impatient with what he presumed was Harry toying with him. "I have nothing more to live for…"

"No," Harry refused definitively, laughing bitterly at Lucius' surprised glance. Sneering at him, Harry leaned in further, baring his teeth at the pugnacious Death Eater. "No, I don't think so. You do not get to take the easy way out. You do not deserve such mercy."

Drawing back, Harry studied him contemptuously, twirling his wand between his fingers as he let those words sink in before he straightened and stepped back, his eyes glittering with aversion. There was no way he was going to let this man escape justice.

"No, I think a better punishment for you is to live out the rest of your life, rotting in a cold, dank cell, your magic bound, haunted by the memory of everything you've lost; everything you so foolishly and gratuitously threw away because of that madman."

"I'd rather die," Lucius bit out dryly.

"And that's exactly why I will demand that you live," Harry sneered. He'd be damned if was going to do anything to help out the unremitting bastard.

Staring at the face which looked so much like his beloved's, Harry couldn't help but shake his head at the flagrant differences between son and sire; how this repugnant man had spawned Draco, he'd never know. He could only credit Draco's differences to his early life, spent apart from a father fighting to maintain his position in the Ministry during the aftermath of Voldemort's first fall.

"Underneath the mask," Harry replied softly, sorrow lacing his words, his heart catching at the loss, "he was such a beautiful soul; one you never deserved, and I hope the memory of his cries and his cold, lifeless body crumpled on the floor haunts you for the rest of your life. I hope it plays over and over in your mind, slowly driving you mad, until your thoughts and dreams hang in nothing but tattered fragments, and then, maybe then, when Draco is avenged, I will feel vindicated."

Pursing his lips, Harry pulled out his wand purposefully and raised it, waving it in the intricate, yet delicate motion of the curse he had developed especially for this moment. It was his own creation, and as such, a spell without a counter-curse, and he sincerely doubted that anyone would be in a rush to develop one considering that it was only intended for two recipients, and they were hardly awash with allies or sympathisers given that most of them were either dead or soon to be imprisoned themselves.

"Uada Mens Infinite, Draco."

Saluting the other man with his wand, Harry turned away, intending to find an Auror to bind Lucius and take him in. He wasn't really worried about him escaping as his injuries made it virtually impossible, but he'd feel better knowing that Lucius was in official hands.

"Wait…" Lucius cried weakly, sounding slightly panicked. Harry turned back, raising a questioning eyebrow. "What did you just do to me, Potter?"

"Oh, just a little spell I invented, one with a permanency charm attached to it," Harry lofted, flashing him a shark-like grin when Lucius' eyes widened. "It will ensure you are forced to relive all those moments you turned your back on your son's pain and pretended not to see. Every time you close your eyes, you won't have a choice but to seeand feel – to realise just what you sacrificed to your greed and thirst for power. He will haunt your very dreams."

"That's not very noble of you, Potter," Lucius had the gall to say, obviously hoping to play on Harry's sense of guilt and fair play; but Harry hadn't been that young, idealistic boy for a very long time – eighteen months to be exact – and while he wouldn't kill the bastard, he had no problem stripping him of his sanity.

"Ask me if I care," Harry snarled, a sneer pasted onto his face that would have done even Severus proud. "Inever wanted to be anyone's hero. I just wanted to live in peace with the ones I loved, but you bastardswouldn't leave off; you just had to take everything and everyone I loved away from me. You stole Draco's peace and happiness, and then finally his life, even if you didn't hold the wand yourself, so I will take your sanity in payment. It's only fitting for what he suffered at your so-called tender mercies."

Stepping back, Harry leveled a smug look on the suffering man, cementing the image into his head. This was but half the punishment he'd had planned for Draco's parents, but it was certainly the most satisfying. He could only hope that Lucius and Narcissa lived nice, long lives in order to enjoy the benefits of his mercy.

"Sweet dreams, Lucius," he smirked, raising his wand to the sky and shooting off red sparks to alert a nearby Auror of a prisoner ready for transport. "Say hello to Tom for me when you eventually land in hell."

"Mr. Potter," an unknown Auror greeted, bowing his head slightly in deference to him.

"Prisoner for you," Harry replied, nodding back. "Make sure he doesn't get away. I want to see this one personally punished."

"Yes, sir, Mr. Potter," the Auror smirked, shooting a stabilising charm at Lucius and following it with a body-bind curse, immune to the grimace of pain on the other man's face. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

Harry and Lucius stared at each other for a long moment, both realising that this was likely to be the last time they would ever see the other; Lucius because he knew he would never leave Azkaban alive, and Harry because… well, he had other plans. He wasn't worried about Lucius escaping justice; the Ministry would tread carefully, knowing they owed him, and he would demand to see details of the measures put into place to prevent the Malfoys from ever escaping. Besides, he had a few tricks up his sleeve yet. Smiling sardonically, Harry tipped an imaginary hat to Lucius, snorting when the other man smirked right back at him and nodded his head slightly, acknowledging the victor as he turned and walked away.

Now I think I know

What you tried to say to me

Those were the only two trials I attended. The Ministry of Magic expedited the process for me; funny how I'm in their favour again now that I've killed Voldemort. Little good it will do them. I am sorry that I lied to you both, but I knew that you'd stop me, and I would only be living a half-life in some mental institution had you interceded. I saw justice done for Draco, made sure his parents paid for the crimes against their son through testimony and pensieve memories. Both were sentenced to Azkaban, to the highest security cells they have, and both will have to live with the recurring memories of what they did due to that little spell I created. They will yearn for death long before it comes; I couldn't ask for a more deserving punishment.

My Dragon is avenged.

Harry stared at the many pages of parchment, word upon word that told his and Draco's story, explaining it to his friends in great detail; likely, far more detail than they ever needed or wanted, but once he had started, it had been difficult to stop. So much love covered those pages, and yet he didn't really think the words did any justice to what truly lay in his heart. He'd never been eloquent when it came to expressing his thoughts and feelings. That had always been Draco's strength.

He sighed wearily. He had been writing for what felt like weeks, but which, in reality, had only been for the past two days, fitting it in when he could. The rest of the time had been filled with confidential meetings to make sure certain people would never see the light of day. The Ministry had acknowledged that they owed him immensely, and they had fallen all over themselves to accommodate his whims. He couldn't help but sneer at their mindless pandering, but hadn't felt any guilt in using it to his favour. It had been one of the very rare times that he'd used his status to his advantage… and it had been worth it. He had needed to see those loose ends tied up before… well, before.

Setting his quill aside, he leaned back against the couch, exhaustion – both mental and physical – washing over him as he stared blankly at the ceiling. He hadn't had much sleep in the past two days due to getting his affairs in order and making provisions for what remained of his family, not to mention trying to find the words to explain the why of it to his best friends; but sleep wasn't really necessary for where he was going, and he'd rather have everything spelt out than left to chance. No way was he going to allow those vultures at the Ministry to have their way. And he was confident that the goblins would see to it that his remaining orders came to fruition.

Sitting up, he looked at the last words he had written, still unsatisfied with them, but unable to find a better way to end this story. He was so tired and wanted nothing more than to feel Draco's arms around him again. Chewing on his bottom lip, he signed off, feeling distinctly uncomfortable that he was leaving everyone with nothing except this letter of farewell, but he knew that anything more and people would have figured it out, and he'd be under twenty-four seven watch.

And he didn't want that.

He had done his part, fulfilled the prophesy; Voldemort was dead – well, very nearly dead, but the rest was just a drink away. All he wanted now was peace, and to see Draco's face once more. The wizarding world owed him this much.

Hands trembling, he folded the sheaf of papers, sealing them with unsteady fingers as he fumbled with another piece of parchment, one he had found when he asked Dobby to search their room one night and bring anything to him that had been left behind.

All that had been left was a paint box, shrunken to the size of a child's first box of watercolours, and a sketch pad that had gotten shoved under a chair at some point. It was where he had found this sketch, the one Draco had been working on so long ago, when Harry had been feigning sleep; when everything had changed in the space of minutes. But instead of finding a reposed 'Harry' as he had expected, he found something infinitely more precious.

There, immortalised by charcoal and paper, were Harry and Draco, curled around each other on that same couch. Harry was indeed asleep, lying in nearly the same position he'd been in that night, but inserted into the scene was a slumbering Draco, curled up on top of Harry, face half-pressed into his neck. The arm that had been loosely draped over his stomach, was curled around Draco instead, his hand resting on Draco's lower back and his face buried into fine, blond locks, lips pressed to the top of Draco's head as if kissing it.

It was a lovely scene, and one that had eventually been played out, but Harry loved this drawing because it was an insight into Draco's mind and what he had been thinking and feeling that night. It had become one of his most treasured possessions.

Setting it aside on the coffee table, the letter resting on top, he took a vial of clear liquid he had purchased some time ago. Amoris Ultionem, or Love's Revenge; it sounded like a bad name for a love potion, but really it was one of the fastest acting and deadliest poisons ever to be created by wizards, or witch in this case. When her lover had informed her he was to marry another – after charming and taking the then innocent witch into his bed with promises he couldn't keep – and that he had been betrothed to this girl since birth, the witch had gotten her revenge by concocting the poison and killing off her lover and his bride, effectively ending an entire pure-blood line in the process.

It had been the poison Draco had consumed, not because of the name, although Harry knew there would be those that romanticised his choice, but because it was scentless, flavourless, and reacted with such swiftness that it couldn't be countered. Not to mention that it allowed the victim a relatively painless death. Draco may not have wanted to live, but he also had enough self-preservation to spare himself unnecessary pain. Harry chose it for the same reasons, and it seemed fitting, given that it was the liquid which had taken Draco from him. But then again, Draco had always accused him of being a sap.

Rolling the vial between his hands, he knew that what he was doing would be viewed as supremely selfish, and even cowardly by some, but he wasn't worried about their opinions. Those that did matter would be angry, and likely hurt at first, but they would eventually forgive him and maybe even understand in time.

Rising from his seat, he picked up the letter and sketch and walked into his room. He knew that Ron and Hermione would be over later today, like clockwork, to check up on him, and he wanted them to find the letter easily, so that they would have an immediate explanation.

Sitting on his bed, he set the letter and sketch next to him, took a deep breath and opened the vial, staring at it for a long moment before tipping his head back and throwing the contents down his throat like one shooting back a shot of whiskey, the liquid splashing through his system like iced water. After making sure he'd swallowed every last drop, he lowered his arm, the vial falling from numb, tremulous fingers onto the bed. Gasping, he laid back and clutched his hand around the paintbox that he kept in the inner pocket of his jacket, his mind fuzzing over as memories of him and Draco flashed through his head.

Harry walked by Draco's side, his hands in his pockets, shivering when a brisk wind sent a chill down his spine, the snow that had fallen the night before crunching beneath their feet as they walked around the lake. Draco was complaining bitterly about something, but Harry had long lost track of the gist of it, being completely distracted by the beauty of the day, as well as the beauty of the boy at his side. Smiling to himself, a warm glow suffused his heart as he turned, tipping his face up to study his friend through dark lashes, fighting back a laugh at his petulant pout. He was far too adorable for his, and Harry's, own good. Smirking, Harry cast a sly glance at him before faking a stumble, purposefully bumping into Draco, interrupting him and sending him staggering.

Draco glared at the laughing Harry and pressed his lips together, jostling him back – much harder than Harry had – sending him careening into a nearby tree, which dumped a small avalanche of snow onto both boys upon impact. Spluttering, Harry brushed snow off his face, howling with laughter until he looked up and noticed Draco's annoyed moue as he stared at his snow-covered clothing. Still chuckling, Harry staggered over, and began dusting him off, his eyes dancing with mirth when Draco's lips twitched irritably, then softened into a reluctant smile.


Harry held a cup of cocoa in his hands, warming them as he stared at the fire, his feet pulled up beneath him, laughing at the story Draco had been telling involving Crabbe, and a wax cupcake, which he had mistaken for the real thing, taking a huge bite of it before realising his blunder. Smiling, Harry glanced at him, leaning against the couch across from him, his legs out-stretched, feet pointed toward the fire, and his stomach jolted, flushing hotly as silver eyes lifted and met his, glowing with an inner joy to which few were privy.


Harry was sitting at Draco's feet, his head pressed against his knee, grousing about Ron and Hermione driving him completely mad with their incessant need to know where Harry was going and what he was doing or thinking every second of every single day. To be honest, he had long since lost the thread of what he was saying, and had absolutely no idea where he was going with it, but as long as Draco continued to run his fingers soothingly through his hair, he didn't really care how much sense he was making.

Sighing contentedly, Harry startled when Draco removed his hand and leaned down until he was at eye level, effectively silencing him. Eyes wide, Harry watched in enraptured fascination as Draco's lips quirked and descended, sending his heart racing as they hovered over his mouth a moment before brushing a chaste kiss on the tip of his nose. Harry blushed, a warm glow spreading through his heart, and smiled shyly at Draco, who sat back with a smug grin, having effectively distracted and silenced him.


Harry tucked his head securely into Draco's shoulder, humming in the back of his throat when Draco's arms tightened around him, pulling him deeper into his body. Eyes fluttering shut, he clenched his own arms tighter around Draco's neck, fingers lazily tangling into the fine hairs at his nape, and finally admitted that while he'd never feel comfortable dancing, if it meant it gave him an excuse to hold Draco like this, he'd gladly suffer through it every day.

Giggling as Draco dipped his head, a fine strand of hair tickling his ear, he looked up, joy and love colliding messily in his chest as Draco smiled down at him, his own silver eyes alight with happiness.


Harry grinned devilishly, eyeing the paint palette with a definite hint of mischief that would have alarmed Draco had he seen it, and struck out swiftly, dragging his finger through the red paint and smearing it across the other boy's cheek. Laughing as Draco gaped at him in disbelief, Harry reached for the palette again, but was quickly blocked by an affronted Draco, who glared menacingly at him.

Lips pursed, he studied his chuckling nemesis, eyes narrowing with intent before striking out just as quickly, swiping his paint brush over Harry's startled face, covering him in purple paint. Draco had about five seconds of smug satisfaction before Harry launched his reprisal.

What happened next could only be described as a melee, as amidst hysterical laughter, the boys managed to cover each other in every shade of paint imaginable, conjuring more when they ran out. It covered skin, clung to hair, stained clothing and generally made a complete and utter mess of both them and the room; until Harry, in the process of retreat, stepped on a tube of paint and skidded, taking Draco down with him, leaving them a laughing, tangled pile of limbs on the floor.


Harry's breath caught in his throat, a soft smile curling his lips as he stepped into the room and found Draco stretched out on the couch, sleeping peacefully. Walking silently across the room, he sat down on one of the chairs without disturbing him, knowing that he'd been having trouble sleeping the past few days. Letting his eyes drift over Draco's face, Harry hummed, his heart aching as the light from the fire and the candles hanging overhead caught and played in Draco's hair, turning it to a fine, spun gold. Smiling at the vision he presented, Harry knew he'd never tire of it… he looked like an angel – Harry's angel.


Harry glared at Draco, irritation crackling along his nerves as Draco paced back and forth, his barbed words hitting far too sensitive spots in his psyche. It was rare for them to argue this viciously these days, but when Draco got wound up, Harry remembered only too well what it was he disliked about him. His acid tongue burned carelessly when he got angry and it didn't really matter if it hit its intended target or if it just spewed out at random, spraying anything within spitting distance. In this case, Harry had taken the fall due to an unfortunate slip of the tongue which Draco, in his agitated state, had grossly misunderstood.

He really didn't need this tonight.

Gritting his teeth, Harry spat out an invective and spun on his heel, intending to leave until Draco had cooled down – and before he said anything he might regret – but he was halted by nearly six feet of fuming Slytherin grabbing his arm and swinging him around. Yanking his arm away, they glared at each other, equally as unmoved as they crossed their arms over their chests, unconsciously mirroring each other's combative stance.

That is, until Harry noticed what they were doing. His lips twitched, causing Draco's nose to flare in annoyance, which turned out to be exactly the wrong thing to do, as it elicited a helpless giggle from Harry. Draco huffed indignantly and scowled at his boyfriend, but was quickly losing the struggle to hold on to his anger when faced with a helpless, laughing Harry. His lips twitched reluctantly and he rolled his eyes, throwing up his hands in defeat.


Harry stared breathlessly at his boyfriend, his blood heating as molten silver eyes lazily traveled the length of his body. Draco licked his lips hungrily, those bright eyes pinning Harry into place. Sinking against the wall, heart thrumming wildly, Harry watched in helpless abandon as Draco stalked purposefully across the room towards him, a sexy smirk sliding across his face and a provocative little strut in his hips. His hands hit the wall either side of Harry, bracketing his head and all but caging him into the wall.

Licking his lips in anticipation, Harry's eyes fluttered shut as a strong, lean body pressed into him, sending a frisson of excitement dancing along his spine. Soft, full lips crashed against his, a wet, insistent tongue prying its way into his mouth instantly, his boyfriend of just ten days devouring him down. Harry flung his arms around Draco, trying desperately to draw air into his constricted lungs, holding on for dear life when Draco picked him up, almost effortlessly, and pressed him further into the wall.


Harry laid his head on Draco's shoulder, his mind reeling from everything that had happened that day; from the end of exams to that beautiful, perfect moment of union with Draco. Closing his eyes, he snuggled deeper into Draco's body and decided to shelve all the worries and ill feelings for the time being, preferring to simply enjoy the moment. He could worry about their imminent departure tomorrow. For tonight, he just wanted to enjoy the feeling of Draco wrapped around him. Sighing, he smiled as Draco's arms cinched tighter, pulling him closer, his heart beating softly in his ear.

Harry could almost feel those arms now, warm, heavy and secure; holding him as his eyes drifted shut, his vision greying around the edges, the darkness overtaking him for the last time and that beautiful name falling from his lips.


And how you suffered for your sanity

And how you tried to set them free

Ron faced the congregation, one which was full of politicians, statesmen and Ministry lackeys, people that couldn't even begin to know the man whose life they were gathered there to honour. The Harry Potter they knew had always been an unobtainable icon; the saviour of the Wizarding World and someone they all admired for being the Boy-Who-Lived, but never a real person.

He had started this eulogy hoping to give them a glimpse of the true person that hid behind the great, heroic deeds, but looking into the blank, soulless eyes he knew they'd never get it. He could talk until he was blue in the face about the boy who loved chocolate frogs, but had been embarrassed to see his face immortalised on one of the collectible cards. He could tell them how awkward Harry had always felt in a crowd, how he hated being stared at for something he'd never consciously done. That he played Quidditch, not because he had been the youngest and best Gryffindor Seeker in a hundred years, but because there was nothing he loved better than to soar through the air on his broom.

He could tell them how Harry was the first one to offer up his last scrap of food if it meant that another survived, and that no matter how many times you screwed up, once you were his friend, he was unfailingly loyal to the end. That he derived more pleasure from his yearly gift of a handmade Weasley sweater than he did all the galleons sitting in his Gringotts vault.

That his laugh, rare as it had been at the end, filled the room and made you want to laugh along with him, even if you had no idea what you were laughing at in the first place. And how he would have given up all of his riches, all his fame, all his material possessions for just one hug from his mother.

But it would have fallen on deaf ears.

Swallowing thickly, Ron instead launched into a story of two boys, torn apart by circumstances beyond their control, who, when they first met, became bitter rivals, enemies until the day a chance meeting opened one's eyes and he saw beneath the mask that the other was hiding behind out of fear. And how that boy went out of his way to learn everything he could about the other, offering first his hand in friendship, and then later his heart in a story of love unrivaled by any book.

Because that was the essence of Harry.

The King of Second Chances, who saw the potential for good in all, if given half a chance. Merlin only knew how many second chances he'd given Ron when he hadn't deserved them. If any story could show the heart and soul of his friend of nearly eight years, it was the one he had shared with Draco.

"I'll leave you with a few words from the man himself, that really, at the end of it all, was Harry to the core."

"…I don't want you to mourn for me; I know it's asking a lot, and I know you're likely blaming yourselves, thinking that if you'd only watched me closer or forced me to open up a bit more, you could have prevented this. But I wouldn't change it for the world. To love so deeply, and so truly, was more than I ever expected in my life. I honestly thought I would die with Voldemort; I never expected to make it to my eighteenth birthday. To have known and loved Draco, even for such a short period of time, was a blessing.

My only regret is that I know how much this will hurt you and the rest of our friends and family. I know that you'd hoped, even planned on us growing old next to each other, seeing each other through marriage and children and grandchildren. But I've done my part in this world, and now I want peace more than anything. I could never have that here; there would always be just one more thing for me to do, or one more demand on my time.

Know that I am going to a better place. As Albus once said, death is but the next great adventure, and I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait to see Draco again; it has been so long since I've held him in my arms. And who knows what mischief we'll get up to with the Marauders present – I'm sure my mother is cringing at the thought.

Be well, and live the life that Draco and I never had the chance to create; that is my request to you. You're my best friends in the world, and truthfully, the siblings I never had. I love you, and I've always cherished our friendship; I wouldn't have made it this far without you.

I'll be watching over you until we reunite.




Harry choked back tears of both happiness and grief at the words that spilled from his friend's mouth, and the thoughts running through his head. It humbled him as he watched Ron blinking back tears of his own as he stumbled from the stage, his head held high until he made it into the bosom of his family. Harry could see that a few people were disappointed that they hadn't heard about the private, untold heroics from the past two years, but most were touched at being granted such an intimate view of their beloved saviour, who had given up everything in order for them to have a safe and happy life.

"That was beautiful," Hermione said, wrapping her arms around Ron's waist, rubbing his back soothingly as he pressed his face into her hair in an effort to hide his tears, letting out a watery chuckle when she quipped, "Although, I'm glad you didn't read the entire letter."

"Yeah, well," Ron rasped, lifting his head and shaking it as some trumped up toady unveiled a picture of the statue – a mud-splattered Harry with his wand raised in triumph as Voldemort fell to his final spell – that would stand in the atrium at the Ministry of Magic. He couldn't wait for the private memorial and wake, away from all this gaudy pomp and circumstance. "I thought their story needed telling, but I wasn't about to scar everyone with some of the finer details."

"He would be so proud of you," Hermione whispered quietly, her own eyes tearing.

I am.

"He would… he…" Ron struggled to find the words, swallowing harshly around the lump in his throat. "He would have done the same for me, I couldn't honour him any less."

And I would have.

"He had always been my touchstone," Ron continued, squeezing Hermione tightly around the waist. Harry swallowed thickly himself – he hadn't known that particular piece of information. "He taught us all so much. I would never have become the person I am without him. He was always the strong one; the light and strength behind the Order, and when I think of how often we took him for granted…"

I always knew how you felt; you really never had to say the words – they were always evident in everything you did.

"I just wish we had known about him and Draco. When I think of all the things I said that day…" Ron trailed off, closing his eyes in horror as he recalled his reaction, especially in the light of everything they had since learned. Pain flashed across his face as Hermione made a soothing sound in the back of her throat. "I'm shocked he didn't Avada me there and then. I wish I could take back everything I said. He was right; there was no sense in maligning Malfoy at that point. We could have supported..."

I forgave you long ago.

"I'm sure he knows all that," Hermione consoled, wrapping her arm around Ron and squeezing gently.

Ah, Hermione; my conscience, and dearest confidante. Make sure he remembers that. Make him happy; you both deserve it.

Pulling apart, the couple watched as George grimaced at the overly officious blather; another listing of Harry's accomplishments, followed by the declaration of a Harry Potter Day. Shaking his head, he turned and walked over to Ron and Hermione, dropping his arm around Hermione's shoulders and snorting disdainfully.

"Come on, it's time for the real wake," he murmured, tugging them away. "Not this stuffed up political nonsense. Honestly, what were they thinking? Harry would hate all this. He would prefer that we celebrate his life, not mourn the loss of the hero he never wanted to be."

George, my friend, you took the words right out of my mouth. Let's get the hell out of here.

Ron chuckled quietly at his brother's observation and hummed his agreement; Harry really would have hated the fuss being made. In his eyes, Harry was 'just Harry' – an ordinary boy with an extraordinary life. He'd never understood the need to immortalise his accomplishments. He had simply done what needed doing.

Harry turned away from the memorial with his friends, knowing they were heading to his true resting place, the one in which he had been privately buried yesterday. The real Harry lay next to his parents, in a quiet town that guarded their secrets well, far away from this atrocious, trumped up memorial dreamt up by people who didn't know the first thing about him.

Ron opened his mouth, but they would never know what he'd been about to say as he was halted by two people emerging from the shadows, where they had witnessed the ceremony. Ron nodded blankly at Blaise Zabini and Pansy Parkinson as the two former Slytherins stepped in their path.

"Weasley," Zabini greeted him quietly, his face solemn as he nodded first at Ron and then the others. "And Granger, Weasley."

"Zabini," Ron said, looking inquisitively between the dark-haired boy and his companion. "Is there something we can do for you?"

"We would..." Blaise trailed off uncertainly, wrapping an arm around a silent Pansy before squaring his shoulders and continuing. "We would like to come with you, if we may."

Ron, Hermione and George all exchanged startled glances, surprised that their former classmates would wish to be at a celebration for Harry Potter, a man that had been an enemy to almost everyone in Slytherin House. Turning silently back to the couple, they studied them contemplatively, waiting for them to offer up a reason for the uncharacteristic request.

"It's because of Potter that neither of us had to take the mark," Blaise explained quietly. "He saved more than our lives that day; he gave us the chance at a real future. We can do no less than to honour his life."

Ron's eyes brightened with unshed tears, swallowing thickly as they all began to realise the enormity of the incredible legacy Harry had left behind. Faced with the health and vitality of two people who had been saved because of one person's thoughts, beliefs and actions was humbling.

"I'm sure Harry would like that," Ron nodded, holding out his hand to the other boy. "Ron Weasley. And this is my fiancee, Hermione Granger, and my brother, George Weasley. You're both welcome to join us at the Hollow."

"Blaise Zabini," Blaise replied, shaking first Ron's hand, then extending it to Hermione and George, who each shook it in turn.

"Pansy Parkinson," Pansy whispered, extending her own hand and being met with the same acceptance as her counterpart. "It's a pleasure to finally meet all of you; for real this time."

Harry beamed, happy to see his friends' graciousness and thankful that the wounds Voldemort had inflicted would eventually heal. This – this was the world he'd fought for. He approached them slowly, knowing the moment that he became visible to them by their gaping faces and stunned gasps. It almost made him laugh.

Stopping in front of Ron, he smiled and touched his shoulder, though he knew it wouldn't be felt. 'I'm so proud of you, my brother. Always remember that.'

Turning to Hermione, he brushed a hand over her cheek, grinning when she, out of all of them, was the first to recover. He could virtually hear her mind whirling with all the possible explanations for this experience. 'Keep him safe. Love him well. I am so very happy you have finally found each other.'

Walking up to a pale George, he smiled sadly, knowing that he was wondering about his twin, taken from them during the final battle. Taking his hands, he cocked his head as if listening to something, then gave him the answer he was searching for. 'Fred says he's proud of you. And he reminds you to prank Ronniekins once in a while in his memory.'

He looked away as George let out a watery laugh, his eyes filming even as Ron gave an indignant squawk. Turning last of all to Blaise and Pansy, Harry smiled gently, touching their unblemished left arms. 'I'm glad. Be happy.'

Standing back, he watched as tears flowed and smiles spread in answer to his words and he smiled brightly in turn, whispering as he faded from sight, 'My work is done, now it's time for the healing.'


The quintet stared at the spot they'd last seen Harry, minds struggling to comprehend what they had just witnessed. Letting out a collective breath, they turned to each other, their words tumbling over one another's as they tried to make sense of, and share in the moment.

"Did you see that...?" Pansy gasped, eyes wide.

"Was that...?" George inquired, his voice clogged with emotion.

"Could it be...?" Hermione wondered out loud.

"Did you hear...?" Blaise asked, stupefied.

Ron just smiled, then threw back his head and laughed. It was so very like Harry to do the impossible and throw everyone off their game even after his death. Saluting the sky, he wrapped an arm around Hermione and gently pulled her away, shaking his head as she muttered under her breath, listing all the books she wanted to check when she got home. Little good that it would do; it was just Harry being Harry, after all.

"I didn't think that was possible unless one was using the resurrection stone," Pansy reflected as she followed the others. "Or some sort of summoning ritual."

"You'll soon learn that 'normal' doesn't apply to Harry," Hermione replied dryly, a smile on her face as they walked towards the Apparation point. "I remember this one time..."

Ron grinned as Hermione launched into a recount of one of the many times Harry had defied the odds and done something completely inexplicable, yet totally Harry. As much as he'd miss his friend, he couldn't help but feel a touch of hope for this world they were creating under Harry's legacy. Everything was going to be fine.

They would not listen, they're not listening still

Perhaps they never will

Harry's eyes fluttered, dry and gritty, lashes stuck together as blinding heat blazed across his lids in a red-orange haze. He groaned, stretching stiff muscles and aching joints, a whimper sounding in the back of his throat. His eyes stung as salt water filled them, but he refused to open them, a heavy ache spreading within his heart. He didn't want to open them and find the familiar sterile white ceiling of the infirmary; to find that his friends had somehow saved him once more, and that he'd failed in his endeavour to reach Draco. He didn't think he could stand the utter despair of a world without him.

Shifting to work out the kinks in his body, he frowned as the rustling of grass and the rich scent of damp earth washed over his senses, the faint twittering of birds coaxing him to full awakening. Blinking rapidly, he opened beryl eyes to the incongruous view of a starry sky, whirls of light haloing around bright yellowish-white pinpricks in a velvet sky that was beginning to lighten around the edges from midnight blue to navy.

He turned his head slightly and gazed at the long golden stalks of grain surrounding him, his body finally noting the discomfort of lying on the cold ground. Sitting up slowly, he braced himself on his hands for a moment and looked around, seeing nothing but amber grain in every direction. He rose gingerly to his feet, inhaling sharply as he turned in a small circle and stared at the scene in wonder.

This was not what he'd been expecting….

He had expected a loud, boisterous greeting from all the people he had loved and lost – Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Moody, Fred, Dumbledore. At the very least, he'd expected his parents to be waiting for him on the other side. And Draco.

He hadn't expected to find himself so utterly alone in this vast empty expanse. The cold, deep silence lanced through his heart, breaking it yet again. It wasn't supposed to be like this; he was supposed to find peace and love waiting for him, not more emptiness.


The voice jolted him, sending a wave of hope surging through him, warming his heart as he whirled around, the shadowed hills in the distance mocking him as he searched for the owner of that beloved whisper. Swallowing thickly, he took a step in its direction before halting. He had no idea if any of this was even real. But, then again, even if it were a dream, did he really care? He didn't want to wake up. He would happily stay lost within the confines of his own mind if it just meant he could feel Draco's arms once more, to drown in his kisses forever. It had been so long.

The wind swirled, whispering gently as it stirred his hair and teased his cheeks, renewing that first surge of hope.

Come and find me, Harry…

His heart fluttered and he set out immediately towards that siren's call, the sky brightening with every step as he walked across the plains, amber grain slowly morphing into bright green grasses, and shell pink, wispy clouds swirling in the purple haze above him. Crimson, orange and buttery-yellow flowers danced in the field as that soft breeze caressed him, gently tugging him forward with impatient fingers, leading him to the Gods knew what; all he knew was that it was warm and welcoming and sweeter than anything he'd tasted in over a year.

Breathless as he was, he couldn't help but speed up as the morning brightened around him, chasing the dark from his soul, lightening the burden from it in a way that he hadn't felt even as a child, until he was all but running, darting through tall grasses and the occasional copse of trees, knowing that what he sought most was waiting just ahead. The years fell away from his face, smoothing the lines of pain and fatigue that had been etched into it over the past year and a half, making him resemble the boy that he was and not the tired, worn out husk that he'd become.

Passing through a final grove of trees, Harry halted, his eyes watering as the sun broke over the horizon, dazzling him as it first painted the sky a pale powder blue, then brightened into the deep azure of a summer sky, the night forever banished from heart, mind and soul. Letting his lashes flutter shut, he drew the crisp morning air into his lungs, allowing it to cleanse any lingering malfeasance left curdling his insides.

He was free.

Opening his eyes again, he squinted, his heart fluttering in his chest as he caught the familiar gleam of white-blond hair in the distance; A lone figure, standing at the edge of what looked like a shallow valley, an easel in front of him, his slim, elegant fingers flying across the page. His head was cocked to the side as the artist admired his work, or perhaps he was listening to the sigh of the breeze around him, waiting endlessly, tirelesslyfor something important to happen.


Breath caught in his throat, Harry stumbled forward uncertainly, mind reeling with wonder even though his stomach clenched, afraid this was one more lie, another mirage or dream before he woke to the cruel, cold knowledge that Draco was still gone. He didn't think he could handle the disappointment of an eternity spent constantly seeking, yet never finding this beautiful image in front of him. He had already lost and given up so much, played by the rules that fate had decreed, ended a madman's reign of terror and played the hero for everyone. They bloody well owed him.

He continued his trek towards the edge of the valley, keeping that bright beacon in sight, noting as he grew closer that the lithe, elegant figure was dressed as he had never seen him before, clad in a pair of dark Muggle denims and a black t-shirt, the usually pale skin flushed with health and the slightest golden tint, glowing in the bright sunlight. He had always been breathtaking, but never so much as in this moment. How could anyone be so beautiful?

Running the last few steps, Harry came to standstill a few feet away, licking his lips nervously, desperately wanting to reach out and touch that shining skin to see if it were real, but somehow managing to hold off. The figure hadn't shown any indication of hearing him. Could he be wrong? Was he just fooling himself that he'd find Draco waiting for him after all this time? Maybe Draco hadn't felt as deeply for Harry as Harry had for him? After all, it wasn't like Draco had ever really expressed his feelings. He had always assumed it was because he had difficulty doing so, but what if it was because there were simply none to confess?

He shifted uneasily on his feet, fidgeting as time drew out, looking out at the vast emptiness surrounding him and wondering if it were a metaphor for what he could expect even in his afterlife. Biting his lip, he closed his eyes, stomach swirling sickly as despair crashed over him, his eyes burning hotly, so caught up in his anguished thoughts that he hadn't even noticed Draco turning round to study him.

"It's about time, Potter," a cool, dry voice drawled, crashing over his senses like a welcoming balm. Harry clenched his eyes a little tighter then opened them, a tear leaking from the corner of one as a relieved grin spilled over his face and a slightly hysterical laugh crept into his throat. Swallowing it down, he smiled tremulously, silver eyes glinting mischievously at him before turning back to the canvas. "Took you long enough to get here."

"Yeah, well," Harry rasped, clearing his throat before kicking a loose clump of dirt away as he closed the remaining distance between them. "A war to end all wars…" He gave a Gallic shrug and grinned when Draco sent him an exasperated glance.

"Blood, mayhem…" he extrapolated further, waving his hand in the air in emphasis as he pocketed the other, shuffling his feet in the thick green grass as he came to stand at Draco's side. He peered at him through his fringe. "Insane sycophants…."

Draco smirked at that comment and lifted a well-shaped brow, flashing him a decidedly amused look as he sketched out whatever it was that he was working on. It was a gesture that was both familiar and dear to Harry, and he felt his heart swell with warmth and love as he watched him through the corner of his eye, happily noting the smooth, pale, unmarked stretch of skin on his left forearm. He was thankful that the detested mark that had separated them hadn't carried over into this life.

Smirking back at him, he continued, "A megalomaniac madman trying to take over the world…" His shoulders quaked slightly as he struggled to quell the joy bubbling inside and feigned a grimace instead. "They really do mess with one's schedule."

"Bloody Gryffindor heroes," Draco griped disparagingly, shaking his head at Harry even as he smiled softly. "Always have to save the world."

Harry couldn't help it. Breaking from his feigned solemnity, he threw his head back and laughed, the joyful sound echoing through the glade, all the bad feelings from earlier slowly melting away under the brilliance of Draco's smug smile. He had always known how to make Harry laugh, even in the grimmest of situations. Looking back at him, green eyes glinting with love and happiness, Harry stepped forward and pulled Draco into his arms, reveling when solid arms wrapped around his torso in turn, fitting him snugly against a firm chest as pale pink lips descended on his – soft, gentle and sweeter than he remembered – in an achingly slow kiss.

Pulling back, he rested his forehead against Draco's and sighed happily, his eyelids fluttering closed as the familiar citrus and wood scent of Draco's skin tickled his nose, tempting him to lean in for a taste. Nuzzling his nose against his cheek, he smiled when Draco leaned in for another soft, chaste kiss. This was where he was supposed to be. This is exactly what he'd imagined when he had thought about reuniting with Draco once more; nothing could feel more right than being wrapped in his lover's arms.

"Told you I'd find you again, Vincent," he whispered against Draco's lips, cherishing the smile that tugged across them.

"Yes. Yes, you did," Draco whispered back, teasing a kiss along Harry's jaw before pulling away and taking his hand. "Come, let's go home; you have people waiting to see you. I was allowed the honour of greeting you, but they'll be growing impatient if I don't show up with you soon. I hate to think what Black might do; Lupin can only restrain him for so long."

"That sounds like Sirius." Harry laughed for a moment before sobering, his voice choked as he said quietly, "When I woke up alone, I thought…"

"Honestly, Harry," Draco broke in, chiding him gently. "Did you truly believe that I wouldn't come for you?"

"Well, you did make me search for you," Harry replied dryly, smirking when Draco huffed.

"Yeah, well, I'm worth the wait, aren't I?" Draco countered, preening when Harry laughed and nodded in amusement.

"Prat," Harry complained, swinging their hands between them as Draco snapped his fingers and the easel popped out of existence. He tugged at Harry's hand imperiously as they started to walk across the field, the horizon wavering slightly in the distance as the world swirled around him once more. But this time it didn't disconcert him; with Draco at his side, he felt as if he could face anything. "A prat to the end, even in the afterlife… Merlin preserve us all."

"You'd be bored if I were anything else," Draco lofted, a smug smile curling at his lips.

"And still has to have the last word," Harry quipped, an identical smirk curving his.

"Well, when you have such wisdom to impart…" Draco sighed, a put upon frown on his face.

Harry gave up with a laugh, dropping Draco's hand and wrapping an arm around his slender waist instead, humming happily when an arm was draped around his shoulders and a soft kiss pressed to his temple.

In the distance he heard the familiar bark of a large, black, Grim-like dog, followed by an annoyed shout that had to be Remus. Or perhaps that was the cool, disdainful sneer of a certain potions master intent on exacting his revenge. A lilting laugh carried on the breeze, followed by a masculine rumble he'd only heard in his dreams – or his earliest memories. And he couldn't help but roll his eyes when he heard a loud crash, followed by a feminine voice loudly proclaiming she was alright.

Or maybe it was all in his head and none of these things were real.

If it were but a dream, he'd gladly live in his head forever. But whatever faced him up ahead, he knew one thing for certain –

He was right where he belonged.