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[personal profile] maja_li
Title: In Summer Grass
Pairing: Harry/Draco
Wordcount: ~6700
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Character death, angst
Summary: The people Harry loved had a funny way of dying—so why should it be so strange that he fall in love with a dead man?
A/N (original): THANK YOU to my brilliant, wonderful, patient betas [livejournal.com profile] joanwilder and [livejournal.com profile] scarlet_malfoy , who soothed my flailing and let me work on this right down to the wire, even though they had their own stuff to worry about. *squishes and adores you both to pieces* Additional note: certain sections of this AU are direct block quotes from the Harry Potter books. A list with specific credits is included as a footnote at the end.
*A/N: This is a re-post of my [livejournal.com profile] hd_worldcup fic from 2009, prompt #15: He who can, does. He who can't, teaches the Dark Arts.[livejournal.com profile] drippingcherry 's Reccing Post of Adorable made it occur to me that I should probably put it on my own journal at some point, 'cause I'm actually kind of proud of it and Worldcup was a wonderful experience. :) *pets it*



30 April

Harry realized, with a shock so huge it seemed to root him to the spot, that Malfoy was crying—actually crying—tears streaming down his pale face into the grimy basin. Malfoy gasped and gulped and then, with a great shudder, looked up into the cracked mirror and saw Harry staring at him over his shoulder.

Malfoy wheeled around, drawing his wand… There was a loud bang, and the bin behind Harry exploded; Harry attempted a Leg–Locker Curse that backfired off the wall behind Malfoy's ear and smashed the cistern beneath Moaning Myrtle, who screamed loudly; water poured everywhere and Harry slipped as Malfoy, his face contorted, cried, "Cruci—"

"SECTUMPSEMPRA!" bellowed Harry from the floor, waving his wand wildly.

Blood spurted from Malfoy's face and chest as though he had been slashed with an invisible sword. He staggered backward and collapsed onto the waterlogged floor with a great splash, his wand falling from his limp right hand…

The door banged open behind Harry and he looked up, terrified; Snape had burst into the room, his face livid. Pushing Harry roughly aside, he knelt over Malfoy, drew his wand, and traced it over the deep wounds Harry's curse had made, muttering an incantation that sounded almost like song.

But the flow of blood did not ease. Harry watched in horror as Snape's chanting grew louder, more frantic. The ankle–deep water blossomed with red, tendrils and pockets of it spreading deeper and darker—until finally, abruptly, it all stopped. Harry raised his eyes. Malfoy's corpse stared back at him, calm and puppet–like. His face and neck were a single smear of blood, broken only by the track of a tear winding its way down from one too–wide eye.

It was already drying.

Harry began to shake. His gaze remained fixed to the wall where Malfoy's head had been, as Snape slowly got to his feet, cradling his student in his arms.

"Well done, Mister Potter," he said, his nasal voice flat and quiet, devoid of its customary sneer. "Well done, indeed." As he turned to depart, the hem of his robes swirled over the water and disturbed the blood–drop flowers hanging beneath the surface.

The current edged toward Harry. He gave a strangled little cry and scrambled backwards, taking refuge crouched on the seat of the toilet with the shattered water tank. The wand he'd dropped drifted slowly around the room, covered in a film of blood and water and oily grime from the bathroom floor.

Harry watched it unblinkingly, as a small, wild part of him chortled gleefully that it was only appropriate, only fitting, in so many ways and oh, but let him count them… He squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head furiously, whispering sibilant nonsense to drown it out. The susurration of words echoed around the bathroom, bouncing shiver–soft off the hard tile and rebounding in Harry's ears over and over and over.


–– –– ––

Harry stood on the rooftop of the Astronomy Tower, watching the stars blink out one by one under cover of the advancing clouds. The Forbidden Forest sprawled across the grounds in front of him; off to the right, the water–laden June wind whistled through the goal hoops on the Quidditch pitch. It was unseasonably chilly outside with only a light cloak over his pyjamas, but infinitely preferable to the claustrophobic darkness of the castle at night. He shivered a little, his eyes watering, but he dared not shut them for fear of the memories that would come dancing their terrible bacchanal across his closed lids. It was, he thought, going to be a very long night.

"Up here again, Potter?" The now–familiar, hollow drawl made Harry turn back toward the doorway, where Draco Malfoy stood in all his spectral glory. In the scant starlight and the darkness of the new moon, he looked almost solid, his skin and hair only scarcely paler than they had been in life. He floated across the rooftop to stand beside Harry, leaning over the balcony and peering down at the grounds below. "Long way to go, that," he remarked.

"Too long," Harry agreed softly. "Too much time to think."

Malfoy's head snapped up, and he fixed Harry with more than a ghost of his old glare.

"Don't you dare!" he said sharply. "You're the one who's got us all into this mess. The least you can do is stick around to fix it. Merlin knows I can't." He had taken to such turns of phrase lately, his speech peppered with little reminders of his own impotency in the face of his demise. He used them particularly when he was around Harry, as though Harry needed help remembering; death, it seemed, had mellowed Draco Malfoy but little.

"Am I allowed to after, then?" Harry's tone was light, but he stepped up to the rail beside Malfoy without meeting the other boy's gaze. Malfoy snorted.

"Please. If you don't concentrate on your pentacle a sight better than you have been, you'll kill yourself Summoning the Horcruxes before the Dark Lord ever has a go at you. And you certainly may not do it afterwards just to avoid the press!"

Harry sighed, looked longingly down at the soft grass that waved in the wind hundreds of feet below them…leaned forward just a little further…

"Potter. Potter? Potter!" Malfoy lunged at him, grabbing instinctively at the back of Harry's robes. His hand passed right through, shocking Harry with cold like ice water poured straight through his spinal column. Harry jerked upright with a gasp, shuddered heavily, then turned around to face Malfoy with a scowl.

"That bloody hurt, you bastard! I wasn't going to—" he began irritably, but Malfoy interrupted.

"That's better!" He smirked, folding his arms over his chest with an air of triumph. "No more going on morose benders, do you hear? I promise death isn't all it's cracked up to be."

–– –– ––

10 May

"This really is not all it's cracked up to be," Malfoy grumbled, floating around on the ceiling as Harry perused yet another cursed and dusty tome. "No terrifying the first years, no harassing Peeves, no more strawberry trifle…what are you doing, anyway?"

"Studying pentacles, as you know perfectly well," Harry growled back. His eyes were sore, his head hurt where the arms of his glasses pressed against his temples, and he was in no mood to deal with his new charge. "Are you sure this is going to work, Malfoy? I mean, Voldemort's not a—a demon, or a Dark creature, or anything even remotely like that."

Malfoy rolled his eyes.

"Merlin, Potter, what did those Muggles teach you? Never mind, I don't want to know. You already have a piece of the Dark Lord's soul inside you, do you not? Then provided you don't bollocks up your glyphs, it should be a simple task to Summon the remaining four."

"Simple for a bloody Dark wizard like you, maybe—"

Suddenly, the door swung open and Hermione—or rather, a stack of books propelled by a pair of legs that looked strikingly like Hermione's—staggered in. She set them down on the table with a huff and tilted her head toward Malfoy.

"Please come down from there," she said. "What if someone sees you?"

"Don't worry, I had Potter here require the Room to be undetectable to anyone but the three of us—and your Weasel, of course."

"He's not mine, and it's still a bad habit to be in."

Malfoy harrumphed, but obeyed, drifting down toward the floor and growing more transparent. How Hermione had come to be on such amicable terms with him in less than a week, Harry would never understand. Maybe it was because Malfoy was worried about far more important things than hurling insults. Except at Harry, of course.


–– –– ––

"Do you think they'll be all right?" Malfoy asked suddenly, hopping up to perch on the edge of the tower railing. "They will be, won't they? Dumbledore won't…won't let him kill them anyway, will he? Not after everything I've done for him, for you all—"

Harry closed his eyes against a fresh wash of remorse.

"You didn't have to buy your parents' lives," he said softly. "Not after you died trying to save them."

"What did I just warn you about, Potter? Enough guilt–tripping!"

"Malfoy, I killed you!"

"Yes, I still haven't forgiven you for that," Malfoy sniffed. "Doing something so important by accident! Really, I would have thought six years of seething hatred meant something to you—at the very least I'd expect a bit of maniacal cackling, the explanation of a long and complicated plot, perhaps some vengeful reminiscing on the side—but no, you couldn't even be bothered with a decent bit of gloating! An absolute disgrace, you are!"

"Malfoy, I'm sorry, I—"

"And stop apologizing!"

–– –– ––

15 May

"And stop apologizing!" Malfoy snapped, swatting at Harry's head. Just the tips of his fingers made contact, but it was enough to make Harry yelp and jerk away.

"Ah! Don't
do that."

"Then stop giving me reasons to! Honestly." Malfoy glowered at him from on top of the broken Vanishing Cabinet. "I told you, three drops of the blue potion in a clockwise circle, then three drops of the green counterclockwise, then tap the center with your wand and say—"

"Malfoy,
please." Harry looked up at him, too tired to hide the exhaustion in his voice. "We've been at this for almost nine hours straight, I've got splinters up to my elbows, and I haven't eaten since breakfast!"

"Now you know how I felt for the last year of my life," Malfoy sneered, surely pleased when Harry hung his head and shivered with guilt that was all too fresh. After a moment, though, Harry felt a brush of air like a cool breeze ruffle the short hairs on the back of his neck. Malfoy had come down from the cabinet and was—not rubbing his back, but making the gesture of it, moving his hand in soothing circles, millimeters above the surface of Harry's robes. It was the closest to comfort he could offer.

"I wouldn't wish that feeling on anyone," he said quietly. "Not even you, you egomaniacal, short–sighted Gryffindolt."


–– –– ––

"Hey, Gryffindolt." Malfoy waved his hand in front of Harry's face. "Why so quiet?"

"You're the one who told me to stop apologizing," Harry said softly.

"I didn't mean for you to get all quiet and guilty–looking either." He flicked his wrist, the little gust of air it generated brushing Harry's fringe out of his eyes. "Hold still a moment."

Before Harry could react, Malfoy turned toward him and leaned in so that his lips just barely brushed the high ridge of Harry's cheek bone. He pulled back almost instantly, wincing and holding a hand to his mouth. Harry frowned, lifted a hand to almost cup Malfoy's cheek.

"Doesn't that hurt?" he asked

"Like dunking my face in a boiling cauldron," Draco agreed, scowling.

"Then don't do it anymore!"

Malfoy stared at him disbelievingly for a moment. Then he shook his head and chuckled.

"Honestly, Potter. You're hopeless."

–– –– ––

31 May

"Bloody hopeless, you are." Malfoy sighed, floating along the edge of the pentacle and pointing out errors in the chalk design with one transparent finger. "Your glyphs are still crossing the edges of the circle, Potter. If I've told you once, I've told you fifty times—they absolutely
must be contained or else the Horcruxes won't be bound, and you won't be able to destroy them!"

"For God's sake," Harry groaned, sitting down on the smooth granite floor and covering his face with his hands. "I'd rather be out hunting for the bloody things."

"No, you wouldn't. You don't even know what all of them are, let alone where to find them. It's risky enough as is, using the bit of the Dark Lord inside yourself just this once. What do you think it'd be like if you tried to use it to find them all individually?"

"But I—"

"We have been over this in sufficient detail, Potter. You're bollocks at following directions, and ritual Summonings are an extremely
precise form of magic. You're worried that the Dark Lord will be caught up in it and arrive too soon, which he clearly won't because the remainder of his soul is now firmly tied to a physical body of its own. You're also worried that we won't alert him to the cabinet's completion quickly enough, and he'll try to break the castle wards, but even if he does, they'll hold for at least three hours—more than enough time to get word to him about a 'new' development. If I didn't know better, I'd swear you're putting up a fuss just because I'm trying to teach you a tiny bit of Dark Magic…"

Malfoy trailed off, a disbelieving look coming over his face.

"That's it, isn't it?" he whispered. He dropped down to the floor beside Harry, and would have grabbed the other boy's chin to force him to look up if Harry hadn't done it voluntarily. The look in Harry's eyes was all the confirmation he needed. He shot to his feet, fuming, his ghostly grey eyes blazing.

"Solomon and Hecate, Potter, you need to tell me these things!" he raged. "If you even think about resisting like this when you actually do the Summoning, the whole thing is going to backfire on you like a Blast–Ended Skrewt!"

"I know that!" Harry shouted, his hands balled into fists in his lap. "God, I
know, all right? I just…I hate it. I hate it so much." His voice was suddenly soft, and he couldn't bring himself to look up at Malfoy. "Voldemort became what he is because of Dark Magic. What if using it does the same thing to me? What if it triggers something, or wakes him up inside me, or—"

"Potter.
Look at me."

Startled, Harry obeyed, and Malfoy swiftly knelt down and cupped Harry's face between his hands. Unless Harry wanted to feel like he had plunged his head into a frozen lake, he was forced to meet Malfoy's gaze.

"I will never let that happen to you," Malfoy said fiercely, staring into Harry's eyes. "I'll scream every ghost in Hogwarts into this room to stop you, even the ones who aren't in on our secret. I'll shove my hands into your skull and freeze your brain unconscious. I'll turn you into a ghost myself, if I have to. But I swear I won't let you go Dark."

As Harry stared at him, trembling, Draco leaned forward and roughly, precisely pressed his lips just barely against Harry's. It hurt—God, it hurt, an ice–cold pressure branding his lips with Malfoy's seal, his mouth opening in a pained gasp that froze the breath in his lungs—and then it was over, and Malfoy had released him and drawn away.

"Are you quite finished being a damned fool, now?" he asked crisply. "Wonderful. Clean up this mess and draw the pentacle again. And do it right this time, Potter."

Harry climbed to his feet, unable to keep a silly grin from splitting his chapped and frosty lips.

"Yes, sir, Mister Malfoy, sir," he said giddily. And obeyed.


–– –– ––

"Yes, sir, Mister Malfoy, sir," Harry smirked, smiling lopsidedly. "A bloody hopeless fool I am, indeed. What kind of fool falls in love with a dead man, after all?"

Malfoy blushed and turned away, a silvery glow rising in his cheeks.

"You shouldn't say things like that," he muttered. "It's in awful taste."

"Mmm, but it's true."

"Oh, look at that!" Malfoy suddenly sat up, forcing Harry to scramble away so that Malfoy's shoulder didn't go through his head, and pointed straight ahead. "The sun's coming up."

As they watched, the eastern sky slowly grew lighter, dawn reflecting dully off the grey and cloudy sky. The sun itself rose quickly: one moment it was only a sliver of brightness on the horizon, and the next its round belly was skirting the tops of the mountains beyond Hogsmeade. A sudden growl from Harry's stomach broke the solemn silence. Malfoy burst out laughing as Harry blushed furiously.

"Someone wants breakfast," he sing–songed, rising up off the railing and hovering in front of Harry. Harry grimaced.

"I don't know if I can, today," he said softly, drawing a scowl from Malfoy.

"None of that, if you please," Malfoy scolded. "You've already spent the whole night brooding and moping instead of sleeping. I refuse to let you disrupt your concentration further by going without food."

"But I—"

"Don't worry about setting up the Room, I'll take care of it. March, Potter."

Harry sighed, and smiled, and marched.

–– –– ––

In the Great Hall, Harry reluctantly choked down the breakfast Ron and Hermione pressed on him—toast, eggs, porridge, and pumpkin juice—knowing that if he protested, it would go the worse for him when Draco found out. For the hundredth time, he ran over the details of their plan in his head.

He and Ron, under Draco's supervision, would summon the Horcruxes to the Room of Requirement, using the piece of Voldemort's soul inside Harry as an anchor. Voldemort would sense the disturbance and know the Horcruxes had been moved to Hogwarts. At that crucial moment, Hermione, Polyjuiced into Draco, would send word to him that the Vanishing Cabinet had been fixed. It would seem like the hand of fate: no sooner would Voldemort need a way into the castle, than one would be provided. He would lead his Death Eaters through immediately—his pride would allow nothing less—straight into the waiting arms of the Order and the Aurors, ready with Stunners and Portkeys to Azkaban. No doubt the Death Eaters would resist, but preparation and surprise would both be against them; and in the ensuing battle, Draco—whose death they had miraculously, impossibly kept secret for the past two months—would finally be able to "die."

Harry felt a frisson of pain run through him at that thought, which he had been avoiding for weeks, and shivered a little. Ron, misinterpreting, leaned over and patted him on the back.

"I know, mate," he said softly. "Who'd be happy about bringing…them into the middle of a school full of children? But much as I hate to admit it, Malfoy is right about this one. To capture them all at once, to destroy…those things once and for all—it's got to be worth the risk, right?" Despite his confident words, his eyes searched Harry's for confirmation. "Sometimes you have to risk a few pawns to take the king."

"Ronald Weasley, that is a terrible thing to say!" Hermione hissed, overhearing them. "Even if it happens to be accurate…"

"You're just chuffed about having to turn into Malfoy," Ron retorted. "I'm telling you, you'd better wash your mouth out really well before—"

"Ron!" Hermione's indignant squeak drew the attention of a handful of Ravenclaws over at their own table. They regarded the Gryffindors suspiciously, no doubt wondering what could have them out of bed at such an ungodly hour on a Sunday morning, but turned back to their studying after a moment. Harry, however, took it as a cue to leave and, pushing aside the remains of his breakfast, he climbed to his feet. Ron and Hermione lingered a little longer—they had their own reassurances to make, which Harry had no part in—as he slowly made his way through the daw–quiet castle and up to the seventh floor.

It was an unnaturally dark day, the overcast sky throwing grey, watery light through the castle's elaborate windows. The door to the Room of Requirement swung open easily at his touch, revealing Malfoy fetched up against the ceiling. Malfoy’s face lit up when he spotted Harry, and he floated over to hover beside him.

"The Room’s really outdone itself this time," he said, gesturing to the braziers and chalk laid out neatly at intervals around a large, clear space on the smooth granite floor. "You and the—and Weasley shouldn't have any trouble at all."

"That so?" Harry smiled a little oddly and moved away form the door, pacing out the circumference where he would draw his pentacle. He paused, sighed heavily, and looked over at Draco. "There's really nothing else to be done, is there?"

"Nothing at all," Ron confirmed, stepping into the Room and closing the door behind him. "Let's get this over with before we start thinking too hard about it, all right?"

For all his misgivings, Harry's hands were surprisingly steady as he traced out the now–familiar chalk lines of the pentacle, his wand clutched tightly in his other hand. Ron followed behind, sprinkling a mixture of herbs and potion in his wake. Both of them murmured softly under their breaths, trying not to be thrown off by each other as they wove a barrier around their workspace—magic older and darker than even the Horcruxes themselves, and wasn't that a thought to chill Harry's bones? He shook his head, refusing to let his doubts get the better of him at this of all times, and concentrated on his work and the words of the spell.

When it was done, Ron stepped away and drew his wand. Harry sat down inside the bottom point of the pentacle, careful not to scuff the double circle of the barrier. Behind him, he heard Ron take a deep breath and begin to chant, a sing–song spell eerily similar to the one Snape had tried to use when he—

When he had—

Harry groaned quietly, gritting his teeth and digging his fingers into his thighs to keep from moving as his scar began to burn. He had known it would hurt, had thought that past experience would have prepared him for it, but compared to this they had been nothing. He heard himself whimpering, heard Ron begin to falter before Malfoy reined him with a hissed imprecation.

Around Harry, within the other points of the pentacle, blurred forms began to take shape: a heavy goblet, inscribed with a badger rampant on a field of yellow; the locket Harry had found at Grimmauld place, floating in a greenish glow; the Room lurched and twisted, making Harry's hair stand on end, and then a diadem winked into being; Nagini, hard on its heels, thrashing wildly but unable to pass the binding lines of chalk.

Ron continued to chant, the whole of his attention fixed on keeping the pentacle intact and the Horcruxes—and Harry—inside the pentacle. Harry raised his wand. A whispered word, and Fiendfyre sprang up in the other four points. It consumed the first three Horcruxes quickly, shaping itself into terrible chimaeras that gobbled them up and then tried to turn on the magic of the pentacle itself. Harry shook with the effort of controlling them, until with a gasp he let go and sent them flying into Nagini's space. She hissed and writhed, her scales blackening and letting off a foul smoke and fouler smell as she struggled to evade the hydra–headed Fiendfyre. Harry forced himself to watch, to control the magic, as skin scorched from muscle and then muscle from bone, her slitted yellow eyes melting and running in streams from her charred skull until the Fiendfyre reduced even that to ash.

"—down. Shut it down! Harry!"

Malfoy was shouting at him, his voice harsh and desperate. Harry felt the pentacle dissolving around him, knew that in a moment it would break and the Fiendfyre would burn freely.

The flames reached out toward him, enchanting, their warmth stroking across his face in the gentlest of caresses. Harry wondered suddenly if it was possible for him to tumble forward into that warmth, to join with it. There would be no need to fear the Fiendfyre then, would there? He could control it, siphoning only what he needed to survive from the vast magics stored within the Room, and live within the embrace of the fire…

"HARRY!"

Draco screamed, and then his presence enfolded Harry, the aching cold that Harry's lips and fingers knew so well now washing over his whole body. The fire vanished from Harry's mind, and from the pentacle, but for one spot burning inside Harry's robes—

Wait

As Draco released him, Harry's hand flew to his pocket, and he pulled out the enchanted Galleon from their DA meetings. He nearly dropped it the moment he had it in hand: the gold was searing hot, the serial number around the edge scrolling wildly.

"Hermione—something's wrong with Hermione!" Ron shouted, dropping both his own coin and the pentacle's barrier and sprinting for the door. Harry scrambled to his feet and followed hard on his heels. They'd had to move the Vanishing Cabinet out of the Room in order to finish fixing it, but they hadn't been able to get it far. An unused lecture room at the other end of the corridor had provided enough distance from the Room, and enough space for the Aurors and the Order to lie in wait.

A spell blasted the door off its hinges moments before Hary and Ron reached it, the aged wood shattering from the force of it. Two hooded and masked Death Eaters tumbled out into the corridor. One of them was quickly felled by a Stunner shot from inside the room; the other turned toward Harry, raised his wand—

"Expelliarmus!"

"Reducto!"

The Death Eater's wand flew from his hand and he as blasted down the corridor, slamming into the far stone wall with a sickening crunch and sliding wetly down to the floor. Harry stared at the limp figure for a moment, his pointed wand trembling in his hand, before Ron grabbed him by the arm and hauled him into the room.

The sight that greeted them was chaos. The blackened and broken fragments of classroom furnishings lay scattered about, some of them still crackling and smoking from spell damage. Around the room, Aurors and Order members were locked in battle with clusters of Death Eaters. As Harry watched, Kingsley bellowed an order and at least a third of the Aurors clutched medallions around their necks and vanished.

Can't let Death Eaters get their hands on the Portkeys—

"Hermione!" Ron dropped Harry's arm and ran to the corner where Hermione—back in her own form—was curled up on the floor and breathing shallowly. His shout attracted attention: Harry scrambled after him, throwing out Stunners and Shield Charms as fast as he could, trying to give them some cover as Ron dropped to his knees and clutched Hermione's wrist, feeling for a pulse.

"Calm yourself, Mister Weasley," Snape sneered, appearing suddenly beside them. Harry's heart leapt into his throat—but then Snape's Shield Charm joined his, an added layer of protection against the spells that increasingly battered at their defenses. "She is merely Stunned, and you would do well to move her away from here." As Ron obeyed, Snape arched a disdainful eyebrow at Harry. "Her Polyjuice transformation wore off early—a side effect, I must note, most commonly associated with prior…misapplication of the potion." Harry winced but said nothing. "Before she could hide, Carrow turned back to warn the others, and—well. As you see."

He pointed. Harry turned around, and felt his neck prickle as he saw what he and Ron had, incredibly, managed to miss from the moment they had entered the room.

Behind a shield of shimmering green and gold, Voldemort and Dumbledore were engaged in a furious battle. A constant stream of spells flew from both their wands, most crashing into the barrier around the two wizards and exploding in showers of sparks that rained down and scorched eye–numbing patterns on the hardwood floor. Harry watched, transfixed, as some of them rebounded instead, zinging wildly around inside the dome so that four, eight, a dozen spells were ricocheting through the air at once.

Snape raised his wand.

"Mister Potter," he said calmly. "Listen to me very carefully. When Professor Dumbledore falls—"

"What do you mean, 'when'?" Harry said wildly. "Look, he can still win, he—"

"Potter! The Dark Lord is well aware of the fact that all his Horcruxes have been destroyed. What precisely do you think he will do if he is allowed to kill the Headmaster?"

The blood drained from Harry's face and he opened his mouth to protest, but Snape cut him off. His eyes fixed on the battle before them, he spoke quickly and quietly.

"When he falls, you must attack immediately. Do not give the Dark Lord time to think, do not give him time to consider. Force him to react, instead of acting. Do you understand?"

Harry swallowed.

"I—"

"Do you?"

"Yes, sir."

Snape paused for the briefest of moments. Then, without his uttering a word, a bolt of acid–green light shot from the tip of his wand. It tore through the air, pierced the barrier with a shriek like plate steel being torn asunder, and slammed unerringly into Dumbledore's side.

He dropped without a sound, crumpling to the floor like a marionette with its strings cut. Voldemort whirled, his face livid, and spotted Snape and Harry. Snape's wand was still raised.

"YOU!" Voldemort howled, the barrier that had surrounded him and Dumbledore dissolving as he advanced on teacher and student. "Traitor!"

"Potter!" Snape hissed, but Harry was frozen, staring blankly at Dumbledore's corpse.

"Sectumsempra!"

The flash of light at the corner of his eye snapped Harry out of his shock. His head whipped toward Snape, just in time to see the professor's body jerk and stutter wildly as the spell cut his flesh again and again. A particularly vicious slash sliced across the backs of his thighs as he twisted, severing his hamstrings and dropping him to the floor in a bloody heap. The edge of it caught Harry's calf, and he stumbled to his knees. Snape stared up at him with eyes as empty as new moons.

"Look at me," Snape whispered, reaching up and dragging Harry's face down towards him. "Look…at…me…"

Harry was helpless to disobey. He caught that cold gaze and held it, feeling the sluggish, slowing pulse of Snape's blood soaking into his robes, the stiffening of Snape's claw–like grip, the unsteady shuddering of his breath—

Terror clawed at Harry's chest as he realized he was staring into the eyes of a dead man. With a strangled cry he shot to his feet, only to stumble on his injured ankle and nearly fall again. He limped backwards, tripping over chunks of stone and broken chair legs, desperate to get away from both the body and from Voldemort, who was still coming toward him.

"Where do you think you're going, boy?" Despite the pitiful state of his Death Eaters, Voldemort sounded positively gleeful. "There's nowhere for you to hide this time…Crucio!"

Harry barely managed to dodge the glowing curse, staggering sideways as Voldemort laughed.

"Very good! Let's try that again, shall we? Crucio! Crucio! Avada Kedavra!"

Harry ducked and rolled, stifling a scream as his ankle crunched beneath him. He fetched up against a wall, wand trained on Voldemort.

"Expelliarmus!"

"Ha!" Harry watched in horror as Voldemort's wand tugged sharply upwards, but did not fly from his grip. "Oh, come now, Harry, you'll have to do better than that." When Harry made no move to respond, he shook his head, sounding almost disappointed, and raised his wand.

"Very well then. Avada—"

"AVADA KEDAVRA!"

The Killing Curse tore from Harry' throat almost without conscious thought. For a breathless moment, he thought his spell and Voldemort's would collide in midair and wondered what would happen if they did. Then they sped past each other, and there was no more time, no more time to act, no more time to think—

"HARRY!"

Before Harry could even turn toward the scream, a silvery figure streaked into his field of vision. Malfoy threw himself in front of Harry, a horrible, wailing shriek piercing the air as the curse struck him. It spread a latticework of green through his convulsing form, illuminating him like a macabre plasma lamp before it passed through his chest and struck Harry with the force of a brick wall.

The world vanished.

–– –– ––

Harry was climbing through a white fog, the swirling shape of it around him pale and insubstantial as his memories of Privet Drive. Was that where he was? Trudging up the stairs above his cupboard room—but no, Hagrid had taken him away, far away from there, had brought him to—

Hogwarts! The fog shifted, sketching the walls of the castle around him, hung with tapestries and portraits. Up to his dorm, towards his friends he climbed—or was it up to the Astronomy Tower? The Owlery? Or one of the myriad moving staircases, ever shifting, ever unsure, their destinations changing moment to moment—

Harry reeled in confusion, stepped forward, tripped—and suddenly he was stumbling through the familiar barrier at King's Cross Station, the fog shifting again to form the high brick arches and solid platform of the wizarding train station. He steadied himself against a wall and looked around.

"Well. That took you long enough, Gryffindolt." The amused, affectionate drawl made Harry start and spin around. Malfoy was standing at the other end of the platform, his arms folded across his chest…

Standing!

"Honestly, I was starting to think you'd never show up."

"Draco! You're…you're alive?"

"—have to come fetch you myself—what? No, I'm not."

"But—" Harry started towards him, reaching out almost tentatively to curl his fingers around Malfoy's bicep once he was close enough. He shivered as he felt the soft texture of Malfoy's robes against his palm, the yielding flesh and hard muscle beneath them. Malfoy smiled a little and unbent enough to raise one hand and lay it over Harry's.

It was too much.

With a soft groan, Harry lunged forward and grabbed the back of Malfoy's head, dragging him in so that Harry could crush their lips together in a bruising kiss. Malfoy's lips were already parted, his tongue snaking out to greet Harry's, running over the sensitive ridge of his palate and plunging deep into his mouth. The arm Malfoy had raised was trapped between their bodies, palm turned to flatten against Harry's chest as he clutched Harry to him with the other arm. With his hand fisted in the back of Harry's robes, Malfoy moaned eagerly as Harry sucked on his tongue and wrapped his free hand around Malfoy's waist. The heat from Malfoy's gasping breaths washed over Harry's face, the smell of him filling Harry's nostrils and making his head swim. Harry nudged his thigh between Malfoy's spread legs, enjoying the way Malfoy whimpered and melted against him; his hand crept down along the curve of Malfoy's spine, towards—

"Uwaaaaaaaah!"

A squealing, high–pitched wail from off to the side startled Harry out of their embrace, his head whipping around so that he could stare at the cloth–swaddled bundle from which the hellish sound had originated. He made an abortive movement toward it, but found that he couldn't force himself to let go of Malfoy entirely.

"What is that?" he asked instead. Malfoy sighed and rested his head against Harry's shoulder.

"That is what used to be Tom Riddle," he said quietly. "Everything that's left of him, anyway. After the whole Dark Lord…thing."

Harry stared at the bundle, not knowing whether he ought to be feeling horror or pity.

"Doesn't look like much," he said at last.

"At least it's got potential. A future. Unlike some of us." Malfoy glared ferociously at the ground, his fists balling in Harry's robes.

"What?"

"I just told you, Potter. Despite the evidence, I haven't been brought back to life. Dead is dead, ghost or no. The best I can say is that we're in a sort of…between space. The Dark Lord's last curse couldn't kill me, because I was already dead—but it didn't kill you, either. I don't know why. Perhaps something like with Finch–Fletchley and that Gryffindor ghost, back in second year–"

"I don't think so." Harry bit his lip thoughtfully, running his fingers through Malfoy's hair as he spoke. "I think it was something else. I think—" He smiled, bent his head to nuzzle Malfoy's check. "I think you love me."

"I—now—what would be the point in that?" Malfoy spluttered, blushing furiously. "And what would be the point in saying it?" he added more softly.

Harry smiled. "Because it's true. And because I love you, too."

Malfoy raised his head.

"Really?"

"Really."

Malfoy let out a long, content sigh, as though he'd never need to breathe again, and his eyelids fluttered shut. Harry leaned forward to kiss him, shivering happily at the feel of Malfoy's soft, warm lips clinging to his own—

"Uwaaaaaaaaah!"

"God damn it!" Harry groaned. "Evil–minded little mood killer, isn't he?"

Malfoy threw his head back and laughed, twining both his arms around Harry's waist.

"I might know somewhere more…accommodating that we could adjourn to," he said shyly, as the fog began to dissolve and reshape itself around them for a third time.

Harry grinned. "Excellent."

–– –– ––

Quite a few hours—or days—or, Harry thought happily, maybe even years later, he lay in bed with his head pillowed on Draco's shoulder, drifting between sleep and wakefulness as he reveled in the feelings of safety and love surrounding him.

"Mmm…wanna stay here f'rever," he mumbled, burying his face in the warm crook of Draco's neck and inhaling deeply. Draco sighed and pressed a light kiss to his forehead, right at the edge of his hairline.

"I already told you, Potter," he scolded. "No offing yourself after the fact just to avoid the press, remember?"

"Press's got nothin' t'do with it," Harry protested—but against his will, he felt the post–coital, floaty glow fading, the reality of where they were and where they weren't beginning to reassert itself. He clutched more tightly at Draco, relieved to find that he didn't seem to be going anywhere just yet.

"You can't leave," he whispered, clinging stubbornly to his lover. "You can't."

"It's not my decision to make. My parents are safe…you're safe…there's no reason for me to stay any longer."

"If you loved me, you'd have a reason!"

"God, Harry, don't say that!" Draco sounded like he was on the verge of tears, and Harry immediately regretted his words. "Every day of my death, I wished it hadn't happened—and every day, I thanked God it had, because it taught me to love you. But the dead have no place in the world of the living." He pulled Harry closer and buried his face in Harry's hair, as though his actions could belie his words. His skin barely touched the dark strands.

"No." Harry began to tremble. "No, God, no, you're fading—"

"Shh," Draco whispered, stroking soothing, airy touches over Harry's body. "Don't let it be like this, love, not like this. Not with sorrow, not with fear. I love you, remember?"

"I love you, too." Harry raised his head, and even with his eyes closed he knew Draco was smiling.

"That's it. Just let me look at you. Will you look at me, too?"

"I—I don't know if I can."

"Please. Love. Harry."

Draco's voice was growing fainter, the warmth of his touch barely lingering on Harry's skin. Harry leaned up, pressed his lips to Draco's—

And opened his eyes.

–fin–

Footnote:

The beginning passage, from "Harry realized…" to "…sounded almost like song" is a direct quote from Harry Potter and the Half–Blood Prince, US hardcover edition, p. 522; in the book they are followed by the words, "The flow of blood began to ease."

Snape's final words are a direct quote from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, US hardcover edition, p. 658.

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